Thursday, September 01, 2011

You can't keep a good blogger down

My surgery went according to plan. I had two excisions of skin cancers close to my right eye. As anticipated, however, the result has been swelling in that area which has completely closed off that eye. And I don't see very well through my left eye. Ideologically appropriate!

So I won't be doing much reading for a day or two but before I went in I picked out three recent essays that seemed to make good points and I present them below


Seduced by the Cult of Experts

Jonah Goldberg

When asked what posed the greatest challenge to statesmen, Harold Macmillan, the former British prime minister, responded, "Events, my dear boy, events."

That's because events tend to throw everybody off their plan. For example, Hurricane Irene ended President Obama's vacation early. And the hurricane's steady deterioration upset the plans of news producers who anticipated something more dramatic for their wall-to-wall coverage.

In a similar fashion, Obama and his advisors predicted the economy would do better -- much better -- than it has, and those predictions were wrong. The president blames events: the European debt crisis, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the political tsunami of the 2010 elections. Some of that is plausible, but the two years of anemic job and economic growth that preceded those events can hardly be blamed on them. An earthquake in Japan didn't make Obama's green-jobs initiative a bust, and the Euro crisis didn't render "shovel-ready jobs" a myth. And it's those failures that have scuttled Obama's plans for an easy re-election in 2012, and left him and his supporters stunned and shocked.

My National Review colleague Jim Geraghty has chronicled how, over the last few years, the media have greeted bad economic news by saying it is unexpected. For instance, Bloomberg reported "Sales of U.S. previously owned homes unexpectedly dropped in July." Reuters tells us that "Consumer spending unexpectedly fell in June." And so on.

Many who've been following the trend point to media bias. The press corps, writ large, wants Obama to succeed, argues American Enterprise Institute political analyst Michael Barone, so "they characterize economic setbacks as unexpected, with the implication that there's still every reason to believe that, in Herbert Hoover's phrase, prosperity is just around the corner."

I certainly think there's more than a little truth to that. The media get hooked on a story line -- hurricanes are getting worse because of climate change, Obama's a pragmatist doing the smartest things to fix the economy -- and when the facts contradict the story line, it's, well, unexpected.

But it can't be simply media bias because the experts whom reporters call for quotes also are surprised. As Geraghty notes, groupthink is a culprit too. The guys on Wall Street use the same Keynesian computer models as the folks in the White House.

There are no more devout members of the cult of expertise than mainstream journalists. They rely on experts for guidance about what is "mainstream" and accurate and what is not. Sometimes that's fine. Surgeons are extremely reliable sources to explain how a heart attack happens. They're not as reliable at telling you who will have one, save in a statistical sense, and even less reliable at telling you when a specific person will have one.

That's because prediction is hard. Experts -- in politics, economics, climate -- are very, very bad at telling people what will happen tomorrow, let alone next year or next century. How many of the economists who tell us what to do now failed to see the mortgage debt crisis coming? Nearly all of them.

Philip Tetlock's 2005 book, "Expert Political Judgment," documents that the predictions of even the most credentialed and experienced experts are often worse and very rarely better than random guessing. "In this age of academic hyperspecialization," he writes, "there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals -- distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on -- are any better than journalists or attentive readers of the New York Times in 'reading' emerging situations."

The cult of experts has acolytes in all ideological camps, but its most institutionalized following is on the left. The left needs to believe in the authority of experts because without that authority, almost no economic intervention can be justified. If you concede that you have no idea whether your remedy will work, it's going to be hard to sell it to the patient. Market-based ideologies don't have that problem because markets expect events in ways experts never can.

No president since Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt has been more enamored with the cult of expertise than Obama. That none of his economic predictions have panned out is not surprising. What is surprising is that so many people are surprised.



The NYT still lies in its teeth

The Ari Goldman scandal is a gift that keeps on giving. Two weeks ago Goldman, formerly a religion writer for The New York Times, publicly confessed to having remained silent for 20 years about his paper's distorted coverage of the Crown Heights riots. For Goldman, it was up close and personal. He was on the phone, right there in Brooklyn, calling in reports from the streets where black mobs were attacking Jews, yelling "Heil Hitler" and "Kill the Jews!" But, he now tells us, his Times editor found this news not fit to print. There was to be no black anti-Semitism, and no anti-Jewish pogrom in the nation's "paper of record."

