Election News, Gell-Mann, and Why I Don’t Watch TV

Stuck in the local Dodge dealer’s service department waiting room while highly trained technicians figure out why they can’t successfully screw some small but essential engine component into place so that the oil stays *in* the engine where it belongs, in under three tries. I’m imagining a seminar being called, with guys in oily blue uniforms sitting at a long oak table, calling each other by their last names: “Mr. Jones, that is a fascinating approach, but, as Mr. Rodriguez here just pointed out, the direct and disintermediated strategy of, and I quote, ‘just gettin’ down there and looking at the darn thing’ runs contrary to the Dodge corporate zeitgeist …”

Something like that. 2 hours later, on our third trip taking the car in over the last 5 days, it seems they might have fixed it. Tricksy, tricksy oil filter seals!

So I got two relaxing hours during which I could check the time every 90 seconds or so and email work that I’d be in late. But even beyond such highlights, which would certainly headline most days, I got to watch about 15 minutes of broadcast news. That I did not promptly kill myself is a testament to my dread of the loss of the joys of heaven and of the pains of hell. After that more than sufficient dose of state-of-the-art intelligence-lowering treatment, I took a walk.

First up, the talking heads went on about the outrage over the killing of that gorilla who made the fatal mistake of having a small child fall into its enclosure. People who have seen way too many movies featuring dramatic rescues are aghast that the zoo, whose primary obligation is to the safety of the *people* visiting, ended up having to shoot and kill the majestic animal.

And it is sad. Not nearly as sad as a small child being ripped or bitten in half, or having his head torn off – things a mature gorilla is entirely capable of doing. So the zoo did the right thing, not having the Mission: Impossible squad or Scotty on the transporter handy to effect a rescue less fatal to the animal.

What made my brain hurt: the entire broadcast team and the experts they called in were obsessing over the *legal* obligations of the zoo. Not once in this 5 minute or so segment did anyone say: too bad we had to kill that gorilla, but, obviously, we had to save the boy, because, you know, the boy is a person and the gorilla is not.

The ongoing efforts to make law the sole arbiter of right and wrong proceeds apace. Rather than recognizing, as everyone before Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. recognized, that the law is merely a better or worse reflection of a higher order of reality, we instead try to make law, whatever the judges may say it is, to *be* that highest standard.

  • Your personal rights are whatever the judges say the law says they are.(1)
  • The family is not the fundamental unit upon which all societies are built, but just another legal entity – the family is whatever the judges say the law says it is.
  • Human life is whatever the judges say the law says it is, and has whatever value the judges assign to it.

And so on. But we were just getting warmed up. Next came election coverage. I tend to avoid all election coverage because I don’t want to test the limits of my dread of the loss of the joys of heaven, so it has been a while.

In the first segment, the reporter interviewed some Democratic party operative. It was hard to tell which was which, not that it mattered. The first problem: Bernie will not go away and let Hillary be president, even though it her turn! One of the people on screen made sure to let us know that, of course Hillary supports Bernie’s right to keep running just as long as he’d like, provided only that he face reality eventually and support Hillary. Because the big thing,  now that a new standard has been set for rule by presidential fiat, is that we don’t let Trump be president. They didn’t actually say that penultimate part, probably because it’s not in the plans for anybody not on the right team to use all those new presidential powers Obama kept finding under his pillow, left there by the presidential powers fairy. And we don’t want to alienate potential voters.

The second problem is that this whole State Department email thing just won’t go away. They both – the reporter and the operative – really, really just want it to go away, but, darn it all, stuff keeps coming up if they leave any air- or mind-space for it, so they have to say something. What they said was that Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also sent email from their personal accounts, and that rules are really unclear, and that, sure, mistakes were made, but everything is cool now, so JUST SHUT UP. (That bold faced stuff was just implied by the context.)

If one of the people on the screen could be said to be in some sense a reporter, it is interesting to note that she raised no objections or even any questions at all about these claims. They were let stand as if beyond question. I bet she got ‘A’s in journalism school. No discussion of what it was, exactly, that Powell and Rice did, and, more important, if they should then have cells adjoining Hillary’s. There are no sunlit lands above, Puddleglum.

