Baggini’s consolations for a post-truth world
3 hours ago
There are few areas of functioning where skepticism is more important than how one invests one’s life savings. Yet intelligent and educated people, some of them naïve about finance and others quite knowledgeable, have been ruined by schemes that turned out to be highly dubious and quite often fraudulent. The most dramatic example of this in American history is the recent announcement that Bernard Madoff, a highly-regarded hedge fund manager and a former president of NASDAQ, has for several years been running a very sophisticated Ponzi scheme which by his own admission has defrauded wealthy investors, charities and other funds, of at least 50 billion dollars.The author goes on to explain some of the dimensions of gullibility and then uses himself as a case study of how he fell for Madoff's multi-billion dollar scam.
In my new book Annals of Gullibility, I analyze the topic of financial scams, along with a great number of other forms of human gullibility, including war (the Trojan Horse), politics (WMDs in Iraq), relationships (sexual seduction), pathological science (cold fusion), religion (Christian Science), human services (Facilitated Communication), medical fads (homeopathy), etc. Although gullibility has long been of interest in works of fiction (Othello, Pinnochio), religious documents (Adam and Eve, Samson) and folk tales (Emperor’s New Clothes, Little Riding Hood), it has been almost completely ignored by social scientists. There have been a few books that have focused on narrow aspects of gullibility, including Charles Mackey’s classic 19th century book, Extraordinary Popular Delusion and the Madness of Crowds (most notably on investment follies such as Tulipimania, in which rich Dutch people traded their houses for one or two tulip bulbs). In Annals of Gullibility I propose a multi-dimensional theory that would explain why so many people behave in a manner which exposes them to severe and predictable risks. This includes myself — I lost a good chunk of my retirement savings to Mr. Madoff, so I know of what I write on the most personal level.
UNTIL the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state across the land, abortion was legal before "quickening" (approximately the fourth month of pregnancy). Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for "bringing on the menses" with herbs that could be grown in one's garden or easily found in the woods. By the mid eighteenth century commercial preparations were so widely available that they had inspired their own euphemism ("taking the trade"). Unfortunately, these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was banned, but abortion per se was not. The laws made little difference. By the 1840s the abortion business -- including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely advertised in the popular press -- was booming. The most famous practitioner, Madame Restell, openly provided abortion services for thirty-five years, with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and traveling salespeople touting her "Female Monthly Pills."
In one of the many curious twists that mark the history of abortion, the campaign to criminalize it was waged by the same professional group that, a century later, would play an important role in legalization: physicians.
In [the] same drawer where the transcript of these lectures were rediscovered, there was a sheaf of notes intended for a book we never had the chance to write. Its working title was Ethos, and it would have been our attempt to synthesize the spiritual perspectives we derived from the revelations of science. We collected filing cabinets' worth of notes and references on the subject. Among them was a quotation Carl had excerpted from Gottfried Leibniz (1646 - 1716), the mathematical and philosophical genius, who had invented differential and integral calculus independently of Isaac Newton. Leibniz argued that God should be the wall that stopped all further questioning, as he famously wrote in this passage from Principles of Nature and Grace:
"Why does something exist rather than nothing? For 'nothing' is simpler than 'something.' Now this sufficient reason for the existence of the universe ... which has no need of any other reason ... must be a necessary being, else we should not have sufficient reason with which we could stop."
And just beneath the typed quote, three small handwritten words in red pen, a message from Carl to Leibniz and to us: "So don't stop."
For the past 14 years, on my former beat as the tax reporter for the New York Times, and now as a columnist for the trade journal Tax Notes, I have been documenting the myriad ways in which our economy has been recalibrated to take from the poor, the middle class, and even the affluent and give to large corporations and the very richest of the rich. I discovered, for example, that in 2000, people making between $50,000 and $75,000 paid the same share of their income to the federal government as those making more than $87 million, and that those making between $100,000 and $200,000 were taxed more heavily than those making $10 million—a state of affairs the Bush administration called "progressive" when I first reported it in 2005. Thanks to Reaganite economic policies, we have encouraged once-competitive industries such as oil, car manufacturing, accounting, and news media to congeal into unchecked (and now struggling) oligopolies. We have slashed the ranks of white-collar cops—the auditors and investigators whose beats are taxes, securities, food and drugs, pollution, etc.—and hamstrung those who are left. And we have transformed the idea that bankers would self-regulate from a crackpot notion into the essence of government policy, with results as predictable as if we removed all traffic lights and stop signs on the theory that most drivers are responsible.The rest of Johnston's lengthy article gives recommendations on reforms that can be implemented to improve this dire situation.
