Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Times Does it Yet Again

I've been simmering a long while about David Brooks' deeply stupid gloss and misreading of Al Gore's book, but wanted to wait until I'd read the book myself before advancing an opinion. Brooks' assessment, that "...whatever the effects of our homogenizing mass culture, it is still possible for exceedingly strange individuals to rise to the top" is just plain yellow, Limbaugh-style crapcasting done with an air of restraint (sans prescription meds, one presumes) and put forth as a review. Now we all know about Mr. Brooks' irrational and atavistic love of this war (which, incidentally, he'll never have to participate, so his enthusiasm becomes a sort of political Fantasy Football) and his exceptional right-wing thinking (hardly a surprise in this paper), but I wonder did he read the book at all or did he simply form his opinions from what he imagined the book would say?

He does that one thing which I hate in a reviewer: he opens not with any discussion of the books substance but rather of its style. Gore's sentences and not his arguments are run out for ridicule, and though the sentence he cites is perfectly understandable and clear (well, maybe not if you are someone who finds multiple clauses a little complicated: if you are such, you can always wait for the graphic novel), but more to the point it is not his clarity as a writer but his clarity as a thinker which will attract all to this book. And yes, while Gore does love his machines (called by Brooks a "radical technological determinist," a moniker I might think better suited to someone who goes to war in an attempt to root out cutting-edge destructive weapons that were never even actually suspected to be there, but I will let it rest) he makes his point over and over that it is televisions one-sidedness that he finds to be the greatest threat to a well-connected citizenry, and offers solutions involving the internet rater than simply cursing the offending machines. In fact, throughout the book, Gore--painted by right wing pundits like Brooks as not exactly a "people person," which was often held in relief to the donwhome affability of our current despot (who, incidentally, never meets the commoners, only dignitaries or stars, so all that flap about desiring to have a beer with Bush is actually irrelevant--he has a lot of people fooled)--is invested mostly in people interacting, creating communities be they right or left. He speaks of moveon.org and rightmarch.org as two shining examples about how technology can inform people.

Another misreading: "Has Al Gore actually ever looked at the internet? He spends much of this book praising cold, dispassionate logic, but is that what he really finds on most political blogs or in his email folder?" This rhetorical question of course goes unanswered, and rightly so because frankly this is one of the most despicable things I've ever seen in a book review: hang the man out to dry with a posed question. "Gore's imperviousness to reality" he continues "is not the most striking feature of the book. It's the chilliness and sterility of his worldview. Gore is laying out a comprehensive theory of social development, but it allows almost no role for family, friendship, neighborhood or just face-to-face contact." This is, presumably, contra the oakiness of our current administration, who purports to help people and then disgraces themselves, sans mea culpa, in the face of Katrina; who consistently lie to us about our war, our tax cuts, funneling money to corporations which, when last I look, are in fact the enemies of "family, friendship, neighborhood or just face-to-face contact" as they elevate the wealthy, strip the poor, and wholly eliminate the middle class. If that's not a dispassionate approach, handily the iciest administration in American history, I shudder to think of what is. And this White-House received bit of counterpress is not even accurate: Gore, quite the contrary, calls for a certain coming together of people, he wants citizens to again have a say. And if they cannot afford to buy television slots (or even if they can: apparently one Super Bowl disallowed a MoveOn.Org sponsored spot that was critical of the White House, but allowed one in praise) and people no longer read newspapers, the youthful technology of the internet is a fantastic solution.

Most scurrilous about this review, however, is that Brooks commits a sin of omission that ought to get him fired: he leaves out the main point of the book, which is a long overdue scathing account of how Bush and his attendant people have utterly and completely failed. Finally a (possible) candidate who has the nerve to say what most of the country is feeling--that this has in fact been the most damaging and unscrupulous administration in American history--and the Times winnows its focus to only one small aspect of the book, leaving out its main point entirely. Is it pompous, in a democracy, to criticize these temporary offices set up to help the country run smoother? If you are getting your opinions from the White House (as I believe Brooks, like Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, and the whole rogues gallery of wailing, lying banshees that for some reason have our ear, is) then of course you could. But Al Gore has finally scrupled a response to our current problem--and it is a massive, probably unfixable problem that is going to result in thousands more dying at least--and of course the heart of his argument is wholly ignored. It's like reviewing a production of Macbeth and citing it a comedy because you choose to focus solely on the hysterically drunken gatekeeper. Forest, meet trees.

So please do not listen to this warmonger's incorrect mis- or non-reading of Al Gore's book. The work itself is hardly perfect--I wanted at least some discussion of the horrors of the dimpled chad, but alas nary a mention; and his faith-based solutions made me wince a bit--but at least we have this person who can write a complex sentence, quote from great historians and philosophers, and who is truly taking a stand on these issues. And his book and film "An Inconvenient Truth" were so tremendously effective that even our lame duck President Designate is now addressing, in however sound-bite-ey a fashion, the need to remedy our treatment of the earth. All I can say is, I hope Gore hits the silver screen with these details, because he is both fair and right, hardly self-congratulatory, and if he as the technocrat (which he is not) would like to see the world be safer and cleaner and better for all of us, who is a criminal apologist like David Brooks to stand in his way.

Please write to the Times and remind them of their negligence, which cannot be denied.



Blogger jodru said...

