Friday, February 08, 2002

In a story about a commission report critical of Amtrak (Advisory Panel Tells Congress That Amtrak Should Be Split) , the New York Times extensively quotes commission members who want to break up the railroad. Several versions of the thought that Amtrak should be "run like a business" were included, as well as arguments that passenger rail service should be privatized. Nowhere is it mentioned that Amtrak exists because privately-owned railroads abandoned passenger rail service in the 1970s, nor does the author of the story mention that Great Britain's railroad privatisation scheme, Railtrack, has been fraught with controversy and marred by declining safety and quality of service. Then the pro-privatization quotations are balanced only by the following half sentence: "Norman Y. Mineta, the Secretary of Transportation, who is a member of the commission, abstained, and a labor representative, Charles Moneypenny, issued a sharp dissent."

Monday, February 04, 2002

While it has not been as widely reported as his World War II borrowings, Stephen Ambrose was caught three years ago (by a Washington University student named Lara Marks) employing similar tactics in his blockbuster Lewis and Clark book, Undaunted Courage. The story appears in yesterday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch. No news report on the pop-history plagiarism scandal would be complete without a dig at us evil academics: "Unlike some professional historians, Marks doesn't fault Ambrose for being a popularizer. 'It's really important to bring history to the people,' she said." Usually, we are just accused of being boring; now we're snobs as well. All I have read professional historians saying is that yes, this sure looks like plagiarism and that students would be severely penalized for doing anything similar. (It has been said that any historian who popularizes as often as Ambrose might be tempted to take shortcuts.) On what television show did reporter Susan Thomson see some John Houseman-esque history perfesser haughtily condemning Ambrose or McCullough for daring to reach out to the popular audience? I get the distinct impression that many people in the media have some sort of complex about their college teachers. Was someone spending too much time working on the school newspaper when they should have been studying for their history midterm?

Friday, February 01, 2002

The J. Clifford Baxter suicide story will make an interesting contrast with the Vince Foster suicide story. While I imagine that both men really did kill themselves, Vince Foster was subject of years of right-wing conspiracy theorizing, much of it from relatively respectable sources despite the fact that the whole scenario was drawn from a Hollywood thriller and the lack of damaging information that Foster could have been hiding. Now we have the largest bankruptcy in American history, involving a company with heavy political connections and a record of destroying evidence. Moreover, unlike the Foster case, we have family and friends who actually do suspect foul play.
(from Amityville Buries a Native Son ( "The people who know him closely doubt [that] it [was a suicide]," said Kretz [a family friend]. "The family doesn't buy it." It will be the ultimate proof of Hillary Clinton's "vast conspiracy" argument if, as I suspect, we hear nothing more about the Baxter suicide from the ostensible truth-seekers of the right or from a media establishment that increasingly seems to take its cues from that quarter.