Charles Petzold on writing books, reading books, and exercising the internal UTM

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Get Real

October 17, 2007
New York, N.Y.

Perhaps October 17th should come to be known as Reality Day. We might use the occasion to reflect upon the importance of reality in our daily lives, and to acknowledge that, like Mother Nature, reality can't be fooled.

Why October 17th? On this day just three years ago, many of us settled down to read an article by Ron Suskind entitled "Without a Doubt: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," and came upon a passage that caused us to spray breakfast beverage on the pages of the Sunday New York Times Magazine section. Here it is:

Sometimes you'll hear someone claim to be a "proud member of the reality-based community." This article is the origin of that phrase (although I don't know who first added the "proud member" part). You can't really over-indulge in reality, so devoting just one day to its celebration doesn't seem excessive.

On Reality Day we dance in exultation to the ideals of clear thinking and the scientific method.

On Reality Day we sing a sad dirge for the disasters wrought by those who fail to grasp the concept.


I'm speechless. I can't believe this is a true story. Who the hell did we elect?

— Stunned, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 11:04:33 -0400 (EDT)

I also can't believe this is a true story, in the more literal sense. I suspect the writer paraphrased or outright botched the actual term used (maybe it was something along the lines of "current-reality-based community", which is a better match for the concept as he describes it). Note that the author is writing about a conversation that took place two years prior to his story.

While it might be fun to imagine that the Bush administration routinely railed against its opponents as "the reality-based community", with not a single person realizing that the inadvertent joke was on them, it's a bit hard to believe.

Then again, a few years back a bunch of atheists decided to start calling themselves "Brights" and were shocked -- shocked! -- to find that some non-atheists took offense, feeling they were implicitly being labeled "dim".

— Bob, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 15:55:43 -0400 (EDT)

A better reality check would be to remind yourself not to believe everything you read or hear from the media regardless of whether it confirms your bias or not.

Tyler Jensen, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 22:16:59 -0400 (EDT)

You mean the past 7 years haven't been real? What a relief! — Charles

"I'm speechless. I can't believe this is a true story. Who the hell did we elect?"

Please don't include me in "we", I didn't vote for the moron either time. I hate the idea that someone dumber than a tick on my dog is ruining...oops I meant "running" our country.

And WTF does Atheism have to do with the "Illuminati" who think they're above the laws of reality?

— Not I Said Dog, Thu, 18 Oct 2007 12:05:12 -0400 (EDT)

One should always beleive everything you read in the NYT, especially the Sunday Times Magazine. For example, I beleive that the "answers" Deborah Solomon reports are actually in response to the "questions" she asks.

David Docetad, Thu, 18 Oct 2007 12:58:05 -0400 (EDT)

Gosh, let's just smear everyone who has ever written for the New York Times including (on one occasion) myself.

To be sure, the Times has sometimes employed people who have let us down. The example of Judith Miller comes to mind. For the most part, Ms. Miller believed most of what the Bush administration told her and reported it as truth. Had Judith Miller been more diligent and skeptical, the readers of the Times might have known that the rationale behind the Iraq War was being largely fabricated out of wishful thinking.

If you'd liked to criticize Ron Suskind's journalism, however, perhaps citing specific errors in his reporting would be more appropriate. Perhaps you can familiarize yourself with his books about the Bush administration, The Price of Loyalty and The One Percent Doctrine, and let us know what errors or distortions you find in these books.

Or are blanket smears just a whole lot easier? — Charles


You make a snarky response to a legitimate point by Tyler Jensen, and then get annoyed by a snarky reponse by me. Any comment by anyone who disagrees with you in your politcal posts gets a snarky, sarcastic or flipant comment from you. But, hey, it's your blog, and that's fine.

Your choice of words is interesting. In your initial post, you say "many of us settled down to read" and then in your last comment, you mention Judith Miller as someone who has "let us down", not because she may have done untruthful reporting, but becuase it didn't help your cause. It appears that you view the NYT not as a repository for news and facts, but as weapon against the Bush administration. And that's fine because that's exactly what it is, and that's what many of its reporters view as their job, but usually fans of the Times attempt to at least put on a veneer of journalistic respectability.

I wonder, if like Pauline Kael, you even know, personally, any conservatives, libertarians, or Republicans? Or do you just read the NYT and giggle with like-minded friends over the latest screeds by Frank Rich and Paul Krugman? Your argument style on your polical posts, indeed the content of the posts themselves, indicates that you rarely if ever engage in real argument over ideas or policy with people who don't think like you.

Are there any conservative or classical-liberal public intellectuals who you know (via their work) and respect (like a Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley, Thomas Sowell, Friedrich Hayek, a George Will, etc? Any?)

David Docetad, Thu, 18 Oct 2007 15:20:35 -0400 (EDT)

Thank you; it's so pleasant being stereotyped!

For future reference, op-ed giggling is generally associated with the columns of Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins. The subjects that Krugman and Rich tackle are usually no laughing matter. — Charles

We all have our personal political bias. My point was not to specifically call into question any given report in the media, but to point out the wisdom in questioning any report that affirms our own bias. Do you not owe it to your own sense of integrity to question those who would sell you what you want to hear even more than those who would tell you something contrary to your own bias? -Tyler

Tyler Jensen, Thu, 18 Oct 2007 21:56:33 -0400 (EDT)

Skepticism is great. I'm a skeptic myself. My favorite philosopher is David Hume. I've been know to assert that I don't believe in anything that's not on display in the American Museum of Natural History (but I'm not quite that extreme!).

However, Ron Suskind is a highly respected journalist. His articles and books are meticulously researched and based on tons of interviews. His recent work has been invaluable in understanding current events. I'm not one of these people who finds random quotes to put in his blog. I'm familiar with Ron Suskind's work, his reputation, and his integrity. I wouldn't have posted the excerpt from his article otherwise. — Charles

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