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The Iconoclast

Sunday, 17 August 2014
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On Muslims, and appeasement of them, in West Bengal, India, and the world.

Here.

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Posted on 08/17/2014 8:00 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Sunday, 17 August 2014
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This is nothing new - what is new is the MSM taking an interest and informing their readers. From the Sunday Express

VIOLENT Muslim criminals from Britain who are flocking to join Islamic State terrorists are bragging about waging “gangsta jihad” and could pose a deadly threat on our streets if they ever return to the UK. Some have admitted carrying out armed robberies at home to fund their trips to the Syria and Iraq conflicts while others have convictions for drug dealing and violence, with known links to street gangs.

Their battlefield experience, fanaticism, thirst for violence and links to gangs that would give them easy access to weapons, could enable them to launch terrifying attacks in the UK. Last night a Special Branch source said: “The so-called jihad in Iraq and Syria has been particularly inviting to some young British Muslims who are already involved in violent crime in this country. They are attracted by the glamour of fighting for a ruthless organisation like IS and are no strangers to extreme violence and brutality. For many it has been like an adventure holiday and some have referred to ‘gangsta jihad’ in their postings on social media. The language they use, referring to their guns as ‘chrome’ and addressing their ‘homies’ back in the UK, is the sort of street slang associated with criminal gangs.”

Terror expert Raffaello Pantucci, who has been studying the background of British men fighting with IS, warned: “The danger is of serious criminals with battlefield experience using this in civilian situations either as terrorist activity or criminal activity.”

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Posted on 08/17/2014 2:18 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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In Italian, here.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 10:46 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Brief history of a square in Amsterdam, here.
 

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Posted on 08/16/2014 10:38 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Posted on 08/16/2014 3:40 PM by Rebecca Bynum
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Bruce Thornton writes:

Once the heart of liberal education, the study of Greek and Latin languages and literatures has unfortunately been reduced to a prestige discipline found mainly in elite universities rich enough to afford the luxury of a classics program. The once universal high schoolexperience of memorizing Latin declensions and reading some Caesar is nearly extinct compared to sixty years ago. These days most people get their knowledge of antiquity from lurid cable television series like Spartacus, or historically dubiousmovies like Gladiator and the morerecent Pompeii. The foundational ideas, ideals, literature, art, and philosophy of the West are increasingly becoming historical curiosities that like Egyptian mummies or Viking long ships are artifacts, detached from the society and the minds of citizens who continue to live off a cultural capital the nature and origins of which they know nothing.

Those expecting an argument in favor of reviving the study of the classics from Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations, Mary Beard’s new collection of book reviews, will find misleading the dust jacket claim that the book shows why the classical tradition “still matters.” In this collection, Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University and a regular on British television, is more concerned with the intramural professional disagreements and conflicting interpretations of ancient literature and culture unlikely to be of interest to a larger audience. Very few, if any, of these essays cover the ancient “monuments of unageing intellect,” or the classical “things of beauty” that have delighted and instructed the West for 2700 years. Thus these reviews will “matter” mostly to the few hundred thousand academics and other cultural elites who subscribe to the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement—the publications in which these reviews first appeared, and which have little influence on those outside the parochial Lilliputs of academe.

This blinkered vision is evident in Beard’s self-proclaimed approach to the classics. In her introduction, which she calls her “manifesto,” Beard embraces that narrowness. The “overall strength of classics,” she claims, is not to be measured by a wider study of Greek and Latin among the masses, but by “asking how many believe that there should be people in the world who do know Latin and Greek, how many people think that there is an expertise in that worth taking seriously––and ultimately paying for it.” You can find the answer to that question in the continuing decline of classics programs, the minuscule scale of those that still exist, and the dearth of jobs for those who finish their degrees and if they’re lucky end up working as adjunct helots teaching general education courses in Greek mythology. And if classics “are embedded in the way we think about ourselves,” as Beard correctly notes, and if the loss of classics would leave “bleeding wounds in the body of Western culture,” then why should the study of Greek and Latin be limited to a privileged few, with the rest of the people completely dependent on those few mandarins and their prejudices for the interpretation and definition of the “way we think about ourselves”?

