• Jeff Matthews

Nobel Freakonomics, Part III: Playing the Race Card—Must We?

“used to love your blog.” So begins—uncapitalized “used to” and all—a comment submitted to NotMakingThisUp, which we chose not to publish until now.

Long time readers of NMTU know that our primary criteria for not publishing comments to the virtual pages of this blog is whether they have been written with a serious intent in mind, politely and with reasonably good grammar—in which case they are published regardless of even if they happen not to agree with us. If, instead, they have been written in the popular, sloppy style of debate which we label “Yahoo Message Board-style,” that seems to permeate the largely anonymous online world, they are withheld from our readers, even if they happen to agree with us.

What exactly is “Yahoo Message Board-style” language, you ask?

Well, lazily inconsistent punctuation, for one thing. Profanity, for another—and here we include loose, imprecise, and mildly profane words such as “crap,” which for some reason seems to be the noun most favored by message board aficionados attempting to express their disagreement with a statement.

Now, some commentators here at NMTU have, in the past, bridled at such purported “censorship.”

But this isn’t the public square: this is a virtual column intended to raise interesting, odd, and sometimes very serious topics. If you want to respond, fine: do so in a reasonable manner. But if you want to yell and scream, you’re not going to do it here. Bad language drowns out reasonable dialogue. Has anybody ever seen a Yahoo message board with reasonable dialogue?

Which brings us back to the comment quoted above—and why we’re going to highlight it here.

The comment, by an author who preferred to remain anonymous—for reasons that will soon be clear—was written in response to “Nobel Freakonomics, Part II: A Tale of Two Terminals.”

That piece looked at two airline terminals a few hundred yards apart at New York City’s JFK airport, and pondered why each terminal had such remarkably different parking facilities—one extremely well managed, the other extremely poorly managed—even though both are operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

We proposed that the contrast between the two terminals provides a case study for the downside of government operations of anything—witness the recent arrests of seemingly half the mayors in New Jersey on corruption charges—and a cautionary lesson against the current headlong rush towards a government-operated healthcare system.

Both Parts 1 and 2 of “Nobel Freakonomics” received fairly heated responses, both for and against our view. But by far the most heated response was the anonymous comment we’re now going to look at. We withheld publishing the comment until now, feeling that because of its Yahoo Message Board-style language, not to mention a whopper of a puerile, bullying question directed at the editor of these pages, it deserved to be shared with commentary, as a terrific example of how not to discuss something as sober as healthcare.

Let’s break it down sentence-by-sentence, bad grammar and all:

used to love your blog. Great insights into the economy.

These first two sentences are an artifice if ever we saw one. Readers of NotMakingThisUp know that we rarely provide “insights into the economy.” That would be about as exciting as blogging about subway train schedules. Had he actually read NMTU for the last couple of years, “Anonymous” would know that what we tend to do is poke fun at short-sighted and self-impressed members of what we refer to as Wall Street’s Finest; at short-sighted and self-impressed CEOs and other Captains of American Industry; and at short-sighted, self-impressed money managers, among others.

Oh, and once a year we delve at length into what’s new at Berkshire Hathaway.

We also write about anything else that strikes our fancy, from good new music—the Arctic Monkeys being our Official House Band, and soon returning to the Paradise in Boston—to bad new car dealers.

Rarely do we provide “insights into the economy.” But our anonymous commentator does not know this. Since we happened to write about Paul Krugman, he presumes that we’re all about “insights into the economy,” and thus tips his hand as a first-time reader. Then, after setting up his complaint by pretending to be a disappointed fan, our anonymous commentator moves on, unfortunately mining the same Yahoo Message Board-vein he entered into with those first two sentences:

The crap you have been posting lately makes me wonder what happened?

There’s that word, “crap”: the single laziest word in the English language, meaning nothing and everything at the same time. This is indeed Yahoo Message Board material.

The next sentence, however, takes the material into a deeper, darker vein, via a non-sequitur as inane as it is out-of-place:

Upset that a black guy is president? Get over it.

The race card! After assuming someone he disagrees with is as obsessed with race as he, “Anonymous” moves to what would seem to be the germ of an actual argument:

As for today’s rant. So you think the government is qualified to run a trillion dollar military. But when they get involved trying to get the richest country in the world into the top 50 of overall healthcare – that’s not something they are qualified for?

Unfortunately, this is founded on another mistaken belief along the lines that this blog is concerned with providing insights into the economy: that we are an ideological bastion for the Military-Industrial Complex. Having never commented on the U.S. military in a single one of 625 virtual columns published over the last four years, we hardly know where to begin, except to point out that by using the term “rant,” a label connoting irrational blather, and misidentifying NMTU as the aforementioned ideological bastion, “Anonymous” seems eager to rise above the lazy Yahoo Message Board riff-raff and qualify as a charter member of the Mary Matalin/James Carville-school of reactionary smack-down.

Seen from that angle, the concluding sentence is exactly what you’d expect it to be:

Sad to see another good blog gone.

Of course, since our anonymous commentator appears never to have read NMTU prior to discovering “Nobel Freakonomics” through some Google Alerts email, this last line is quite amusing.

The Race Card, on the other hand, was not.

So if, by pretending to be a disappointed fan, our would-be Matalin/Carville was hoping to stop further writing in these virtual pages on Paul Krugman, healthcare reform, Terminal 4 at JFK, Warren Buffett or even the Arctic Monkeys, he will be sorely disappointed.

And if he wants to comment in the future, he can leave out the Yahoo Message Board stuff, and play the Race Card somewhere else.

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up © 2009 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business by Mr. Matthews: all inquiries will be ignored. The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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GENERAL

The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice. It should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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