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Jonah Lehrer Is Not An Unfairly Treated Victim

[ 38 ] April 10, 2015 |

Apparently, Jon Ronson’s new book has a lengthy defense of Jonah Lehrer, equating him with Justine Sacco, the PR person who lost her job over a single apparently racist tweet that almost certainly wasn’t. As Daniel Engber explains in detail, this really isn’t going to fly. Engber finds more examples of Lehrer’s malpractice from the book prior to Imagine (which has also been withdrawn by the publisher):

Ronson makes a point of praising Lehrer’s other work. “Jonah wrote good things through his short career, essays untainted by transgression,” he says. But the Dylan quotes in Imagine were just the brightly colored fungus sprouting from a permeating rot. The Lehrer corpus is immense, and only a fraction of it has been looked at in detail—Charles Seife reviewed just 18 posts for Wired online, out of “several hundred”—yet even the most tentative surveys have dredged up misbehavior. Is it possible that Lehrer didn’t know what he was doing when he spruced up an anecdote from A. R. Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist in a piece for Nature, then blamed his editor for his own deception? Is it possible that he didn’t know what he was doing when he rewrote and reimagined details from Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails for Wired?

Those “mistakes” are already on the public record. It’s all too easy to unearth more. A few days ago I looked at the first chapter of How We Decide, which describes quarterback Tom Brady’s Super Bowl–winning drive against the St. Louis Rams in 2002. Lehrer’s account of those 81 seconds closely follows one from Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything, by Charles P. Pierce, which also tells that story in its first chapter. Lehrer cites the Pierce book for two specific quotes, but his game analysis and structure are more or less the same. Some sentences are copied word-for-word, like this one: “The coaches were confident that the young quarterback wouldn’t make a mistake.”

Lehrer’s version also has a multiplicity of errors and misstatements. He says, for example, that the Rams were favored by 14 points, “which made this the most lopsided Super Bowl ever played.” The game in question appears to be tied for the fourth-most lopsided in Super Bowl history. (The San Francisco 49ers were favored by 19 points in 1994.) That’s a minor point, to be sure, but it stands in for the bigger problem: Lehrer doesn’t just make “mistakes” about Bob Dylan; he makes “mistakes” about lots of things—and his “mistakes” tend to make his stories more exciting.

Right. In a sense, Lehrer’s actual plagiarism was an extreme manifestation of the laziness and sloppiness that was pervasive in Lehrer’s work. As Isaac Chotiner explained before it was known that Lehrer made up Dylan quotes, the story Lehrer told about Dylan as a centerpiece of Imagine — i.e. that “Like A Rolling Stone” represented a new form of songwriting — needed the invented quotes because it was utter crap. You don’t even need any particular expertise about the history of American popular song to know this — you would just need to be basically familiar with Dylan’s many influences or his work before Highway 61 Revisited. I have hard time seeing Lehrer as some kind of victim, particularly since he continues to get book contracts and lucrative speaking gigs despite his fabulism, plagiarism, and generally sloppy and under-informed work.

America’s Progressive Alternative In 2016: A Civil Rights Hero!

[ 50 ] April 10, 2015 |

Nick Gillespie has a question of great seriousity:

Who’s Better on Race Than Rand Paul?

Seriously. And I include Hillary Clinton. And not just on one or two token positions. On racial injustice issues, Rand Paul brings it.

When Rand Paul announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, it didn’t take long for opponents across the ideological spectrum to attack him for being either Neville Chamberlain on estrogen (the neocon Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America), or trapped in an empty box along with nonexistent libertarians (Paul Krugman), or pre-emptively for figuring to be “the worst president on civil rights since the 1800s” (Think Progress).

That last charge is particularly curious, since of all real and imagined Republican and Democratic candidates for the White House, Rand Paul is the only one who seriously questioned just what the fuck was going on last summer in Ferguson, Missouri, when an unarmed black man was shot  and killed by a white policeman. “There is a systematic problem with today’s law enforcement,” wrote Paul in Time, on August 14. “Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” It was only a long two weeks later that Hillary Clinton, then and now the presumptive Democratic candidate, got around to weighing in on the matter with platitudes such as “we are better than that.”

