Friday, January 9, 2009

Dumb comparison of the day:

Blogger Michael Weiss commenting on Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher's recent appointment, by Pajamas Media, as foreign correspondent covering the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Though Weiss is generally negative on Wurzelbacher, this comparison is just idiotic:

Claims of knowing what the hell one is talking about are at least as grossly exaggerated in cyberspace as they are in the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Trager's colleague Abe Greenwald, who I should add is a friend as well as a former Jewcy contributor, defends the plumber selection, writing "if there’s anything we can afford less of in discussing the Middle East it’s 'expertise.'" Greenwald has in mind John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whose joint thesis was widely discredited in print publications and by other "experts" (Walter Russell Mead doesn't blog yet, does he?) But he might have also mentioned Juan Cole and Marc Lynch, two names previously unknown outside of the Arabist quadrants of the academy who have since attained a measure of celebrity owing exclusively to their personal blogs. This is the new form of "expertise," and guess what? It's no less suspect than the old.

For the record, here is a sampling of Juan Cole's biography (Source: Wikipedia) that sheds light on the extent to which Cole can claim expertise in matters related to the Middle East:

Cole obtained his undergraduate degree at Northwestern University in 1975, having majored in History and Literature of Religions. For two quarters in his senior year he conducted a research project in Beirut and returned to the city as a graduate student in the fall of 1975, but the civil war prevented Cole from continuing his studies there. Therefore he pursued a Masters degree at the American University in Cairo in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, graduating in 1978. Cole then returned to Beirut for another year and worked as a translator for a newspaper.[1] In 1979 Cole enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles as a doctoral student in the field of Islamic Studies, graduating in 1984. After graduation, Cole was appointed Assistant Professor of History at the University of Michigan where he would become a full professor in 1995.[2]
  • 1975 B.A. History and Literature of Religions, Northwestern University
  • 1978 M.A. Arabic Studies/History, American University in Cairo
  • 1984 Ph.D. Islamic Studies, University of California Los Angeles
  • 1984-1990 Assistant Professor of History, University of Michigan
  • 1990-1995 Associate Professor of History, University of Michigan
  • 1992-1995 Director, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Michigan
  • 1995- Professor of History, University of Michigan

Wurzelbacher's expertise, meanwhile, derives from his being an unlicensed plumber from Ohio, a background that has allowed him to make such astute observations on Middle Eastern society and politics as that "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel":

Weiss can disagree with Cole as much as he likes, but challenging the validity of his expertise merely because he keeps a popular blog on Middle Eastern issues is just stupid. Cole's blog is an outgrowth of Cole's expertise, not the reason for it. Furthermore I am always leery of the demagoguery of those who utter the word "experts" with a contemptuous sneer, and belittle the notion of expertise in general, merely because the experts in question disagree with them. We saw far too much of this attitude from the Bush administration in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion and the piss poor planning taht followed it.

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