Nor is it clear why those people being asked to fund classics programs would find any value in an approach like Beard’s that seemingly wants to pick fights with the ancients or earlier scholars—or would understand why the classics have to be “confronted,” as Beard’s title suggests—rather than understood and admired in terms of their beauty or insights into human nature and history, not to mention their foundational contributions to our civilization. Beard will have none of that old-fashioned recognition of cultural achievement from which we can learn. On the contrary, she writes, “The study of Classics is the study of what happens in the gap between antiquity and ourselves.” She has no patience with those who defend the ancients because of their intellectual and artistic excellence. According to Beard, to do so is to keep “viewing the ancient world through rose-tinted spectacles (as if it was a culture to be admired).” As Beard admits, scholars have long acknowledged the “squalor, the slavery, the misogyny, the irrationality” of the Greeks and Romans. But those common human failings are ubiquitous in history, and to harp on them is to miss the unique achievements that justly demand our admiration.

Obsessing over the sins of the ancients is, in fact, more than a century old, and just as obtuse today as it was then. As the great classical scholar Gilbert Murray wrote in 1921:

We must listen with due attention to the critics who have pointed out all the remnants of savagery and superstition that they find in Greece: the slave-driver, the fetish-worshipper and the medicine-man, the trampler on women, the blood-thirsty hater of all outside his own town and party. But it is not these people that constitute Greece; those people can be found all over the historical world, commoner than blackberries….[W]hat constitutes Greece is the movement which leads from all these to the Stoic or fifth-century “sophist” who condemns and denies slavery, who has abolished all cruel superstitions and preaches some religion based on philosophy and humanity, who claims for women the same spiritual rights as for man, who looks on all human creatures as his brethren, and the world as “one great City of gods and men.” It is that movement which you will not find elsewhere, any more than the statues of Pheidias or the dialogues of Plato or the poems of Aeschylus and Euripides.[1]

The sins of the ancients are the universal sins of humanity. But the virtues of the Greeks and Romans are unique, the direct ancestors of everything that is self-critical and marks the best in our own culture today. Explaining those virtues and their role in creating Western civilization is what has nearly disappeared from the classics, and partly explains the widespread indifference to the classical tradition in the larger culture.

This urge to diminish or even demean the ancients, to see them not as teachers but as equals, or even inferiors, with whom we conduct a “dialogue,” as Beard says, is of course the default ideology of the postmodern university. It has been fostered by the introduction of various intellectual dogmas––deconstruction, poststructuralism, Foucauldian historicism, and feminism, to name a few––that practice a “hermeneutics of suspicion,” a reflexive distrust of excellence and beauty that serves a resentment of authority, an egalitarian hostility to superiority, and a philistinism that cannot appreciate beauty. In the main, Beard herself avoids the woolier manifestations of this orthodoxy, particularly the political agenda that boils down to an elaboration of the Leninist motto “who, whom.” The most readable of the reviews are those focusing on more popularizing works, such as Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life or Philip Freeman’s Alexander the Great, in which Beard provides a useful historical and scholarly context for understanding the authors’ claims.

Despite her own more traditional practice, however, Beard still thinks theory has some value in restoring classics. In her pointed attack on Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath’s Who Killed Homer––which in 1998 blamed the demise of classics on the careerism of elite professors, whether traditional philologists or promoters of theory––Beard makes a preposterous claim.  Responding to Hanson and Heath’s charge, Beard writes, “Maybe it is precisely because professors of Classics have refused to engage with modern theory and persisted in viewing the ancient world through rose-tinted spectacles (as if it was a culture to be admired) that the subject is in imminent danger of turning into an antiquarian backwater.”[2] The blinkered traditionalist hiding from daring theory was a raggedy straw man way back in the late nineties.[3] The profession of classics has long been dominated by “modern theory,” now orthodoxy in most programs, and over those decades that dominance has accompanied the downward spiral of the profession. To think that jargon-ridden, pretentiously vacuous, intellectually incoherent theories are going to impress anyone in the real world beggars belief. It will no more attract students and others to classics than can the scholarly disputes and quibbles that make up most of the books Beard reviews. A key theme of Who Killed Homer? was that the condescending grandee of the past who would not deign to defend or widen his discipline among the wider public has been replaced by the bookend postmodern theorist, whose conferencing, esoteric research, and reduced teaching load are camouflaged in faddish theory rather than philological gymnastics.

