Monday, September 04, 2006

Anti-Chomsky campaigns, and the lying liars who run them

In view of Oliver Kamm’s enduring commitment to factual accuracy I sent him this email on 24th August:

Mr Kamm,

I write to draw your attention to a number of factual errors and misrepresentations in your series of postings, “Chomsky Bamboozles on the Balkans”.

  1. You misrepresented Nicholas Wheeler's book, “Saving Strangers”, by suggesting that on page 269 he meant 500 Kosovars of unspecified ethnicity were killed before the bombing, when he was plainly referring to ethnic Albanian Kosovars. This misrepresentation was only plausible because you left out the preceding sentence of Wheeler's book. That is to say, you apparently went out of your way to “omit the context that allows reasoned conclusions to be drawn”.

  1. You misleadingly imply that Chomsky claimed Wheeler gave relative numbers of pre-bombing ethnic Serbian and Albanian casualties. Chomsky is quite explicit in “Hegemony or Survival” that he is relying on Wheeler for the 500 figure, not a relative estimate. “Talk about a straw man”.

  2. You falsely suggest that what Knightley “really said” about the LM libel trial was confined to war photography generalities, and did not support what Chomsky claimed. In fact what Chomsky said corresponded closely with what Knightley concluded. You finish by referring to “barbed wire enclosing” Trnopolje, when according to Knightley that barbed wire was “symbolic” and did not confine anybody. The entire posting was based on, if not ignorance, a “shameless distortion”.

  3. You misleadingly imply that Chomsky has habitually misattributed, or failed to source correctly, a quotation from Robin Cook regarding pre-bombing casualties in Kosovo. You base this implication on a single interview, yet you know that Chomsky correctly cited both the quotation source and the inquiry in “Hegemony or Survival” and “A New Generation Draws the Line” respectively. This is surely “deliberate misdirection designed to impress a personal following that evidences scant familiarity with the issues involved”.

  4. You misleadingly imply that Chomsky is habitually silent about the Racak massacre, specifically drawing attention to his silence on this subject in “Failed States”. You do this when you demonstrably know that he discussed it in on page 56 of “Hegemony or Survival”, and you demonstrably know that this page was cited by the section of “Failed States” under discussion. You also know that he discussed Racak in (at least) two other books, one of which you purport to have reviewed. Your failure to mention these facts is patently an “egregious omission”.

These issues are further detailed in my blog at http://indecent-left.blogspot.com/2006/08/oliver-kamm-and-his-scholarly-scruples.html. I trust that you will be publishing a retraction, and an apology for these contraventions of your own scholarly standards.

Stuart A

I followed up on 28th August:

Mr Kamm,

This is the second time I have written to you about this issue. In the intervening time you have treated the world to your ruminations on the Truman Doctrine, German literature and Salman Rushdie, but not an apology for your misleading and incorrect statements. Allow me, therefore, to reiterate the situation. (In order to save time I have taken your words of 20th June 2003 as a template.)

Your “Chomsky Bamboozles on the Balkans” series of postings contained several serious errors. Those who read those postings in good faith supposing them to be a reliable source of information about Chomsky have therefore been misled. They have so far received no indication from you that that is the case.

Having put false claims in the public domain, you do need to issue a correction. I undertake to do all I can to assist you by referring to this episode repeatedly and often in my blog, but I cannot be certain of reaching all who might have read your original postings.

Stuart A

Sadly no reply has been received. This silence stands in contrast to Kamm’s public reader responses on several occasions, and to his reaction when I emailed previously on a different matter.

Based on Kamm’s record, I had thought he might simply delete the articles. Those who read his output in 2003 might recall what he did when his misquotation of the New York Times was exposed. He silently deleted the posting and never spoke of it again. The traces are extant, as is the article itself in the Wayback Machine. He was apparently unable to bear the irony that a piece accusing Chomsky of misrepresenting the New York Times itself misrepresented the New York Times more seriously. The same irony applies, of course, to his clownish efforts described below.

