November 25, 2007

The NYT's Idiocratic Interviewer: Deborah Solomon

Deborah Solomon has established a popular weekly feature in the New York Times in which she snarkily interviews somebody much smarter than herself. The secret to her success: being ignorant and surly. Here's part of her interview with Umberto Eco (with Solomon in boldface):

Q: Although you’re known best as the author of the highbrow murder mystery “The Name of the Rose,” you’re also a prolific political commentator whose essays have now been collected in a book, “Turning Back the Clock,” in which you warn against the dangers of “media populism.” How would you define that term? Media populism means appealing to people directly through media. A politician who can master the media can shape political affairs outside of parliament and even eliminate the mediation of parliament.

Much of your book is an assault on Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy who used his media empire to assist his political ends. From ’94 to ’95, and from 2001 to 2006, Berlusconi was the richest man in Italy, the prime minister, the owner of three TV channels and controller of the three state channels. He is a phenomenon that could happen and is maybe happening in other countries. And the mechanism will be the same. ...

So why would any country besides Italy be at risk of having the media takeover you describe?

Putin has been imitating Berlusconi's path in Russia, and Chavez has been trying, less effectively, to do something similar in Venezuela.

But that's not what caught my eye. Instead, the great bit is how Eco's answer sets Solomon off on an exchange that Fred Willard would be proud to have improvised in a Christopher Guest comedy in one of his roles as a smugly clueless media personality. Eco answers:

One of the reasons why foreigners are so interested in the Italian case is that Italy was in the last century a laboratory. It started with the Futurists. Their manifesto was in 1909. Then fascism — it was tested in the Italian laboratory and then it migrated to Spain, to the Balkans, to Germany.

Are you saying that Germany got the idea of fascism from Italy? Oh, certainly. According to what the historians say, it is so.

Maybe just the Italian historians. If you don’t like it, don’t tell it. I am indifferent.

You’re saying that Italy was a trendsetter in both fashion — or art — and fascism? Yes, O.K., why not?

Earth to Deborah Solomon: trust Umberto Eco, the Italian polymath born in 1932, on this, not your own store of knowledge. See, there was this guy named Mussolini. Hard as it may be to believe, he came (as the narrator of the Time Masheen ride in "Idiocracy" says) before "the year 1939 when Charlie Chaplin and his nazi regime enslaved Europe and tried to take over the world... But then an even greater force emerged, the U.N. [pronounced "un"] and the U.N. un-nazied the world - forever."

Eco goes on to correct Solomon's somewhat less Idiocratic misapprehension of which of his bestsellers was the inspiration for The Da Vinci Code:

I am wondering if you read Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code,” which some critics see as the pop version of your “Name of the Rose.” I was obliged to read it because everybody was asking me about it. My answer is that Dan Brown is one of the characters in my novel, “Foucault’s Pendulum,” which is about people who start believing in occult stuff.

But you yourself seem interested in the kabbalah, alchemy and other occult practices explored in the novel. No, in “Foucault’s Pendulum” I wrote the grotesque representation of these kind of people. So Dan Brown is one of my creatures.

Here's my 2006 posting on "The Da Vinci Code versus Foucault's Pendulum."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Yes, The Big Benito, but there were also a few innovations of the Soviets that the Nazis carried forward.

Anonymous said...

And they call Steve a failed journalist?

Anonymous said...

I've been reading her Q&A columns for years and every time I read them I think "Wow, what a snarky b*tch"

Anonymous said...

Ive just thought, maybe Dan Brown doesnt exist. Maybe Eco wrote the DVC.

Anonymous said...

You’re saying that Italy was a trendsetter in both fashion — or art — and fascism?

Deborah "Not Exactly Living Up To My Last Name" Solomon was probably raised and educated by those who took seriously the maxim that "there are no such things as dumb questions."

Anonymous said...

I must have misread that column this morning.

I thought at one point she had written:

"You want me to believe a dego created fascism?!"

She needs to go to wikipedia before doing these columns. Maybe with a little more effort she won't sound like such an idiot.

Anonymous said...

NYT style meritocracy again.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but her last question "Do you care if people read your novels 100 years from now?" was the most annoying. I've often wondered why famous people submit to being interviewed by jerks. I guess they just assume if a journalist wants to interview them out of the blue, that the interviewer must have some genuine interest.

BTW, it never occured to me to do a close comparison of Foucault's Pendulum and the DVC. And, no, Eco couldn't have written the DVC. I don't think he's ever written a novel that could be read in four hours.

