Friday, May 06, 2011

Can't Anyone Ever Admit to Being Wrong?

Contrary to popular belief, I'll do it from time to time. That may be rare for bloggers in general, but it was one of the biggest complaints my mother and older brother used to lodge against me, so maybe I've been sensitized to the necessity of having to admit to being wrong... at least every now and then.

Take, for example, Osama bin Laden. In one of my inaugural posts, Dead Man Talking, I expressed my opinion that he was already dead, most likely since Tora Bora in 2001. Despite the lack of habeas corpus and the constantly changing story line about the raid itself, I'm convinced that he was indeed alive the whole time. Seems like he might have been just living in semi-retired seclusion, but who knows...? Speaking of which, poor Jay Carney over at the White House... He needs to learn that tried-and-true lesson - never believe the first thing you hear coming from the military.

Paradoxically, my wife is a skeptic about the news of Bin Laden's demise, but I think she's just reluctant to give Obama credit for anything.

Which leads me to the next thing...

It's an amazing indication of how badly this nation has become polarized that the President can't get a bit of credit from his critics for even a day or two. At least on September 11, we were all really unified for at least a couple of months. Now we've got people on the far right trying to claim that their support of waterboarding turned out to be justified, and to give credit to George W. Bush, who said, and I quote:
"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
Apparently, wasting resources in Iraq was the priority...and he was echoed by Donald Rumsfeld with...
"He is either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive."
Helpful and illuminating as always...

Concerning the death of Osama bin Laden, here are just a few random thoughts.

- I don't care about the theological hair-splitting. The overt celebrations in the streets were inappropriate and boorish, but I'm glad he's left this world. If the killing of anyone could be justified, his was. If that makes me a lousy Christian, so be it. Just another thing on that list of stuff that might make me a lousy Christian...

- The decision not to release the death photos was the correct one. We already have enough people being desensitized by war porn on the internet. During this time of the Arab Spring, when young people in the Middle East are showing signs of rejecting Bin Laden's nihilistic philosophy and radicalized religion, this was a good call. Treating vanquished enemies like dead trophy animals might radicalize people who might not otherwise be necessarily inclined to take up arms against us. No need to put our troops at risk in order to satisfy the curiosity of the prurient losers who are surfing the web in their parents' basements.

- In spite of all that, Obama has a little bit of gangster in him, doesn't he? A real cold streak. This business about the burial at sea.... I can't imagine George W doing that. He would have done something freaky like having Cheney and Rumsfeld talk him into demanding to have Bin Laden's head delivered to the Pentagon in a box. I can't picture him dumping the guy's body in the ocean and then saying with a straight face that it was done according to Islamic custom.

But enough about Bin Laden. Back to the importance of being wrong.... It must be nice to be a weatherman or a television pundit. They are allowed to be wrong quite often. In my line of work, not much of it is tolerated. You mess up significantly and everyone gets hauled in to write a root cause analysis document with a subsequent action plan. If you are the origin of too many of those you get shown the door. Why doesn't the same happen with some of these talking heads on TV? I saw an interesting article recently, by the way, on just who seems to be wrong more often than not...
Op-ed columnists and TV’s talking heads build followings by making bold, confident predictions about politics and the economy. But rarely are their predictions analyzed for accuracy.

Now, a class at Hamilton College led by public policy professor P. Gary Wyckoff has analyzed the predictions of 26 prognosticators between September 2007 and December 2008. Their findings? Anyone can make as accurate a prediction as most of them if just by flipping a coin....

The top prognosticators – led by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman – scored above five points and were labeled “Good,” while those scoring between zero and five were “Bad.” Anyone scoring less than zero (which was possible because prognosticators lost points for inaccurate predictions) were put into “The Ugly” category. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas came up short and scored the lowest of the 26.

Even when the students eliminated political predictions and looked only at predictions for the economy and social issues, they found that liberals still do better than conservatives at prediction. After Krugman, the most accurate pundits were Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – all Democrats and/or liberals. Also landing in the “Good” category, however, were conservative columnists Kathleen Parker and David Brooks, along with Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Left-leaning columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post rounded out the “good” list.

Those scoring lowest – “The Ugly” – with negative tallies were conservative columnist Cal Thomas; U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC); U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI); U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, a McCain supporter and Democrat-turned-Independent from Connecticut; Sam Donaldson of ABC; and conservative columnist George Will.


cowboyangel said...

Oh man, I'm so wrong about so many things that it's hard to keep track anymore. My judge of political character led me to sending money to John Edwards. Can't say much then, can I? Not to mention sending money to Obama.

At the risk of further embarrassment, however, I'll say that the manner in which Bin Laden's death has been handled by the administration smelled fishy to me immediately. Imagine for a moment that it's one year before George W. Bush runs for re-election. His approval rating is sinking dramatically. The economy is not improving. His base is disappointed and he's losing the independents. Suddenly, Bush claims that he's killed Osama Bin Laden, but he's dumped the guy in the ocean and won't release any photos. Then, his story about the incident changes each day. It was a firefight. Oh, no, sorry, only one person had a gun. He used a woman as a human shield. Oh, sorry, that wasn't true. I'm sorry, but I think Liberals would be having coniption fits in that scenario. I think they would totally be engaged in conspiracy theories.

