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JAY AMBROSE: Obama and goulash for the gullible

Scripps Howard News Service Published: February 20, 2013 4:00 AM

While it included some reasonably expressed generalities, President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech was also a mix of black swan obliviousness and invisible gorilla syndrome, with some goulash for the gullible thrown in as well.

The worst of it revealed much that's wrong with politics, even as it was delivered in a tone of morally superior wisdom that clearly caused some commentators to forget the test of wisdom. It is found in outcomes far different from a recovery so mangled that middle-class income actually declined thousands of dollars more than during the preceding recession.

Let's review some of the speech by talking first about black swans, moving through my list of other figurative allusions and throwing in a few concrete illustrations among many possibilities.

Black swan theory owes its formulation to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professor of risk engineering who starts with the obvious observation that there's a lot we don't know. For centuries, people thought all swans were white, and then black ones were found in Australia, he tells us. His notion is that time and again, something wholly unanticipated will pop out of the rushes to make our best-laid calculations go awry.

This theory is important in politics because we too often get vast schemes -- think of "Obamacare," the Affordable Care Act -- that boast of a vast understanding they cannot possibly have, meaning calamity lurks. The answer to avoiding unintended, untoward consequences of major magnitude is to take just one small, prudent step at a time and to remain alert to possibilities not discoverable in expertise never so omnisciently informed as it pretends to be.

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That seems unlikely as Obama and Congress plot some new doozy of a program to fix global warming.

Next we come to an important insight about how the visible can be invisible. Though not originated by cognitive psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the idea does owe the gorilla connection to an experiment the two conducted at Harvard University more than 10 years ago. They had students watch a video with instructions to count basketball passes made by a bunch of players. In the middle of it, a woman dressed as a gorilla walks out and thumps her chest. Half the students tested did not even notice her.

The moral of the story is that people easily miss what is right before their eyes when their attention is primarily directed at something else. In a way, it's the other side of the black swan coin -- instead of understandably not seeing what has never appeared before you, you fail to see what has ostentatiously appeared before you.

Politicians do this all the time, as when they pass minimum wage laws despite considerable evidence showing they do far more harm than good, costing people jobs. These ladies and gentlemen get so diverted by their wish to play the role of widely worshipped intervening angels that they neglect the economic reality thumping its chest directly in front of them.

Is that what Obama did when he called for an increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, making it sound as if a great many families are dependent on this income when in fact it mostly goes to a tiny percentage of workers adding to a family total?

I am not sure but suspect he was intentionally feeding goulash to the gullible for political advantage, although I have to concede that, despite its alliterative attraction, "goulash" is not quite the right word. It refers to a nourishing stew, and there was nothing nourishing about this nonsense.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. Email SpeaktoJay@aol.com.)


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anonymous Feb 21, 2013 7:34 AM

or....we could acknowledge that obama is being deceptive and says whatever he thinks the populace would like to hear. Same results but with an evil intent.

anonymous Feb 20, 2013 12:15 PM

Authorities also are investigating if she voted in the names of four other people, too, for a total of six votes in the 2012 presidential election.

Ill fight it for Mr. Obama and for Mr. Obamas right to sit as president of the United States, Richardson vowed when asked about the voter fraud investigation that is now under way.

Richardson is one of 19 people suspected of illegal voting by the Hamilton County Board of Elections in the last election.


It appears she not only attempted to vote more than once, but was actually successful at it and having those additional votes counted, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, who is in charge of the states elections, told Fox News.

She appears to have used her position as a poll worker to cover her tracks. That would be someone who is an official in the elections process, using that position to commit a fraud. That is especially troubling to me, as the chief elections officer of the state, because it is my responsibility to make sure the system runs effectively, that it has integrity. When I find issues like this, I know that it undermines voter confidence in our elections, and we must pursue it.

Three other absentee ballots in the names of different people were submitted to the Board of Elections from Richardsons address on Nov. 1. Officials say the handwriting on those ballots is similar and that they were all received together, on the same day that Richardsons absentee ballot arrived at the office. Richardson maintains that some of the other voters live at her house.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections will hold Richardsons hearing this Friday.

Out of sheer curiosity I searched the websites of CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC, and there was no mention of this story something that would no doubt be different if the candidate Richardson voted for multiple times had an R after his name instead of a D.