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I’m going to spend the rest of my life apologizing to Jack Cashill, aren’t I?

[ 0 ] September 30, 2009 |

(Warning: a very long post about a very silly man that I would’ve tucked beneath the fold if Blogger allowed such things.)

Because today he interviewed journalist Christopher Andersen (who, like him, writes celebrity biographies) on The Mancow Show and Andersen announced that “he had two separate sources ‘within Hyde Park’ [who claim William Ayers wrote Dreams From My Father] but, understandably, would not elaborate.” Two anonymous sources from, as they say, the neighborhood is the tipping point for me: when combined with the credibility Andersen has earned by dint of a “highly successful career as a celebrity journalist” and the evidence gathered during Cashill’s “textual sleuthing,” no intellectually honest person could doubt that there’s a there in there. How could there not be? Andersen “interviewed some 200 people for the book,” which is a whole lot. Here is a list of them drawn from the back matter and organized by chapters:

Chapters 1 and 2

  1. Janet Allison
  2. Maxine Box
  3. Clive Gray
  4. Joyce Feuer
  5. Leslie Hairston
  6. Lowell Jacobs
  7. Keith Kakugawa
  8. Eric Kusunoki
  9. Julie Lauster
  10. Alan Lum
  11. Chris McLachlin
  12. Abner Mikva
  13. Newton Minow
  14. Toni Preckwinkle
  15. Vinai Thummalapally
  16. Carolyn Trani
  17. Pake Zane

Chapters 3 and 4

  1. Loretta Augustin-Herron
  2. Bradford Berenson
  3. Cheryl Johnson
  4. Hazel Johnson
  5. Jerry Kellman
  6. Mike Kruglik
  7. Yvonne Lloyd
  8. Alvin Love
  9. Abner Mikva*
  10. Judson Miner
  11. Newton Minow*
  12. Linda Randle
  13. Vinai Thummalapally*
  14. Laurence Tribe

Chapters 5 to 8

  1. Janet Allison*
  2. Letitia Baldrige
  3. Mary Ann Campbell
  4. Joyce Feuer*
  5. Leslie Hairston*
  6. Tom Harkin
  7. Coralee Jacobs
  8. Denny Jacobs
  9. Lowell Jacobs
  10. Mike Jacobs
  11. John Kerry
  12. Edward Koch
  13. Rick Lazio
  14. Alan Love*
  15. Abner Mikva*
  16. Judson Miner*
  17. Newton Minow*
  18. Jeremiah Posedel
  19. Toni Preckwinkle*
  20. Betsy Vandercook
  21. Larry Walsh
  22. Wellington Wilson
  23. Zarif

If you subtract the sources I asterisked because they were counted in previous chapters, the final tally of Andersen’s 200 some interviews is an impressive 43. That means that only 157 or so of them were unwilling to speak truth to the powerful lies of the President on the record. That so few of them were willing to follow the example of the young Obama’s “roommate and closest friend . . . Siddiqi” and speak on the—hold on a minute. Does anyone see Siddiqi’s name among those listed as interviewees? No?

Must be Andersen toeing the ethical line again and passing off information from someone else’s published work as original research. No big deal: Siddiqi told someone that he had no memory of Obama having had a “year-long relationship with a rich, green-eyed lovely” who, as Cashill corroborated via independent textual sleuthing, was actually Ayers’s former flame, Diana Oughton. The credibility of Siddiqi’s memories is further enhanced by the fact that when he lived with Obama, he spent the majority of his time snorting cocaine, smoking marijuana, and perfecting his Cheech impersonation. Who wouldn’t believe his memory of that period is infallible?

Cashill anticipates that the critics who balk at the “lack of attribution by Andersen” or believe that “the citation of [Cashill] as a source and/or a reliance upon [him] as a source” constitutes a demonstration of intellectual unseriousness. Neither of those positions (both of which I have taken) “imply,” as Cashill claims, “that Andersen is a fraud and a liar and the he contrived the story he told” because I’m not implying anything.

