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August 29, 2005

White noise and deck chairs


Symbols of the boring and bogus, these handy, snappy two–word phrases serve to quickly help me file things into the appropriate mental rubbish bin so that I'm free to concern myself with stuff that interests me.

White noise: most of what's in the newspaper, on TV and in the air.

It masquerades under the guise of being important but is only important to the extent it serves as a scaffolding for something else, like ads or requests in some guise or other for your money.

Jon Stewart called out the "Crossfire" gang about it and you saw how fast that balloon deflated.

Deck chairs: my term for what companies and businesses do when they really don't know what to do.

It's shorthand for rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as something to keep busy and stop oneself from thinking about other things.

Like Verizon with all its announcements of price cuts for its dismally slow "high–speed internet" or "employee pricing" on cars, when each car sold at a loss only accelerates the crash–to–come of Ford and GM (did you notice that both companies' bonds were downgraded last week to junk?).

How to apply these terms in a practical manner?

Okeedokee, artichokee: let's do it with what's in the room, a la Edwin H. Land.

Let's have a look at today's New York Times Op–Ed page, shall we?

Maybe you've got the hard copy in front of you like I do but probably not: no problema, that's why you pay me and my team big bucks.

The page appears (segmented for reasons beyond boring) above and below in this post.

Click on it and blow it up.

What do you see?

Here's what I saw:

1) On the left, Paul Krugman beating his "Alan Greenspan is a very bad man" drum.

Here's his first paragraph:

    Most of what Alan Greenspan said at last week's conference in his honor made very good sense. But his words of wisdom come too late. He's like a man who suggests leaving the barn door ajar, and then — after the horse is gone — delivers a lecture on the importance of keeping your animals properly locked up.

And so on and so forth.

That's Paul Krugman's song and it's the only one he knows.

So then we move into the middle of the page, where there's an essay by one Georgia Ka'apuni McMillen about how a recent court decision allowing a white teenager to attend the up–to–now exclusively native–Hawaiian–descendents–only Kamehameha Schools is wrong.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week ruled in San Francisco that the school policy violates the Civil Rights Act.

McMillen's column's message is that the court should rehear the case and then reverse the decision.

All very well and good but why is this essay taking up valuable real estate in the center of the Times Op–Ed page?


I don't get it.

More white noise.

Then we continue on across the page to regular columnist Bob Herbert, who does his version of the white noise rain dance.

His first two paragraphs:

    First the bad news: Only about two–thirds of American teenagers (and just half of all black, Latino and Native American teens) graduate with a regular diploma four years after they enter high school.

    Now the worse news: Of those who graduate, only about half read well enough to succeed in college.


We know these things and have for a long time now.

Why chant the bad news again?

Does anyone in the world learn anything from doing it one more time?

But maybe the fourth and final candidate, a piece by Mr. Steven J. Spear of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, will redeem the sorry page.

Although one doesn't hold out a lot of hope, what with that awfully bureacratic–sounding place he works.

Alas, it's what we feared: a mighty roar about what dangerous places American hospitals are.

The first paragraph:

    Today, going to an American hospital seems about as safe as parachuting off a bridge. An estimated 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of a medical error, and a nearly equal number succumb to infections they acquire in hospitals. Those rates are unacceptable in the world's most medically advanced country.

Then he wastes the rest of his piece on a recounting of how some hospital in Pittsburgh solved a problem and how every hospital should just use the same approach and everything will be better.

He tells us that hospitals should "just follow the example of the world's most successful industrial organizations."

Yo, Steve: stopping the assembly line by pulling on a cord is not the quite the same as stopping the patient's ventilator to see what's impairing her ventilation while her belly's open.

No, try changing the fan on a turbojet engine while the plane's flying and you'll get a better sense of why people don't seem as amenable to time–and–motion studies as machines.

Once again, white noise and deck chairs.

So there you have it: four out of four, the entire Op–Ed page of the Monday, August 29, 2005 New York Times, perhaps the most valuable mind–space real estate on the planet, filled with not very much.


Is it any wonder old media is dying?

August 29, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Aug 30, 2005 5:44:34 AM



As always, great comments.

Nonetheless, in many quarters, NYT bashing is as well established as Krugman's same repetitive and progressively loonier song. See for example today's PowerLine:

From that perspective, your piece is... white noise. A rehash of something that is already known, and discounted, by many.

Am I being too cynical? Is there really nothing new under the Sun?


Posted by: Xavier | Aug 30, 2005 3:54:29 PM

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