On occasion Beard’s own analysis reveals both these impediments to creating interest in ancient culture. Discussing an anthology of ancient Greek female lyric poets, she faults the editor for missing an allusion to Homer in Sappho’s poem conventionally called “Hymn to Aphrodite,” in which the poet calls on Aphrodite for help in how to deal with a girl who has spurned her. The point of that Homeric allusion, according to a feminist interpretation Beard endorses, is to focus “our attention on the distance between the male world of epic heroism and the private domain of female concerns; it shows the poet reading and reinterpreting Homeric epic to give it a new meaning in distinctively female terms,” appropriating the language of warriors to effect a “tactical inversion of dominant male language.” But this imposition on the aristocratic Sappho of modern bourgeois romantic and feminist obsessions misses what the poem is about––the aristocratic concern for honor, dishonor, and revenge, and the destructiveness and danger of sexual passion. The girl who rejected Sappho must be punished for that dishonor by experiencing the pain Sappho is suffering, and the poet calls on Aphrodite for help in inflicting that revenge, just as in the Iliad Diomedes prays to Athena for victory in battle. And given that other lyric poets such as Archilochus, a precursor to Sappho, uses Homeric battle imagery to communicate the destructive power of erôs, it’s unclear why Sappho’s sex makes her similar use some sort of “inversion” rather than the generic convention it is.

Technical disputes over translation, a frequent pastime of classical pedants, also crop up in Beard’s analyses. For example, she is unhappy that the famous Melian dialogue in Thucydides’s history is a “foundational text of ‘realist’ political analysis,” to her a misuse of the classics to legitimize an unsavory modern foreign policy “agenda.” So she quibbles over the best-known translation of the most famous sentence from that passage, Richard Crawley’s “The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.” Beard endorses instead Simon Hornblower’s version, “The powerful exact what they can, and the weak have to comply.” But given that the Athenians will go on to kill the men of Melos, enslave their women and children, and confiscate their land for Athenian colonists, it’s pretty clear in the context that “exact” and “comply” communicate the same brutal realism communicated by Crawley’s “do” and “suffer.” The “truth” of Crawley’s “‘jingle,’” as Beard sneeringly calls it, is indeed that of Thucydides.

Beard is learned and readable, and compared to much of today’s scholarship on the classics vastly superior. Yet she still cannot escape the constraints of professional deformation, leaving this book not very useful for restoring classics to its rightful place in liberal education, and avoiding the costs of that neglect predicted over a century ago by Jacob Burckhardt––“simply accepting our own decline.”


[1]Gilbert Murray, “The Value of Greece to the Future of the World,” in The Legacy of Greece, ed. R.W. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1921), 14.

[2]Mary Beard, “Do the Classics Have a Future?” The Robert B. Silvers Lecture, New York Public Library, New York, NY, November 30, 2011, audio/video, http://www.nypl.org/audiovideo/mary-beard.

[3]See, for example, my “The Enemy Is Us: The Betrayal of the Postmodern Clerks,” review ofMan in the Middle Voice: Name and Narration in the Odyssey, by John Peradotto, Innovations of Antiquity, by Ralph Hexter and Daniel Selden, and History, Tragedy, Theory: Dialogues on Athenian Drama, by Barbara Goff, Arion 5, no. 1 (1997): 165–216. Reprinted in Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath, and Bruce S. Thornton, Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2001), 137–91.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 2:07 PM by Geoffrey Clarfield
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Listen here.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 11:39 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Here's a little something on Amy Davidson. In writing about  "gentle" Michael Brown, she did not wait to find out more, but ploughed ahead, offering her opinion -- she has so many, on so many things, a different thing every week -- which turned out to be a morality play, with the white police in the black trunks, and Michael Brown as gentle, un-armed, and unassuming as possible. See the video of Michael Brown, standing 6 feed four inches (in one sock), bullying  the very small and very scared convenience store clerk, and decide for yourself.