25 Comments:

Blogger james higham said...

Stuart, if Oliver Kamm never bothers with you, why do you continue to go after him? I downloaded your piece and scoured it, then went back to Oliver Kamm's. After all that, I have to ask, 'And what?'

4:14 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

I have to say that I find that attitude somewhat strange.

For a start, Kamm is a public commentator. I don't view any public commentator as immune from criticism simply because they haven't personally attacked me. Their views are public, and are designed to be debated in public.

As it is, Kamm is a peculiarly self-righteous commentator who has attacked numerous people in a bumptious style that he delusively believes to be witty. As far as I know, Chomsky has never directly "bothered" Kamm, but that has not stopped him producing dozens of postings, Amazon "reviews" and newsgroup postings all directed against him.

Kamm is an absurd hypocrite who is either staggeringly ignorant and dim, or simply mendacious. I think that's worth pointing out, given the airtime his pseudo-intellectual facade has secured him. I'm surprised that you don't.

4:48 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

I should add, I suppose, that in my comment above I assume you do not dispute the content of what I wrote. If you do then the debate is different.

4:52 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Ack. For some reason I missed the word "with" in your comment, James -- sorry.

The main point stands. Whether or not some public commentator bothers to reply is irrelevant if some useful information can be conveyed about them,

As it happens, and as I pointed out in the posting, Kamm did reply to me on another matter. Chomsky also "bothered with" him, but only (as far as the public record goes) after around eight years of criticism.

10:05 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Chomsky has spun a narrative about greater violence on the part of the KLA from a source that says nothing of the kind. The phrase "though only a few hundred Albanians were killed", which Chomsky apparently quotes from Wheeler, has been made up. (If you doubt me on this question of Chomsky's polemical crudity and dishonesty, you can read page 269 of Wheeler's book on Amazon.com's "Search Inside" function; Wheeler's actual words are: "It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed..." "

I had my doubts, and so did do exactly what he suggested, and found:

What about a case where only a few hundred have been killed but intelligence points to this being a precursor to a major campaign of killing and ethnic cleansing? This appears to have been the story in Kosovo...

p. 34

9:16 pm  
Blogger james higham said...

Come on Stuart. Time for a new one. Maybe Joshua?

6:50 pm  
Blogger james higham said...

Stuart, I also missed something. That you assume I don't dispute the content. I'm not in a position to but I am a more than interested enquirer in this matter. alas, it takes time to wade through the material to make a judgement and that's what I'm slowly doing. My quip about Joshua is serious. The guy's anti-Britishness gets up my nose and I feel you could take him apart better than I.

6:55 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Anonymous:

You're right -- I should have mentioned that. Kamm's false allegation largely rests on the misrepresentation of Wheeler that I did talk about, but you point out a further twisting of the evidence.

James:

If there's anything in particular that you doubt in my account of Kamm on Chomsky then I'd be glad to discuss it. I believe what I say is right, but I'm open corrections.

As for Joshua (anyone else: he hangs out on Stephen Pollard's site, relentlessly posting about anti-Semitism), I can't really see that he's worth discussing here. I seriously don't know if he's a joke.

One thing I found interesting was that during one discussion he seemed to mutate into "DrWho", whose signature linked to a creationist blog at www.mikejanitch.com.

I don't know if there's a connection with Mike Janitch, but I find Joshua's ultra-Jewish persona, with the Yiddish and Holocaust references sprayed all over his postings, slightly unconvincing.

Anyhow, I have replied to him again on Pollard's site - probably a mistake.

11:21 am  
Blogger james higham said...

Now those last three paragraphs are immensely interesting. Yes, he does seem too OTT to be real and a creationist site?