Few scientific challenges are more complex than understanding the health risks of a chemical or drug. Investigators cannot feed toxic compounds to people to see what doses cause cancer. Instead laboratory researchers rely on animal tests, and epidemiologists examine the human exposures that have already happened in the field. Both types of studies have many uncertainties, and scientists must extrapolate from the evidence to make causal inferences and recommend protective measures. Because absolute certainty is rarely an option, regulatory programs would not be effective if such proof were required. Government officials have to use the best available evidence to set limits for harmful chemicals and determine the safety of pharmaceuticals.In the book, Michaels demonstrates that this pattern of attacking legitimate science as being too uncertain in favor of industry funded “sound science” - which always finds in favor of the industry client - is pervasive and dangerous to the nation’s health. Describing the product defense industry, Michaels writes
Uncertainty is an inherent problem of science, but manufactured uncertainty is another matter entirely. Over the past three decades, industry groups have frequently become involved in the investigative process when their interests are threatened. If, for example, studies show that a company is exposing its workers to dangerous levels of a certain chemical, the business typically responds by hiring its own researchers to cast doubt on the studies. Or if a pharmaceutical firm faces questions about the safety of one of its drugs, its executives trumpet company sponsored trials that show no significant health risks while ignoring or hiding other studies that are much less reassuring. The vilification of threatening research as "junk science" and the corresponding sanctification of industry-commissioned research as "sound science" has become nothing less than standard operating procedure in some parts of corporate America.
In 1969 an executive at Brown & Williamson, a cigarette maker now owned by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, unwisely committed to paper the perfect slogan for his industry's disinformation campaign: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public." In recent years, many other industries have eagerly adopted this strategy. Corporations have mounted campaigns to question studies documenting the adverse health effects of exposure to beryllium, lead, mercury, vinyl chloride, chromium, benzene, benzidine, nickel, and a long list of other toxic chemicals and medications. What is more, Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush have encouraged such tactics by making it easier for private groups to challenge government-funded research. Although in some cases, companies may be raising legitimate arguments, the overall result is disturbing: many corporations have successfully avoided expense and inconvenience by blocking and stalling much needed protections for public health.
The range of their work is impressive. They have on their payrolls (or can bring in at a moment’s notice) toxicologists, epidemiologists, biostaticians, risk ascesors, and any other professionally trained, media-savvy experts deemed necessary. They and the larger, wealthier industries for which they work go through the motions we expect of the scientific enterprise, salting the literature with their questionable reports and studies. Nevertheless, it is all a charade. The work has one overriding motivation: advocacy for the sponsor’s position in civil court, the court of public opinion, and the regulatory arena. Often tailored to address issues that arise in litigation, they are more like legal proceedings than scientific papers. In the regulatory arena, the studies are useful not because they are good work that the regulatory agencies have to take seriously but because they clog the machinery and slow the process.Michaels gives a typical example of this process in the book’s introduction. In 1986, a warning label was added to aspirin products noting the danger to children of developing Reyes syndrome if consumed while experiencing a viral illness. Before the FDA warning label there had been a substantial danger to children: in 1980, 555 cases were reported (and the actual number was likely under reported) with 1 in 3 of those diagnosed having died. The FDA’s warning label had been delayed by the efforts of aspirin manufacturers despite the CDC already having issued an alert about the risk. They argued that the science linking Reyes and aspirin was too uncertain and issued a public service announcement stating, “We do know that no medication has been proven to cause Reyes.” With the additional industry sympathetic efforts of the Reagan administration’s OMB, mandatory labels were delayed by four years, only to be enacted after the government’s hand was forced by litigation from the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. Since the establishment of the warning label only a handful of cases of Reyes are now reported a year.