And I believe that's just what Obama wants. The only thing the Democratic Party has going for it right now, their only message, is, "We're not the Crazies." Why did he take two years to release his birth crtificate? (Why should he? I know. But why drag it out for so long?) Because every day the story stayed in the public eye, the more their message rang true. Now, we already have Bin Laden conspiracy theories running around. (And not just here but in many places around the world.) And they have to be loving it. As long as the conspiracy theories stay in the public, the longer other people hear about Obama killing Bin Laden. And the more the Crazies seem crazy. Beautiful politics.

Obama-Biden 2012 - "We're not the Crazies."

Sorry, I grew up during Vietnam and Watergate. I don't trust the government. What can I say? And to see Liberals gleefully accept whatever their guy doles out, without any proof, just lessens my repsect for them one more notch.

I'm glad the guy's dead. But it was pretty anti-climactic and overdue. And to think that killing him somehow justifies all of our wars, all of the stripping of our civil liberties, the torture, the lies, the trillion-plus dollars spent (that no one seems to connect to our economic problems)... And to see the same old frat boy "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" cheering over it all. Just doesn't do much for me.

cowboyangel said...

But I could be wrong. ;-)

crystal said...

Donald Rumsfeld with..."He is either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive."


Yeah, the burial at sea thing reminds me of when the bad guys in Latin America who would throw people off planes to kill them and disappear the body -

Jeff said...

William and Crystal, sorry to take so long in getting back to you. Very busy week...

William, I find the layout for the conspiracy theory at least somewhat plausible, but why now? Why not sometime before the Nov 2010 elections, when they knew they were likely to get creamed without some big kind of help? I think it's to Obama's credit that he didn't take action on this after supposedly finding out about this location last August.

I'm more inclined to agree with Amanda Marcotte about this over at Pandagon. Remember her, speaking of John Edwards?


Why did he take two years to release his birth crtificate? (Why should he? I know. But why drag it out for so long?) Because every day the story stayed in the public eye, the more their message rang true. Now, we already have Bin Laden conspiracy theories running around.

Yes, the whole flap over the birth certificate thing was incredibly insulting to him, and I understand why he didn't want to respond, but he's got a bit of that Mike Dukakis style of smug superiority about him. A bit of that liberal hubris. Dukakis liked to say that "people could smell the garbage" and he didn't like to respond to attacks either, but he failed to realize how those attacks can gain traction when they are not challenged, even when the attacks seem crazy.

I used to think that James Carville was over the top with his instant-response "War Room" during the Clinton years, but he was right.

One thing I've noticed in the media and in blogging the last few years... You can't assume that good ideas (or institutions) will win out just because reason should make it intuitively obvious to everyone that they are good. I'm finding out that whatever ideas and institutions you hold dear need to be defended and fought for, because if the drumbeat against them goes on too loud and too long and too unchallenged, it will have an effect. You can't take * anything * for granted, no matter how obvious it seems.

Jeff said...

Yeah, the burial at sea thing reminds me of when the bad guys in Latin America who would throw people off planes to kill them and disappear the body

Yes, like the helicopter scene in Scarface! Or The Godfather. It had sort of a Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes kind of feel to it.

cowboyangel said...

I remember the name Amanda Marcotte, but I don't remember why. Spokesperson for Edwards who had to wuit for some reason?

Not to make too much out of this, but I don't really agree with her, because I don't think this is about faking Bin Laden's death. I think they killed him. (Though, it has crossed my mind that we could have also captured him and taken him off to some black site like Bagram. How would we know?) What I'm talking about is the strange handling of the whole incident. That something doesn't smell quite right. I don't know what that means. Maybe it's nothing. But I wouldn't put it past them to create a sense of mystery and suspicion on purpose. In that scenario, the timing would be fine. It immediately pulls Obama out of his polling doldrums, which it's already done. Then, allowing conspiracy theories to build up keeps the fact that he killed Bin Laden in the public eye for much longer. The more the "deathers" make news, the more that "sane" people are reminded that Obama got Bin Laden.

Whatever. I'm not losing sleep over it. But you didn't respond to my other point about how Liberals would react if Bush had handled things this way. Don't you think they would be suspicious?

Though, frankly, at this point, I'm not surprised at Liberals accepting what their guy does without reflection when they would scream bloody murder if Bush or a Republican did the same thing. It's clear by now that they're more interested in their team winning than they are in ethics, constitutionality, or the state of the country.

cowboyangel said...

As to your broader point, why do we, the public, continue listening to pundits and political "experts" when they're so often wrong? I, for one, have pretty much stopped. I probably read 1/20 of what I used to and don't watch anyone on TV anymore. Maybe Stewart once in a while, one of the few people who seems cognizant of the hypocrisy in the whole so-called political arena.