...Probably a mistake...[you say]

No, I think not. You do pick up on the nuances and you had me on the ropes way back when [not too difficult with the argument I was trying to pursue]. The difference was that I'm pig-headed but the others try to ignore it all and that p-s me off. If one's going to debate, do it properly and accept the counter blows.

...then I'd be glad to discuss it. I believe what I say is right, but I'm open corrections...

No, I'm not on safe ground to raise doubts until I read it all thoroughly and even then I'd need to have my arguments watertight.

By the way, did your blog go down today?

7:00 pm  
Blogger james higham said...

I eagerly await the new post.

7:25 pm  
Blogger james higham said...

Stuart, are you alive?

6:06 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Sorry -- I have been slacking recently. A few subjects are in my mind, so maybe I'll manage to get something together this weekend.

4:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you guys have misunderstood Kamms point.

Chomsky wrote:
"Serious scholarship reaches similar conclusions. Nicholas Wheeler, who does not invert the chronology, estimates that Serbs had killed 500 Albanians before the Nato bombing, implying that 1,500 had been killed by the KLA. Nevertheless, he concludes that bombing Serbia was a genuine case of humanitarian intervention because 'though only a few hundred Albanians were killed' prior to the bombing, 'intelligence points to this as a precursor to a major campaign of killing and ethnic cleansing.'"

Kamm complained:
"Note the term Wheeler uses: he says 500 Kosovars (i.e. residents of Kosovo, both Serb and Albanian) were killed; he does not say or imply there were more Serb than Albanian casualties."

Kamm to prove it had quoted the genuine Wheeler texts (including the stuff from p34 that anonymous seems to think was new):

p34:"What about a case where only a few hundred have been killed but intelligence points to this being a precursor to a major campaign of killing and ethnic cleansing? This appears to have been the story in Kosovo and the justification for humanitarian intervention was a preventive one."
p269:"It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed and 400,000 displaced in the year leading up to NATO's action, but the justification for intervention was that without it many more Albanians would have been killed and forcibly driven from their homes."

Now, I may be stupid, but in order to prove Kamm wrong it appears you need to show where Wheeler is

a) saying only 500 Albanians were killed (not merely Kosovans)
b) implying 1500 killed by the KLA,

I can't see any mention of Albanians, and I can't see any mention of the KLA, or the 1500 figure. So either i'm missing something serious, or Kamms criticisms are valid

11:07 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

I find it hard to believe you have read my discussion.

Kamm quotes a sentence from page 269 of Wheeler’s book which mentions “Kosovars” rather than “Albanian Kosovars”. He uses this as a signpost to a false conclusion. I quoted the preceding sentence in the paragraph, which shows Wheeler was talking about ethnic Albanian victims, and specifically Serbian killers. Stephen Poole also pointed to several other instances where Wheeler uses the terms “Kosovars” interchangeably with “Albanian Kosovars”. So it has been shown Wheeler is “saying only 500 Albanians were killed (not merely Kosovans)”.

I have also explained that Chomsky gave the 2000 figure elsewhere. He does not say he got it from Wheeler. Wherever it came from, it implies 1500 killed by the KLA. As I also noted, it is not clear if this is a fair comparison between casualty figures – the methodologies are not known – but this is not the point Kamm was making. He was falsely accusing Chomsky of “distort[ing]” Wheeler’s book, when in fact distorting it himself.

You say you “can’t see any mention of Albanians”. I have quoted Wheeler talking about Albanians in the preceding sentence. You say you can’t see the 1500 figure. I have explained that Wheeler does not give the 1500 figure, but that Chomsky never said he did. So no, Kamm’s criticisms are not valid.

10:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I think I now see correctly the points you are making and they are pretty much valid. However, Kamms criticisms of Chomsky on this appear to be valid too.

Chomsky's whole point is easily summarised by the following (from his spectator interview):

"The bombing was undertaken with the anticipation explicit it was going to lead to large-scale atrocities in response. As it did."