Workers wait for OSHA at their peril. It is as simple as that. New workplace health standards are rare, and it makes little difference whether the White House is in Democratic or Republican hands. In the last ten years OSHA has issued workplace standards for a total of two new chemicals. Two Indeed, since its inception it has issued comprehensive standards for only thirty toxic materials. Additionally, the agency enforces permissable exposure limits for fewer than two hundred of the approximately three thousand chemicals the EPA characterizes as high-production volum (HPV) because more than a million pounds of the substance is produced or imported each year. Of these OSHA standards, all but a handful were borrowed whole from the voluntary levels established by industry consensus groups prior to the agency's creatio in 1971. Many are now hopelessly, dangerously out of date; new science has had no impact on these regulations. Because OSHA has been so beaten down by the opponents of regulation, it has virtually given up on developing new regulations or strengthening outdated ones.And in some instances, OSHA has itself become the opponent of regulation. Eugene Scalia became OSHA's top lawyer when he was named solicitor of the Department of Labor, having previously worked as an opponent of ergonomics regulations.
In March 2003 OSHA came up with an extremely effective way to control the rate of reported RSIs: The agency revoked a planned regulation that would have required employers to report annually the number of musculoskeletal disorders occurring among their employees. In other words, just don't collect data, and the injury numbers will go down drastically. Obviously OSHA must be doing a great job.This sort of capture of government regulatory agencies extends elsewhere. The PDUFA, when passed in 1992 (a somewhat reformed version was apparently passed in '07, although Michaels argues that this should only be a temporary fix), transformed the FDA into a semi-de facto front for Big Pharma. User fees from Big Pharma became a revenue source for the FDA while Congress cut the agency's budget, but the money was dependent on the agency approving drugs in the review process rather than regulating for safety after approval.
From the moment George W. Bush took the oath of office in January 2001, his political appointees, working at the bidding of the corporate polluters who in many cases were their former and subsequen employers, have gutted, evaded, and opposed environmental regulations.With the regulatory agencies under assault, under-funded, and under-staffed, litigation is one of the last lines of defense for the public. Michaels notes that the tide was turned against the tobacco industry's disinformation campaign not by regulators (although they helped) but by the judicial system. In "industry after industry" litigation has forced the disclosure of damning industry documents. With this in mind, Michaels offers four proposals to make the judicial system a critical component of the public health system:
Like many winger ideas – anticommunism, for example – it sounds good at first. A “free market of ideas” sounds like “free inquiry,” or a "free exchange of ideas”; an environment in which hypothesis are tested and bad ones are weeded out while good ones go on to earn the respect of the community of scholars. But this is not what the phrase means at all. Markets do not determine the objective merit of things, only their price, which is to say, their merit in the eyes of capital or consumers. To cast intellectual life as a “market” is to set up a standard for measuring ideas quite different from the standard of truthfulness. Here ideas are bid up or down depending on how well they please those with the funds to underwrite inquiry – which effectively means, how well they please large corporations and the very wealthy.The "funding effect" demonstrates the validity of Frank's observation.
On the battlefield, the Tigers have nearly lost. Few neutrals can be sad about that. Alarmingly, however, Tiger methods—ruthless silencing of dissenting voices, insistence on fanatical loyalty—seem to be catching on. Spokesmen often justify the government’s murky behaviour by reference to the awfulness of the Tigers. But the outside world and Sri Lanka’s own citizens have the right to hold a democratically elected government to higher standards than a banned terrorist outfit. That demands a swift and decisive end to the impunity which those who menace and kill the government’s critics enjoy.Wickrematunge's self-written obituary is titled "And then they came for me" and its profound message deserves a careful reading.
People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today's most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.You can read Carl Zimmer's review, here. And for my previous musings on the subject of the history of human evolution, here.
In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.
