Well Played, New York Times
I have mixed feelings about the writing in the New York Times. Sometimes the articles are unbelievably bad, like an article that appeared a few weeks back in their Week in Review section. Written by Helene Cooper, we were asked to consider whether a "Spanish Civil War" scenario as an ending for Iraq would be that bad. One of the major problems was that her account of the Spanish Civil War left out basic historical facts to the point of distortion. (Also see Joseph Palermo's "Worst Historical Thumbnail Ever.") According to her description, this is a "best case" scenario because the Spanish Civil War in the end was contained to that country and did not spill out over the borders (though she acknowledges the death toll was considerable.) A rather cold-blooded assessment in my opinion, but that's not the worst thing about the article. In her account of the Spanish Civil War, she fails to mention that it ended with Spain in the grip of dictator Francisco Franco for almost forty years. That's a significant omission, don't you think? And I take it to heart since most of my father's family still lives in Spain and felt the effects of both the war and the dictatorship that followed. Also of note is that Cooper's account was awfully close to the Wikipedia entry on the subject. Reading the article really made me wonder what was going on at the New York Times. Why do they hire reporters who are either stupendously ignorant or won't bother to conduct basic research? Are their editors asleep at the switch? And this is the "paper of record"? It's the most egregious example I've run across in a while, but many articles I read in that paper tend to be a little thin in terms of their analysis, whether it's historical, or economic or sociological.
But in today's Sunday paper I found not just one, but two, articles that were rich in their analysis and very nicely written:
Katie Hafner's "History, Digitized and Abridged," on the complexities of digitizing collections of historical records, such as the National Steinbeck Center's collection of papers and memorabilia from the life and work of John Steinbeck. The article points the many gaps in currently available digitized collections, the complexities of finding funding and other resources to digitize what we have, and the effects of copyright. Hafner points out that we've gotten to a point where we expect virtually everything to be available in digital form, but this is far from the case, and historians (both amateur and professional) may forget about important artifacts that are only available through a visit to a library or museum. (Maybe Ms. Cooper could take a field trip to NYU's Tamiment Library, where she can peruse the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. )
An in the Arts section, Larry Rohter writes about Gilberto Gil's second career as the Brazilian minister of culture: "Gilberto Gil Hears the Future: Some Rights Reserved." Gil is going to speak about music and intellectual property at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference this Wednesday. Apparently one of Gil's first acts as culture minister was to create an alliance between Brazil and the Creative Commons project. From this article I learned about Gil's career, music as a cultural force in Brazil, and alternatives to current intellectual property laws and practices.
Articles like these make my subscription worthwhile.