This, for me, is step one in fighting off the eternal Gell-Mann amnesia effect (2), where you hear something you know by personal experience is simply untrue, yet reported as if it’s just plain fact. Like anyone who works with high-tech or financial institutions, I’ve run into security requirements. Dodd-Frank, which Hillary supports and thinks doesn’t go far enough(3), imposes massive new information-gathering and reporting requirements on financial institutions, while at the same time broadening the definition of what kind of institutions fall under its purview.

In the modern world, anyone with a job where they touch either intellectual property or confidential personal or corporate data has it beaten into them that they must do that work on a secure corporate machine, using the corporate network behind a firewall. It’s not like the bank or software house wants you to spend a second asking yourself if what you’re working on is important or not – if it’s work, it’s on the corporate servers and behind the corporate firewalls. And don’t imagine we don’t have multiple back-up copies for everything you’ve ever done – we do, stored both locally and off-site, because we want the records if we ever get sued.

Period. No nuance.So easy to understand that millions of gesers like me and Gen-Xers get it. The government rules are the same – official communications are government records, to be communicated and stored via approved government processes and channels.

The very idea that a senior official in government, a lawyer to boot, is to be presumed to not get this is beyond stupid. Just casually start doing business through my own private network outside the firewall? No back-ups? This is even before the interesting phenomenon that getting a Hillary email is the most destructive virus ever devised – why, your system will just DIE and all your data be lost!! Wierd.

This is so preposterously stupid and manifestly dishonest that it should inoculate me against Gell-Mann Amnesia for the rest of my life.

Finally, they got around to beating up reporting on Trump. They can’t spare a few seconds of airtime to question the laughably stupid claims about Hillary’s emails that, in more enlightened times, would be intended to keep her from facing a firing squad. But they got plenty of time to investigate where Trump donated money. Because, I suppose, traitorously criminal behavior by a high-ranking government official who now wants to be president doesn’t sell airtime.

Right after we eliminate compulsory public schools and federally-funded colleges and universities, establishing a free press would be nice.

  1. A hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson, that titan of progressive enlightenment, found the time in his busy schedule (what with segregating blacks out of the federal government, supporting eugenics, and getting us into a world war he’d promised repeatedly to keep us out of) to opine that the constitution was obsolete. Now highbrow organs like the New Yorker promote this line of thinking, careful to assure us that it’s really just a tune-up. Right.
  2. From the late Michael Crichton’s 2002 essay “Why Speculate?”Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.) Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know. That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
  3. Like progress, one would also like to know, not merely that movement is taking place, but in what direction said movement is going. It’s not that Dodd-Frank doesn’t go far enough, it’s that it doesn’t go at all in the right direction. Smaller specialty finance companies and banks, who played no part in the meltdown, are now having to gather more customer information, which must then be kept confidential, and report on it, which requires investment in systems and people to do the reporting. These are non-trivial expenses, to be borne by those who had nothing to do with the collapse and stand no chance of causing another one. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs, which actually did play a part in the financial collapse and is as perfectly positioned to profit from the next meltdown as they did from the last, gets to do whatever they want, at least insofar as new regulation is concerned. They supply all the upper management at the US Treasury – out of the patriotic goodness of their hearts, no doubt.
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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Election News, Gell-Mann, and Why I Don’t Watch TV”

  1. The ongoing efforts to make law the sole arbiter of right and wrong proceeds apace.

    yep, you see it all over the place like…

    “Because it wasn’t codified” people assume either it did or didn’t happen. They never seem to consider that maybe some stuff wasn’t illegal because nobody did it at all (or the immediate social consequences were so severe there was no need for the law in that case at all).

    1. Wildly stupid. It assumes all people everywhere were lawyers, and that any culture before our own was guided in every social detail by laws, or that there was a meaningful distinction between custom, social norms, and written law so that written law (where it even existed!) had some sort of primacy. I’m reminded of the story in Once and Future king where Lancelot tries to prevent a knight from killing his wife. Were there laws against killing one’s wife? In the 5th century among gaels and frankish barbarians only lightly Romanized? I think not. So Lancelot fails, the knight lops off her head, and – Lancelot spares him. Understandable, I suppose…

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