It's sad that it's come to this, but I feel compelled to offer some guidance on the persistent allegation that the Earth is about to enter an ice age. It all started a few days ago, when Matt Drudge added a link to an English-language Pravda (?) story claiming that "a large and compelling body of evidence from within the field of climate science" points to the impending end of the current interglacial period. Never one to care what Drudge is linking to, I tried to ignore it. But then I started getting email.You can read the rest over there.
The most depressing came from someone who was good enough to provide his real name, place of occupation and contact information, none of which I will share with you, except to note that he works in "ag weather forecasting and often get questions when I'm out at farm meetings regarding global warming" and that he and his employer seem to be legitimate. He wrote:One of my contacts is a big fan of the Milankovitch cycles and says that these offer proof that global warming is not occurring. Do you have an opinion on the Milankovitch cycles and how they should be interpreted?Given that the email arrived shortly after the Pravda story came to Drudge's attention, it's clear that we have a problem. What we need is a primer on Milankovitch cycles. So here goes.
Sachs then goes on to address specifically the argument of economist William Easterly who has argued that 2.3 trillion dollars of aid money has been wasted over the last 50 years. Easterly's work has been widely cited as a reason for the United States to not bother meeting the Millenium Development Goal of .7% of GNP to Official Development Assistance. Sachs points out that even in Easterly's book The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good he admits that there have been successes. Quoting Easterly
These are global achievements of historic proportions. Yet the roots of these successes are almost forgotten today by unilateralist or free-market ideologues in the United States, obscured by a heavy dose of reactionary ideology and rhetoric that claim, against the facts, that such progress was ordained by market forces alone and was not the result of the massive collective actions and financial backing that went into these efforts.
- Foreign aid has contributed to the economic development of Asia and Latin America through the Green Revolution of increased agricultural productivity; the control of infectious diseases, such as smallpox; the vast rise of literacy and school attendance; and much more.
- Foreign aid and global agreements have facilitated the dramatic, indeed revolutionary, dissemination of modern methods of contraception and family planning, leading to a crucial voluntary drop of fertility rates in most of the world.
- Global cooperation has produced major advances in global environmental control, most successfully in heading off the destruction of the layer of atmospheric ozone, and has established frameworks for dealing with climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.
- Global cooperation has dramatically slowed the proliferation of nuclear weapons and encouraged several dozen countries to abandon their quest for such weapons
[F]oreign aid likely contributed to some notable successes on a global scale, such as dramatic improvement in health and education indicators in poor countries. Life expectancy in the typical poor country has risen from forty-eight years to sixty-eight years over the past four decades. Forty years ago, 131 out of every 1,000 babies born in poor countries died before reaching their first birthday. Today, 36 out of every 1,000 babies die before their first birthday.In addition, Easterly overlooks that aid has come from nations other than America. Sachs mentions that Japan helped build infrastructure in Southeast Asia which allowed it to grow to become an industrial exporter and that today's emerging markets in Korea, Taiwan, China, and India “have all been the beneficiaries of external assistance.”
Put $2.3 trillion in comparison with U.S. military spending during the same period, which totaled $17 trillion, nearly eight times the aid levels. And we can note that the Iraq War cost $500 billion in direct outlays by the middle of 2007 and about the same amount in indirect costs (for example, the costs of medical and long-lasting disability care of veterans). The Vietnam War cost at least $500 billion in today’s dollars. Suddenly $2.3 trillion over a fifty-year period for the entire world of development – health, water, disease, literacy, family planning, roads, power, courts, democracy, famine, and other emergency relief – is not so self-evidently extravagant.Sachs does agree with Easterly that aid has been wasted in the past and agrees with Easterly's conclusion that we need to refocus on getting poor people the essential infrastructure they need to escape poverty.* But his ultimate point is that we also need to start paying attention to the fact that foreign aid can achieve life-altering improvements for the world's poor, as he noted in his comment to the New York Review of Books
When we overlook the success that is possible, we become our own worst enemies. We stand by as millions die each year because they are too poor to stay alive. The inattention and neglect of our policy leaders lull us to believe casually that nothing more can be done. Meanwhile we spend hundreds of billions of dollars per year on military interventions doomed to fail, overlooking the fact that a small fraction of that money, if it were directed at development approaches, could save millions of lives and set entire regions on a path of economic growth. It is no wonder that global attitudes toward America have reached the lowest ebb in history. It is time for a new approach.*A subject discussed at book length by Sachs in Common Wealth.