Who’s better on race than Rand Paul? Um, everyone who (unlike Paul) has actually always supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How about we start there? Then we could cite everyone who actually opposes vote suppression laws (as opposed to meaningless arguments that Republicans should support them more quietly.) And, for our advanced lesson, we can not that his proposals to massively slash federal spending for the poor would disproportionately and devastatingly affect people of color.

It’s nice that Paul has some good positions on criminal justice issues, but overall on racial issues he’s far worse than any mainstream Democrat.

The Shape of the Republican Race

[ 123 ] April 10, 2015 |

Cohn’s analysis is very strong. I agree with the bottom line — it’s essentially a race between Walker and Bush (I would put the former significantly ahead), with maybe Rubio an outside shot — but it’s worth reading beyond that.

The Divided Soul of the Analytically Conscious Fan

[ 12 ] April 10, 2015 |

Fitting that on the 150th anniversary of Appomattox we have reason to remember Sherman’s march through Western Canada.

I mentioned last year that there has generally been one overachieving NHL team that produced heated debate between old-fart sportswriters and analytic types.  To be frank, this year the Flames are that team.  As a Flames fan I’m happy to be back in the playoffs, but I also know damned well that if the Flames and Kings played in 100 seasons the L.A. would finish ahead in the standings in at least 80 of them.  And yet, for the reasons McIndoe largely identifies, the level of controversy hasn’t been the same as in past years.  Part of this is analytics getting more accepted, part of this is that the Flames were expected to be in the McDavid race so they’re easier to accept as overachieving underdogs, part of it is that Toronto isn’t involved.

The Flames having a better record than their possession stats isn’t all luck.  Their goaltending has been solid, they’ve been shorthanded less than anybody else in the league, their leading scorer has maintained a well above-average shooting percentage for 4 straight years now and while it’s too soon to tell Monahan may be one of the players who can sustain that as well.  But, still, they’re fortunate to make the playoffs.  But despite the nagging voice reminding me that nobody is happier about Calgary eliminating LA than Canucks fans, I’m happy to be back anyway.

Jesus Christ, What A Pathetic Operation Tucker Carlson Is Running

[ 17 ] April 9, 2015 |

Suitable for screencapping, let me say that I think the Daily Caller is a first-rate news organization that will totally be the conservative New York Times.

How Many Michael Slagers Completely Get Away With It?

[ 130 ] April 9, 2015 |

What’s particularly scary about the cold-blooded killing of Walter Scott is that Slager almost certainly would have not been charged had he not been videotaped.

A Reminder on Tsarnaev

[ 54 ] April 9, 2015 |


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty in the Boston Marathon bombing.

At this point, it seems worth remembering that several prominent Republicans, including the 2008 Republican candidate for president, took the opportunity of Tsarnaev’s apprehension to try to read the Fifth and Sixth Amendments out of the Constitution:

Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Peter King argued against trying Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a criminal court, instead saying that he should be held as an enemy combatant and questioned.

“It is clear the events we have seen over the past few days in Boston were an attempt to kill American citizens and terrorize a major American city,” the four Republicans wrote in a joint statement. “The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim, and kill innocent Americans.

In fairness, presumably King would grant any IRA terrorists captured on American soil their full due process rights.

The freakout over the Obama administration’s attempt to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a civilian court is a too-little-discussed and disgraceful episode. The idea that due process can’t handle the trial of suspected terrorists is wrong on multiple levels, and always has been. People who think that the Bill of Rights and counterterrorism are incompatible have always been wrong.

The Nuts Behind the California Drought

[ 139 ] April 8, 2015 |

Admittedly, the near-death experiences give me an anti-nut bias. But Helaine Olen’s point here is crucial:

Barely mentioned was the fact that the clueless wealthy might just as well go ahead and turn on the taps—let ten thousand golf course bougainvillea bloom. They aren’t the problem, or not much of the problem.

Listen up: California’s agricultural sector uses about 80 percent of the state’s water. As Mother Jones reported, it takes one gallon of water to grow a single almond, and nearly five gallons to make a walnut edible.

But, hey, Governor Brown says those almonds and other produce grown in California aren’t living large. That’s why agriculture was all but excused from his edict. “They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” Brown told ABC’s This Week, of the farmers. “They’re providing much of the fruits and vegetables of America.”

Nuts: Too tasty to fail?