Kamm is right: Chomsky's quotations are misquotes (albeit possible paraphrases) and one of the sources he uses to try and spin the story to support his position given in the interview quoted above actually disagrees with him and even cites evidence directly contradicting Chomsky's take on events (the foreign office memorandum Kamm cites).

It is amazing to me Chomsky can cite Wheeler as being "careful and judicious" when he supports the bombing campaign because intelligence indicated a major Serbian offensive against Albanian civilians was in the offing, but then seemingly claim NATO undertook the bombing with the intent of causing large-scale attrocities against the Albanians. It's simply senseless.

10:56 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

The interview referenced by Kamm was in the New Statesman, not the Spectator. If you are referring to this interview then I have no idea why think Chomsky “misquotes” anything. But then you immediately go on to suggest these alleged misquotations are “possible paraphrases”, so perhaps the word has no meaning at all. Unless you specify what Chomsky misquoted, or what he inaccurately paraphrased, then I can’t assess the truth of what you say.

I don’t know what cited evidence you think “directly contradict[s] Chomsky’s take on events”. Kamm is correct that Chomsky incorrectly attributes a January 1999 statement by Robin Cook to the Defence Select Committee. Kamm then goes on to imply that Chomsky has never properly sourced this statement, making an absurd pretence of investigating its provenance, when he knows that Chomsky gave it exactly in his book Hegemony or Survival. The sum total is that Chomsky misattributed something in an interview. So what? Regardless of its source, Cook’s statement does not contradict Chomsky’s position on pre-bombing casualties: it supports it. That’s why he cited it. Nothing in Kamm’s post, including the pseudo-sophisticate garbage about Racak, substantiates what you say.

Chomsky’s citing of Wheeler is only “amazing” to you because you evidently haven’t read what he wrote about “Operation Horseshoe”. He dealt with Wheeler’s argument about an impending offensive, and dismissed it. Whether or not you agree with his counter-arguments, there is nothing inconsistent in using Wheeler’s casualty total but rejecting his surrounding arguments, especially if he views the overall work as “careful and judicious”. This is not “senseless”; it is normal scholarly practice.

The thousands of words Kamm has devoted to Chomsky’s “bambooz[ling] on the Balkans” amount to an incompetent analysis of a couple of minor interview slips, interleaved with tediously predictable ventings of the usual rhetorical flatulence. Along the way, Kamm packs in more serious misrepresentations into three postings than he has uncovered in all of Chomsky’s books. I would say it’s a testament to his arrogance that he believes he can win an argument purely by force of pedantic bombast; but then he evidently isn’t interested in actual debate – appearance is enough.

10:35 pm  
Anonymous Tim Holmes said...

I was intrigued by your comments on Kamm quietly deleting comments - he appears to have done the same to his review of Manufacturing Consent on Amazon - a book which he claimed featured "a melange of complaints" against the US +and Israel+ (whoops!) Sadly the book's index is available online, revealing that (apparently) Olly hadn't actually read it.

Tim

3:32 am  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

Stuart, why do you focus on Oliver Kamm's errors in analysing Chomsky's arguments whilst ignoring the much greater disinformation propagated by Chomsky and his friend John Pilger on the wars in Yugoslavia? Oliver Kamm may be wrong on some trivial issues, but together with Balkan expert Marko Attila Hoare, he has shown how Chomsky and Pilger have downplayed and denied the extent of Serbian attrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo( here and here and here).Why focus on Kamm's minor sophistry when you stay silent on these much more grevious lies?

6:16 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Stuart, why do you focus on Oliver Kamm's errors in analysing Chomsky's arguments whilst ignoring the much greater disinformation propagated by Chomsky and his friend John Pilger on the wars in Yugoslavia?

Firstly, those three links you've provided post-date this posting on my blog by over a year. I find it easier to focus on stuff that's actually been written.

Secondly, I have never written anything positive or negative about Pilger. I don't think I'll start just because you say he's a "friend" of Chomsky.