Indict all of the US government officials and their allies who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacksAs you can see, he's a kook.
A preponderance of evidence shows that the highest officials of the Bush Administration, in collusion with many other officials from the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, FEMA, NSA, NORAD, New York City officials, air-traffic contollers, airline executives, controlled demolitions experts, computer graphics technicians, media executives, and others together planned and committed the horrible attacks of 9/11/2001 against the Pentagon and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The 9/11 attacks were immediately blamed on some bogus 'Arab highjackers', a half dozen of whom were later confirmed to be still alive, and therefore innocent, after the 9/11 attacks.
I'm always on the lookout for code, and that's a code I don't think I've seen before. 'Other walks of life' and 'all kinds of different voices, you know,' is code for people with no relevant experience whatsoever going into politics, and it's not in and of itself a thing to be cheered. Total lack of relevant experience is not absolutely always a disqualifier, but it does at the very least need to be offset by conspicuous talents and skills of the right kind - like, for instance, being able to talk in an adult way in public. Caroline Kennedy is 51 years old and a lawyer, and she talks like a teenager. So - she has no relevant experience, and she's remarkably bad at talking in public, and the only reason to suggest her at all is because she is a Kennedy. Hmmm...that reminds me of something...what could it be...Oh yes, it's the current president. And even he doesn't say 'you know' every five words like a high school kid.
In my book, her being a Kennedy is a reason not to appoint her, and also a reason not to vote for her, just as in my book Hillary Clinton's being a former president's wife was a very strong reason not to vote for her. I detest this nepotism thing we've got going and I wish people would stop encouraging it. I don't want a Kennedy dynasty or a Clinton dynasty any more than I want a Bush dynasty; I don't want any damn dynasty.
The operative question becomes this: If neither the CIA nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff had existed when Osama bin Laden launched his attack, if Congress had not created the Department of Defense or the National Security Council back in 1947, would the United States find itself in any worse shape than it is? That is, if President Bush had had to rely upon the institutions that existed through World War II - a modest State Department for diplomacy and two small cabinet agencies to manage military affairs - would he have bollixed up Iraq any more than he already has? To frame the question more broadly: When considering the national security state as it has evolved and grown up over the past six decades, what exactly has been the value added? And if the answer is none - if, indeed, the return on investment has been essentially negative - then perhaps the time has come to consider dismantling an apparatus that demonstrably serves no useful purpose.
On today's Rush Limbaugh program he was saying that carrots are more deadly than cigarettes or trans fats. Rush's incoherent ramble about carrots came after he had said that second hand smoke being dangerous is "a hoax like global warming." Someone better run and go tell the CDC.From the Center for Media and Democracy
To borrow (and paraphrase) a phrase from Glenn Greenwald, it's things like this that make me despise, rather than merely dislike, Rush Limbaugh.
Assserting that cigarettes or second smoke or trans fats aren't dangerous is inexecusably stupid. There are millions of people that listen to Rush and call themselves "dittoheads" because they take his bullshit seriously. He is sabotaging their health. It is a grave betrayal of trust and responsibility. They should be furious, but instead they love him for it.
This is Rush continuing his long history of helping to get his audience sick or dead.
"It has not been proven that nicotine is addictive, the same with cigarettes causing emphysema [and other diseases]." - Limbaugh, (4-29-94 radio program)
A new study, now the ninth of its type and the most comprehensive one yet, has shown a major reduction in hospital admissions for heart attacks after a smoke-free law was put into effect.The post goes on to detail how the tobacco industry was aware of the dangers of second hand smoke and yet formulated a strategy to confuse the public about the health consequences and to delay regulation for as long as possible. It is worth reading if you are not already familiar with this subject.
