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February 28, 2011

1) Josh Billings' America. "The trouble with people is not that they don't know, but that they know so much that ain't so." This line, variously attributed to Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Yogi Berra, actually originated with the 19th century humorist Josh Billings, which in itself proves his point.

I spent a good deal of time last week writing about the ignorance and apathy of the general public when it comes to unions and collective bargaining. But specialists often complain that people lack interest in their specialty, so it wouldn't surprise or bother me to learn that many casual readers simply, uh, ignored it.

It was with impeccable timing, then, that the Kaiser Family Foundation released the results of its latest tracking poll. It showed that 22 percent of those surveyed believe the federal health care reform bill has been repealed. Another 26 percent didn't know or refused to answer. Only a slim majority of 52 percent knew it is still the law of the land.

Teachers may find it ironic that now all of us (by which I mean politicians, journalists, policy wonks, unionists and bloggers) are faced with an environment similar to what they face in the classroom - namely, people who don't pay attention. We're obligated to present the material in a clear, concise and logical manner, and we should constantly reevaluate whether we're doing that.

But at some point, it's the responsibility of the student/audience/public to take it in. Will Rogers (really!) said, "Everyone is ignorant, only in different subjects." And he was right. But it seems we've reached a stage where a lot of people are ignorant of their ignorance of those subjects, but have strong opinions anyway.

I'm an old fart now, so I remember the days before the Internet, when information was sometimes hard to find and ignorance was a normal and frustrating state. I spent many hours digging through university libraries and microfiche, or traveling to archives to find copies of old source documents. Back then, it might have taken days to discover if Josh Billings was really the one who wrote that line.

Now we live in a world where even the most obscure information is just a click away, but it's buried in a sea of misinformation. And it isn't getting better. A huge American corporation just paid $315 million for a news site that exchanged the Five W's for an SEO.

So while we battle tooth and nail over public policy, and berate each other for misguided viewpoints and poor arguments, let's at least agree that it's bad for all sides if too many people believe things that are factually untrue, and do our best to minimize its occurrence.

2) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from February 23-28:

The Power of the Ignorant Bloc. Collective what?

*  I Donít Know and I Donít Care. If you're reading this, you probably think Wisconsin is a really big deal. But you're in the minority.

The Lottery No One Wins. Randumb.

Soaked. Spending money like water.

3) Quote of the Week #1. "Labor's fall has been stunning. In 2010, unions represented 6.9 percent of private-sector workers. That's lower than the 12 percent in 1929, before passage of the 1935 Wagner Act - the National Labor Relations Act - which gave workers the right to organize and required employers to recognize unions that won a secret ballot." - Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson. (February 28 Washington Post)

Quote of the Week #2. "The thing that kind of makes me laugh about this whole conversation is you have union leaders now talking about the sanctity of collective bargaining. But the collective bargaining situation is not that way when they don't get what they want. When they don't get what they want, they go to the legislature. And then they legislate those benefits that they couldn't get at the collective bargaining table." - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. (February 27 New York Times)


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