Thursday, March 30, 2006

Richard Cohen = fucking(moron3)*2

Rising Hegemon notices as Richard Cohen finally admits that Bush is a liar, after years as an eager Bush apologist/stooge. I already knew that Cohen's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but against my better judgment, I clicked through the link to see whether this long-overdue admission contained some faint glimmering of insight. Alas, the first sentence nearly made me burst out laughing, making it impossible for me to continue to the actual "substantive content" of the column:

It is my firm belief that if, say, a few dozen people simultaneously did an Internet search for the words "Bush lied," computers all over the country would crash and the energy grid would buckle, producing a rolling blackout that would begin somewhere around Terre Haute, Ind., and end in Barnstable, Mass.

Hilarious! Richard Cohen apparently believes that Google web search somehow puts load on the sites containing the search results, for each search that users perform. It's one thing to be incapable of understanding algebra and the rudiments of logic. It's another thing to lack even the barest shred of quantitative common sense. Web pages take on the order of seconds to load; Google returns its results in about a tenth of a second. Web sites are frequently down; Google continues to serve them in search results. How could Google do these things if it were hitting all the websites in real time? Not to mention: people search for common terms on the Internet all the time (want to guess how often "sex" appears on the Internet, and how often people search for it?), and the power grid appears to be holding up just fine.

(If you're curious as to how web search engines actually work, here's the deal. The search engine keeps a copy of the entire web on its own servers. These copies are augmented with a data structure called an index. In spirit, the index is not unlike the index you'll find at the back of a regular textbook, except that instead of listing page numbers for each word, it lists URLs and pointers to the search engine's own copies of the URLs' referents. When you search for a word, the search engine looks up the word in the index, looks up its copy of all matching web pages, extracts snippets from those copies, and then returns a list of snippets and URLs to the user.)

Cohen also apparently believes that most web site hosts are geographically close to the people who write their content, which is a lesser-order misunderstanding, but still a silly one. Is Blogger hosted anywhere near where I'm presently typing this? It's probably somewhere in the States --- my bet would be California --- but I don't know or care, and all the right-wing blogs on Blogger are probably hosted on the same cluster.

Now, I know Cohen intends his sentence as joking hyperbole, but hyperbole only works if its underlying premise makes some minimal amount of sense. You can joke, for example, that if ten SUV drivers were to fill up at your corner gas station simultaneously, the pumps would be sucked so dry that they'd crumple inwards due to the negative pressure and spontaneously form a singularity that would swallow the Earth. But you cannot joke that if Americans bought millions of SUVs, then the oil industry would collapse to its knees. The latter just doesn't work as hyperbole. It's worse than a non sequitur; it is (and I'll probably mangle the Latin here) an ad sequitur: it states the exact opposite of what logically follows.

Cohen's lede is further evidence that he's not merely a bad writer [0], nor somebody who's mistaken but basically sane. His writing could only be produced by a fundamentally malfunctioning brain, incapable of critically examining any thought and following it to its logical conclusion. Brad DeLong advocates firing Cohen for being deeply out of touch with reality. However, I think WaPo should have fired Cohen long ago simply because he's objectively stupid. Of course, that's never been much of a hindrance to Op-Ed columnists' careers, so I'm unsurprised at Cohen's continued presence in print.

[0] And Cohen is assuredly a bad writer, not merely a bad thinker. Like many Op-Ed columnists, his writing's bloated and narcissistic. One tiny example: in the first sentence above, the first six words could be trimmed with no loss of force. Aren't journalists supposed to be good at, you know, being concise and stuff?

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