Julian Jackson on Daniel Cordier on the French Resistance


Anyone interested in the history of the French Resistance should become familiar with the memoirs of Daniel Cordier. To be convinced of that, I recommend Julian Jackson’s recent critical review of Cordier’s book (here). Read more of this post

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No Such Thing as an “Attempted Terrorist Attack”


So what do you call it when a man, claiming affiliation with al Qaeda, ignites an incendiary device on a commercial flight from Amsterdam to Detroit?

It’s being reported that President Obama has called the Christmas day incident an “attempted terrorist attack.” I hope that’s not what he’s calling it.

If someone attacks innocents, for terrorist purposes, then the attack is a terrorist attack, whether or not the attack is completely successful. Read more of this post

What Made Him Do It?


Yesterday, United States Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot and killed 12 people and wounded 31 others at the Fort Hood Army base. He survived four shots and is now hospitalized.

Wild speculation began immediately. Fueling speculation are reports that Maj. Hasan is a Muslim Read more of this post

Flight Ends Well


I’ve never heard of it happening before on a commercial flight, though I may have missed mention of such or am now forgetting. But the news today is stunning. Continental Flight 61 landed safely in Newark, despite the fact that the pilot had died en route from Belgium on a trans-Atlantic junket.

Perhaps in the attempt to sensationalize, news broadcasts have been repeating one other fact in connection with this flight: “passengers report that they had no idea the pilot had died.” Are we supposed to be surprised? I’m surprised if that what’s the media think.

I’m so surprised, in fact, that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some listeners think they must have heard “co-pilots report that they had no idea that the pilot had died.”

That would be newsworthy. But if it’s what you think, don’t say you heard it here.

* * *

Footnote:

It has also been reported that “the crew gave no indication that the pilot was ill or had died.” Certainly, if the crew did not know of the pilot’s death, this would explain why they gave no indication of it. But that would leave certain other things unexplained, like the safe landing of the plane at Newark.

Another Footnote:

The same ABC news article, authored by a team of two journalists, also includes this remarkable statement:

The pilot . . . died of apparent natural casues.

I don’t know how that happens. I understand the concept of dying from natural causes. But the article says the captain died of apparent natural causes. Does anyone else think that sounds metaphysically bizarre? I should think that if it’s soon determined that the pilot died of actual natural causes, then it will be false, if it means anything, that he died of apparent natural causes. There must be some distinction between natural causes and apparent natural causes that makes it impossible to die from both.

You may be thinking, “But what the journalists meant was that the pilot, apparently, died of natural causes.” But this would be ambiguous. Would it mean more precisely that apparently he died of natural causes (i.e., it appears that he died of natural causes)? Or would it mean that he died of natural causes in an apparent manner?

OK, we should probably infer that the first of the last two options is what the journalists meant by what they actually wrote. But what explains how ABC journalists or in-house editors could make such a simple grammatical mistake?

Simple error? Don’t be too sure. It is the media, after all.

Our Role in the Appointment of a Supreme Court Justice


A few days ago, President Obama announced his first nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Among the various tools the President has used to get his message out is his website, where a 4-minute video announcement is posted here. I encourage you to view this video. I also encourage you to think carefully about what the President says at each stage in his announcement.

We live in a democracy. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to pay attention to major developments occurring in the executive, congressional, and judicial branches of our federal government. We should not simply elect a new President and our congressional representatives, and then forget about it. We have a duty to unceasing vigilance. The survival of democracy depends upon it.

The appointment of a new justice to the United States Supreme Court involves all three branches of our government, starting with the executive branch and the President’s nomination of the person he or she believes is best suited to the role. Congress then deliberates and votes up or down on the President’s nomination. If the nominee is approved, he or she steps into the vaunted role of applying the United States Constitution to the most sensitive legal cases of the age. If Congress does not approve the nominee, then the whole process begins again, with the President’s selection of a new nominee.

Now is a good time to consider why so much circumspection is required—required by the Constitution. When drafting the Constitution, the founders of our nation recognized that the degree of authority vested in justices of the Supreme Court is, well, supreme. What they say goes. Each appointment is a life appointment. It ends only when an individual justice decides to retire or that justice dies—whichever comes first. It is not unusual for justices to sit on the highest court for several decades. Except in very rare cases, a justice’s tenure on the Supreme Court is years and years longer than the maximum eight years any person can serve consecutively as President of the United States.

In addition, the decisions made by our Supreme Court justices outlive the justices themselves and stand indefinitely. Reversing the effects of a Supreme Court decision is far more complicated than appointing justices to the Court. It is probably the most unlikely action our federal government can make.

Finally, decisions made by the Supreme Court are compelling for all 50 of the United States.

You may wonder what difference ordinary citizens can make in the process of appointing justices to the Supreme Court. Here are a few key opportunities:

  1. Our responsibility begins with the election of a President.
  2. We then are free to follow the nomination and confirmation process. This is mostly a matter of staying informed. This takes some skill, since media outlets themselves have political agendas.
  3. Being informed is not enough. We must be thoughtful about what we hear. We must consider how a nominee is being pitched to “we, the People.” This requires skills of another kind, the skills associated with critical thinking.
  4. We are represented by elected officials in Congress. Our representatives are sensitive to our expressed will to be heard. Citizens hold some power, then, in influencing the approval process.

The single most significant aspect of our duty as citizens is vigilance and critical thinking.

This post reveals nothing about my response to President Obama’s nomination. I may add posts about that later. Meanwhile, I’m especially interested in the way the nominee is being presented to “the public.” That’s us. Except that we aren’t “the public.” We are the People. And We the People must do our part.

To that end, I’ll be adding posts that encourage critical reflection on aspects of the media coverage. My first post about this can be found here. It begins at the beginning with the President’s announcement.

Geivett’s Book Recommendations:

President Obama’s Argument for Bipartisan Support for the Confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor


A few days ago, President Obama announced his first nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Among the various tools the President has used to get his message out is his website, where a 4-minute video announcement is posted here. I encourage you to view this video. I also encourage you to think carefully about what the President says at each stage in his announcement.

Here’s a specific question to consider:

  • Can you identify President Obama’s argument that Sonia Sotomayor should be a bipartisan slam dunk for confirmation by the Congress?

He makes an argument toward the end of his speech. He doesn’t say, “Let me give you a good argument for this.” But he does make an argument. If we’re paying attention, we’ll recognize the argument. And if we’re critically engaged, we’ll make a sober judgment about the plausibility of his argument.

So the second question I have for you is:

  • Does the President make a good argument that Sonia Sotomayor should be a bipartisan slam dunk for confirmation by the Congress?

These questions are rooted in my goal to encourage greater understanding of media messages—whether from the President, or anyone else.

By greater understanding I mean deeper awareness of what the message is and whether that message is reasonable. The President’s speech, because it is addressed to ordinary citizens and because it can be viewed very conveniently online, presents us with a great opportunity to hone the skills needed to be responsible citizens of a fragile democracy.

Book Recommendations:

If you have any questions about these recommendations, please use the comment box below.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

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