Interlude: Wonderful work if you can get it!

MONDAY, APRIL 30, 2012

A pundit of very few words: Charles Blow’s role at the New York Times? It's nice work—if you can get it.

The fellow composes one column per week. In Saturday’s newspaper, this was—no edits!—the good doctor’s latest:
BLOW (4/18/12): Young People’s Priorities

Judging by this week’s debate, you would think that student loans are young people’s only priority. They’re not. In fact, a cleverly designed survey released this week by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics asked respondents ages 18 to 29 to choose between pairings of issues to determine which ones they felt were more important. Among domestic issues, creating jobs almost always won, while combating climate change almost never did. Immigration is also a losing issue (except when paired with climate change), while access to affordable health care is a winner. I found the results so interesting that I wanted to share them. Enjoy.
The doctor was IN—and we left nothing out! Blow’s piece ran 103 words—106, if you add in the headline. His prose was accompanied by a large, semi-bewildering graphic, which he basically cut-and-pasted from the appendix of this Harvard report.

“Enjoy!” Blow instructed as he closed, sampling a generation of underemployed young wait-persons.

Enjoy! It would be easy to do with a job like Blow's!

We were struck by Blow’s pithy work product as we perused last Saturday's Times. But then, we had a similar reaction to the latest Gail Collins column, which appeared right next to Blow’s on that day's op-ed page.

Collins discussed, or seemed to discuss, a lengthy list of serious topics, not excluding the privatization of education, the worth and value of charter schools, the current state of high-stakes testing and the fate of a bunny who didn’t get strapped to the roof of anyone’s car. She received a long stream of complimentary comments from grateful liberal readers.

Today, we’re returning to our sprawling campus, leaving behind twelve first-week geese. Full services resume tomorrow.

As the week proceeds, we’ll look at Collins’ piece—and at the hundreds of comments which praised her work. We’ll also finish our delayed ruminations on David Carr’s Potemkin press coverage from last Monday’s Times.

We were very much struck by the Collins piece—and by the polymorphous praise it received from those grateful readers. In our view, the full package fully captures the age.

Our pensees will spill as the week proceeds. But for now, just click here! And enjoy!


  1. From Ms. Collins column:

    This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left Behind was passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would provide monster profits for the private business sector?

    I can remember Somerby writing about this, and a few other liberals. However, I don't remember hearing about this problem from Ms. Collins, or anybody else at the NY Times, on its Op-Ed pages or in the proper newspaper. I guess we have to wait 11 years for a story about a talking pineapple to get to what's important...

  2. But is NCLB actually producing monster profits for the private business sector? Collins's column provided no profit figures at all. She gave two examples of sales figures, but that's different.

    Why aren't profit figures shown? Two possibilities:

    1. Sales figures are much bigger than profit figures, so they're more impressive, and Collins thinks her readers are too dumb to notice the difference.

    2. She was too lazy to find the appropriate profit figures, and Collins thinks her readers are too dumb to notice the difference.

    P.S. I'm dubious that the half billion dollar "testiong contract" mentioned by Collilns is solely for the purpose of testing. That figure seems out of line.

  3. Of course everyone would be happy to have a Blow job.

  4. I hope the discussion doesn't descend like so many Somerby discussions about what was technically wrong about Collins' column, such as how much for-profit educational consultants make to draw up tests like this, because the media reporting on this and the public reaction has been spot on point.

    Which is: This was an incredibly stupid story to use as a measure of 8th grade reading comprehension, and the questions were even dumber than that.

    You can find a pdf version of the entire story and questions online, as presented in the test, if you look hard enough, because part of the criticism of the media's coverage is the standard "took it out of context" variety.

    Which is ironic, since the author of the story itself says it was ripped out of a larger story completely out of all context.

  5. Blow points out that in that Harvard study, "Combating the impacts of climate change" came out as very low priority. IMHO this resultr reflects a paradigm shift. A few years ago, there was a scientific concensus that global warming models were highly reliable and that, barring massive efforts, global warming would surely be catastrophic. Today, science is in the process of shifting to a degree of skepticism about these two beliefs.

    As I recall Kuhn's book, in a paradigm shift, few scientists actually change their minds. But, they become less influential, as newer scientists adopt the new paradigm. That seems to be the case for global warming. Few warmists have changed their position. (Alarmist James Lovelock is a happy exception.) However, the skeptics have become more respectable over time.

    1. Them again, young people may have different immediate needs than old scientists, hmmm?

    2. Well, David, hate to inform you of this, but the way the survey was designed tells us nothing about how important young people believe global warming may be, and it certainly doesn't tell us that corporate-paid "skeptics" are becoming more respectable.

      What this survey did was pit short-term issues that require immediate action (creating jobs, reducing the deficit, etc.) against long-term issues requiring long-term action (global warming).

      It's like when your clunker of a car gives up the ghost. Suddenly, saving money for your retirement in 40 years, or even for the down payment on your first house isn't your biggest concern.

  6. What's the problem here?
    I find “The Hare and the Pineapple” tale to be an excellent metaphor for both NCLB and the entire Bush Administration.

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