Posted tagged ‘washington post’

The Apostasy of Jennifer Rubin

November 9, 2011

Jennifer Rubin is one of those people one simply doesn’t need to read.  Not, or not simply because she’s never right; but rather because, almost always, she is boringly, predictably wrong —  in prose that saps one’s will to live, strung together into simulations of argument that one could lay out in advance  like squares for hopscotch.

But every now and then she rouses herself from her mission — the ongoing erosion of what remains of The Washington Post’s reasons to exist — to achieve true grotesquerie.

So it goes in the affair TBogg has already chronicled, in which Rubin retweeted this message of sweetness and light; the link there leads to a blog post that Der Stürmer would have been pleased to publish (Proper names changed, of course, though the message would have stayed the same.)

Nothing to see here, really — Rubin is simply one of many shills for the peculiar notion that to love Israel obligates one to revere every last folly and viciousness of its worst elements. That she would endorse/direct readers to a steaming heap of murderous racism seems merely to be part of her brief as she sees it.

TBogg focuses on the Post’s blithe defense of the whole affair, with its ombudsman trotting the old “it’s just an opinion” fig leaf.  (Does the Post require its ombudspeople to undergo chemical sterilization, or do they just recommend it?)  For me, I’m going to trot a bit of stuff I don’t usually draw upon, science writer that I am.

That is — atheist though I  also am, I’m one of the commitedly Jewish variety, and I’m not going to let Rubin’s “opinion” pass as anything like an acceptable statement from within the tradition.  I recall what my rabbi and friend pointed out to me one time when we were discussing the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.  He opened the Tanakh, found Isiah, chapter 19, and he read out these verses:

19:24 In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: 19:25 Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.

In the context of our conversation, the exegisis is, I think, pretty damn obvious.  That Rabbi — Ben-Zion Gold, for those of you who may have encountered him — survived the Holocaust, the only member of his family to do so.  He knows from hatred, and the way verbal violence — the rhetoric that describes the subhuman, vicious other — leads to physical destruction, murder in the land.

Rubin’s Ombudsman, and her editors at the Post, may give her a pass. They shouldn’t.  This stuff kills, or at least makes such disasters that much more likely.

But whatever (lack of) consequences Rubin may face in her professional setting, it seems to me that if she is going to purport to speak for anything remotely resembling Jews or Judaism, she has a lot of ‘splainin, or rather learning to do that I strongly doubt will ever take place.  And as for the Post …  I channel my inner Brad Delong:  Why, oh why can’t we have a better press corps.

Image:  Leonardo da Vinci, Study of five grotesque heads, c. 1494

Why We Don’t Have A Better Press Corps: Howie Kurtz, Helen Thomas, and Marty Peretz edition

September 21, 2010

I’m preparing a belated longer post on Marty Peretz latest self revelation as a man no civil society should acknowledge.

But for now, I just want to post w/out much comment the last graf from today’s Guardian article on objections emerging at Harvard to the notion of accepting the donatino that would create an academic chair named in Peretz’s honor. Chris McGreal, a Guardian Washington correspondent asked the correct question:  given the storm that blew away Helen Thomas’s career over her nasty and foolish comment about Jews going home to Germany and Poland, why wasn’t the American media roasting Peretz for his much more grotesque claims — as in his statement that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to other Muslims,” and that “this is a statement of fact and not value.”

That question is, of course even more pointed when you realize, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, that Peretz is vicious and broad sprectrum bigot who has been spewing this crap for decades.  Most important from my point of view, is that he has been doing so from his position as owner of an influential opinion magazine, which means that Peretz’s contemptible behavior has significant potential impact on real people’s lives.  Again, see TNC for a taste of the kind of journalism Peretz presided over, and its implications for actual human experience.*

So why not?  Let’s turn to the man who may well be the top arbiter of the Fifth Estate’s behavior within the inner circle of Washington Village media.  Here’s The Guardian’s reporting on Mr. Howard (“he playing dead”) Kurtz’s reaction to Peretz’s outbursts:

Howard Kurtz, the media editor of the Washington Post, was among those journalists critical of Thomas, suggesting that she should “go home” to Lebanon and that she is a heroine to Hezbollah. Asked why the mainstream media has largely ignored Peretz’s views over the years, Kurtz replied: “I’m afraid I just haven’t focused on the subject.”

