Intellectual capital: Professor Cooper and Rosa Parks!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2014

Our tribe’s self-defeating dumbness:
For many years, we liberals laughed at the dumbness of the ditto-heads.

They’d call Rush Limbaugh and echo reams of pseudo-conservative cant. No claim was too dumb for them to swallow, too tortured for them to repeat.

At the time, our tribe was asleep in the woods. But for liberals who wanted to feel superior, it was a wonderful time.

In the past ten years, our liberal world has roused itself from its slumber. As corporate liberal news orgs have formed, an unfortunate fact has emerged:

As a group, we liberals are every bit as limited as the conservatives are. From our academic and journalistic elites down through our true-believing foot soldiers, our tribe’s intellectual capital is extremely limited too.

As with the ditto-heads, so too with us. We liberals just aren’t very sharp.

Examples? Over at the Washington Post, Sally Kohn offers the latest multiply-bungled piece about the gender pay gap. Her analysis is bad in so many ways that it ought to make liberals weep.

(Kohn’s piece appears at the Post’s aptly-named “PostEverything” site. Was the Post trying to tell us something when it adopted that name?)

That said, we’re going to skip Kohn’s piece and consider work that’s even worse. We refer to Brittney Cooper’s latest piece at Salon, where she posts a weekly essay, generally on matters of race.

Cooper is a 30-something assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers. Her latest essay concerns a personal incident on a commuter train.

Race is a very important topic. For that reason, we’re sad to show you the way her column starts.

As she starts, Cooper describes a trivial incident which occurred when someone wanted a seat on that crowded train. In the trivial interaction the overwrought professor describes, she says she can see “the breadth of the battle against racism we have to fight in this country:”
COOPER (12/17/14): On Friday, I was on the train to New York to do a teach-in on Ferguson at NYU. Beats headphones on, lost in thought, peering out the window, I suddenly saw a white hand shoving my work carry-on toward me. Startled, I looked up to see the hand belonged to a white guy, who was haphazardly handling my open bag, with my laptop perched just inside to make space for himself on the seat next to me.

That he wanted the seat on the now full train was not the problem. That he assumed the prerogative to place his hands on my bag, grab it, shove it at me, all while my computer was unsecured and peeking out, infuriated me. I said to him, “Never put your hands on my property.”

His reply: “Well, you should listen when I talk to you.” That line there, the command that when he, whoever he was, spoke, I should automatically listen encapsulates the breadth of the battle against racism we have to fight in this country.

Buoyed by his own entitlement, his own sense of white male somebodiness, this passenger never even considered that he might simply try harder to get my attention before putting his hands on my stuff. His own need to control space, his own sense of entitlement to move anything in his way even if it held something of value to another person, his belief that he had the right to do whatever he needed to do to make the environment conform to his will are all hallmarks of white privilege.
Remember when we used to roll our eyes at things the ditto-heads said?

Cooper’s piece goes on from there, at considerable length. It’s the type of piece which displays a sad fact:

Increasingly, we liberals are matching the ditto-heads in our lack of intellectual capital.

Needless to say, there is no way of knowing whether this minor incident occurred in the way Cooper describes. We have no videotape of the event. We don’t know exactly what was said and done.

We don’t know the tone of voice in which words were said, or the manner in which this man moved the professor’s bag. We only know this:

Someone moved the professor’s bag so he could sit down on a crowded train. In this utterly trivial matter, Cooper is somehow able to see the breadth of that battle against racism.

As third parties who weren’t present, we can’t asses Cooper’s claim that the fellow in question was rude. But we can assess the sheer absurdity of Cooper’s reasoning process.

Let’s assume that the person who angered Cooper really was rude and abrupt. It's stunning to see the sweep of the vision Cooper is willing to draw from one such incident.

Can we talk? Millions of people are rude and abrupt, in various ways, every day of the week.

People are sometimes rude and abrupt to people of the same race. People are sometimes rude and abrupt to people of other races.