Anonymous said...

Putin has been imitating Berlusconi's path in Russia, and Chavez has been trying, less effectively, to do something similar in Venezuela.

Too funny!

In reality, Chavez is a perfect COUNTEREXAMPLE of the trend. He thwarted the Berlusconi trend.

In Venezuela, the right-wing Berlusconi types tried to violently overthrow the democratic government. They used their privately-owned media to assist them. Chavez rightly refused to renew their broadcasting license when it was up for review.

Of course, the American media tell the story Steve's way, because the media have a strong right-wing bias on foreign policy issues.

Anonymous said...

Journalism is not an admired profession. It is down there next to lawyering and only a few rungs above dog-catching. Journalism is filled with liars, thieves and low-lifes. But, most of all, it's filled with Utopians.

Here is a
Financial Times article by one Vanessa Friedman.

The article begins with a trenchant observation on fascism's close cousin:

"American Thanksgiving is often seen as a sort of bizarre jingoistic rite by those outside the US."

Note here that while Madame Friedman actually wrote this idiocy at least one editor at this major mainstream publication approved it also. It's likely that more than one editor signed off.

Is it really so hard to see the full program that will be advanced in New America (and the North American Union and the New World Order) to root out "fascism" and "jingoism"? Hmmm. If traditional American holidays will be put in the "bizarre jingoistic rites" trashcan, then might traditional Americans be put in the trashcan also? How about the entire traditional world goes in the trashcan? Whose favorite song is that?

Anonymous said...

"snarkily interviews somebody much smarter than herself."

"The secret to her success: being ignorant AND surly."

I loved these two lines.

And I think they both point to a certain Character-type that has mushroomed within the past generation.

I would add "cynical AND ignorant."
or "spoiled AND resentful."

It's almost like a formula.

The more shallow and lazy intellectually, the more sanctimonious morally, and ambitious politically.

Oh, and, I am fairly new to your site. I stumbled on it and keep coming back cause it's enjoyable reading. the posts too.

I make no claims to political sophistication, don't much mind either. And I'm certainly not Mr. Internet.

But I was surprised to find so many people refer to Mr. Sailer and VDARE as "virulently racist" (Juan Santos).

Discovering both sites while just surfing I certainly did not get that impression at all.

Guess that makes me one of the Damned. Oh well.

I'll live.

Still, resorting to those kinds of accusations is kind of creepy.

Either way, glad you guys are around.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure which stood out more to me: the idiocy of this woman or the humiliating take down of Dan Brown and his acolytes.

agnostic said...

How odd -- she looks like a perfectly pleasant woman...

Anonymous said...

As Eco says, even before Benito, the prototype of fascism was set by the Futurists :

Anonymous said...

In unrelated news, the "youths" in Paris are at it again.

Fires are raging in the banlieue tonight. Two boys aged 15 and 16 riding on a mini-motorcycle (prohibited on the road) hit a police car this afternoon in Villiers-le-Bel. The boys, who weren’t wearing helmets, were killed. Hundreds of enraged men and boys are tearing up the neighborhood.

Le Parisien reports that they burned down a Peugeot dealership, sacked a train station and shops, tore up a McDonald’s, stole the day’s receipts and attacked customers, smashed and burned cars, and are still going strong. A police commissioner who tried to talk to the mob was attacked with iron rods; his face and skull are fractured. A police station was burned down, seven policemen were injured.

Another report:

Rioters torched two garages, a petrol pump and two shops, pillaged the railway station at Arnouville and set fire to at least 21 cars. Police reported at least seven arrests.

Four riot police officers and three other police officers were wounded in clashes which erupted after 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) accident, according to first reports.

Police earlier said that another officer who tried to calm the situation suffered injuries to his face.

Early Monday, some 100 youths thronged the accident site as police forensic experts examined the area.

"The truth should emerge or we will take the law in our own hands," some of them warned the police.

Omar Sehhouli, the brother of one of the victims, told AFP he wanted the police officers "responsible" for the accident to be brought to justice.

He said the rioting "was not violence but an expression of rage."

Locals from the town meanwhile said late Sunday that the rampaging youths had burnt cars to prevent police from entering the area.

"The police cannot go in. Every time they try to do so, the youths charge with whatever they can lay their hands on," a resident said.

Relations between youths and police are traditionally tense in some Paris-area suburbs, some of which are dominated by immigrants.