Graham Greene in Our Man in Havana caught the essence of what’s going on here in a passing conversation between Jim Wormwold — a vacuum-cleaner salesman pretending ineptly to be a spy — and Captain Segura, the Cuban policeman who suspects him of potentially fatal fecklessness.  Late one evening, Segura educates Wormwold on the ways of the real world:  there are those who are members of the tortureable class — Greene had a gift for the diamond-cut phrase — and those who aren’t.

Peretz is such an untouchable, and he trades on his membership in the in group which protects even its brutes, the non-torturable elites for whom actual damage is always someone else’s problem.  Kurtz’s studied and careful assertion of meticulously nurtured ignorance is just how its done:  get used to it, folks.  TheVillage protects its own.

Peretz is beyond shame at this point in his life, I feel pretty sure, though I still believe that the proper response of anyone or institution that wishes to be thought civilized is to shame and shun him.

But I’m a fool and I still hold out hope against all evidence that a media that once aspired to”comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable might yet find a way to express outrage at the thought of justifying the murder of innocents. (If that seems strong, ask yourself what “Muslim life is cheap” actually means.)

I should know better by now.

Which is why Mr. Kurtz cannot bring Marty Peretz into sharp focus.  And that is all ye need to know about why our democracy is in such trouble.

To channel Brad Deling (sic…! heh.) Why, oh why can’t we have…hell just a clear eyed press corps.

*All of which is to say, no sympathy here for notions that, as Sullivan has argued, we should give Peretz a pass for his contemptible and cowardly attempts to relegate 1.5 billion people to the role of the expendable other, just because he published some of his favorite Harvard students writing “edgy” stuff, nor for Jack Shafer’s “that’s just Marty being Marty” apologetic.  Jack argues that if we choose to contemn Peretz for his, in essence, incitements to violence now and over a decades-long career, “let’s make ourselves uncomfortable by also acknowledging his contribution to journalism and thought.”

When your contributions to journalism includes the trifecta of a completely fabricated attack on black New Yorkers in the notorious Glass taxi piece, (see TNC above); the credulous and quantitatively illiterate pimping of the attack on people of African descent the world round represented by The Bell Curve, and the actually deadly destructive coverage of the Clinton health care reform, I’m afraid I can’t feel uncomfortable at the thought that public discourse and America itself would have been better off if Marty Peretz had not completed his one true success in life:  marrying enough money to indulge his vainglorious proprietorship of TNR.

Image: Hieronymous Bosch, “Table of the Mortal Sins (Hell),” 1500-1525.

Why Friends Don’t Let Friends Read HuffPost “Science”

December 11, 2009


I confess that I have an instant gag reflex to the work of any author who permits this kind of bio line attach to his/her name:

Robert Lanza, MD is considered one of the leading scientists in the world.”

But that’s only a symptom of the real problem here.  As are such telling but on one level superficial errors like mistaking the physical unit for energy.*  (It’s joules, not watts, as Lanza repeatedly mistakes.  Watts are units of power:  one watt equals one joule/second.)

There is a critique (demolishment) of Lanza’s “argument” for the nonexistence of death (sic!) that’s pretty easy to construct, of course.  The mush of badly garbled physics and windy speculation on the true nature of time and so on makes both a familiar and plenty broad target.  See this post and thread from PZ Myers.

Rather than recapitulate that hive-tome, (and not to anticipate any physicist with time on her/his hands who can more powerfully than I eviscerate the quantum-and-mulitverse nonsense purveyed by the handwaving Dr. Lanza) I just want to pick up on the implications of the kinds of rhetoric described above.

