Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's An Art

I like writing smackdowns. This post, addressing an anti-gay adoption article by Lynn Wardle, was described as a "rib-cracker," something I'm very proud of. Other times, I don't write the smackdown myself, but link to someone else's demolition.

Usually, smackdown posts come out when someone makes a) a really offensive argument b) in a really weak manner. However, sometimes, regardless of whether you have any prefigured commitment on an issue or person, you have to link to a smackdown just because it demonstrates the sheer art of it. Jacob Weisburg laying out historian Andrew Roberts would be a perfect example. I don't know anything about Roberts, in fact, I've never heard of him. But, as a student of the smackdown genre, how can I resist this?
Roberts is as sloppy as he is snobbish. I am seldom bothered by minor errors from a good writer, but Roberts' mistakes are so extensive, foolish, and revealing of his basic ignorance about the United States in particular, that it may be worth noting a few of those I caught in a fast read. The San Francisco earthquake did considerably more than $400,000 in damage. Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in 1941, did not write for Encounter, which began publication in 1953. The Proposition 13 Tax Revolt took place in the 1970s, not the 1980s--an important distinction because it presaged Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. Michael Milken was not a "takeover arbitrageur," whatever that is. Roberts cannot know that there were 500 registered lobbyists in Washington during World War II because lobbyists weren't forced to register until 1946. Gregg Easterbrook is not the editor of the New Republic. "No man gets left behind" is a line from the film Black Hawk Down, not the motto of the U.S. Army Rangers; their actual motto is "Rangers Lead the Way." In a breathtaking peroration, Roberts point out that "as a proportion of the total number of Americans, only 0.008 percent died bringing democracy to important parts of the Middle East in 2003-5." Leaving aside the question of whether those deaths have brought anything like democracy to Iraq, 0.008 percent of 300 million people is 24,000--off by a factor of 10, which is typical of his arithmetic. If you looked closely enough, I expect you could find an error of one kind or another on every page of the book.

Via Jon Chait

1 comment:

Trickish Knave said...

Outstanding smackdown. It truly is an art to beseige the offender but it is a rare treat to do so and have the offender not even know they are being flamed.

My latest one can be found here:
TK's flame