Hard News by Russell Brown

The scary philosopher

Q: Why did the neocons lie? A: Because their in-house philosopher declared that it was not only permissible but necessary to mislead the "unintelligent majority".

I had been vaguely aware of the late Leo Strauss, of the University of Chicago, but my curiousity was piqued recently by a lovely essay by Earl Shorris in this month's issue of Harper's magazine on "the accidental father of the worst in American politics", whose disciples "methodically infected and then corrupted the government of the most powerful nation on earth."

Harper's only rarely puts its key stories online, so I can't link to Shorris's story (you can subscribe locally to Harper's here), but it has been widely noted in the blogosphere, and there are short excerpts here and here.

Strauss was a Platonist who held virtue above liberty and prized the idea of natural law and immutable values (you may recognise elements of the Maxim schtick here - not least in that the immutable values tend to conveniently align with the prejudices of the believers), although in Shorris's essay he comes across as a scary, paranoid elitist. His intellectual influence on the cold-eyed men of the current US administration - Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cambone and company - has been the subject of much analysis over the past couple of years. Examples include John G. Mason's Leo Strauss and the Noble Lie: The Neo-Cons at War. The Economist looked at the developing commentary around the dead professor last year, and declared it was "stretching it" to say that the Straussians in power in Washington had deliberately lied about Iraq's WMDs, but the more that emerges about the secrecy and subterfuge of the Bush administration, the more apposite the theory seems.

Anyway, Wikipedia has a solid entry on Leo Strauss, with plenty of links, so you can draw your own conclusions.

I was a little bit wrong about the provenance of TV One's Bring It On documentary on Helen Clark yesterday. It wasn't written by Simon Dallow, but by its producer Julian O'Brien and director/interviewer Colin McRae, both former members of the Assignment team who were restructured out of the Sunday programme last year. Murray McCully was a late replacement for Jenny Shipley (a shame - her comments would probably have been quite interesting), and comments from a Ngati Kahungunu representative and Doug Graham didn't make the final cut. The PM was apparently far more relaxed and animated out of the house and meeting people than she was at Parliament.

Meanwhile, Sandra Simpson-Frentz forwarded me what she thought was a "surprisingly contrite" response from Sunday Star Times editor Cate Brett to her letter about the surprising willy-waving action on page three of Sunday's paper:

Dear Sandra Frentz,

Thank you for your feedback on Sunday's Photosport photograph of a group of Otago University students performing a haka before their annual naked touch rugby competition.

As editor I would like to extend a personal apology to you for any offence the photograph may have caused you. The photograph was not intended to offend or shock readers but rather as a light hearted element capturing the escapades of Dunedin's student population in advance of the test against England last weekend.

We did discuss whether or not to obscure the genital region but felt, on balance, that the areas were clearly not the focus of the photograph. Certainly, in the past, I have rejected images I considered to be lewd or sexually explicit, however I felt this news picture did not carry any such overtones and that in the innocent context was unlikely to offend readers.

Your feedback indicates that for some readers at least, that judgement call was wrong. Editors are accountable to their readers in matters of taste and so a lesson has been learned about where the boundaries lie for a section of our readers.

Please accept this apology and I assure you we will not repeat the mistake.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Cate Brett
Sunday Star-Times

No Right Turn has beaten the print publications with his review of David Slack's Bullshit, Backlash, & Bleeding Hearts: A confused person's guide to The Great Race Row. He likes it. I hear the book is selling well.

Ronald Reagan's family seems to be getting pretty angry about George W. Bush's attempt to hitch a ride on his legacy. There has been no love lost between the Bushes and the Reagans for some time, it appears.

The Civil Union Bill will, as you heard here a while ago, pass its first reading in the House next week, with Peter Dunne and Winston Peters likely to be the only party leaders to vote against it. I'll look at the analysis of the issue so far (or the lack of it) in the country's newspapers later in the week.

And a lovely picture of Christchurch from space.