That is:  this is typical of one of the ways in which scientific illiteracy infects culture — not in the outright denial of obvious truths, but in the appropriation of the language of science to mask idiocy.

You see this often in blunt ways.  In Sarah Palin’s now infamous WaPo op ed. on climate change and the notorious emails, she “writes”*

What’s more, the documents show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate….

…before concluding that

“Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference.”

Palin’s willed misrepresentation of the emails themselves have been well documented…see this for the latest general response to the really damaging deliberate mischaracterization of what those emails do and don’t tell you about climate change, and see this and this for specific rejoinder to Palin’s op-ed.

But the key here is “her”* choice of language.  “Consensus.”  “Accuracy of estimates.” “Trustworthy science.”  “She”* is asserting a claim of reason here, of the use of the very tools that really trustworthy scientists would employ.

It’s obvious why “she”* does so.  Anthropogenic climate change is the object of specifically scientific inquiry, and unless the claims of scientific knowledge from within that inquiry can be denied in their own frame of reference, those who wish to keep their own oxen ungored would be forced back onto the six year old’s argument:  “don’t wanna.”

It’s clever too.  As the tobacco hacks once noted, the product here is doubt — specifically doubt about what is and isn’t known, to what level of confidence.  Given the provisional nature of most scientific claims, that’s a pretty easy product to manufacture, as the tobacco companies did for decades, and as climate denialists and creationists have managed to do for the last many years.

But at least there is the possibility of correction here.  When the enemies of science argue in the language of science, they are on our turf, and, with effort, it is at least possible to demolish their claims.  In cases where time is of the essence, as in climate issues, that may be cold (hot) comfort — and certainly those of us, like my family, who have lost beloveds to RJ Reynolds (Pall Mall Reds, specifically), the decades of delay won by false claims of  uncertainty are unforgivable.  But still, we’re in with a chance when we fight on home ground.

Stuff like Lanza’s, though is more insidious, if less directly dangerous.  Here is someone asserting not the limits or errors of science, but its expansiveness.  He uses words that sound technical-ish — that “20 watt fountain of energy that is operating in the brain.”  (No, I did not make that up.)

He references grand sounding ideas:  “One well-known aspect of quantum physics is that certain observations cannot be predicted absolutely.”

He talks about specific experiments:  “Consider an experiment that was recently published in the journal Science showing that scientists could retroactively change something that had happened in the past. Particles had to decide how to behave when they hit a beam splitter.” (That this is a drastic mistatement of what’s going on in what I infer is the experiment under discussion (there is no reference) can be glimpsed in this account).

And so on.  The point isn’t that Lanza gets lots of stuff wrong — though that’s material as to why this piece is a crock — but that he weaves his woo in language designed to persuade a reasonably trusting reader that this “leading scientist” really knows stuff, that this pseudoscientific mush is actually embedded in a real and significant research program.

And the damage done there is, I think, obvious.  There is a lot of long term damage to the public’s ability to make sense of our expanding understanding of the material world that doesn’t came from people saying specific things that ain’t so — a la the divine Ms. Palin* — but from the confusion about what science is at all that comes from stuff like this.

Lanza is a man in pain. His speculation on the nonexistence of death occurs in the context of the loss of his sister not long after her marriage.  That’s a horrible tragedy to endure, and I condemn no one for seeking solace in that context.

But the truly human trope of seeking meaning in seemingly random disaster is not in itself a reliable source of general claims about the universe.  And when Lanza turs his private grief into a public and  general claims, he does so in ways that both damage his own authority as a scientist (leading or not) and — more important — he directly and significantly damages his readers’ ability to understand what science does and does not do.

The other culprit here, more culpable in my view, is Lanza’s mouthpiece, his venue.  The Huffington Post wants to be a web-center of cultural discourse.  In its ambition it seems to have decided that science can be covered like its media/gossip page.  Fun stuff is more important than real stuff.  I give Lanza, if not a pass, at least sympathy in his pursuit of some formulation that will make his loss (and perhaps his own fear of mortality) more tolerable.