The sloppiness of Andersen’s research demonstrably proves that he’s not the sort of celebrity biographer an intelligent person trusts with anonymous sources. Andersen’s inability to recognize the worthlessness of Cashill’s impressionistic “textual sleuthing” demonstrably proves that he’s not the sort of celebrity biographer an intelligent person trusts to do responsible literary analysis. Need I remind you of the “quality” of Cashill’s work?

The A-level match

Cashill:

What Mr. Midwest noticed recently is that both Ayers in [A Kind and Just Parent] and Obama in [Dreams From My Father] make reference to the poet Carl Sandburg. In itself, this is not a grand revelation. Let us call it a C-level match. Obama and Ayers seem to have shared the same library in any case . . . Ayers and Obama, however, go beyond citing Sandburg. Each quotes the opening line of his poem “Chicago” . . . This I would call a B-level match. What raises it up a notch to an A-level match is the fact that both misquote “Chicago,” and they do so in exactly the same way.

Reality:

Both Ayers and Obama misquote the opening line of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” substituting “hog butcher to the world” for “hog butcher for the world.” This mutual error would be significant (an “A-level match”) if Ayers and Obama were the only two people who ever made it, but according to Google Book Search—a secret search engine to which only I have access—the same mistake has been made by Nelson Algren, Alan Lomax, Andrei Codrescu, H.L. Mencken, Paul Krugman, Perry Miller, Donald Hall, Ed McBain, Saul Bellow, S.J. Perelman, Nathanaël West, Ezra Pound, Wright Morris, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress. (To name but a few.) According to Cashill, I have now proven that Dreams From My Father was written by many a dead man of American letters, a living mystery writer, a New York Times columnist and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress. That bears repeating: I have an “A-level match” that proves that Obama’s autobiography was written by a “study of the economic and social effects of automation and other technological changes on industry, commerce, agriculture, education, manpower, and society in Illinois” when Obama was only six years old.

The “baleful” affair

Cashill:

Returning to the exotic, in his Indonesian backyard Obama discovered two “birds of paradise” running wild as well as chickens, ducks, and a “yellow dog with a baleful howl.” In [Ayers'] Fugitive Days, there is even more “howling” than there is in Dreams . . . In [A Kind and Just Parent], he talks specifically about a “yellow dog.” And he uses the word “baleful” to describe an “eye” in Fugitive Days. For the record, “baleful” means “threatening harm.” I had to look it up.

Reality:

Cashill cited as “A-level” evidence the fact that Ayers and Obama used a word he didn’t know, despite his being the Executive Editor of Kansas City’s premier business publication, Ingram’s Magazine; despite his having written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Weekly Standard; despite his having authored five books of non-fiction; and despite the word “baleful” having appeared in print 342 times in the past six months alone. Granted, all those appearances were in high-minded literary publications like Newsday (“[w]ith his baleful countenance, wild hair, sonorous baritone and sage pronouncements”) or leftist rags like The Washington Times (“warn them in baleful tones if they’ve forgotten, say, the Constitution”), so it would be unreasonable to expect Cashill to have been familiar with the word . . . or would be, were it not for the fact that it also appears 19 times in the pages of the American Thinker, the publication for which Cashill penned this tripe. (Seems he can begin his careful literary analysis of the other 848,000 potential ghost writers closer to home.)

Lawyers and legal jargon

Cashill:

To this point, I have just skimmed the 759 items in the bill of particulars in my case against Obama’s literary genius. Not familiar with the term “bill of particulars?” Uncertain myself, I looked that one up too. It means a list of written statements made by a party to a court proceeding. Ayers and Obama each refer knowingly to a “bill of particulars.” Doesn’t everyone?

The answer, of course, is no.

Reality:

The phrase “bill of particulars” is an uncommon construction, and its repeated use indicates that the speaker has a specialized vocabulary in which this construction regularly appears. According to LexisNexis, this is exactly the case: in the past six months, that exact phrase has been written 509 times and every single one of them looks like this:

United States v. Clark, NO. 05-6507, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT, 09a0422n.06;, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 12940; 2009 FED App. 0422N (6th Cir.), June 15, 2009, Filed, NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION. SIXTH CIRCUIT RULE 28(g) LIMITS CITATION TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS. PLEASE SEE RULE 28(g) BEFORE CITING IN A PROCEEDING IN A COURT IN THE SIXTH CIRCUIT. IF CITED, A COPY MUST BE SERVED ON OTHER PARTIES AND THE COURT. THIS NOTICE IS TO BE PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED IF THIS DECISION IS REPRODUCED.