Brooks' column is not a review, just to be clear. It was a column about the book. A lot of your anger seems directed at the disservice Brooks is doing as a reviewer, but he's simply writing about the book, not offering a review.

It seems you're commiting the mistake of unilateral thinking, which you attribute to Brooks. He supports the war; Q.E.D., he's regurgitating the White House's talking points.

But Brooks has been a staunch free-thinker when it comes to this war, and he's consistently one of the most fair-minded and well-balanced conservative talking heads. He has no patience for partisanship, and very little use for political theater, and he's a knack for deconstructing both down to the important issues that underpin them.

That's all he's doing in this column. "Yeah, yeah, it's Al Gore. The Oscar, the potential Nobel Prize, maybe another run at the Presidency, but have you seen what he's really saying in this book? While it's interesting, it's also kind of creepy..."

3:17 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

First of all, who are you Jodru? And how did you happen by my site? Just curious.

You are right, it is not a book review, but when someone--particularly as respected a columnist as Brooks--begins his article by a vivisection of the prose, it smells like book review. And if he meant the article to be simply geared to one aspect of the book, I wish he'd announced that. After all, it comes off as a review but is really a one-sided slam at a person, a priori I suspect. Leaving out the whole premise of the book when speaking of it is in fact the sin of ommission, and this he does.

And as to Brooks' well-balanced nature, this is recently true. But the same person who, when the war in Iraq was more fashionable, basically said that though he saw no evidence that this war was needed he still felt compelled to be excited about it because he was simply into it, I find that a little unforgivable. I do not know that he recives his talking points from the White House, but from time to time he sure writes and thinks like someone who does.

And as to my own unilateral thinking, it's more that I feel this war was wrong, that there's never been a reasonable arguement advanced on its behalf, and so I do feel that anyone who ever supported it--and this includes a number of Democrats, and even some journalists like Christopher Hitchens who I usually respect immensely--especially in light of the counterevidence, is not someone who's opinion about those who oppose it I am going to take seriously. If you can give me the logical argument why anyone would think this was a good idea, and who might maintain it, I'd be happy to hear it.

And as to Brooks' mild assasination of Gore, his damning with faint praise, it's the 2000 arguments all done up again. And if Brooks wanted to explain what Gore was really saying in the book (as you maintain) then to omit it's main thrust because it hardly suits your argument or your pre-ordained assesment of the man, well that's more irresponsible than a bad book review.

I am not partisan, I do not think that because someone is Conservative that they are evil, I really don't (even though the last six or seven years has given me plenty of reasons to do so), but I hate to see an important book given such a shallow glance due to the obvious--obvious--partisanship of the writer. And one can declare one hates a partisan argument all one likes, but when you advance one you are certainly responsible for it.

7:24 PM  
Blogger jodru said...

Me? I'm just ...

Brooks has always been well-balanced. You can catch him weekly on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, where he consistently espouses a fundamentally conservative viewpoint but reveals his impatience with the rhetoric of partisanship.

BTW, conservativism is the true liberalism. I'd wager 10 to 1 you're more conservative than you think!

But back to Brooks' column, you really threw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. He says that the book is 'well worth reading', and it's clear that he feels a lot of what Gore has to say should be heeded. However, he also struggles to understand why Gore is just so fundamentally uncomfortable encountering people on their own terms (his chief weakness as a candidate).

As to the war, for many logical people, the war was never about WMD's (we knew there weren't any before we went in), or Al Qaeda having ties to Iraq (Osama hated Saddam). It was about the UN.

Either the UN means something, or it doesn't. Either it's a body that makes rules and enforces them, or it's a debating society. And the UN had spoken voluminously and forcefully on Iraq.

Resolution after resolution was passed forcing Iraq to do everything from renounce terrorism to allow weapons inspectors. Iraq consistently failed to comply. Iraq consistently thumbed its nose at the UN, and continue to posture as an aggressor.

So, when your resolutions are ignored, what's the next step, if you're the UN? That's the fundamental question
Bush asked in 2002. Any thinking person wouldn't hesitate to conclude that, in international affairs, if a body is to have any power, it must be able to use military force. What's the point of having a UN if it can't enforce its own rules?

Now, there's a whole other argument about whether the next step should have been a war. The utter lack of a coherent strategy for a war should have given Bush pause enough to at least create one before he went in, but we are where we are. And like so many problems in Washington, bashing one side or the other is going to achieve zilch.

One almost needs a cold, dispassionate, dare I say, Vulcan approach to the subject.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Jodru, do you have something to do with New Music ReBlog?

Look, I am always open to new and divergent opinions, and honestly nobody's ever shown me that particular perspective on the war, but I wholly and respectfully disagree that the war was never about the weapons or Iraq and Al-Queda, because this is, allegedly, a democracy, so if you are trying to go to war on the taxpayer's money and misleading them as to why you are doing it, than in every legal court you are in serious violation, so I hold them accountable for what they said. And even reading between the lines, the UN is by no means a more compelling reason than the fiscal benefits.

Now call me a flaming liberal if you must--I am, and you probably will--but I do believe in strict accountability. And as to my throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I did not: I still believe Brooks to be derilect, even if he's saying to read Gore because really he's not, he's judiging him severely (and falsley) based on some misinterpreted notions around the book. I believe it is Brooks who is throwing out the Baby with the Bathwater.

10:11 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home