August 22, 2010

The Importance of Being Parodic

The quality of what appears in the New York Times ranges broadly, from excellent in science reporting to immigration editorials that read as if they were downloaded straight from the SPLC. Although I often give a hard time to their education coverage, it's really way above average. It could be that the NYT's education coverage pushes the envelope of realism as far NYT subscribers are willing to accept as "appropriate." 

One of the enduring mysteries of the NYT is raised by the pompous cluelessness of the letters on the Letters-to-the-Editor page. (For example, here are five published responses to the recent article “Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools.”) I like to hope that whoever is selecting the letters is throwing away all the witty and insightful ones. Then again, maybe these really are the best ones, which is pretty scary.

As an example of a NYT writer who gets the joke, here is Virginia Heffernan of the Sunday NYT Magazine (which, for all the grief I give it, is probably the best overall magazine in the country these days) explaining what the best bloggers do these days:
Surprisingly, though, the focus of modern fact checks is rarely what we 20th-century fact-checkers would have underlined as checkable facts. Instead, Web fact-checkers generally try to show how articles presented in earnest are actually self-parody. These acts of reclassifying journalism as parody or fiction — and setting off excerpts so they play as parody — resembles literary criticism more than it does traditional fact-checking. 

Indeed.

34 comments:

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Evaluations of Early Head Start indicate that children who receive services for five years beginning at birth fare better than those who spend only two years before kindergarten in preschool

My memory of looking at the Head Start studies was that there was no benefit at all. Is it possible there is some small benefit to being in the program longer (per the above letter) or was this made up out of whole cloth?

Anonymous said...

I like to hope that whoever is selecting the letters is throwing away all the witty and insightful ones.

I'd have to think that on the status hierarchy LTE editor is somewhere just below obit editor and maybe barely above toilet scrubber. I used to write the occasional letter to my two local papers. One LTE editor was really fond of taking letters and slashing them, without warning or permission, to the point of incomprehensibility - even when the letter was well within the suggested 200 word limit.

While that editor worked for my town's purportedly conservative paper, their editotrial position on immigration was somewhere out to the left of Ted Kennedy and John McCain.

The other paper's LTE editor was actually a pretty good egg. I spoke to him 2 or 3 times, because he actually bothered to warn you he'd be trimming it a bit. His choice of letters trended about 5-1 left, though that may have simply reflected the political balance of the letters he received.

eh said...

...which is pretty scary.

Dear Mr Sailer,

As you well know, it is long past the time to be 'scared' by the quality of (what passes as) public discourse about important matters in America today.

Chris said...

You guys hear about the new half-billion-plus new K-12 school opening in L.A. next month? Test scores and graduation rates are gonna skyrocket.

Dwayne Mayor said...

My memory of looking at the Head Start studies was that there was no benefit at all. Is it possible there is some small benefit to being in the program longer (per the above letter) or was this made up out of whole cloth?

I don't know about Early Head Start, but it was certainly true about the Abecedarian program, which was a much more intensive and cognitively demanding version of Early Head Start. See: http://evidencebasedprograms.org/wordpress/?page_id=70

It permanently increased Negro IQ and g by almost 5 points. And mind you, that was without an excellent K-12 education as offered by KIPP.

Kylie said...

Chris said..."You guys hear about the new half-billion-plus new K-12 school opening in L.A. next month? Test scores and graduation rates are gonna skyrocket."

If this were the NYT Letters-to-the-Editor page, you could expect at least one letter suggesting they try that in Detroit.

Anonymous said...

You have a habit of calling a lot of very smart people very stupid.

Could it be that they are all so clueless?

Actually, YES, it can!

lol.

or are they are just intellectual cowards? You know, they see the "truth" but are so cow'd by PC'ism -_.?

I don't know to be honest.

Anonymous said...

i guess one big difference between YOU (self-professed supposed truth-teller) and THEM (either clueless or liars) is that you want to limit the franchise.

i mean that literally--

and, figuratively.

dearieme said...

I understood that the American tradition of "fact checking" means that they are happy to publish a lie as long as they can find a second liar to confirm it.

Anonymous said...

I THINK your data showing the lower average iQ-intelligence of blacks is correct. It seems to reflect what I see on a personal basis.

Yet, your case is not as conclusive as you seem to make it out to be.

There is definitely a lot of room for doubt but you seem pretty dogmatic about it. I could be wrong, of course.

