The “tough work of Ellen Belcher” – you betcha

Straight up- I’m no fan of any members of the Dayton Daily News Editorial board (past or present). After at least 6 or 7 sessions with them (who’s counting anyways) I can tell you, I’ve faced tougher, more insightful questions from school kids.

Ellen Belcher took some of her valuable time and editorial space a few weeks ago to lament on her tough job of screening people for you- so you won’t have to engage your brain:

One task we on the editorial page take seriously is making judgments about people who run for office. Maybe that sounds arrogant. But think about it: How many people have time to make it their job to look into the qualifications and backgrounds of the individuals who decide our tax rates, make our laws and even send people to jail for life?

Do you have time to do that?

Voting requires a certain amount of homework if you’re serious about making informed choices. I’ve made decisions about whom not to vote for based on commercials. But I can’t think of a 30-second spot that has sold me on somebody.

via Ellen Belcher: Us vetting candidates might help you make choices | A Matter of Opinion.

Once again, the Dayton Daily News clearly states that they don’t think you are smart enough to think for yourself- or do the research. Of course, doing the research is incredibly hard using their attempt at “journalism” because of, well, time for the bullet list:

  • The newspaper search tool on their site makes it impossible to do any kind of research on past articles.
  • The content they now publish online and offline don’t match- so it’s really hard for you to quote their quotes- to establish positions of these candidates when push comes to shove.
  • The articles themselves have shrunk in length, and often have to include more background than actual story to make sense- so that you don’t get enough information to make a good decision.
  • Often times political coverage isn’t “Fair” or “Balanced” or even objective- often editorializing- like the accomplishments of Gary Leitzell as Mayor in his first 100 days.
  • The comments, which can often provide additional information- opinion, or insight are unreliable at best (to be valid, or to remain online) thanks to their haphazard management. The 500 word limit tied to “no html” policies limit public discourse on the matters.

As to the actual information the editorial board cares about- the main ones almost always come down to:

  1. Who is endorsing you?
  2. How much money did you raise?

Integrity or ideas be damned. We’ll never see the DDN endorse a maverick, firebrand, or someone who doesn’t color inside the lines- because the editorial board isn’t to be trusted with crayons yet. Their analysis and opinions seem to be rooted in what is safe, trusted, conservative and reads more like a call from central casting for a non-descript actor to put in a position to play a role.

Even when the election of a candidate should have zero tangible outcome on a 5 person body- they will always opt for the closest to “tried and true.” Or what worked before, should continue to work- without ever defining what “work” should “achieve.”

In fact, we ask too little of our candidates, and expect less. That a candidate can even be considered serious without an active blog or social media connection to constituents should be an automatic ding.

Accepting large donations from lobbyists from out of town- should be another- but, alas, I’m wandering now.

Here is the Dayton Grassroots Daily Show discussion- which meanders, as only Greg can, on the subject: Enjoy:

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8 Responses

  1. Melissa April 13, 2010 / 11:47 am
    As soon as I read that OpEd, I _knew_ it was going to be an Esrati blog post. =)  Realize you’ve been busy lately …
  2. jstults April 13, 2010 / 12:11 pm
    Greg, thanks for mentioning the Ohio Third Frontier Metrics page.  That page is a great example of vacuous stats and meaningless graphics.  Numbers devoid of any meaningful context or narrative focus.  No links to supporting evidence or documentation for what those numbers mean, how they were calculated or how supporting data could be reviewed by an interested citizen.  No complete sentences composed into paragraphs supporting thoughtful communication.  What story is being told?  What causal relationship are those graphs meant to convey?  What questions to answer?  That government largess grows with time?  What are we comparing?  As Tufte says, Pitching Out Corrupts Within:

    For consumers, an indicator of an untrustworthy presentation bureaucracy is its denial of access to primary evidence […].  Another sign is that repackagings always manage, somehow, to support a predetermined line.

    At least some bureaucrat can now point to the metrics page and claim transparency and performance based accountability, even if that particular mess of numbers doesn’t provide any credible answer to any serious questions a voting taxpayer might have.  This is actually relevant to your discussions about newspaper editorial staffs as well, Greg wasn’t as off-topic as he may have seemed…

  3. jstults April 13, 2010 / 2:01 pm
    I apologize for going further down the slightly-OT-rabbit-trail, but once I’ve pulled on a string a bit, I’ve just got to see how far it will unravel…
     
    The graphs on that page seem to be from the full report.  Which claims ’10 to 1 leverage’ on state bucks.  This is obfuscation (I’m sure there are some lurking Austrians who would love to pile on about broken windows).  The real question is about the action on the margin.  Not ‘what is the ratio of public to private investment?’, but ‘what is the ratio of public investment to private investment that would not have otherwise been made?’  I think the answer to that question might not be quite so useful for glossy reports, marketing and front-page executive summary bullet lists.
     