The only people who regularly use the phrase “bill of particulars,” then, are lawyers[.]

Self-evidently hilarious examples of “textual sleuthing”

  1. Common words are common: “Another note of interest is that all of the distinctive words in the last sentence above—’master,’ ‘beast,’ ‘grim,’ ‘unapologetic,’ and ‘deed,’ as well as the phrase ‘hunkered down’—appear in Fugitive Days.
  2. The sea is a pregnant metaphor: “Ayers and Obama both use words that relate to the sea (‘fog, mist, ships, seas, boats, oceans, calms, captains, charts, first mates, storms, streams, wind, waves, anchors, barges, horizons, ports, panoramas, moorings, tides, currents, and things howling, fluttering, knotted, ragged, tangled, and murky’).”
  3. People are lonely: “After the neighbor’s death, the police let themselves into the old man’s apartment, and for no good reason Obama finds himself in the apartment. ‘The loneliness of the scene affected me,’ he writes. Loneliness as a theme courses through Fugitive Days as well.”
  4. Old men are stooped and people wear hats: “In the opening pages, Obama makes an exception to his New York solitude for an elderly neighbor, a “stooped” gentleman who wore a ‘fedora.’ In Fugitive Days, it was Ayers’ grandfather who was “stooped” and a helpful stranger who wore a ‘fedora.’”
  5. Some people are quiet: “Obama tells the reader that the neighbor’s ‘silence’ impressed him. ‘Silence’ impressed Ayers as well. There are at least ten references to the word in Fugitive Days.
  6. Angry people feel rage: “[B]oth Ayers and Obama speak of ‘rage’ the way that Eskimos do of snow—in so many varieties, so often, that they feel the need to qualify it, here as ‘impressive rage,’ elsewhere in Dreams as ‘suppressed rage’ or ‘coil of rage,’ and in Fugitive Days as ‘justifiable rage,’ ‘uncontrollable rage,’ ‘blind rage,’ and, of course, ‘Days of Rage.’”

The Kicker

Cashill tells us he wouldn’t believe himself either: “I have as much faith in the hypothesis that follows as . . . biologists do in evolution, so bear with me please as I, like they, present my evidence in the indicative.” He has as much “faith” in his hypothesis as biologists do in the hypothesis of evolution. I wonder what Intelligence Design advocate Jack Cashill has to say about that kind of faith?

ID partisans across the board believe in micro-evolution: that is, evolution within a species. Some believe in evolution between species, macro-evolution, if guided.

What the ID movement challenges is Darwinian mechanics, random variation and natural selection, an elegant idea in 1859 but in 1999 still just an idea. Neo-Darwinians have as much trouble explaining how complex organs like a wing or an eye—or even a single cell within an eye—could be the result of unguided, incremental change as Darwin did.

Darwin could only hope that the fossil record would one day prove him right. It hasn’t. No evidence has surfaced of a transformation from one species to the next. Nor has anyone offered a satisfactory explanation for the rash of new animal life that inexplicably entered the fossil record during the so-called Cambrian explosion.

I am not about to dignify that creationist nonsense by responding to it. If Cashill really wants to know what use half a wing might be to a flightless bird, he can go ask a penguin.

Conclusion

When I first wrote that anyone who uses “Cashill’s juvenile musings as a hypothetical which, if true, suggests all the unsavory things [they] already believe about Obama,” I didn’t know that Cashill also bought into Intelligent Design, but it makes sense that someone who could compile and be convinced by the evidence above would be a subject of King Tendentiousness himself. Like ID, Cashill’s theory consists of details inexpertly cobbled together by deeply interested parties. The similar caveat applies in both: should it turn out that one day the Great Designer reveals Himself or Obama admits that Ayers helped edit his memoir, the soundness of their respective methodologies would not be validated—all that will be proven is that sometimes tendentious idiots get lucky.

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