2 December 1999
Our current howler (part IV): Sixcount emsix
Synopsis: As literature, Kakutanis review of Earth in the Balance reads like something from oppo research.
Between the Lines, Revealing Glimpses Of Five Candidates
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, 11/22/99
Behind the Oval Office
Dick Morris, Renaissance Books, 1999
Earth in the Balance
Al Gore, Houghton Mifflin, 1992
Commentary by Chris Matthews, Gov. John Engler (R-MI)
Hardball, CNBC, 11/23/99
Kakutani's first paragraph on Earth in the Balance makes
a variety of claims:
KAKUTANI (paragraph 5): Vice President Al Gore emerges from
"Earth in the Balance" (Plume), his 1992 book about
the environment, as the quintessential A-student who has belatedly
discovered New Age psychobabble. Like his speeches, his book veers
between detailed policy assessments (predictably illustrated with
lots of charts and graphs) and high-decibel outbursts of passion,
between energetically researched historical disquisitions and
loony asides about "inner ecology" and "spiritual
triangulation"asides that may help explain his curious affinity
with his feminist consultant, Naomi Wolf.
We thought that paragraph was truly remarkable, especially
in a review that can't find time to tell readers what Earth
even says. In this paragraph, Kakutani says that both Gore and
Wolf are somehow "loony," and that there is something
"curious" about Gore's "affinity" for Wolf.
(And that he deals in New Age psychobabble.) That Wolf is even
mentioned struck us as strange; a reviewer who has no time
to tell us what a book says does find time to speculate
about something remarkably peripheralan alleged "affinity"
which Kakutani shows no sign of knowing anything about. Like many
who have reacted to the Wolf brouhaha, Kakutani finds something
strange about her employment by Goreso strange that Kakutani
would rather obsess on that than explain what Gore's book even
says. But is there something strange about it? We're puzzled
as to what that would be. Suppose Kakutani had read Dick Morris'
book, in which Morris describes working with Wolf in 1996. The
first passage about Wolf goes like this:
MORRIS: Two to three times a week, [a number of advisers] met
with me to formulate [ad] copy...Author Naomi Wolf was sometimes
with us. I myself met with Naomi every few weeks for nearly a
year to get her advice on how to target women voters. She also
gave me remarkably prescient analyses of the social-cultural trends
in the country.
Writing when Wolf was not an issue, Morris says she gave him
advice on how to target women votersand gave him "remarkably
prescient" critiques of the culture. Is it odd that a candidate
would want to work with someone like that? What exactly is "curious,"
or needs explaining? Or is it odd that the New York Times' top
reviewer spends her time as Kakutani doesmaking tortured deductions
about utter trivia from a book whose major theme she won't state?
Since it's the "loony asides" that "may help
explain" Wolf, let's see just how loony they are. The principal
examples Kakutani offers are sketched out in her next paragraph:
KAKUTANI (6): One of the book's main themes concerns the mind-body
dichotomy and the perils of a "disembodied intellect,"
and yet strangely mechanistic images repeatedly surface in its
pages. In one chapter, [Gore] describes the Constitution as "a
blueprint for an ingenious machine that uses pressure valves and
compensating forces to achieves a dynamic balance between the
needs of the individual and the needs of the community."
In another, he argues that people divide most tasks into "two
conceptual halves" and "assign each half to opposite
sides of the machine our body resembles."
By the way, just how "repeatedly" do these "strange"
images surface? So "repeatedly" that the first one Kakutani
cites is from page 171 of Gore's book. (Why does she say it appears
"in one chapter?" Because she didn't want to say it
appears "in chapter nine.") One would think that,
in using words like "strange" and "loony"
to describe public figures, one would want to be fairly careful.
But Kakutani gives no evidence that these "strange"
images occur very often, or that they're even "strange"
to begin with. In her second example (from page 213), she plainly
misstates the text of the book. Gore doesn't "argue"
that people divide tasks as described, he merely reports
that they do; Gore is discussing bilateral symmetry, which he
briefly describes. Kakutani, happily suggesting that Gore is a
nut, goes on to quote the example he cites. Incredibly, in a review
which never relates what Gore's book even says, Kakutani wastes
her readers' time by pointlessly reciting this example:
KAKUTANI (7): "At breakfast this morning," Mr. Gore
writes, "I consolidated my grapefruit with my left hand to
keep it from moving on my plate and then manipulated it with my
right hand, first by cutting portions away from the whole with
a knife, then by eating them with a spoon."
Write that he does, and it sounds pretty strange, just pulled
out of context like that. And by the way, it sounds especially
strange because Kakutani dropped three words from what she quoted
in paragraph 6. In the text which Kakutani chops up in that paragraph,
Gore explains that "consolidation and manipulation"
are the names of the "two conceptual halves" described
in bilateral symmetry. But Kakutani drops that out of her paragraph
6, making what she quotes in paragraph 7 seem more loony. (See
postscript for Gore's full text.)
We have no idea of Kakutani's politics; we do not suggest,
in any way, that politics drives this review. But the writing
she does herehunting for isolated passages from a lengthy book
that can be made to sound silly when torn out of contextis exactly
what the two parties do when they engage in "opposition research."
It harms our discourse when the parties do it, but here it's done
by a major reviewer, in service, not to a political agenda, but
to the new god, Conventional Wisdom. This review so loves conventional
patterGore doesn't know who he is; has a weird girl adviserthat,
rather than tell us what his book says, the reviewer hunts and
pecks through the text, seeking proof of the exciting diagnosis.