    Here are the three questions asked by the ‘full report’ (please find these on pp 7):

    What are the tangible economic impacts of the Ohio Third Frontier and related programs on Ohio companies, institutions, and universities?
    Does the return on these programs support their levels of investment?
    Do these programs place Ohio’s high-tech industries on a path consistent with successful cluster development and move Ohio toward a higher growth trajectory?

    Before we look at the data, in light of Tufte’s ideas about repackaging, what answer do you think we’ll find?  Probably not much uncertainty in your mind about the conclusions to those questions even before we read the report.  That should bother you.
     
    How is causation established (sorry Greg, I know this is the tool of obfuscators in other arenas, but it’s an important question)?  A model based ‘experiment’ (pp 10).  Are we given any idea as to what kind of model, what were the assumptions and domain of applicability, how the results were validated?  Not in the executive summary.  Just hand-waving, “Experts did some Science and Math”.  Don’t worry your pretty little head gentle Joe Six, the experts are spending your tax dollars wisely.  We can get an idea of what the assumptions were from the graphic though, only wages and direct economic activity due to a tax rebate were compared to those same taxes and ‘additional investment attracted’.  None of that additional investment happens without state intervention?  Hmmm, that’s the question we’re trying to answer isn’t it?  The details given (starting on pp 56) don’t give much further hope.  The model is linear so that it doesn’t allow for the possibility of the sorts of emergent behavior (nonlinear feedbacks) found in real economies (ie my customers are getting taxed less, they buy more stuff, my financials look better so the bank/venture capitalist will loan me money, I can buy that better  machine or produce that new product…).
     
    Another worrisome thing is that 1/4 to 1/5 of the ‘additional investment’ is from Federal government agencies (pp 57).  We are not creating new markets.  We’re creating little body shops dependent on state and federal research grants who might come up with a niche product in a few decades (but we’ve removed much of the market impetus to do that because they can limp along just fine on STTR/SBIRs and handouts).  But apparently, in Dayton, that counts as being entrepreneurial, FedsEdsMeds and all that…
     
    [ Could this be taken as mean-spirited?  It’s hard to convey emotion in electronic communication.  My motivation is based on the survival instinct of ‘Question Technocracy‘, so I hope what I’ve put here is taken in the spirit of furthering discussion and survival (yeah, yeah I know this is just a blog that no one but disaffected misanthropes reads, allow me my vain hope).  Really, there’s no point in having a thin-skin on the internet.  Though, there’s no point in being rude either. ]

  4. Jeff of Louisville April 13, 2010 / 8:25 pm
    Well, at least someone here has read Tufte.
  5. Greg Hunter April 13, 2010 / 9:50 pm
    Jeff delivers a one liner I can not comprehend and no apologies required Joshua….better this rabbit hole than some.

    And it corresponds to the metrics or lack thereof on the Montgomery County Human Services Levy administered by Debbie Feldman.

  6. jstults April 13, 2010 / 10:53 pm
    Greg:

    And it corresponds to the metrics or lack thereof on the Montgomery County Human Services Levy administered by Debbie Feldman.

    Well, my Google skills must not be up to snuff; I can’t find a metrics page for that.  I did find a set of slides though, I find it odd that we have a ‘lack of affordable housing’, and yet as Jeff pointed out we are contemplating bulldozing more houses than New Orleans.

  7. Jeff of Louisville April 14, 2010 / 7:15 pm
    Jeff delivers a one liner I can not comprehend
     
     
    …yes, I seem to be turning into the Zippy the Pinhead of the local blogosphere.
     
    Greg, recall how when we talked about my blog I said I didn’t do serious statistics but you commented about pattern recognition?   Some of that was inspired  by Edward Tufte.  He wrote a book on the Visual Display of Quantitative Information. and I was trying to that with the blog and at Urban Ohio, taking tables of numbers and putting them into visual form…geographically (on maps) and via graphs.

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