The HuffPo crew?  Not so much

*I confess to some doubt as to whether the temporary governor actually writes that which is published under her name.


William Hope, “A photograph of a group gathered at a seance. ” 1920.

Benjamin West, “Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky,” ca. 1816

Why Newspapers are Dying: George Will Has Reached His Sell-By Date edition

October 12, 2009

Some of the problems faced by traditional newspapers (the MSM, dead tree dept.) are imposed from without.  It’s not anyone in particular’s fault that the emergence of the intertubes and related digital developments is destroying most of the economic pillars on which newspapers have prospered for a long time.

But there are plenty of wounds that are self inflicted.  No one has forced newspapers to emphasize, say, style at the expense of reporting, especially the kind of gasbag opinionizing that dare not speak its name.  See this latest via Balloon Juice for just one small instance of major media deciding to render themselves irrelevant.

And most bizarrely, no one has forced folks to create a star system of punditry, despite the fact that the only unique advantage major media possesses over the digital wild west is a knowledge of journalistic craft and the institutional infrastructure that supports sustained inquiry and local and or investigative reporting.

But that’s a disastrous miscalculation.  Training up an institution to do real reporting well is hard — and would provide one distinctive competitive advantage over independent knights of the keyboard. Opinion writing does not.  Anyone, even yours truly, can take a whack at it; over time big, fixed cost dinosaurs can compete on neither quality nor quantity  (or, as we say in my house — both Rock and Roll.)

And if, for example, that house organ to the powerful, The Washington Post has to rely on work like  that George Will eructates to lay claim to a distinctive place in our media culture…well, on the evidence of his latest, the end can’t be far off now.

In fact, if I were Fred Hiatt (what a horrible thought…really for Fred or me….) I’d demand my money back.  There truly is nothing there, no actual facts, no analysis, no thoughts.  It’s got some of the Will trademarks — the mandarin disdain; the cocktail-party level faux sophistication (look at me! I look at paintings! the pretentious anglophilia); the relentless projection (I’m not really a sneering asshole;  YOU are!); but at bottom, this is just Will finally going alll Norma Desmond on us.  From top to bottom this reads as an almost pitiable cri de coeur:   “pay attention to me; I used to be somebody!”

The winceable stuff starts right at the top, with a typical Will trope:

Consider nature. Not the placid nature that Constable painted, but nature as Tennyson saw it, “red in tooth and claw.” To glimpse a state of nature as Hobbes imagined it, where human life is “nasty, brutish and short,” visit the Whole Foods store on River Road in Bethesda.

Ooh, ooh teacher, I know this one!

If you want to impress the gullibles, and you want to assert an authority you have not earned, make sure you scatter into your writing/speech — preferably near the top — two or three droplets from the handbook of safe bits of smart-people stuff.  Here we have a famous painter, a nicely canonical poet, and the one quote everyone has heard from someone you can be pretty sure most of your readers have not read well (or recently) enough to expose you for the superficial pseud you are.

Will does this all the time — he is glib, he affects a broad and deep knowledge, he has plenty of access to research assistants.  And particularly in a town like DC, which dotes on culture in the service of power, this kind of stuff goes down a treat.

It’s pitiable nonsense, of course, neither good writing nor in fact an intelligent reading of his sources.  Tennyson’s godawful poem* contrasts nature to human beings — the poet! —  and their relationship to the divine, which has in essence nothing to do with what Hobbes is talking about. But who cares — certainly not Will.  Rather, these are just cliches with Dior labels attached–  “red in tooth…” and so on, both familiar and useful reminders of the speaker’s status.

Will at this point isn’t worth a whole lot of effort to fisk or debunk.  All you will find in this latest evidence of fatal decline is a tally of imagined horror:

*Liberals arguing over parking spaces to buy expensive vegetables proves that those who think that George Will is an idiot are just as awful as those who bring guns to political rallies.

*He argues (really?  is that the verb?  — ed) that because he does not like liberals, therefore liberals are elitist hypocrites.