In this case, Cooper says a white man was rude and abrupt toward a woman who is black. In this incident—an incident her readers can’t assess—she somehow thinks she sees the breadth of the nation’s racism.

Soon, she’s mentioning Rosa Parks. When liberal elites say things like this, the wider world starts thinking, correctly, that we liberals should be disregarded:
COOPER: Some will argue that I cannot generalize ideas about white entitlement from the action of one jerk on the train. After all, people get into petty squabbles on the train all the time. Let us not forget, however, that the civil rights movement was catalyzed by a squabble over a seat on a bus. I’m no Rosa Parks, of course. But what these connected histories teach us is that the right to occupy public accommodations unharassed is a right black people fought for. Died for. Endured centuries of indignity and white entitlement for. Battles over how we share public space are foundational to the narrative of race in this country.
People squabble all the time! Yes, but Rosa Parks!

We’re sure that Cooper is well intentioned. Her work has become more unbalanced as incidents like the one in Ferguson have gained the nation’s attention.

That said, serious progressives of all “races” need to take professors like Cooper and throw them from the front of the bus. Whatever its motivation, work of this type seems to come from a liberal clown car—and the broader electorate will always see it that way.

It’s hard to capture the dumbness of this essay. It’s hard to capture the small-mindedness and the self-involvement of its overwrought author.

If you can't see how dumb it is, face it—you're part of the problem! However well-intentioned it may be, nonsense like this will never serve progressive interests.

(I'm no Rosa Parks? Truer words were never spoken. Civil rights leaders like Mrs. Parks and Dr. King were morally and intellectually brilliant. Increasingly, highly privileged assistant professors evoke their names as they betray their astonishing legacy—as they rage about the fact that someone moved their bag as they zoned out to their high-priced name-brand ear phones.)

Alas! The ditto-heads of the liberal left are emerging on an array of fronts. A horrible fact is clearly emerging: Our tribe is just as irrational as theirs.

Speaking with Rush, they announced their own limitations first. The rise of corporate “liberal” news sites is letting us answer in kind.

This is a very serious issue. It raises the most serious possible question: Now that our gatekeepers are gone, are we the people bright enough to conduct a real democracy?

Go ahead—read that piece. As monster dumbness arrives on the left, our future is put in peril.


THE EMPATHY FILES: Perfect forgiveness, plus human resilience!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2014

Part 2—Kristof’s account feels good:
In his latest New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof told a morally-uplifting story.

In one way, it’s a perfect story of perfect forgiveness. It’s also a story of human resilience. For part 1 in this series, click here.

Kristof’s story, which is familiar, tugged at the heartstrings. Judging from reactions in comments, it made many liberal heartstrings soar.

The story, which seems to be largely accurate, basically went like this:

Back in 1990, a young woman named Debbie Baigrie was attacked in the streets of Tampa by several teenagers one night.

One attacker, Ian Manuel, was only 13 years old. Despite his tender years, he had already been arrested sixteen times.

As part of a gang initiation, Manuel shot Baigrie in the face. The injuries required “10 years of repeated, excruciating surgeries” to Baigrie’s face and mouth, according to Kristof’s account.

Manuel was soon arrested again; he admitted shooting Baigrie. Despite his age, he was sentenced to life in prison without hope of parole.

Here’s where the story gets heartwarming. When Manuel was 14 or 15, he placed a collect phone call to Baigrie from prison. Baigrie accepted the call. A correspondence ensued.

From there, Kristof tells a perfect story of perfect selfless forgiveness. Based on comments, many readers were deeply moved by this perfectly shaped moral tale:
KRISTOF (12/14/14): Thus began a correspondence that has lasted through the decades. who would write to a person that’s tried to take their life,” [Manuel] wrote in one letter. “You are about one in a million who would write to a person that’s tried to take their life,” [Manuel] wrote in one letter.

Over time, Baigrie became friendly with Manuel’s brother and mother.
Baigrie began to feel sympathetic because, as she says: “When you’re 13, you do stupid stuff.”

