WHO IS SISSELA BOK! Outlook asked an academic royal to review a con mans book: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2011
The moral demise of Brooks: It has been stunning to watch the intellectual demise of the New York Times David Brooks. This morning, he muses about the two major parties demagogic approaches to Medicare:
Whichever party demagogues best!
Brooks imagines the Democrats accusing Republicans of ending Medicare. Last evening, we saw the new head of the DNC on Hardball, and that isnt what she said. Here was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in her very first statement:
She said it twice, in the first twenty seconds: The GOP wants to end Medicare as we know it. Demagoguing nicely himself, Brooks put a demagogic face on what is being said.
On the same op-ed page this morning, Paul Krugman offers a serious account of what has actually been proposed in the Ryan plan. He takes a few minor liberties at one or two minor pointshis 76 percent statistic is selective, for instancebut his presentation is thoroughly serious, as is his topic. As Krugman notes, Democrats are telling the truth about Ryans planand he seems to know what is being said:
Krugman writes a serious piece. By way of contrast, Brooks has descended to a new realm in the past six months. What illness has left him this way?
Some Democrats and liberals will clown on this topic, of course. On Wednesday night, we thought the Maddow show was an unrelenting hour of self-absorption and innate political dumbness. One problem: Maddow seems to have no idea that the Medicare debate is anything but a political story. Does Medicare need to be improved, adjusted or reconfigured in some way? This willful child doesnt seem to know that these are serious questions.
Does Medicare need to be improved in some way? On Thursday, the Times editorial board said the answer is yes. Sooner or later, Democrats will have to admit that Medicare cannot keep running as it isits medical costs are out of control, the editors said. Bill Clinton was right on Wednesday to warn his party that it must bring down those costs if it is to have any credibility on the deficit and the economy.
Is that assessment correct? Wed like to see Maddow stop her incessant clowning and bring some real experts onto her show to discuss this matter on the merits. Why not ask Krugman himself?
Final point: On Thursday, the Times presented this op-ed piece discussing ways Medicare can save money without reducing meaningful care. Could Maddow get over herself long enough to give such topics a hearing?
Almost surely, the answer is no. For unknown reasons, Lawrence ODonnells show seems to be getting much, much smarter. This is a very good thing. On Maddow, though, its all about herand about ways we can learn to adore her, despite her political dumbness.
PART 4WHO IS SISSELA BOK (permalink): Last Sunday, Paul Farhis piece on the public schools was the best Outlook had to offer.
His piece dealt with an important subject. It tended to challenge a stultified piece of highly scripted conventional wisdom. In a real journalistic culture, this is the sort of report youd expect to find in Outlook, the high-profile Sunday ideas section of our most famous political newspaper.
Even there, Farhi semi-bungled his effort, in a very standard way, as we described yesterday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/26/11). Outlooks editors were too conventionally clueless to push him back on the track. Meanwhile, the rest of the section was littered with piffle, as weve described all week.
That said, weve saved the worst for last. Out on page one, Outlook published a book review which was a near atrocitya piece which embodied this countrys political/journalistic/academic breakdown of the past twenty-five years.
The review was written by Sissela Bok. But who the heck is that?
Sissela Bok has been famous for lying since 1978. Rather, Bok has been famous for writing a book of that name. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life first appeared in the aforementioned yearand it may even have a few merits. According to a Newsweek review, three of Bok's chapters are especially astringent (the book had sixteen chapters in all). Newsweek said Bok was especially sharp on the lawyer's duty to the court when he knows his client is lying and on the question of deceptive social-science experiments. According to Newsweek, her freshest observations are on lying to sick and dying medical patients.
From that day to this, Bok has been famous for her high-minded critiques of lying. She has been a go-to person for high-end news orgs when issues of lying arise. For that reason, Bok was featured on the front page on Sundays Outlook section. She had been asked to review James B. Stewarts new book on the way an alleged epidemic perjury has, in Stewarts words, infected nearly every aspect of society.
Bok was booked as an expert on lying. But one more thing should be said at this point: Very clearly, Bok is part of world academic royalty. This status makes her work in Outlook especially revelatory.
Who is Sissela Bok? As Wikipedia accurately notes, she is the [Swedish-born] daughter of two Nobel Prize winners: Gunnar Myrdal, who won the Economics prize with Friedrich Hayek in 1974, and Alva Myrdal, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982. But Bok isnt just an academic royal by birth; in this country, she is also an academic royal by marriage.
Bok received her doctorate in philosophy from Harvard in 1970. For well over fifty years, she has been married to Derek Bok, who served as dean of the Harvard Law School from 1968-71, then as president of the university until 1971. As for Sissela Bok herself, she is currently a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. Before that, was a philosophy professor at Brandeis.
For what its worth, Derek Bok comes from high stock too. Just click here.
Lets state the obvious: Theres nothing wrong with any part of Sissela Boks background, or with her long marriage. But she sits at the very top of American and world academic culture. As such, she represents a high academic class which has increasingly ducked the real fights of the worlda high class which has refused to serve this society over the past thirty years.