*He asserts that liberalism’s interest in rights has somehow destroyed the civility, even the legitimacy of the health care debate.

*He thinks that a local traffic dispute proves  that liberals stand on rights too much to resolve disputes — and that, by implication somehow this means that whatever it is that stands for conservatism ought still to command respect.

That is:  this is one long screed of “I hate you guys,” so much so that in the end, it is not worth the bother of deconstructing.  Just take one short quote for an illustration and you’ll get the whole.  Consider:

If our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, a.k.a. entitlements, we are condemned to endless jostling among elbow-throwing individuals irritably determined to protect, or enlarge, the boundaries of their rights. Among such people, all political discourse tends to be distilled to what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls “rights talk.”

“If our vocabulary is composed exclusively…” And if it’s not, as patently it isn’t?  What’s there?  A lazy old man whose moral and intellectual hemmorrhoids are acting up.

See e.g., the very health care dispute to which Will makes reference.  The argument about the public option is heated indeed, but it’s not about a right.  Rather its about what would be the best politically possible way to reach a particular policy goal:  how to insure as near to everyone as possible at the lowest cost to society.  End of story. Which Will has to know, unless he picked this as the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.  (That universal health care can be expressed as a right isn’t what the left is arguing about.  It’s how to achieve the end of instantiating that right — or as it is sometimes conceived, that essential moral and pragmatically social-order-serving obligation of a modern developed society.)

“rights a.k.a. entitlements.”  So free speech is an entitlement?  The free exercise of religion?  How about the expectation as a human right that in detention one will not be subject to torture?  If these are entitlements, then the eternal Inigo Montoya rises up once more.

“Endless jostling among elbow throwing individuals?”… Timing is everything, but on the weekend of the LBGT march on Washington, I’d have to ask if Will thinks it inappropriate for someone to take to the streets, peaceably, elbows and all, to jostle his delicate sensibilities with demands for equal treatment under the law.  Note also the sleight of hand:  “to protect, or enlarge.”

Speaking as someone enjoying my bloggy moment of free speech, its protection in all kinds of ways (net neutrality, e.g.) seems important.  To condemn it ever so slickly by conflating it with enlarging…well, from the point of view of the writer’s craft, that’s slick, skilled, and wholly dishonest.  (Also, I’m not so sure what is so bad in the abstract about enlarging rights:  from sufferage to equal access to public benefits, as in Title 9 seems like exactly the logic of a view of humanity that accepts the essential notion of equal treatment under law.)

“Among such people” — ahh, here’s the real nub. Who are these people? Will never says. The wrong sort, no doubt.  They’re the imagined Prius drivers who dare to shop at Whole Foods.  They are pissed off drivers slowing for speed bumps, profiled in a strangely anachronistic Post piece that presents as new what has happened in neighborhoods all over America (all over the world) when traffic engineers use their tools to shift driving habits.**

Whoever they are, these mythical liberals, these hypocrites, these folks who dare speak of rights — they are not, in fact, the people who have truly provoked the great George Will.  Rather, those offenders would be, I think (a) the large subset of the governing party that is ignoring everything he has to say, and (b) the American voters who have sent a young, smart, not-one-of-us man to the White House, along with 60 of the wrong party to the Senate and a similarly large delegation to the House.

Which is to say that most of Will’s career has been, in effect, repudiated by those results.  The electorate and a growing (though not yet dominant) faction of the ruling party understands that Will has gotten most of the important calls wrong for a very long time now.  They and we realize that he has nothing much left to say, given how thoroughly his earlier arguments have been shown to be wrong — not through debate, nor the easy abstractions of armchair argument, nor by raising his Constable with any of a number of Turners, but in the hard school of the real world in which he has lined up on the side of grotesque political and policy failure.

Which leaves Will with this:  a column that says nothing, as little-boy-nastily as possible.

