Noted for Your Morning Procrastination for January 8, 2014
Needed: A Better Theory of Bureaucracy

Since Dylan Byers of Politico Is Special, Thursday Idiocy Comes on Wednesday

Outsourced this week to the very sharp Ta-Nehisi Coates: What It Means to Be a Public Intellectual: "Yesterday Dylan Byers, Politico's media reporter, sent out this tweet:

What It Means to Be a Public Intellectual Ta Nehisi Coates The Atlantic

He was then asked to offer suggestions of his own. Byers didn't immediately answer. After being berated for an hour and a half he decided he should: 

What It Means to Be a Public Intellectual Ta Nehisi Coates The Atlantic


This was caricature—a pose not wholly unfamiliar to Byers—and it was greeted with the all the mockery which #blacktwitter so often musters. But black people—and #blacktwitter—mostly laugh to keep from crying. This began because I claimed that Melissa Harris-Perry is "America's foremost public intellectual." I made this claim because of Harris-Perry's background: Ph.D. from Duke; stints at Princeton and Tulane; the youngest woman to deliver the Du Bois lecture at Harvard; author of two books; trustee at the Century Foundation. I made this claim because of her work: I believe Harris-Perry to be among sharpest interlocutors of this historic era—the era of the first black president—and none of those interlocutors communicate to a larger public, and in a more original way, than Harris-Perry. 

Now Melissa Harris-Perry neither needs (nor likely much cares about) my endorsement. Regrettably, there's no cash attached to the "TNC Public Intellectual Prize." Moreover, other people will make other cases. What sets Byers apart is the idea that considering Harris-Perry an intellectual is somehow evidence of inferior thinking.

I came up in a time when white intellectuals were forever making breathless pronouncements about their world, about my world, and about the world itself. My life was delineated lists like "Geniuses of Western Music" written by people who evidently believed Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin did not exist. That tradition continues. Dylan Byers knows nothing of your work, and therefore your work must not exist.

Here is the machinery of racism—the privilege of being oblivious to questions, of never having to grapple with the everywhere; the right of false naming; the right to claim that the lakes, trees, and mountains of our world do not exist; the right to insult our intelligence with your ignorance. The machinery of racism requires no bigotry from Dylan Byers. It merely requires that Dylan Byers sit still. 

We suffer for this. So many people charged with informing us, with informing themselves, are just sitting still.

And we recall Robert Schlesinger: Mitt Romney’s Electoral Problem and the War on Nate Silver: "What is it with Nate Silver?... One almost expects him to start showing up in, if not a Romney campaign ad, then perhaps a Crossroads GPS ad. ('Liberal stat nerd Nate Silver says Pennsylvania is 94.2 percent likely to vote for President Barack Obama's foreign agenda—show Silver he's wrong by voting for Mitt Romney.')

In part it's a function of attacking the messenger because you don't like the numbers.... His calculations have given the incumbent a durable advantage in terms of total electoral votes (his estimate as of this writing is 294.6), popular votes (currently 50.3 percent), and percentage chance of winning (72.9 percent chance).... Not surprisingly, conservatives, especially ones who believe in the myth of Mitt-mentum, are not big fans of Silver. So he's come under increasing fire from the right as merely a partisan hack.... [Silver] writes for the Times and so is the highest profile of the number crunchers. If the newspaper had hired Wang two years ago we'd likely be reading "Sam Wang: One-term celebrity?" in Politico instead of the recent Silver-focused piece.

And Dylan Byers: Nate Silver: One-term celebrity? "Nate Silver could be a one-term celebrity.

The New York Times's resident political predictor says President Barack Obama currently has a 74.6 percent chance.... Liberals, whose heart rates continue to fluctuate with the release of every new poll, want to take solace in [this] but somehow can't.... This year's polls suggest a nailbiter.... Should Mitt Romney win on Nov. 6, it's difficult to see how people can continue to put faith in the predictions of someone who has never given that candidate anything higher than a 41 percent chance.... Silver... often gives the impression of hedging.... For this reason and others--and this may shock the coffee-drinking NPR types of Seattle, San Francisco and Madison, Wis.--more than a few political pundits and reporters, including some of his own colleagues, believe Silver is highly overrated.

"If you tell me you think you can quantify an event that is about to happen that you dont expect, like the 47 percent comment or a debate performance, I think you think you are a wizard. Thats not possible," Times columnist David Brooks... said.... "The pollsters tell us whats happening now. When they start projecting, theyre getting into silly land." Brooks doubled down.... "I should treat polls as a fuzzy snapshot of a moment in time. I should not read them, and think I understand the future.... If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior."...

Joe Scarborough took a more direct shot, effectively calling Silver an ideologue and "a joke." "Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president is going to win? Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73 percent chance--they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning. And you talk to the Romney people, it's the same thing," Scarborough said. "Both sides understand that it is close, and it could go either way. And anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes."

Silver... even doubts his own model sometimes.... Of course, it hardly matters what... Silver's critics or supporters think. What matters for Silver is that the president wins and that he ends up with a total number of electoral votes somewhere in the ballpark of whatever Silver predicts on the afternoon of Nov. 6. And even then, you won't know if he actually had a 50.1 percent chance or a 74.6 percent chance of getting there.