Part 1—Is it time for a new "paradigm?" In Three Amigos, the Steve Martin character threatens to "fill [him] full of lead."
He issues this threat to El Guapo ("The Guapo"), the bad guy in the film. His statement was an adaptation of a familiar threat from decades of Hollywood westerns.
As far as we know, no one has ever filled anyone full of lead, at least not in real life. In all likelihood, it simply can't be done.
That said, the phrase threatens to adopt a new meaning thanks to a growing body of work on the effects of lead exposure—work which Kevin Drum has tried to popularize.
Needless to say, Drum has failed. Given the nature of modern American discourse, it's virtually impossible to burden our upper-end journalistic discussions with knowledge, information or facts.
(Paul Krugman proved this point a million times before Drum's attempt came along.)
That said, are modern American adults possibly "filled full of lead?" Could that explain the puzzlingly incompetent discourse our journalists have long conducted—the puzzlingly incompetent discourse which is helping to take us down?
In a recent post, Drum gave a brief synopsis of the damage lead exposure can do. He noted that contemporary teenagers are operating under a vastly reduced burden of lead exposure, as compared to their peers from the not-too-distant past.
That said, modern American adults grew up with large degrees of lead exposure. Could that explain the journalism which has burdened us all in recent decades? More specifically, could it explain a recent, puzzling journalistic effort from Saturday's New York Times?
In itself, the journalistic effort in question is insignificant. It was an analysis of Donald J. Trump's rambling, stumblebum remarks as he signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill last Friday afternoon.
The piece was written by Linda Qiu, the Times' official fact-checker. In our view, Qiu's work is often inexplicably poor, and it was once again in this instance.
As noted, Qiu is the official fact-checker for the most influential and famous newspaper in the world's most powerful nation. Presumably, her work is reviewed by experienced editors, or at least by someone believed to fit that description.
For these reasons, we find her constant bungles puzzling. Given her status and her position, how can her analytical work possibly be so remarkably poor?
This question entered our heads, for the ten millionth time, when we rad Qiu's first critique of Trump's rambling remarks from last Friday. Qiu fact-checked only three statements by Trump.
Here's how her first fact-check started:
QIU (3/24/18): ''This will be, actually, the largest pay increase for our incredible people in over a decade.''As far as we know, Qiu's report didn't appear in any hard-copy editions. That said, it was listed and linked on Saturday's "Today's Paper: The Times in Print for Saturday, March 24, 2018" page.
This is imprecise and requires more context.
Mr. Trump's claim, referring to American military personnel, is slightly exaggerated. The spending bill provides a 2.4 percent pay increase for troops, the largest since the 3.4 percent pay increase that was enacted in 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service. That was eight years ago.
In the real world, nothing will change because of what Qiu wrote in the passage we've posted. The world will little note nor long remember this passing journalistic event.
Still, we found that piece of work existentially puzzling. Here's why:
Rather clearly, Qiu's research seems to have shown that the quoted statement by Donald J. Trump was "wrong," "incorrect" or "false." We say that for this reason:
In his quoted remark, Trump said the military pay increase in question is "the largest in over a decade." But according to Qiu, the military received a larger pay increase just eight years ago.
Assuming the accuracy of Qiu's research, Donald Trump's statement was false. Qiu said the remark was "imprecise." Why in the world would someone say that? More significantly, why would the official fact-checker for the New York Times make such a peculiar assessment?
Let's review! Based on Qiu's research, Trump's statement wasn't "imprecise." His statement was actually false.
Given that fact, why in the world would any fact-checker choose to describe it as "imprecise?" More puzzlingly, why would the fact-checker at this nation's most important newspaper make such an odd assessment?
There's more! Assuming Qiu has an experienced editor, why wasn't her statement corrected? Her assessment makes no obvious sense. Why didn't anyone notice?
Nothing will turn on Qiu's remark, but her remark is peculiar and puzzling. (Ironically, it displays nothing so much as an apparent aversion to linguistic precision.)
Qiu's assessment is strange. That said, this kind of work appears in the New York Times all day long, all through the paper, pretty much all the time.
Over the past thirty years, our wider journalistic discourse has virtually been defined by this kind of puzzling work. This repetitive type of work has transparently played a key role in bringing this nation down, to its current perilous state.
(In this current perilous state, our "journalists" are able to identify two categories of intellectual authorities—transparently disordered porn stars and teen-aged high school students!)
Way back in 2006, a feature film, Idiocracy, explored the prevalence of this kind of intellectual disorder in a comedy context. Less humorous is the nation's current downward spiral, which has resulted, in large part, from decades of puzzling journalistic assessments.
At some point, we may want to ask a basic question about ourselves and our failing culture. That stinging question goes something like this:
Have upper-end American adults perhaps been filled full of lead?
Have American elites been damaged by lead exposure? Has their functioning been affected to such an extent that our nation simply isn't up to the most basic tasks?
(For the record, there's an irony here concerning Qiu's age, one we'll mention tomorrow.)
Qiu's fact-check is inconsequential, but it's puzzling nonetheless. As we've noted in the past, Qiu's analyses are puzzling much of the time. It seems that her editors don't notice.
This leads to our meta-question:
How can it be that work of this type is routinely performed at the top of our nation's mainstream press corps? Given Drum's convincing work, could it be that major groups of American adults been filled full of lead, as Martin once tried to suggest?
Or should we consider another possibility? If we might borrow from Thomas Kuhn, is it time to adopt a new "paradigm?" We'll consider that point all week.
In the view of our many elite night visitors, it's all anthropology now! Is it time to adopt a new understanding of ourselves, indeed of our floundering species, as we dumbly await Mr. Trump's War, obsessing about Stormy Daniels and her enjoyable f**king?
Coming all week: Incompetent all the way down