The Wrong Stuff

When it comes to wrongness, Alan Dershowitz is a paradoxical figure.  As a high-profile criminal defense attorney and outspoken political pundit on a number of controversial issues (torture and the Middle East, to name two), he is widely regarded as an unyielding defender of inflammatory beliefs.  Yet he is also a connoisseur of error: he believes that all of common law emerged from mistakes and has written two books on the relationship between wrongness and rights.  In...

I'm delighted to announce that, as of today, The Wrong Stuff will be temporarily hosted over at Slate, the fabulous online magazine of politics and culture.  You can read the introductory blog post here.  Short summaries and links to the latest posts will continue to appear on this site,...

Remember the ostensible crack-baby crisis of the 1980s?  I do, vividly.  I was a kid then, and scare tactics were all the rage. I spent half of junior high watching b-movie filmstrips about the slippery slope from smoking a joint to shooting heroin to dying alone in a gutter while belatedly remembering mom. Feel a rising tide of hysteria all of a sudden?  This is your brain on the '80s. 

Of all the forms that hysteria took, one of the most egregious was...

Alan Greenspan, the former five-term Fed chief once described as “the greatest central banker in history,” has lately given us a new number to think about. Testifying last week before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in Washington, D.C., Greenspan was asked by Commission Chair Phil Angelides if he had erred in failing to impose regulatory measures that could have prevented or mitigated the financial meltdown. Instead...

It's been a good couple of days for wrongness-related journalism.  Over the weekend, Frank Rich wrote a column in the New York Times connecting the dots all the way from Alan Greenspan and George Bush to Tiger Woods and the Pope -- correctly observing in them not unrelated instances of folly, but instantiations of a broader problem in our culture's relationship to error. 

Meanwhile, at the...

Looking for writerly inspiration?  Try screwing up. 

In today's online edition of Poets & Writers, several dozen authors share tidbits on how they keep their creative juices flowing.  A lot of the advice is what you'd expect: read books; visit museums and galleries; listen to music; travel; take notes.  And then there's Katherine Dunn, author of the wonderfully strange...

People, it happened: after decades of effort; after 14 rollercoaster months of the Obama administration; after (long after) the need became glaringly obvious -- but, miraculously, sometime before the Second Coming -- healthcare reform has finally passed.  Despite my suspicion that it will still be a long time before the average freelance writer can afford her health insurance, I'm thrilled about this development. 

In the midst of all the huzzahs, it's worth pausing for a...

The story of the 2008 financial crisis is, overwhelmingly, a story of losses and losers.  The losses include 5 million jobs in the United States alone, tens of millions more overseas, and some 40 percent of the world’s wealth.  The losers include, at a conservative estimate, several billion human beings.
 
Given those numbers, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to tell the story of the financial crisis from the vantage point of the winners – the...

In my review of Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, I argue that it is essentially a book about the various factors that can lead us into either dazzling rightness or staggering wrongness.  To an almost eerie degree,...

I don’t write much about sports in my book, for two reasons.  For starters, I am spectacularly ignorant about them.  (When Ted Williams died, I horrified a member of Red Sox nation by asking, “Ted who?”) 

To get around this deficiency, I tried grilling other people about error and sports – non-spectacularly-ignorant people, bona fide sports people – but the examples they offered rarely fit my working definition of wrongness. Really they...

Okay, maybe you don’t have strong beliefs about the “right” way to load a dishwasher, or about your sweetheart’s propensity to do it “wrong.” In that case, either you are unusually saintly or (like me) you don’t own a dishwasher. But you almost certainly get involved in domestic disputes about who’s right and who’s wrong all the time; we all do. Although interpersonal arguments can have a number of causes – from serious and painful breaches in trust to the fact that we haven’t had our coffee yet – an impressive number of them amount to a tug-of-war over who possesses the truth. We fight over the right to be right.