High-minded pap about truth to the side, Boks moral absence was on display in Sundays Outlook section.
As noted, Bok was reviewing a book about perjury, a book written by James Stewart. She showed no sign of understanding the irony of this assignmentthe irony involved in Stewarts choice of topic. By way of contrast, Digby knows all about it. In recent weeks, she has written two separate posts noting the irony of Stewart writing on truth. (For the second post, with a link to the first, go aheadjust click here.)
Digby saw the context; Bok didnt. True to the ways of her high useless class, the royal seemed utterly clueless in her review of Stewarts new work. Eventually, she noted the latest world-class mistake committed by the comically awful author. But just as a person would expect, she seemed unaware of the gruesome history involved here.
Go aheademit low chuckles! Once again, Stewart has authored a comically awful howler, in his books opening sentence:
In that second paragraph, Bok leaves Stewarts basic premise for dead. (No real surprise there!) But in that first paragraph, Bok describes Stewarts latest astonishing howler, an erroneous claim of vast proportionsa comical error which happens to come in his books very first sentence. Even there, it doesnt occur to our lofty royal that something might be rotten in Stewarts overall work. After all, Stewart is a bit of a journalistic royallong ago, he won a Pulitzer Prizeand Bok was apparently off the planet during the years which Digby remembers. Since royals always bow to royals today, the great lady overlooks Stewarts broken premise and his clownish opening sentence. In these, her opening paragraphs, she bows and scrapes to his obvious greatness, ignoring those warning signs:
Stewarts basic premise cant be supportedand his very first sentence advanced an erroneous claim of vast proportions! But so what? Stewart is a High Gotham royal! So Bok ignores his clownish ineptitude, deciding to type the requisite words about his superb skills as an investigative reporter.
In such ways, academic royals have told the world that it can go hang over the past thirty years.
What irony might Bok have noticed in Stewarts latest project? She might have recalled an earlier erroneous claim of vast proportions, back when he wrote a bungled book which helped change our politics in a very destructive way. That book, of course, was Blood Sport, a book which helped advance the claim that President Clinton and Hillary Clinton were a pair of low-station crooks. How bad was Blood Sport, a book Bok praises? Last month, Digby offered this passage from Gene Lyons and Joe Conasons The Hunting of the President:
Lyons simply savaged Blood Sport in Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater (1996); we couldnt hope to retell the whole story here. But given Boks mention of Stewarts latest comically awful mistake, lets review the giant groaner which emerged from his publicity tour for that influential book.
Its had to be less competent than Stewart, though Bok doesnt seem to have heard. At the end of his savage treatment of Blood Sport, Lyons set the scene for the giant howler to which Stewart gave birth at that time:
We strongly recommend Lyons complete, scathing treatment of this matter in Fools for Scandal. But that summer, in Harpers, he gave a shorter account of what Stewart told Koppel that night. In this passage, Lyons explained Stewarts previous giant errorpart of the long war which eventually sent Bush to the White House:
Sic semper upper-class pseudo-journalists. In his latest thriller, Stewart makes a equally cosmic blunder in his very first sentence. This time, he massively misrepresents a statistic. Back then, he failed to check both sides of a crucial document, while accusing the president and first lady of probable crimes.
Trust us: Boks royal class doesnt know about that. As royals, they sat out the war against Clinton, then the war against Gore. At Harvard, they sat inside their own presidents quarters and shut the loud noise of the world away. Precisely for that reason, Bok is still called upon by upper-end news orgs when matters of lying arise.
They know this academic royal is safethat she is one of their upper-end kind.
Sissela Bok sat out the Clinton-Gore years. During that ugly political decade, her royal class threw the world down the stairs. Almost surely, she doesnt know the history of Stewarts earlier book, the one she thinks is so superb. Almost surely, she has never heard about Stewarts earlier clownish errors.
It isnt that no one discussed that work. Stewarts gruesome work in Blood Sport was discussed in a few high places aside from Harpers. Anthony Lewis did so in the New York Times, as did Martin Walker in the Atlantic (see below). But Sissela Bok is an academic royal of the highest global station. As weve long told you, pseudo-academics like Bok have sat out the past few decades. In this way, they have helped the forces of power stifle American lives.
Bok doesnt seem to know about Fool for Scandal, which appeared in 1996. What was she doing that very year? For a taste of the sheer inanity which passes for high academic culture, well show you, tomorrow or Monday, where Sissela Bok was that year.
Tomorrow or Monday: It was a very dumb year
She should have read the Atlantic: In the Atlantic, Martin Walker described Stewarts bungling. Within the worlds of pseudo-journalism and faux academe, this has all been disappeared:
To do the Whitewater saga justice, any fair-minded person, citizen or voter must read Gene Lyons. So too for real academics.
Bok doesnt seem to have taken Walkers advice. Decades later, she is dumbly praising the skill of the investigative reporter who read only one side of the paper, even as he finds him making his latest clown-car mistakes.
In part 5, well show you the type of ludicrous work with which Bok was distracted that year. 1996 was a very good yearfor the sheer dumbness of royals.