And that, my friends (channeling my inner McCain, there folks — sorry) leads back to the beginning at which we will end.  If the Post doesn’t start breaking some real journalism soon; if all it has to offer is “such people” kvetching by tired old Gloria Swanson impersonators, then what reason for being will they have?  Why would anyone lay down a buck or whatever they charge these days for wrap any self-respecting fish would reject?

*and endless.  I dare you to read the whole thing.  And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Will has not.

**It may come as news to Will, but this has happened before.  And what usually goes down is this:  people get pissed off for a while about speed bumps or other bits of traffic engineering when they first are installed, and then they just deal, as most folks figure out that slowing down in neighborhoods full of kids is not the worst idea in the world.  Only a world-class asshole would assume that the “conflict” between neighborhoods and drivers passing through was a measure of political sincerity or sophistication.

Image:  Vincent van Gogh, “Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)” 1890

Does the string “Michael Kinsley” correspond to a sentient being? I think not…

July 10, 2009

…and here’s the evidence, from “Michael Kinsley’s” presumably machine-generated column in today’s Washington Post:

The fiscal stimulus was, of necessity, a numbingly huge number, and almost nobody has said it was unneeded or not urgent or too big.

Well, no….unless you include the entire Congressional Republican delegation, Fox News, the radio wasteland that is right-wing talk, not to mention those millions thousands of devotees of a sexual practice illegal in Georgia until quite recently.

So — where on earth did Kinsley…I’m sorry, that’s “Kinsley” get his claim?  Or this one:

As several conservative commentators have pointed out, Obama has pulled a sleight of hand in which the items on his agenda long before the economic emergency — items such as health-care reform — have taken on a sense of great urgency merely from their association with truly urgent measures like the stimulus package.

Leave aside whether or not conservative commentators can be trusted to characterize accurately anything Obama has done (easy answer:  they can’t), last time I checked, American health care was in crisis, with almost 50 million uninsured, costs steadily rising to clearly unsustainable pressure, businesses in dire trouble because of legacy health care obligations, and for all that cash, medical care and outcomes no better than, and by many measures clearly worse than those of other nations, despite enormously greater per capita outlays.

So, unless your definition of urgency requires a gun to your head with the hammer cocked, to believe that dealing with a problem that has grown steadily worse, is unsustainable in cost, and is killing people before their time is not urgent requires a certain Olympian disdain for grubby reality that I just can’t muster.

Not to mention that the charge of sleight of hand is simply false.  Here’s the top-level promise on health care as articulated at, the website used during the transition between the November 4 and January 20.  It’s listed as number three on the agenda for the new administration, after responding to the economic crisis and ending the war in Iraq.  It is not conflated with anything; it is presented as a top priority in its own terms — which is how it was offered up during the campaign as well.

In other words, “Kinsley” seems to be complaining that an urgent national problem identified before another urgent concern somehow be down graded because all we can handle is one crisis at a time.  Well, sorry, fella, that ain’t the way it works.  If there is a crisis in health care in the US — and there is, one that has both life-and-death consequences for individuals and long term destructive potential for the economy– then we don’t get to give it up because it’s just too tiring for the delicate souls in WaPo land to keep up.

To channel my man Brad DeLong…why oh why…….?

Image:  Giovanni Bellini and Vecellio Tiziano (Titian) “The Feast of the Gods,” 1514-1515.

Don’t Know Nothing ‘Bout Causality (or science): Washington Post Edition…

March 5, 2008

…Or why you can’t infer from one truly awful writer that all writers are dumb as a box of rocks.

By now, pretty much everyone in the blog reading world (or at least those I imagine are the readers of this blog) has heard of, and maybe even read Charlotte Allen’s unwitting (witless?) self parody (immolation?) in last Sunday’s Washington Post.


You can find all the responses you want with a quick google search — here are a couple that catch the zeitgeist pretty well. (For a post with links to a lot more see this one.)

So, with all that out there, what more to add? Two things, actually, or maybe two and a half.

First, this blog has gone on, perhaps to the point of exhaustion, about the importance of even very simple quantitative reasoning as both the starting point for thinking within the scientific world view — and just for making sense of the everyday world of experience.