Instead, Goldman explained, the Times doctored the news by forcing inconvenient facts into story lines it preferred. In Crown Heights, a Hasidic Jewish driver mistakenly killed a black boy, Galvin Cato, in a car accident, and then blacks rampaged and murdered a Jew, Yankel Rosenbaum. The paper, unhappy with these clear and simple facts, instead told a tall tale: "Blacks and Jews clashed," it reported, implying there was blame on both sides, though neither Goldman - nor anyone else - saw any Jew attacking a black. "Clashed" was simply a lie that enabled the Times to treat the accident that killed Cato and the murder of Rosenbaum as morally equivalent tragedies. That's the "news" they wanted to publish.

Commentators explain that Times editors are disciples of post-modernist theory, now spoon fed to every one of our $25,000-a-semester children in their spa-like centers of "higher education." There is no "truth," you see. That's old-fashioned. There are only "narratives," and each side's version of reality must be given equal treatment (unless that side is the Judeo-Christian); otherwise, we'd all remain stuck for life as morally sick, white-skin-privileged xenophobes.

Goldman, now a journalism professor at Columbia University, has an opportunity to do more than set things straight by outing his paper for fabricating "news reports" 20 years ago; he can explore, as a serious student of journalism might, just how and why the mainstream media has become such a fraudulent enterprise, fulminating fibs, especially but not exclusively about Jews, Christians, Muslims and the Middle East. He could use his own experience in Crown Heights to probe the reasons today's editors rush to equate accidents with murders.

Students dissecting such a topic could almost do a daily lab: The Times concocts a lot!

Take its coverage of the latest round of Gaza-Israel clashes. On Thursday, Arab/Muslim terrorists from Gaza (merely "militants" in Times speak) crossed into southern Israel from Egypt and carried out a carefully laid plot that murdered Israeli men, women and children. The Israelis retaliated and, while killing some terrorist leaders, unfortunately hit and killed Palestinian civilians.

Channeling Crown Heights, the Times worked hard to shift blame to the Jews for the now widening violence. In a story August 21, the Times reported that the Israeli airstrike "ignited cross-border exchanges after months of relative quiet under an informal cease-fire with Hamas." As the media watchdog aptly put it, it was as though the clock only started when the Jews responded to attacks. Does there exist a Times editor who would publish the view that the non-Jewish side might be engaging in inexcusably criminal acts that logically should be deterred? Would a Times editor have the capacity to think such a thought?

On the other hand, Timesmen are linguistic magicians: "Cross-border exchanges" implies, as HonestReporting writes, "moral equivalence between Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets and Israeli responses." Evenhandedness uber alles. The SS might have fared pretty well: "Deaths on both sides as Jews and Nazis clash in Warsaw."

Rubbing in the salt, the paper chose to headline its Sunday coverage, "Casualties on Both Sides as Israelis and Gazans trade fire." It's Galvin Cato/Yankel Rosenbaum all over again. Tragedies everywhere, oh my!

Earlier this month, the Times, channeling the old USSR, actually began airbrushing facts it no longer has use for. Last year, the whole world saw dramatic footage of Israeli soldiers, set upon and beaten with staves and pipes, as they slid down on ropes from helicopters onto a flotilla "peace" boat dispatched from Turkey. Even the Times reported it as it happened. But now as it covers Turkey's efforts to extract an apology from Israel, the Times transforms the thuggish attack from a clearly established matter of fact to that of one side's allegation.

CAMERA caught the Times in flagrante delicto: "Isabel Kershner recounted the incident as if it is unknown what happened. 'By Israel's account, the Israeli soldiers met with violent resistance as they landed on the deck,' she wrote." The New York Times," CAMERA explains, "is now "telling readers that maybe the soldiers were met with violence, or maybe they were not." CAMERA notes that even Kershner herself previously reported that "video images... showed Israeli commandos being set upon as they rappelled onto the ship's deck." Stalin, after he killed a former comrade, would have the man's image airbrushed out of published news photos. Et tu, comrade Kershner?

I'm reminded of the old joke: a man's wife catches him in bed with another woman. Without missing a beat, the adulterer screams: "I didn't do it! Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?!" The Times adulterates the truth. Jews should get a divorce.



