Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ships & Feet

More as an illustration that, 'this has been thought of before' than any kind of judgement about the validity of the concept: Supposedly, natives of various exotic climes could not see the large ships anchored off-shore. They had no experience with such things and were therefore blind to them.

There may be something to this, as recently I have found a couple of examples which, though less dramatic, are still telling.

I run, from time-to-time, barefooted. (I won't belabor that subject here, if you are interested there are tons of sites devoted to the subject--you can find them by a simple internet search.) Every once in a while somebody notices the oddness of it and I can tell because of how they react. I don't like it when people notice, because most of the time they are pretty negative about it and sometimes quite rude about how they express their opposition. The nice thing is that hardly anyone notices, or seems to. It is possible that most people do notice and they just don't show any sign of it.

The other kind of situational blindness is more abstract, but in some ways more troubling. I have seen people who are really smart and deal with numbers and statistics for a living, who present obviously flawed data as if they mean something. The latest example is from the recent brouhaha regarding president Obama's "recess" appointments.

Total recess appointments: Obama (29), George W. Bush (171), Clinton (139), George H.W. Bush (77), Reagan (243).

The flaws?

1. They served different lengths of time: George W. Bush, Clinton and Reagan 8 years; H.W. Bush 4 and Obama 3 as of now.

2. The controversy was not over how presidents overused their recess appointment power, it was over making an appointment while the Senate was still in pro-forma session. This is a ripe area for argument and controversy, but the number of recess appointments misses the point.

3. The data are themselves meaningless: Any time there is a recess appointment either of two broad classes of things could be true. The president picked someone who should have been approved and was therefore right to make a recess appointment. OR The president picked a flawed candidate and compounded the error by making a recess appointment. People can (and should) argue the merits of any given appointment, but the numbers of recess appointments are totally meaningless.

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