Brooks's record of deep thought is not a good one. Historically, his columns tend to report either that the earth is flat or that snow is cold with equal certainty and authority, based on how the summaries of other people's opinions that he's been reading square up with what he already believes. (I would bet you folding money that Brooks hasn't read an actual book by Gertrude Himmelfarb in twenty years.) Today's column reports with great concern that there's a very cold snow blanketing the flat earth.
tl;dr: I don't like him.
What I observe in the twentysomethings I know: their big epistemological and moral struggles appear to stem from the absence of authority - not of a specific authority, but of the idea of authority. George W.S. Trow captured this almost twenty years ago in his essay "Collapsing Dominant," where he described the reaction of his young friends to seeing J. J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success: they wanted more of that. They recognized that Hunsecker's a monster, sure, but what they saw in the movie is something that has vanished from the modern landscape: a world in which there could be an authority like that.
I think this comes from a lot of different sources. The largest is that authority has eroded because the people who once had it betrayed themselves as corrupt. (There's an idea you won't see David Brooks conjuring with.) It long ago became difficult to ignore the fact that the mainstream maintains itself by shitting on the margins, and that it will sacrifice its stated principles to do so in a heartbeat. If you know people in the margins, ignoring this becomes impossible - and young people are a lot closer to the margins today than I think they've ever been. For the most part, young people don't look at the controversy over gay marriage as embodying a moral dilemma; they see it as people who have power trying to deny it to people who don't. They see all manner of politicized issues - abortion, the war on drugs, anti-terrorism - in the same light.
The hostility to the idea of authority is central to their worldview. They embrace Wikipedia specifically because they know that it can't be trusted. Nobody gets disillusioned when an article in Wikipedia turns out to be biased; what do you expect from something that's communally authored? Wikipedia doesn't promise anyone that it's correct; all that it promises is that it's correctable. I don't think it's possible to overstate the importance of this idea to people who have grown up with no authorities that they can trust.
You can see this at work in the attitude towards music piracy. The old way of looking at things is: It's not okay to steal. The new way of looking at things is: The only reason that you even think of piracy is "stealing" is that the lawyers and PR people hired by a small handful of incredibly rich thieves are manipulating law and public opinion.
Which underscores a really, really important aspect of this attitude, and another thing you won't hear David Brooks introduce into the discussion: They're not wrong.
Global Health Magazine is a publication of the Global Health Council, an NGO devoted to health issues around the world (particularly women and children's health issues, HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, and health systems).
If you poke around in their kicky web site, you'll come across this shocking graphic:
Are you shocked? I'm shocked.
First off, the purpose of a pie chart is to represent relative portions of a whole, not comparative scalar quantities. If one wedge is made bigger, another is necessarily made smaller, and the whole pie represents 100%. This chart suggests, bizarrely, that one way we could reduce the amount of bad things happening in Jordan would be to collect statistics for more countries, since adding countries to this graph would make Jordan's slice smaller.
This is compounded by the fact that the wedges converge on a point that's not in the center, and the shape of the pie is not circular. So, Serbia and Georgia's wedges should be the same size, since one represents 6.2% and one represents 6.9%. Are they? Well, first off, what's their size, anyway? Is it the angle the two sides describe? Is it the surface area? In a circular pie chart whose wedges converge on the same point, these two things are one and the same; not so in this chart. I think that it may be the angle, and not the area, that represents the number, which is unfortunate because Serbia's wedge is noticeably larger than Georgia's.
Actually, now that I compare Rwanda and Jordan, I think that the person who drew this is just an idiot, because there's no way of looking at those two areas that makes one nearly twice as big as the other.
And now, another issue: What do Vietnam, Laos, Georgia, and Iraq have in common? What about Serbia and India? Nepal and Honduras? Well, nothing, or at least, nothing that makes any sense in the context of this chart. So why are Serbia and India black? Why are Nepal and Honduras red?
Let's not even get into the information-destroying jagged lines and concentric arcs.
And now let's move beyond the terrible, terrible graphic design to ask another question: why aren't Tajikistan, Kosovo, Guatemala, and Nigeria on this chart? Is this a graph of the 16 countries with the highest percentages of women who believe it's OK for their husband to hit them? Or is it just a sampling of third-world countries? I'd suspect the latter - I mean, not that I have it in for Sudan, but given that they're a Muslim country in sub-Saharan Africa, I'd think their numbers would be closer to Ethiopia's or Jordan's than to Serbia's or Belize's. But really, who can fucking say?
And wait, I'm not done yet. There's one more thing that bugs me about this. Why is Laos labelled as "Lao PDR"? Yes, the long form of the country's name is "Lao People's Democratic Republic," but I don't see "HK" in front of Jordan or "SR" after Vietnam. What's up with that?
The answer to that last question, at least, can be found in the source data, which for some reason singles out Laos for this weird special treatment. And while there are dozens of countries with percentages higher than Serbia's (so much for the top-16 theory), there's no data for Sudan. Too bad, Janjaweed wives, no statistical recognition for you!
Also, this data is even sketchier than I thought it is. The source for the chart is an appendix to a UNICEF report. Nothing wrong with that, except that as the data set makes clear, these numbers come from five completely different studies, which sort of makes the already suspect three significant figures even more so. Not that anybody involved with making this chart gave a shit, but would it have killed them to pick numbers from the same study?
Rather damningly, the biggest, most dramatic number on the chart - Jordan's 90% - is the only number in the entire data set whose source is not a study but a preliminary report on a study.
And finally, there's the little matter of changing the meaning of the data. This report doesn't list the percentage of women who think it's OK for their husbands to hit them. It lists the percentage of "girls and women aged 15–49 who responded that a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances." It's like the difference between saying it's OK to steal money and saying it's OK to steal money from thieves.
This is a very bad chart.
Cramer walked onto that show ready to defend himself against what Stewart had already accused him of. He was utterly unprepared for what he got. Which is strange, because what he got was really just an elaboration of what Stewart said in the original piece about CNBC and Rick Santelli: this network seems to be in league with the traders against the investors, it's uncritical to the point of appearing collusive, and that if the network actually has a purpose beyond entertainment (and, seemingly, telling the fish how to line up for the sharks), it has manifestly failed.
And Cramer had nothing to say to any of that. It was weird. It's like he's never in his life prepared for a midterm by looking at a practice test. The only thing he was ready to talk about was that sure, his predictions could have been better. It's like he focused on the one single thing in the original piece that made him look silly, and paid not the slightest bit of attention to anything else.
I actually started to feel bad for him at one point. Not bad bad, mind you - the clips from his 2006 interview that Stewart kept playing kept that under control. But he was in zugzwang very early on. Whatever ammunition he might have had to use in disagreeing with Stewart's criticisms of CNBC he left at home. His knowledge and experience and common sense, which he did bring with him, gave him nothing he could use to counter Stewart - largely because Stewart's fundamentally right and he knew it.
But if he couldn't disagree with Stewart, agreeing with him was even less of an option. Agreeing with Stewart would destroy him.
So he babbled ineffectively. You would expect that someone with his persona would be irritated if he got interrupted in mid-sentence by a long speech. But every time that happened to him he looked unperturbed, maybe even relieved. He was safest when he wasn't talking.
And so he let Stewart talk. And what Stewart let loose with was, seriously, the clearest and simplest articulation of what has happened to us, of who did what, and to whom, and how it was done, that I've seen anywhere.
Because I needed an LRU cache in the project I'm working on, and I couldn't find one anywhere, I built one. Since there's nothing proprietary in the code, and I'd like other developers to look it over and maybe even use it, I've released it as open source. You can find it at http://csharp-lru-cache.googlecode.com.