Maybe if the kids had bothered to wear helmets while riding the motorcycle this could have been prevented:

The clash came hours after a motorcycle crashed into a patrol car in the nearby town of Villiers-le-Bel. The driver and passenger, aged 15 and 16, were both killed in the accident. Police officials said the two were riding a mini-motorcycle and that neither was wearing a helmet.

And perhaps the reason they weren't wearing helmets was because, at least according to one report, the motorcycle was stolen.

Ace adds:

Big test for Sarkozy, obviously.

Really, it's about time to get mean with these punks. I say break out the live fire if these "youths" don't disperse after receiving a fair warning.

Anonymous said...

One irony of history is that many of the signatories of the Italian Fascist manifesto were Italian Jews.

Vol-in-Law said...

"Really, it's about time to get mean with these punks. I say break out the live fire if these "youths" don't disperse after receiving a fair warning."

The French used to do that (massacring Moroccan demonstrators), but if you start down that path you have to go all the way and terrorise the insurgent population into submission, sucking up the negative publicity. If you merely shoot a few rioters it will just fan the flames into a full-blown insurgency (as happened in Northern Ireland ca 1969-72), which is what the insurgent leaders presumably want, and what the French state is trying to avoid - hence its excessively limp-wristed response.

Reading, War Nerd, Bill Lind etc on 4th generation warfare is enlightening.

Anonymous said...

Golly, she's so dim that even the Guardian might hesitate to employ her.

Anonymous said...

"In reality, Chavez is a perfect COUNTEREXAMPLE of the trend. He thwarted the Berlusconi trend.

In Venezuela, the right-wing Berlusconi types tried to violently overthrow the democratic government. They used their privately-owned media to assist them."

I would have more sympathy for Chavez, and your narrative would be more accurate, if Chavez hadn't been a coup kind of guy himself.

Indeed, he himself set off the dangerous trend himself, launching the first coup attempt in Venezuela in decades in 1992 against the clepto-client-democratic status quo.

It failed, however, and his subsequent democratic strategy worked better. Still, it's pretty obvious Chavez doesn't really have much in the way of respect for democracy or pluralism. He is clearly aiming to be "presidente for life".


Anonymous said...

He's right about fascism. I remember driving through Italy as a child and seeing all the impressive public works Mussolini got going. The extremely long tunnels were very impressive to me, having grown up in a mountainous area with lots of tunnels myself. Some of them were so long that they needed giant fans to move the air through them. Kind of like a Tolkien dwarf project.

Some time later, I made the connection between the Italian road projects and Hitler's autobahns. After doing some research, I discovered that Hitler had in fact aped Mussolini. Even the fascist "style" was ripped off from the Italians. I seem to remember Taki writing something about that, but I could be imagining things.

Has anyone here read "Kangaroo" by DH Lawrence? One of the most memorable parts of the novel involves discussions between the protagonist and an Australian fascist leader of Jewish descent. Evidently, the character, Benjamin Cooley, is based on the real-life anti-Communist Charles Rosenthal. I don't know whether he was Jewish or not, but I distinctly remember that the character in the novel was, because as an American-educated kid the idea of a Jew heading a fascist movement seemed absurd.

People forget that fascism did not begin with Hitler. In fact, weren't there Zionist versions of the Blackshirts? I know I've seen mention of them somewhere. Blueshirts or something.

I looked it up and found this:

Zionist Socialists at Save Darfur Rally

Weird. According to Wikipedia:

"Habonim was founded in London by Wellesley Aron and Norman Lourie in 1929. It was modeled after the Wandervogel movements in Germany."

Anonymous said...

Ms. Solomon is apparently unaware of the fact that the word fascism comes from the latin "fasces" - the axe stuck in a bundle of sticks which was the symbol of Rome, and roman consular authority. She would probably also be surprised to find out that its founder, Benito Mussolini, had been a socialist in his younger years, and that socialism was a strong influence on the fascist movement (Hitler in his early days in Vienna had also been influenced by the left in fht eform of the anti-semitic populist socialist Karl Luger).

Incidentally, when mentioning Mussolini, I'm reminded of an anecdote (I think recounted by W.F. Buckley) about Carol O'Connor (i.e. Archie Bunker from TV). While filming a movie in Italy (after the war), he and a pal went out on the town. They stopped in a Piano bar in Rome where, as O'Connor's friend informed him, the pianist was infact the son of Benito Mussolini. They were introduced (O'Connor by the way was a fairly doctrinaire Hollywood leftie), and after a pregnant and awkward pause, O'Connor said to Il Duce's son "That was a helluva thing they did to your father". You can almost imagine Archie himself saying such a thing. What else, could one say.