She's also written, without knowing much about the history, apparently, of the endless Jihad against Israel, of which the local ("Palestinian") Arabs are the shock troops, and Hamas the shock terror troops, on Gaza, and on the quite unnecessary -- as the amy-davidsons of this world reflexively see it -- listening in on such fine people as Nihad Awad. She appears, still, completely unaware of what is contained in Qur'an, Hadith, Sira, completely unaware of the Muslim attitudes, and atmospherics that naturally arise in Islam-suffused societies. I doubt if she has read Bat Ye'or, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Ibn Warraq, Nonie Darwish, or bothered to read the canonical texts of Islam, with an exegetical commentary. She thinks she can learn all she needs to know by reading the newspapers, magazines, and googling a bit on the Internet. She's now in charge of The New Yorker's blog.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 10:33 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Make of it what you will.

Here.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 8:43 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Ransacked, last night in Ferguson, Missouri, the convenience store where "unarmed" but 6'4" 300-pound "gentle" Michael Brown had robbied and then bullied a very small clerk, and threatened him, because that store had a security system, including cameras that captured Michael Brown's behavior, and the robbery, on tape, and when the police released that tape to the public yesterday, some of the local "youths" felt that wasn't kind, that wasn't fair. So the store had to be attacked.

Look here.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 8:14 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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To adapt slightly the opening sentence of Kafka’s The Trial, someone must have been talking about me. I know this from all the advertisements and offers I receive unsolicited through the internet.
 
Today came yet another offer of supposedly cheap burial insurance and then an e-mail suggesting that I should ‘Say hello to living confidently.’ At first sight, these two advertisements seem contradictory, but it turned out that the contradiction could be resolved. Living confidently referred to my bladder control.
 
I am the last to deny the seriousness of incontinence and I admit that these days I have to get up in the night in a way that I used not to. But even so, such lack of confidence as that from which I suffer – I am shy at parties, for example, never knowing quite what to say – has nothing to do with my bladder control (yet).
 
These e-mails are obviously targeted: I doubt that many 20 year-old receive offers of cheap funeral insurance, for example. Computers everywhere know that I am about to receive my old age pension and will quite possibly need urological treatment before burial. Where did they get this information from? From other computers, of course, not doubt some of them governmental. It is all technically admirable but somewhat disturbing. ‘They’ know all about us, from our movements to our income to our tastes to our spending patterns. Once I received a call from a credit card company whose card I use.
 
‘Have you started gambling?’ they asked.
 
‘Certainly not,’ I replied.
 
‘We thought not. Someone has been using your card to place bets on a Swedish on-line roulette site.’
 
The computer knew that I was not a gambler and recognised the strange activity at once. In this instance its knowledge was to my advantage; but what else did it know about me?          
 
I have a friend who lives quite without the internet and the mobile telephone. He has a computer but uses it seldom and is no adept. He writes letters and sends them by post. He pays for what he buys mostly in cash. Records of his life are therefore scanty. He is like the Invisible Man, at least to advertisers.
 
I admire him. The fact is that it takes courage these days to reject the appurtenances of modern technology, to live almost entirely without them. To do so has its disadvantages, but he loves freedom and privacy more than convenience. This is most unusual.  
      

First published in Salisbury Review.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 7:49 AM by Theodore Dalrymple
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Posted on 08/16/2014 7:29 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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Death by roller coaster -- by the mere thought of a roller coaster -- here.
 

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Posted on 08/16/2014 7:23 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Saturday, 16 August 2014
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The Rush to Comment, which becomes a Rush to Judgement, without waiting to find out a bit more about "gentle" Michael Brown and his, to the amy-davidsons of this world, completely inexplicable killing -- for this appalling piece alone she should be remembered.

Here in all of its smug idiocy, and acceptance of every highly implausible claim made by Michael Brown's friends and relations in the immediate aftermath -- with no proof offered for anything -- is the take of Amy Davidson, editor, apparently, of thenewyorker.com which is apparently run by the very young and very -- in every predictable way -- parti pris:

Michael Brown didn’t die in the dark. He was eighteen years old, walking down a street in Ferguson, Missouri, from his apartment to his grandmother’s, at 2:15 on a bright Saturday afternoon. He was, for a young man, exactly where he should be—among other things, days away from his first college classes. A policeman stopped him; it’s not clear why. People in the neighborhood have told reporters that they remember what happened next as a series of movements: the officer, it seemed to them, trying to put Brown into a car; Brown running with his hands in the air; the policeman shooting; Brown falling. The next morning, Jon Belmar, the police chief of St. Louis County, which covers Ferguson, was asked, at a press conference, how many times Brown had been shot. Belmar said that he wasn’t sure: “more than just a couple of times, but not much more.” When counting bullets, “just” and “not much more” are odd words to choose.