Allen’s inability to do this reaffirms how important it is — not least for keeping yourself from looking like a true idiot in front of a national audience. Here’s the problem: one of the early “arguments” (sic) that Allen uses to suggest that “several of the supposed myths about female inferiority are true,” is that “Women really are worse drivers than men” according to a ten year old study out of Johns Hopkins.

Jake Young whaled on this one here, proving once again (take a memo certain Post editors!) that it really, really helps to read and understand a paper before you glom onto its abstract. But that critique, useful as it is, misses the simplest stupidity that Young (and her editors) commit.

Young writes that the study

revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men’s 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women.

Stop and think about that for a moment.

Now change the activity in question, and maybe turn the groups being distinguished into ones that have a little less political affect:

Say you have some working stiffs who play golf once a week on the weekends, and some biometrically equivalent trust fund golfers who get to hit the links three times a week. Next, breathlessly report that the weekend duffers “clock 5.7 bogies per 18 holes, in contrast to the trust funded group, who cut their bogie rate to 5.1, even though they play 300 percent more holes than poor folk.


From that you could conclude, I guess, that the evolutionary history that produces poor people also contains genes for lousy golf, and the reverse for the rich folk. Or you could propose that maybe hitting a few more balls might improve your game.

I don’t truly know if practice makes you a better driver. It seems a reasonable hypothesis — but you’d have to do some real research to say so with any confidence, of course.

I don’t even care if this fact has something to do with whatever the Johns Hopkins people observed.

Here’s the point: A couple of times over the last few years I’ve given a talk in which I’ve come out “against science literacy.” Allen’s article is an illustration of what I mean. She’s marginally literate in science-yness at least. She uses words like “genes” and botches that old chestnut about brain sizes and so on. But it doesn’t matter how many Tuesday Science Times section she reads. If she can’t think, it doesn’t matter how many words she knows. And thinking in this context means, at a minimum being able to understand the basics of the statistics she chooses to bandy.

So that’s one point. The other derives from the second half of my job title: I’m a science writer, and I have to say that there is one other quality of Allen’s piece that has not, I think, received all the ridicule it deserves. Boy, is that one badly written stretch of fish-wrap!

And here, I’m not talking about the global issues of logic, accuracy and argument, but the butt-ugly sentences and phrases she unleashed on who knows how many Sunday hangovers.

This post is long enough, so one example will do:

This female taste for first-person romantic nuttiness, spiced with a soupçon of soft-core porn, has made for centuries of bestsellers — including Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel “Pamela,” in which a handsome young lord tries to seduce a virtuous serving maid for hundreds of pages and then proposes, as well as Erica Jong’s 1973 “Fear of Flying.”

That’s damn near unreadable. Look at that construction:”This female taste for first-person…blah, blah, blah…as well as Erica Jong’s 1973 Fear of Flying.”

Did Allen miss that fourth grade lesson on run-on sentences, in which vital topics of syntax, usage and style were covered, as well as her college expos class? (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)

I teach writing at the college and graduate level. My least articulate MIT freshman, fluent in Python, not in English, doesn’t commit crap like this.

Which leads to my last half point. The real damage here is to whatever is left of the Post’s editors’ reputation. Leave aside all the things that can (and have) been said about the vapidity or worse of every paragraph in the piece. How did anyone licensed to wield a red at the paper let uglification like this get through?

Just askin…

Images: James Gilray, engraver, “Physical air,-or-Britannia recover’d from a trance,” 1803. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Gunnar A. Sjögren, “Saab Formula Junior,” illustration on page 23 of The SAAB Way – the first 35 years of SAAB cars, 1949-1984, 1984. Released for uses clearly not contradictory to Saab’s interests.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Horace Hutchinson, British Golf Links, 1897 J. S. Virtue & Co, London, page 9. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

John Leech, ” published in The Comic History of Rome, p. 88 c. 1850. Source: Wikimedia Commons.