Anonymous said...

ironically, I find surly women incredibly attractive.

Anonymous said...

"One irony of history is that many of the signatories of the Italian Fascist manifesto were Italian Jews."

It's not ironic if you remember the history. Italy's original version of Fascism had none of Hitler's racist or genocidal policies. Fascism was considered (by the Italians as well as admirers in the U.S. government) as a more reliable bulwark against Communism than weak European democracies.

Today Fascism is considered synonymous with Nazism, but the wholesale killing of alleged untermenchen was really a unique feature of Nazism, not Fascism. Prior to the Pact of Steel alliance between Italy and Germany, genocide wasn't a policy of the original Italian Fascism, and it wasn't a policy of post-war Fascist governments in countries such as those in Chile, South Korea or Taiwan -- each of which have since peacefully transitioned to democracy. This isn't to say that there weren't human rights abuses in these post-war Fascist countries (Chile's were the most egregious).

Anonymous said...

My favorite conspiracy novel is the Illuminatus Trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson.

It may be to sex drugs and rock n' roll for lots of others Steveopsherians, but damn its a fun book.

Anonymous said...

knowing that Fascism came from Italy to Germany isn't a minor, esoteric detail, that's on the level of not knowing what the two sides of the American Revolution were. I'd be ashamed to show my face in public for months after something like that

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, Nazism was helped along by the underlying (pre-Great War) socialist mindset in Germany.

Hayek provides a good summary of that

Anonymous said...

That anecdote about "a hell of a thing they did to your father" has been told about various celebrities, mostly black jazz musicians popular in the 1950s. If it was ever said by anyone (doubtful), it almost certainly was not Carroll O'Connor.

On the subject of Solomon, this may be of interest:

(I am not a Gawker reader, but I found this by accident through following a link.)

Anonymous said...

She's definitely an ignoramus, but I strongly suspect that there are lots more at the New York Times just like her. Do you really think that, say, Maureen Dowd or Frank Rich would actually know that Mussolini started out as a Marxist, or that Hitler copied many of Il Duce's innovations, or that Mussolini originated the notion of Fascism creating the "New Man" (and that supposed fascists like Franco and Pinochet did no such thing)? The entire NYT staff under the age of 50 are products of post-modern education. They're just as ignorant as Madame Solomon -- in fact, very few of them would even understand the irony of her surname.

Anonymous said...

Prior to the Pact of Steel alliance between Italy and Germany...

"Pact of Steel" is funny. The puny 5'2" Stalin contrived his fake name which means Steel also. So it seems we had three short guys all claiming to be men of steel rampaging all over Europe. This of course is behavior in the tradition of Napolean -- another angry midget.

Could any of these men get it up? I'm thinking no.

Anonymous said...

You are too harsh - Deborah asks naive sounding questions for the same reason Brian Lamb does - To draw people out and get them to explain.

BTW - Mayor Walker in NY in the 1920s, came back from Italy and praised Mussolini.

Steve Sailer said...

She's not asking naive questions like Brian Lamb, she's picking a fight with Umberto Eco over the history of Italy. He politely responds to her first expression of incredulity with, "Oh, certainly. According to what the historians say, it is so." She retorts with an intentional ethnic slur: "Maybe just the Italian historians."

Anonymous said...

Ok - Brian Lamb, but with an edge. She's been a bit provocative with others too - She's an acquired taste. You know Lamb is a truly gifted person - but some people, believe it or not, think he does what you say DS does.

My point was that DS , didn't mean to be surly and ignorant. She may have known about Italy or she may have thought he readers did not know and she wanted to provoke him to elaborate.

Anonymous said...

She retorts with an intentional ethnic slur: "Maybe just the Italian historians."
That's not a slur, that's pomo truth-depends-on-who-sees-it platitudinizing. She is wrong, but that's another story.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes reading Deborah Solomon I think I've mixed up magazines and am reading Entertainment Weekly's Stupid Questions With....column.

Her responses to Eco were amazingly idiotic. Maybe the NYT replaced her with Rita Skeeter?

Jake Featherston said...

Its like they got Tila Tequila to do the interview, or something.