On July 1, 2003 the relatively isolated city of Pueblo, Colorado enacted an ordinance that prohibited smoking in workplaces and indoor public areas, including bars and restaurants. For the study, researchers reviewed hospital admissions for heart attacks among area residents for one year prior to, and three years after the ban, and compared the data to two other nearby areas that didn't have bans (the part of Pueblo County outside city limits, and El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs). Researchers found that during the three years after the ban, hospital admissions for heart attacks dropped 41 percent inside the city of Pueblo, but found no significant change in admissions for heart attacks in the other two control areas.
Eight studies done prior to this one in other locales used similar techniques and yielded similar results, but covered shorter periods of time -- usually about one year after the smoking ban went into effect. The results of this longer, more comprehensive study support the view that not only does secondhand smoke have a significant short-term impact on heart function, but that lives, and money, are probably being saved by new laws proliferating around the world in recent years that minimize public exposure to secondhand smoke.
The phrase "ghost in the machine" was used by Gilbert Ryle in his 1949 book The Concept of Mind to describe the dualism of Descartes. According to Descartes, the human body may be a machine, but it only became a "person" when it was infused with an immaterial soul. The two thus produce a dualistic system of substances, one material and the other immaterial, neither or which could be reduced to the other. Ryle rejected and criticized this view in his work.For more on Ryle, see the extensive entry about him at the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy.
What has the Human Rights Council done about this? On March 28, 2008, the Council actually undermined its own ability to protect free speech. An amendment to a resolution on freedom of expression (passed 27 to 15 with three abstentions) now requires the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to “report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination.” Instead of traveling the world in search of instances in which free speech is unjustly limited, the Rapporteur will now do just the opposite, in an effort to police “abusive” speech. The protector has become the oppressor. The Council failed to note that Muslims (and all citizens) are already protected against discrimination and defamatory speech by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and reasonable limits to free speech were already referred to in the preamble to the March 28 resolution. Further, concerns for freedom of religion are already reported by the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion.Ed Brayton points out that the "Islamic Human Rights" that advocates are promoting as complimentary to the UDHR is in fact theocracy, something explicitly rejected by the UDHR.
With such protections already in place, this amendment’s only effect is the undermining of what little ability the HRC has to safeguard free expression around the world.
- Magic tricks often work by covert misdirection, drawing the spectator’s attention away from the secret “method” that makes a trick work.
- Neuroscientists are scrutinizing magic tricks to learn how they can be put to work in experimental studies that probe aspects of consciousness not necessarily grounded in current sensory reality.
- Brain imaging shows that some regions are particularly active during certain kinds of magic tricks.
A question from Jessica Bar of New York, NY
How is the Lincoln in your book different from Gore Vidal's Lincoln?
Prof. Donald responds:
Finally, to Jessica Bar, I can say that I am a great admirer of Gore Vidal's Lincoln, which he was kind enough to ask me to read in manuscript for him, and I think it is one of the great portraits of the President. My own differs somewhat in that it is more closely grounds in fact--and remember that Vidal's work is fiction, not history--and that it is based upon more intimate knowledge of behind-the-scenes activities in Civil War Washington. In addition, Vidal's Lincoln is--quite properly--a heroic figure who moves to change the very nature of American government and American society. Mine is a more troubled, pragmatic Lincoln, who was working out solutions to difficult problems always without a fixed plan or ideology in mind, save his determination to save the Union. Mr. Vidal and I had a considerable correspondence about his manuscript, and he was gracious enough to accept a good many of my suggested revisions. But on occasion he would refuse, saying that he knew very well that I was factually correct but that, for the purposes of his novel, he had to state his case in such-and-such a way. He was, I think, entirely correct in so doing--but, of course, as a historical biographer, I did not have the liberty of tampering with even the smallest of facts.
Throughout last night’s New Year’s eve broadcast, Fox News Channel allowed viewers to send in New Year’s greetings and wishes via text message. The messages were then scrolled across the bottom of the screen, replacing Fox’s normal crawling news headlines. While most messages were cordial, Fox allowed at least one racist message directed toward President-elect Obama to be broadcast. The message referenced Rush Limbaugh’s “Barack the Magic Negro” song:HAPPY NEW YEAR AND LET’S HOPE THE MAGIC NEGRO DOES A GOOD JOB. LOVE JEN AND JOHN C.