The ritual shaming of the public, in which politicians blame us for their failures, seems like democratic politics in reverse. And the bigger the crisis, the greater the gall. For example, as we all know but few care to remember, the United States recently went through a financial crisis. Banks made massively leveraged bets that didn’t pay off. Complicated, risky financial innovations were presented as safe by people and institutions all of who should have known better. Subprime mortgages were pushed and promoted, often under false pretenses. Credit was offered up to Americans, many of whom took it because they were told it is was a good idea, and cheap, and, anyway, their incomes weren’t keeping up with the cost of housing, healthcare, and education and they needed to get money from somewhere, dammit.

And when it all went bad, who was to blame? Was it the banks who rigged the system? Uh, no. It was all of us. “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?,” screamed Rick Santelli on CNBC. Others blamed the financial illiteracy of the American public. There was actually a 2012 Senate hearing entitled “Financial Literacy: Empowering Americans to Prevent the Next Financial Crisis,” and no, it didn’t explain how teaching people to pay off their credit cards in full every month would have stopped the too-big-to-fail financial services sector from blowing up synthetic credit default swaps.

This is nuts. You and I can no more prevent the next financial crisis any more than some one percenter in Beverly Hills can solve the California water shortage by letting his lawn go desert native.

“We Also Need to Solve the Pakistan Problem.”

[ 122 ] April 7, 2015 |


The Bush administration in one memo. The fact that it was sent to the the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth is a bonus. Ah, for the days when the adults were in charge.

I’m still waiting for the memo from Farley explaining how revenues can get into more the million a year range.

Very Serious Candidate Makes Very Serious Argument

[ 144 ] April 7, 2015 |

You may remember Carly Fiorina, who decided to follow up her track record of nearly ruining Hewlett-Packard with kicking some dirt on the grave of California’s Republican Party by becoming a dismal candidate. She is, for some reason, pretending to run for president, but her vision is as acute as it ever was:

Carly Fiorina is blaming liberal environmentalists for what she calls a “man-made” drought in California.

“It is a man-made disaster,” Fiorina, who is “seriously considering” a run for president in 2016, told the Blaze Radio on Monday.

That seems plausible.

Never Forget That Jann Wenner Has Standards

[ 135 ] April 7, 2015 |

Don’t let the fact that nobody will resign or lose their jobs because of the disastrously botched UVA story make you think that you can get away with just anything:

In the end, no one involved in the story’s production will be fired, and amazingly, Sabrina Rubin Erdely—who knowingly dodged a series of basic journalistic steps in order to ensure her story could keep its shocking, deliberately non-representative lede—will still write for the magazine. We’ve come a long way since 1996, when Jann Wenner fired senior music editor Jim DeRogatis after eight months on the job for writing a negative review of Hootie and the Blowfish.

Previous to his firing, DeRogatis was told he was a “bad apple and [didn’t know anything about music]” after he filed his review, which was swapped for a positive one; he later told the New York Observer that perhaps Hootie’s eight and a half million records sold had something to do with Wenner’s decision. The day the Observer report came out, he was fired.

The key, if you’re going to survive, would appear to let Wenner write the instantly embarrassing reviews of his buddies’ terrible records himself. (Incidentally, do Wenner’s reviews allow for a Straussian reading? When he calls Lenny Kravitz and Rob Thomas “outstanding artists,” is he just a suck-up with horrible taste and/or the willingness to shamelessly lie, or is the idea to allow for an esoteric reading where the audience figures out that while he’s obligated to give his friend’s record 5 stars nobody should actually consider buying the thing?)

He Went Down to the Demonstration to Get His Fair Share of His Half-Sister’s Abuse

[ 23 ] April 7, 2015 |

These things I did not know until they were pointed out by a colleague:

Judith Miller grew up in Miami and Los Angeles, where she graduated from Hollywood High School. Her father, Bill Miller, was the owner of a night club in New Jersey and later in Las Vegas.[9] Her sister Susan has a degree in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her half-brother Jimmy Miller[9] was a record producer during the late 1960s and early 1970s, working in support of the Rolling Stones, Traffic, the Spencer Davis Group and Delaney and Bonnie, among others.

As many of you know, the good Miller produced four of the greatest works of 20th century popular music: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. He also played the drums on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Happy,” and added the more cowbell to “Honky Talk Women.” Alas, Judy burned off all of the family’s karmic deposits by letting Dick Cheney’s demon life get her in its sway.

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