Silliness of the Day

To-day’s silliness is by Ruth Marcus (“Worth the paper it is printed on”) in the Washington Post.  This opinion piece is less of an argument and more a lament, a gripe, a statement of preference.  Why the Washington Post is now in this business is beyond me and is ultimately my complaint.  I think Marcus is free to her preference as long as she does not make it a prescription but the Washington Post should be more reserved and more demanding of its content.

Marcus begins by acknowledging the reasons, and their superior policy logic, for why the government is now only releasing the President’s budget in electronic format instead of the usual paper volumes.  20 tons of trees each year are saved by this change in policy and Marcus agrees that the policy makes sense, in fact, too “perfectly logical.”

The first lament is that the tables and columns are easier to read and understand when they are side by side in paper format instead of on the computer.  Scrolling up and down is such a chore for her and the other dinosaurs she cites.  As if sharing her preference makes her quibble seem any less petulant and “back in my day” grumpy than if it was hers alone.  I used to share this concern about ease of use, but then I learned about and become familiar navigating electronic documents.  Marcus will learn and will look back on this piece with an inability to understand this complaint.

Marcus then cites another budget wonk to make the (always in vogue these days) accessibility argument.  How is having to wait in line in DC and then trudge away with the pound upon pound of paper more accessible than a document which can be downloaded by anybody anywhere anytime?  By accessibility I suspect they mean ease of use, ease of accessing the data within, which is basically the first argument dressed up in chic radicalism.

The preference is again approached from a different direction: actual books are easier to read than a computer.  After all, “who wants to read a computer in bed?”  These days the better question is, “who does not want to read a computer in bed?”  I guess this question makes sense in a world without laptops, but Marcus even admits that she now writes her columns on a laptop.  Admittedly, marking up an electronic document is more difficult, but with the ability of computers to open more than one program at a time this is an obstacle easily dealt with, once one, of course, learns to multi-task.

Finally Marcus turns to what seems to be her proudest argument, but ultimately the silliest.  Marcus contends that typing an argument renders it less rigorous than writing the argument longhand would have produced.  If she is correct, then she is a victim: this article was obviously composed upon her laptop. I waited with baited breath for her warrant for that claim: “typing fast is not the same as thinking well.”  Wow.  She is correct, but there is an obvious equivocation error.  Nobody claism typing fast is thinking well, just as nobody claims writing this article out longhand more quickly than a neighbor could have would not render a more rigorous argument.

The proof of Marcus’ silliness is within her own article.  Many businesses, like her, prefer to do their research online and then print the documents into a hardcopy for the actual reading and study.  If she has a preference that is fine, but why gripe about it when it is an easily solved dilemma?  As I prefaced this ultimate silliness is what makes me wonder why the Washington Post would waste space on such an elementary argument.  Surely there are better things to cover, or at least whine about.

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