“I wish I was free,” he wrote in another. “To protect you from that evil world out there.”

Baigrie was also troubled by the racial dimensions of the case. “If he was a cute white boy at 13, with little dimples and blue eyes, there’s no way this would have happened,” she says.

Her husband and friends thought Baigrie was perhaps suffering from some bizarre form of Stockholm syndrome. “People were saying, ‘you’re an idiot,’ ” Baigrie recalls.

Yet she persevered and advocated for his early release. When the Supreme Court threw out life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who had not committed murder, she testified at his resentencing and urged mercy. It didn’t work: Manuel was sentenced to 65 years. He is now scheduled to be released in 2031.
“Thus began a correspondence that has lasted through the decades.” Or at least, so Kristof said.

This is a perfect story of perfect saintly forgiveness. Baigrie, who is one in a million, rejects the skeptical reactions of her husband and her friends.

She becomes friendly with Manuel’s mother and brother. This being a column by the new-and-improved, racially-conscious Kristof, she’s inevitably troubled by what she takes to be the racial discrimination involved in Manuel’s original sentence.

Baigrie becomes the advocate for her assailant’s early release. Even today, twenty-four years later, she is working on Manuel’s behalf.

This story is built on an unusual base—the sentencing of someone who is just 13 to life with without hope of parole in an adult prison. As Kristof continues, the story becomes even more disturbing, then becomes a story of human resilience:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): Manuel, now 37, did not adjust well to prison, and his prison disciplinary record covers four pages of single-spaced entries. He was placed in solitary confinement at age 15 and remained there almost continually until he was 33. For a time, he cut himself to relieve the numbness. He repeatedly attempted suicide.

Returned to the general prison population, Manuel did better. He earned his G.E.D. with exceptional marks, including many perfect scores. He drafts poems and wrote an autobiographical essay, which Baigrie posted on her Facebook page. His mother, father and brother are now all dead; the only “family” he has left is Baigrie, who sometimes regards him as a wayward foster son.
The story becomes more horrible here. Manuel isn’t just sentenced to life without hope of parole. He then endures roughly 18 years of solitary confinement. Based on other journalistic accounts, Kristof underplays the psychological horrors of this type of confinement.

In obvious ways, this is a terrible story—but this is where the perfect story of human resilience starts. Kristof pleases us with his story of Manuel’s personal improvement, which is captured by Manuel’s “perfect scores” and those “exceptional marks.”

Can we talk? Everyone has seen this movie a hundred times. Unfortunately, it’s a Hollywood movie. In many ways, it’s brainless and simple-minded.

We don’t mean that people who are 13 years old should be sent to adult prisons. We don’t mean that they should be sentenced to life without hope of parole.

We don’t mean that someone who is 15 should spend the next 18 years of his life in solitary confinement. We agree with Baigrie’s statement about the stupidity of 13-year-olds.

(Depending on where the 13-year-old lives, the stupidity to which he finds himself drawn may even involve use of guns.)

We don’t mean that Baigrie was wrong to advocate for her assailant. We aren’t judging Baigrie here. We’re judging Kristof’s journalism, which we think is very poor.

What was “wrong” with Kristof’s journalism on this heartwarming occasion? So many things that we won’t be able to examine them today.

For today, we’ll only say this. In our view, Kristof’s column was simple-minded in many ways, some of which we haven’t even mentioned.

This column was also perfectly built to divide the nation’s tribes—to drive a wedge between groups of people who bring different instinctive reactions to stories of this type. In our view, it’s easy to fashion a column like this—and it tends to make it harder for the nation’s warring tribes to come together to fashion improvements in the society’s practices.

What makes this column so thoroughly simple-minded? Tomorrow, we’ll look at the way Kristof takes us back to the 1970s—back to a set of simplistic, simple-minded bromides which helped create a conservative era the last time they were bruited about by lazy thinkers from within our own liberal tribe.