America's slow death by regulation

Once upon a time selling a chicken was fraught with few if any legal implications. Remodeling a shed was equally simple from a regulatory standpoint. Today, however, we live in more enlightened times. Protected from our wayward desires by an empowered bureaucracy, we can rest easier knowing that decisions like what we eat and where we build are being carefully managed by authorities.

Playing Chicken

Josh is a Mennonite friend who happens, by the grace of native talent and a powerful work ethic, to produce magnificent chickens. Raised on green growing pasture, they are never medicated, never fed artificial supplements or genetically selected to grow abnormally fast. They develop rich golden fat and a deep flavor, characteristics that have been more or less lost in modern, streamlined, highly efficient poultry production. Not surprisingly, Josh’s chickens are in high demand among food cognoscenti and fine restaurants. A couple of years ago I began bringing Josh’s chickens to my farmers’ market stand to sell alongside our equally popular grassfed beef. Josh and I, in a classic entrepreneurial endeavor, have made these wholesome chickens available to happy, discerning customers who would otherwise be unable to justify a three-hour commute to buy a bird for dinner.

Josh processes his chickens on his farm under a legal exemption allowing him to avoid industrial (and expensive) processing plants. Each chicken he produces is clearly labeled as to origin, method of production, and added ingredients (none); the label also cites the statute that allows him to operate unmolested.

Recently he was informed by the Food Safety Inspection Service, the regulatory arm of the USDA, that he faced a “situation.” They had discovered a chink in the otherwise protective “non-molestation” statute. Because he is marketing chickens to an intermediary (me), his product is therefore rendered illegal and he must desist. In a disturbing addendum the inspector also let slip that the USDA would be willing (“free of charge”) to take over inspection of his facilities and that they would be “more than happy to help him get going,” presumably in the chicken business.

The same authority willing to allow a company to distribute (and I’m not making this up) a neon-green sugar drink with the word “sweetener” (in quotes) on the ingredient list believes that customers cannot be trusted to buy a natural chicken from a reputable farmer.

Raising the Roof

I have an old shed I’d like to turn into an office. It’s a small, uncomplicated project. I do not intend to host conventions there or otherwise expose innocents to my construction acumen.

I could use a hand, so I called a man advertising his handyman services on a placard outside the feed store. We talked it over; he needed capital and I needed labor; we had a deal. I had expected to be hammering on joists this morning instead of this keyboard but for the fact that he didn’t show up today. Why? The county, vigorously addressing this “situation,” had torn down all his signs (including one in front of his home), citing him for neglecting to indicate his contractor’s license. Fair enough, you say; he knows the rules and got burned. So why the stink?

Well, here is a gentleman in his mid-50s with more than 25 years of construction experience who was a licensed contractor in Florida before moving to Arizona. For more than six months he has been fighting to gain the requisite licensing. He is obliged, among other onerous duties, to provide 25 references spanning his entire career and from across a continent before his application can enter the waiting list. He estimates his application will cost $10,000 and take another six months. He is afraid to work with me, even as a “tutor,” because he has been told that counties often set people up to entrap them.

Once again presumptuous authority has stepped between educated, intelligent adults to prevent free, fully cognizant transactions. Am I a pathological obediphobe to find such meddling unsavory?

Even if these cases turn out to be simple errors in communication or an innocent overstepping of authority, the damage has already been done. The perception alone is enough to chill behavior. In relaying these injustices I have now wasted hours that could have otherwise been spent creating outstanding beef; Josh is reducing his next order of chicks; and an out-of-work man with a lifetime of skills sits idle wishing for work.

Perhaps these are just the fickle vagaries, the marginalia of an otherwise appropriate regulatory regime. But I’m afraid they represent a deeper, metastasized, problem. The late Mr. Jefferson, that “intellectual voluptuary” according to his Big Government nemeses, explained that government’s only purpose is to secure natural rights. Governments, he believed, exist to protect life, liberty, property, and little else. It’s probably archaic of me to wish for a return to such a limited view, but I can’t help it. The kind of absurd oversight now considered standard practice feels fundamentally unjust.

It would be wonderful to live in a world where selling a chicken and remodeling a shed weren’t rife with official allegations or burdened with State prohibitions.



List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


1 comment:

Lucas said...

"You can't keep a good blogger down"

Your Christian upbringing once more at display,

God bless.