 

2:15 in the afternoon is not a time when you hide in your house. Among the people who ran out onto the street, quickly forming a crowd as the sound of gunshots died down, were Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, and his stepfather, Louis Head, who were distraught. Head held up a sign that said that his child had been “executed”; someone took a picture. More came when they heard on social media what had happened. “The police just shot someone dead in front of my crib yo,” someone using the handle @theepharaoh tweeted. “Dude was running and the cops just shot him. I saw him die bruh.” (The feed, with other social-media witness accounts, was collected and published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.) Brown’s body was not removed from the street for hours; people saw that, too, as well as pictures of a tall SWAT vehicle on the street and dozens of officers.

Belmar, in his press conference on Sunday morning, told a story that involved Brown walking with another young man when the door of a police car they were passing opened and, for some reason, one of them forced his way into the police car and tried to get the officer’s gun. Brown, though, was apparently shot more than ten yards from the car, and the police have said that he was unarmed. The officer was not identified. Belmar acknowledged that the police were still trying to work out what, exactly, had happened. For all the daylight on the scene—in part because this happened to a teen-ager walking in the open—there is a lot we don’t know, and a lot we might yet learn. But the police story, that morning, was insufficient.

One thing people did learn Sunday was more about Brown, who was described as gentle, committed to sports and to his friends, working hard to make up classes when he fell behind, and excited about starting college. All of this added to the anger; people marched, with their hands in the air, chanting “Don’t shoot me.”  Brown’s mother, throughout the day, came out on the street near where he was killed. “I know they killed my son,” she said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “This was wrong and it was cold-hearted.” There was a vigil for him that evening.

Sometime after it ended, there was a night of chaos and looting in Ferguson. People stole things wholesale and set a store on fire. There were reports of gunshots, and thirty-two people were arrested. By Monday morning, the shopping streets in Ferguson were a wreck. From a teen-ager’s walk to the firing of a gun and the smashing of windshields: it will take hard questioning in Ferguson to put those pieces together. But it is clear that the community’s trust was broken before any windows were.

How does the choreography of Michael Brown’s afternoon form a story that makes sense?  It cannot, or must not, be easier for the police to shoot at an eighteen-year-old who is running—away from the officer, not toward him—with his empty hands showing, than to chase him, drive after him, do anything other than kill him. Teen-agers may not always be prudent; there is no death penalty for that, or shouldn’t be. Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had. On Monday, as the streets were being cleaned up in Ferguson, the F.B.I. said that it would investigate, and the Justice Department said that it was following the case. In another press conference, Chief Belmar said that investigations took time. He also said, “I understand that the public has a right to be skeptical, and I appreciate that and I would expect that the public be skeptical oftentimes of government or some forms of it.” They should be.

Amy Davidson is the executive editor of newyorker.com. She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a column for its Web site, covering war, sports, and everything in between.

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Posted on 08/16/2014 6:53 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Friday, 15 August 2014
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Posted on 08/15/2014 7:30 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Friday, 15 August 2014
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Al Gore, speaking of the benefits to the public of the sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera, as reported on Jan. 2, 2013:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Al-Jazeera, the Pan-Arab news channel that struggled to win space on American cable

television, has acquired Current TV, boosting its reach in the U.S. nearly ninefold to about 40 million homes. With a focus on U.S. news, it plans to rebrand the left-leaning news network that cofounder Al Gore couldn't make relevant.

The former vice president confirmed the sale Wednesday, saying in a statement that Al-Jazeera shares Current TV's mission "to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling."

Al Gore on Al Jazeera today.

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Posted on 08/15/2014 1:39 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Friday, 15 August 2014
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With the fierce urgency of now.

Here.

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Posted on 08/15/2014 11:41 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Friday, 15 August 2014
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Posted on 08/15/2014 11:23 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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Friday, 15 August 2014