Kristof is a former Rhodes Scholar from Harvard. In our view, it’s very hard to discern these facts from his lazy, unhelpful work.

Tomorrow: “It’s our fault more than his,” Kristof unhelpfully said

Health costs: The New York Times does it again!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2014

Arranges to hide the big picture:
On the front page of today’s New York Times, the paper has done it again.

Elisabeth Rosenthal writes her latest lengthy report concerning the outlandish costs of American health care. In the process, she hides the big picture—“buries the lede”—in familiar, remarkable fashion.

In today’s report, Rosenthal focuses on the wildly varying cost of a certain medical procedure. Headline included, this is the way she starts:
ROSENTHAL (12/16/14): The Odd Math of Medical Tests: One Scan, Two Prices, Both High

Len Charlap, a retired math professor, has had two outpatient echocardiograms in the past three years that scanned the valves of his heart.
The first, performed by a technician at a community hospital near his home here in central New Jersey, lasted less than 30 minutes. The next, at a premier academic medical center in Boston, took three times as long and involved a cardiologist.

And yet, when he saw the charges, the numbers seemed backward: The community hospital had charged about $5,500, while the Harvard teaching hospital had billed $1,400 for the much more elaborate test. “Why would that be?” Mr. Charlap asked. “It really bothered me.”
The more elaborate echocardiogram was billed at $1400. Earlier, at a community hospital, the patient had been charged four times as much for the same procedure.

On its face, that’s a remarkable difference. Rosenthal devotes 2357 words to questions about the way this procedure gets billed.

Along the way, very much in passing, she drops a genuine bombshell. This tiny paragraph passes so fast that a reader might not grasp its truly remarkable content:
ROSENTHAL: In other countries, regulators set what are deemed fair charges, which include built-in profit. In Belgium, the allowable charge for an echocardiogram is $80, and in Germany, it is $115. In Japan, the price ranges from $50 for an older version to $88 for the newest, Dr. Ikegami said.
Say what? Elsewhere in the developed world, this procedure costs $115 or less, Rosenthal mentions in passing. Those prices include a built-in profit!

In Belgium, the procedure costs $80. That is stunning fact. Rosenthal includes that fact, but it passes by so quickly, with so little hype, that readers may barely notice. Much later, in paragraph 27 (of 42), Rosenthal briefly expands this startling international comparison:
ROSENTHAL: Claims data shows that Japanese patients received 6.6 million echocardiograms last year, about five times the rate per capita in Britain.

Despite Japan's fondness for testing, its health spending is about $4,000 a year a person, or 9.6 percent of gross domestic product. By contrast, the United States spends more than $9,000 per person annually, more than 17 percent of G.D.P., although some studies indicate that health care spending is leveling off.

The difference is in part because Japan decides the value of each test and medicine, sets a price and demands that it decrease over time.
It isn’t just that Americans may pay vastly more for that one procedure. In paragraph 27 of a lengthy report, readers are finally told, very much in passing, that Americans spend vastly more per person for their overall health care than people in Japan.

Good grief! Americans spend $9000 per person per year on health care; the Japanese spend only $4000. This is a much larger, much more important story than the narrow tales about health care spending Rosenthal has presented in the past two years.

Rosenthal has done a series of front-page reports about the costs of American health care. Persistently, she focuses on the cost of some particular procedure.

In the process, she completely ignores the overall cost of our health care. Or she cites this matter in passing, in paragraph 27.

As we’ve noted for years, Americans are massively looted in the costs of health care. This looting affects liberals and conservatives alike. Correctly understood and explained, it could provide the basis for political agreement across our current tribal lines.

Americans spent vastly more per person on health care than people in any other nation. But so what? You never see that remarkable fact explained in the New York Times. You never see it discussed on MSNBC.

In these ways, the American middle class gets looted—and the health industries thrive. This morning's front-page report is just the latest example of the way the “journalism” works.

Why does the Times report this topic this way? We can't tell you that. But liberal heroes on corporate TV are never going to ask.