AP: Look on the bright side, economy worse than it looks!

James Taranto fisks an example of media bias that would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic:

One minuscule compensation for an awful economy is that, with a Democrat in the White House, it makes for some rather amusing journalism as putatively objective reporters try to put the best face on bad news. This Associated Press headline, previewing tomorrow’s unemployment numbers, is a classic of the genre: “Layoffs of Census Workers Will Distort Jobs Data.”

“The census began hiring more workers last year,” the AP notes. “It added about 500,000 this spring.” The census is wrapping up, leaving many of those workers back on the unemployment rolls. Take the headline literally, and the AP is promising that things will get back to normal in the spring of 2020, when the government hires hundreds of thousands of temps for the next census. Until then, the employment stats will look worse than they actually are.

It’s all a matter of perspective, though. Who’s to say that the 3 months out of 120 when the census is going on is “normal” and other 117 months are “distorted”? You could even make a case that the hiring of census workers distorted the job numbers, making them look better than they actually are.

The AP story begins as follows:

For the first time in six months, the federal unemployment report to be released Friday will likely show a net loss of jobs.

But hold off on the panic button.

It’s true that employers are expected to have cut more than 100,000 jobs in June. But that figure, if accurate, will be deceptive. It will reflect the end of up to 250,000 temporary census jobs.

Don’t panic, things haven’t really gotten worse. They were actually just as awful last month! The dispatch continues:

Analysts predict private businesses added 112,000 jobs in June, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. That would be a healthy rebound from May’s 41,000 gain. But it’s far from enough to signal a roaring recovery or rapidly reduce the unemployment rate, now at 9.7 percent. It would take a net gain of around 200,000 jobs a month to quickly reduce that rate.

The story closes with a quote from Credit Suisse economist Jay Feldman: “Slow growth may not be satisfying, but it is emphatically not–and emphatically better than–a new recession.” Amen to that, but isn’t this what they used to call a “jobless recovery” back when we had Republican presidents?

As blogger Jim Hoft notes, with video, President Obama is a glass-is-half-full kind of guy too. “Unemployment is still at 9.6. Yes, but it’s not 12 or 13–or 15.”

Or, we might add, 25 or 50 or 80–or 100. And if that doesn’t cheer you up, this surely will: It is logically impossible for unemployment to rise above 100%.

Wait, it gets even better. At this time in 1930, a lot of people were unemployed too, including laid-off temporary census workers. Almost none of those people remain unemployed today. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, in the long run we are all off the unemployment rolls.

The Stimulus Is Working!
“Thousands in Welfare Cash Tapped at California Strip Clubs”–headline, Los Angeles Times website, June 30

The mental image that comes to mind, every time I read these pathetic media spin-jobs, is the journalist as Mr. Hahn or DJ Lethal:

Obama: The Atonal President

[Still busy as heck, but couldn’t resist blogging this:] James Taranto has a hilarious musical metaphor for the 0bama administration: The atonal president.

“Audiences Hate Modern Classical Music Because Their Brains Cannot Cope”: an arresting headline from London’s Sunday Telegraph. This is the argument of a new book, “The Music Instinct” by Philip Ball:

Mr Ball believes that many traditional composers such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven subconsciously followed strict musical formula to produce music that was easy on the ear by ensuring it contained patterns that could be picked out by the brain.
In the early twentieth century, however, composers led by [Arnold] Schoenberg began to rally against the traditional conventions of music to produce compositions which lack tonal centres, known as atonal music.
Under their vision, which has been adopted by many subsequent classical musicians, music no longer needed to be confined to a home note or chord.
But such atonal music has been badly received by audiences and critics who have found it difficult to follow.

These modern compositions “confuse listeners’ brains,” Ball argues, and thus put them off. The idea may have broader implications:

Dr Aniruddh Patel, a researcher at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, said that tonal music such as traditional classical music uses some of the same mechanisms needed for processing language.
“This may be one reason such music is congenial to the human mind,” he said. “It may be a reason why atonal music is more difficult when first encountered.”

Hmm, does this remind you of anything? Here’s a hint:

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.

That, of course, is President Obama, in his State of the Union Address, on the failure of ObamaCare. His excuse so closely parallels Ball’s explanation of modern music that you could have written essentially the same headline: “Voters Hate ObamaCare Because Their Brains Cannot Cope.”

But what’s striking about the Telegraph piece is that Ball and others who study this stuff go out of their way to avoid making any qualitative judgments. After explaining that Schoenberg’s music is “fragmented,” making it “harder for the brain to find structure,” Ball adds this disclaimer: “That isn’t to say, of course, that it is impossible to listen to, it is just harder work. It would be wrong to dismiss such music as a racket.”

Yet David Huron of Ohio State University describes such music this way: “The result is an overwhelming feeling of confusion, and the constant failures to anticipate what will happen next means that there is no pleasure from accurate prediction.”

So the modern compositions sound disorderly and give the listener no pleasure. Is this not the definition of a racket? Ball seems to be suggesting that while these pieces are aesthetically displeasing because they are defective in form, some sort of underlying substance makes them worthy. But this is bunk. The value of music consists only in its appeal to the human mind.

On this point, the analogy to politics and policy breaks down. It is possible for a good policy to be inartfully presented (or, for that matter, for a skilled politician to make a bad policy attractive). The claim that ObamaCare is a good idea but Obama presented it badly is not inherently absurd, as is the claim that a piece of music is good even though it sounds bad.

Or is it? Obama is asking voters to believe that ObamaCare is a good idea and that the reason they think it is a bad idea is that he isn’t good at persuasion. But if he can convince them of that, he can convince them of anything–which means that the claim that he is bad at persuasion is wildly false.

The result is an overwhelming feeling of confusion. It would be wrong not to dismiss ObamaCare as a racket.

In both senses of the word 😉