Look at the images in the three paragraphs we've quoted! Gore
is associated with New Age psychobabble; loony asides; and curious
affinities for feminist consultants. And he talks about grapefruit,
for no reason! Not only that, but he "veers" from subject
to subject, engages in outbursts, and his researching is (explain
this) "energetic." But is his research also accurate?
Kakutani doesn't say. After all, why bother saying if Gore is
right when we don't even know what he's said?
Kakutani misses few opportunities to signal how odd Gore is.
One other passage deserves comment. It's in Kakutani's second
reference to Wolfher third, if we count her separate paean to
earth tones. In full obsessive Press New Age splendor, she pens
this insinuative remark:
KAKUTANI (27): So what else do these books tells us about the
candidates?...That Mr. Gore, sounding a lot like Naomi Wolf (who
once tried to draw parallels between the Holocaust and anorexia),
likes to compare the world's worsening environmental problems
to Hitler's rise in the 1930's.
He likes to? How can she possibly know that? Gore makes
a comparison, in the third part of the book, but the reason for
that is clearly stated. Gore says that we must make the looming
environmental crisis the "central organizing principle for
civilization." And he says he knows that we can do that,
because we have done so twice before in this centuryin
defeating communism in the Cold War, and before that in seeking
"the defeat of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan." Kakutani
doesn't mention the Cold War comparison, because in the current
climate, that doesn't sound silly enough; and apparently Naomi
WolfKakutani's obsessionhas never compared anything to imperial
Japan. In what other way does Gore compare environmental problems
to Hitler's rise? It isn't all that hard to get, and if the science
is right, it ain't loony:
GORE: It is worth remembering how long we waited before finally
facing the challenge posed by Nazi totalitarianism and Hitler.
Many were reluctant to acknowledge that an effort on the scale
of what became World War II would be necessary...Thus do we meekly
acquiesce inthe disruption of the climate balance we have known
since the dawn of the human species.
There's nothing confusing or strange about that. If the science
is right, so is the charge.
Our analysts were already steamed with Kakutani, because of
the grunt work she put them through; most of her references are
so trivial and pointless that they don't show up in Earth's
index. (Try looking up "Hitler." He isn't there. That's
how much Gore "likes to" chat up his rise.) But one
part of Kakutani's odd review really did sadden our workers. It's
back in the middle of her paragraph 5, where she's explaining
how loony Gore is. She says Gore comes off "as the quintessential
A-student who has belatedly discovered New Age psychobabble,"
and she says his "detailed policy assessments" are "predictably
illustrated with lots of charts and graphs." Our analysts
were frankly puzzled. You must understandthey have actually read
Gore's book, and they didn't recall all the x- and y-axes. And
so, grumbling and complaining, and cursing their fate, they thumbed
back through the tome's many pages, and they foundthat's right;
you've done it toosix charts and graphs in the volume!
Six! They're on pages 5, 24, 32, 76, 94, and 96. Sixcount 'emsix
charts and graphs, in a book of almost 400 pages.
Has Kakutani even opened this book? Did she include
that remark to make Curious Gore seem more alien? At THE HOWLER,
we don't have the slightest idea, any more than her readers know
what Earth even says. Of all the nonsense to put in a review,
that odd remark really does take the cake. But given the state
of our sad press elites, silly nonsense is fully predictable.
Tomorrow: We'd hoped to talk about several tax issues,
but one of our favorites is gloriously wrong again. So we're still not
sure about tomorrow. Monday: The press on McCain.
Out, out damned antecedents: Speaking of manipulation,
here's the text from which those three words disappeared. Dropping
the phrase "consolidation and manipulation" from Gore's
discussion of bilateral symmetry makes his next sentence pleasingly
strange. Again, this trivial passage from Earth was discussed
by Kakutani in her paragraphs 6 and 7 (see above). In an 800-word
review, Kakutani spends more time on this pointless aside than
Gore does in his whole book:
GORE: Our experience of life is also shaped by another aspect
of our physical being that is so taken for granted, we almost
never notice it...Known as bilateral symmetry, this mirroring feature
of our bodies has extensive implications for how we experience
the world. In almost everything we do to or with the world, we
divide the task into two conceptual halvesconsolidation and
manipulationand assign each half to opposite sides of the
machine our body resembles. At breakfast this morning, I consolidated
my grapefruit with my left hand to keep it from moving on my plate
and then manipulated it with my right hand
Does Gore understand bilateral symmetry? We don't know. Neither,
we'd guess, does Kakutaniand none of this has a thing
to do with describing Gore's actual book.
Governor of invention: While we're on the subject of
Earth, our analysts came right up out of their chairs during
an exchange on Hardball last week. An obliging talker teed
one up for Governor Engler of Michigan:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this other question. It seems
to me that you [Republicans] are going to use Al Gore's environmentalism
against him. Didn't he say something once about the internal combustion
engine being a thing of the past? How did he say it?
Finally we'd get this matter straight! After all, three of
the governor's most prominent constituents are CEOs of the automotive
Big 3! And as we've related again and again, all world car CEOs,
including the Engler Three, have long said that internal combustion
is on the way out (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/29/99). And sure enoughwe
knew he'd do itthe governor just straightened things out:
ENGLER: He thinks it's a great threat, Chris. He thinks that's
perhaps one of the great threats to mankind as the 21st century
approaches. I think George Bush would target failing schools and
kids who don't get an education.
We would target public dissemblers, like the governor and the
slick tabloid talker.