Thirdly, your links do not support the contention that "Oliver Kamm... has shown how Chomsky... [has] downplayed and denied the extent of Serbian attrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo." As I showed here, Kamm has failed in several of his attempts to do this. You haven't pointed me to any new critique by Kamm of Chomsky's work in this area. You have not provided even purported evidence of Kamm exposing Chomsky's "much more grevious lies" regarding the Balkans.

Aside from all this, your keenness to brush aside Kamm's "minor sophistry" is inconsistent with your attitude toward its target. Kamm's dozens of attacks on Chomsky have persistently attempted to show the shoddiness of his scholarship. The efforts analysed here actually showed the shoddiness of Kamm's scholarship. Kamm is guilty of the charges he threw at Chomsky, and by his own standards is not a trustworthy commentator. If you care about dishonest handling of source then you must count Kamm as guilty and hypocritical.

7:34 pm  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

Come off it. Hoare shows that Chomsky, Pilger et al use maximum estimates of atrocities by a right-wing government (Indonesia in East Timor) but minimum estimates for the atrocities carried out by left-wing Serbs. Chomsky himself still uses an inflated estimate of Indonesian massacres in East Timor in 1999: he still claims 5000-6000 were murdered when the authoritative figure is 1400-1500. In the same article, Chomsky uses the misleading techniques outlined by Hoare to make it look as though what happened in East Timor was worse than what happened in Kosovo. Incidentally, Chomsky tacitly denies the extent of atrocities in Bosnia by supporting the patent distortions of Diane Johnstone - this was accurately exposed by Kamm.

PS. If you're going to criticise Oliver Kamm whilst ignoring John Pilger's denial of mass graves in Kosovo, then you're a hypocrite.

12:34 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

Come off it. Hoare shows... Chomsky himself still uses an inflated estimate of Indonesian massacres in East Timor in 1999...

I repeat: Your links do not support the contention that "Oliver Kamm... has shown how Chomsky... [has] downplayed and denied the extent of Serbian attrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo."

Incidentally, Chomsky tacitly denies the extent of atrocities in Bosnia by supporting the patent distortions of Diane Johnstone - this was accurately exposed by Kamm.

No he didn't, as I explained here.

PS. If you're going to criticise Oliver Kamm whilst ignoring John Pilger's denial of mass graves in Kosovo, then you're a hypocrite.

I failed to see why commentary on Kamm's hypocritical distortions must necessarily be accompanied by an analysis of John Pilger's output. Perhaps you can explain.

12:49 am  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

OK, I should have said that, on his blog, Kamm has cited Marko Attila Hoare's exposure of Chomsky's distortions, not that he composed them with Hoare. But you're ignoring everything else that I've written,ie. Hoare's critique of Chomsky, probably because you can't refute it. Also my point about Pilger (and Chomsky for that matter) is that he guilty of far worse distortions than Kamm. So why not skewer them instead? Is it because they're leftists like you?

1:22 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

As I said, I don't see why commentary on Kamm's hypocritical distortions must necessarily be accompanied by an analysis of John Pilger's output. The same applies to Marko Attila Hoare. Neither person was mentioned in this posting, or any other on this blog.

Nor do I see why you think it's persuasive to complain, in the comments section of a blog posting made in September 2006, that I did not address criticisms (irrelevant ones, as it happens) made over a year later. You'll note that there has not been a posting of any kind on this blog for over a year.

You suggest that Chomsky is guilty of "much more grevious lies" and "far worse distortions" than Kamm. Even if this were so, it would not remove Kamm's hypocrisy. He has violated his own standards, and according to these standards he should be disqualified as a trustworthy commentator. This stands regardless of anyone else's crimes. He has, of course, entirely failed to respond to any of this.

If you want a debate on Chomsky's alleged crimes then I suggest you make the case yourself. I'm not going to respond to a list of factoids and links to other blogs.

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