Anonymous said...

Virginia Heffernan's great, and genuinely funny. Her recent faux-naive takedown of Scienceblogs/ recommendation of Watt's Up with That in the NYT (!) and the subsequent controversy was a lot of fun to watch.

guest007 said...

The best parody is the letter from a writer in Beaverton Oregon (90% white and Asian and less than 2% black) who blame everything on the vicious racism of the NYC school system.

The white progressives do not seem to understand that people will look at their personal decision when deciding how to treat the screams of racism.

Sam "Ace" Rothstein said...

Reading the MSM like the NYT is increasingly like what it must've been like to read Pravda in the old USSR.

If the article has anything to do with race, class, gender or defining neocon/liberal issues then it must read with skepticism. If the content is neutral like the weather or crosswords you're probably OK.

Education articles in the NYT fall into both propaganda and non-propaganda types. Those education articles that touch on abstract public policy dealing with social justice or racial performance gaps are usually pretty poor.

Education articles dealing with particular strategies on elite trends or how to secure a leg up for the children of NYT readers are usually more useful.

Many NYT readers seem to be obsessive parents who are hyper-competitive status mongers. Their destructive dewy-eyed liberalism is replaced with steely-eyed realism when it comes to advancing the prospects of their own kids.

Gobsmacked said...

One of the letter writers comes up with this gem:

"But the best way to narrow the achievement gap is to prevent it from forming, which research shows is evident as early as nine months of age."

How do you write something like that without the most obvious and parsimonious explanation occurring to you?

Harry Baldwin said...

Of all the letter writers, Jim Hiller of Beaverton, Oregon, takes the prize for cluelessness:

I marveled at the range of opinions that learned people gave about the reasons for the racial gap in test scores. Reasons mentioned in your article included our struggling economy and “an increase in fatherless black households.” In other words, they blamed the students and their families.

But one cause the article did not mention is the elephant in the room when it comes to education: racism. As an elementary educator, I’ve seen both systemic and situational racism work actively against my students of color.

It’s not until these elusive beasts are acknowledged and dealt with honestly that true educational progress for all of our students will occur. Perhaps New York City schools, instead of the tired “blame the students” mentality, need to look at themselves first.


Yes, when will we finally acknowledge the elephant in the room that we spend only 60 percent of our time discussing, rather than 100 percent of the time as is needed.

Galtonian said...

The New York Times censors out essentially all web comments that refer to IQ differences. It is almost a waste of time trying to comment there. But you have a good point, maybe the trick for penetrating the censorship is to send in comments that ridicule the Boasian viewpoint through parody.

In contrast, the Washington Post permits comments that include the Jensenist/HBD viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
Have you tried to send an opinion to the NYTimes of late, especially with your insightful (inciteful?) recent post on Paul Tough's NYT op-ed complaining why the silly, unproven Promise Neighborhoods program does not get funded while the proven ineffective Head Start gets $8.2 Billion from Congress?

Anonymous said...

I would hope that everyone understands that comments on a blog, letters to the editor and phone calls to a talk show are chosen to serve the interests of the blog, paper or show. You must understand better than most that by editing out certain public comments you shape the net political thrust of the blog.

This effect is very clear with the Rush Limbaugh radio show. The callers seem to be rather stupid. You might think they are just a cross section of America but then most of the guest hosts get calls from much smarter people. Apparently Mr. Snerdley has orders to only allow dull fawning callers on the air.

Sean Hannity likes to mix it up with liberals but few of those liberals allowed through have anything more than insults to offer. Hannity apparently has decided that he can portray his opposition unfavororably by allowing calls from people who hate him and are prone to irrational name calling.

You might share with us some statistics on how many comments you disallow. You don't seem to edit the submissions so I imagine a whole comment is either accepted or killed. I see no incidents of the "N" word in the published comments and rather less naked antisemitism than I might have expected, so I'm guessing that you toss the more rabid comments so as to keep the tone of the blog more moderate.

Albertosaurus

asdfasdfasdf said...

"Sunday NYT Magazine (which, for all the grief I give it, is probably the best overall magazine in the country these days"

Better than the New Republic and New York Review of Books?
Maybe NYT Magazine is the best in terms of social coverage but NR and NYRB are the best when it comes to book reviews though I disagree with the political views of the authors.

Anonymous said...

