Man Without Qualities

Friday, September 30, 2005

Herr Doktorprofessor And The Birth Of The New!

Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman has over the years refined his style, generally settling in recent times on a two-part column structure:

First, dubious factoids (some may prefer the word "factette" - which is like a fact but smaller and softer) are adduced, usually without a clear source or with a source difficult for most readers to check - but almost always tendentiously, and often in paranoid "everyone knows what this means" fashion.

Second, an "analysis" is provided based on the factoids/factettes, usually of a highly dubious nature and attributing the "bad" factoids/factettes de jour to George Bush, who (we were generally reminded) is a corrupt fool who nevertheless has seized control of the world, apparently because he was admitted to schools he should not have been allowed to attend. The "analysis" is backed either explicitly or implicitly with Herr Doktorprofessor's academic credentials. Each column in this style could be provided with a footnote along the lines of: "Hey, buddy, nobody with these credentials would be making an argument that's actually as ridiculous as this one reads: you must just not understand."

The problem with this settled structure is that it leaves Herr Doktorprofessor vulnerable to a critic who actually does understand the analysis, knows it is ridiculous, and is willing to say in no uncertain terms right there on the internet.

What's a raving lun...I mean a major columnist ... to do? Well, genius often lies in simplicity: Herr Doktorprofessor has completely eliminated any analysis whatsoever from today's column, which is nothing but a listing of factoids/factettes presented tendentiously in a paranoid "everyone knows what this means" fashion!

Don't take my word for it. Read the column.

What could account for this change of structure - this complete elimination of even a pretense of analysis? Well, even granting that the new approach is likely an experiment on Herr Doktorprofessor's part, it is probably a result of Times Select, which has probably largely restricted readership of his column to those who are really determined to read it - and that readership disproportionately includes people who already know pretty much what Herr Doktorprofessor is going to do with his analysis once they read the factoids/factettes. In other words, Herr Doktorprofessor's new structure probably reflects his sensitivity to the fact that TimesSelect now means not only that he is preaching to the choir (which has long been the case) but that only the choir can and will hear him and they already know where's he's going once he lays out his tendentious version of those factoids/factettes.

As noted, today's column is nothing but a list of tendentious factoids/factettes, including:

According to a new U.S. government index, the effect of greenhouse gases is up 20 percent since 1990.

The Artic ice cap is shrinking at an alarming rate.

When Senator James Inhofe, who has called scientific research on global warming "a gigantic hoax," called a hearing to attack that research, his star witness was Michael Crichton, the novelist.

It's not possible to attribute any one weather event to global warming. But climate models show that global warming will lead to increased hurricane intensity, and some research indicates that this is already occurring.

Do Herr Doktorprofessor's TimesSelect readers need to read any more? Of course not. The missing "analysis" would just argue that Republicans like Messrs. Bush and Inhofe are clueless about global warming and by rejecting the Kyoto Accord probably helped cause Hurricane Rita and Katrina. Since all available evidence indicates that Kyoto Accord would not have any such effect, the "analysis" would have to amount to another set of snide "everyone knows" comments - so it's actually better left out anyway. There's no "analysis" in the new structure, and the conclusions are all left to what Mayor Daley used to call insinuendo - so critics have a harder time pointing to the weak spots in the analysis that isn't there. There's just no natural place to point out that Congressional committees often have entertainers as "star" witnesses (Democrats are particularly fond of rich movie stars who portray ordinary people in their roles), or that research suggesting that hurricanes may be getting stronger is highly qualified because scientists didn't have good ways of measuring hurricane speeds until recently, or that there is no indication that global warming is caused by anything human that could be changed meaningfully within reasonable costs, or any other criticism of the analysis-that-isn't-there. Well, maybe the critics can make a place.

The only problem with the new structure is that someone not already on Herr Doktorprofessor's mindtrack will likely just think he's just writing unconnected, paranoid gibberish - which he is.

For example, the items in the factoid/factette list above actually come in the column all jumbled up with lots of other sinister-sounding stuff about Jack Abramoff, Alan Greenspan and gangland-style killings. It would be perfectly possible to infer from the column's order of the factoids/factettes that Herr Doktorprofessor thinks that a conspiracy including Jack Abramoff, the Fed Chairman and Halliburton caused global warming and Hurricane Katrina as a cover for murdering some recalcitrant member their gang - perhaps by including him among the 1,000 or so dead from the storm. And it would also be possible to infer (if one were so inclined) that all of that is intended by Herr Doktorprofessor to tie into why OSHA is being run by some guy said to have once represented someone favoring ephedra: Two of the three senior positions at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are vacant. The third is held by Jonathan Snare, a former lobbyist. Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group, reports that he worked on efforts to keep ephedra, a dietary supplement that was banned by the F.D.A., legal.

That last example exhibits one of the difficulties with Herr Doktorprofsor's experimental "no-anlaysis" format. Not everyone would see the appointment of a former FDA lobbyist to the OSHA board as all that sinister, even if he did once represent someone in connection with ephedra. Lobbyists, like lawyers, represent clients as professionals - and there is no easy link between ephedra and occupational safety anyway. Herr Doktorprofessor himself once was an adviser to and wrote glowingly about Enron. But while they might have other reservations, most people would not find his Enron connection to be all that sinister if he were appointed as, say, chief economst at OSHA or the FDA (if they have one). I'm afraid that Herr Doktorprofessor is just going to have to learn the hard way that if he wants to be sure that his readers makes some paranoid "everybody-knows-what-this-means" connection, there's just no substitute for actually including a paranoid analysis.

All of this is troubling to the Man Without Qualities because I had thought that TimesSelect might actually cause Herr Doktorprofessor to become less nutty, not more nutty as in today's column. But Herr Doktorprofessor's new structure is probably only an experiment, one he is making in an attempt to avoid the ultimate economic incentive imposed by the fact that most people who pay for analysis actually expect analysis - not just snide factoids/factettes served up without any dressing.

So I don't think he'll be able to keep this new structure up and running very long. Time will tell.

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