It does seem like Derrida's deconstructionism of texts has finally happened everywhere, from bloggers to the mainstream media to pundits. You can't trust anyone's take on anything anymore. Talk about a low-trust society!

headache said...

Chris said...

You guys hear about the new half-billion-plus new K-12 school opening in L.A. next month? Test scores and graduation rates are gonna skyrocket.


Yeah.

Anonymous said...

Finally, those letters to the editors writers with suggestions for closing the racial gap are not blind or ignorant either.

concerned netizen said...

This article, headlined at Drudge, has garnered over 7,000 comments.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100822/ap_on_re_us/us_taj_mahal_schools

My question: what's the mix?

Sexy Pterodactyl said...

I am shocked at this news of parody – such disrespect to our betters. I’ve also heard Some Female is running around parodying Roissy and PUA/Game - this is most unacceptable!

Hamster headed female, in doing so, do you not realize that you empower the dark forces of the Perfidious Slut Matrix and its hypergamous manjawed cougar career-bitch architects?

Brothers, we must all swoop together, united pimp-wing to pimp-wing – and so shall our alphaness explode across the Internet as commanded by The Great Book of Pterodactyl

See my new post with game demo video (the one at the lake), which has an appearance by Roissy. Can you spot the evil Easter Egg at the end?

Submit!
Sexy Pterodactyl

elvisd said...

"One of the letter writers comes up with this gem:

'But the best way to narrow the achievement gap is to prevent it from forming, which research shows is evident as early as nine months of age.'

How do you write something like that without the most obvious and parsimonious explanation occurring to you?"

Precisely, this is the desire that some have for the village to raise a child. Blame it on Plato, the Jacobins, or Communism if you like, but it really comes down to that.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if rather than pick which letters to publish, they would synthesize the letters and provide summaries: a majority of readers thought x, x% said x, etc. They have interns don't they? They need to do this with blog comments too, who is going to read more than 500 comments? (I rarely read over 100).

Anonymous said...

"The best parody is the letter from a writer in Beaverton Oregon (90% white and Asian and less than 2% black) who blame everything on the vicious racism of the NYC school system."

Besides the hypocrisy, the best part of that letter is how the writer acts as if he's courageously bringing up some neglected explanation for the racial gap.

Anonymous said...

Elected representatives have staff budgets to count opinions in mail submissions; newspapers don't.  On-line polls are no way around this, because people make a point of flooding or hacking them (google "Pharyngulating").  This is why polling organizations can get paid good money to do what they do.

Anonymous said...

"the best part of that letter is how the writer acts as if he's courageously bringing up some neglected explanation for the racial gap."

This is par for the course for modern liberal discourse. They alawys act as if they're taking a bold and risky position when they're in fact parroting mainstream opinion.

Anonymous said...

"You might share with us some statistics on how many comments you disallow"

You might give me your bank account and social security number. Don't you believe in private property? If you want to create a website that gets comments and you publish the statistics on how many comments you disallow, please do so. Why would you believe someone else has an obligation to do so? If they have no obligation, you might make your bleg more attractive by begging.

Anonymous said...

"elected politicians have staff budgets; newspapers don't."

True, but I would think that unpaid interns would line up for a crap job sorting letters for the nyt. Or els I'm sure there's some guy in India that will do it for a rupee or two. Following your point, if they did sort and post perhaps the letter bombing would explode. But you could get around this by charging a nominal fee to submit a letter, say a dollar. If you were letter bombed it wouldn't be as big of a problem.

As it is, the letters are neither the product of a professional nor can a representation of the readership at large. Thus, they have very little value.

Anonymous said...

Why aren't they cconcerned with the gap among white kids? They must get those kids at the community college to be able perform like the MIT kids.

l said...

Slightly off topic:

http://gawker.com/5619556/worlds-greatest-angry-scientist-ya-fulla-my-jz-right-now?skyline=true&s=i

Marc B said...

"But the best way to narrow the achievement gap is to prevent it from forming, which research shows is evident as early as nine months of age".

Since this conveniently occurs at nine months, there is no possible way cognitive differences could be based on heritable traits.

"and properly finance quality birth-to-5 programs"

She is proposing that Nice White Ladies (preferably with Ivy League masters degrees) need to be in the delivery room with their catcher's mitt in hand to swoop babies up and act as mentors to close the gap. The author of this letter has no vested interest in this industry as the Executive Director of the Ounce of Prevention Fund.