Saturday, April 05, 2008

The known unknown

First the sniper story, now the health care story. The New York Times casts doubts on a staple campaign anecdote of Hillary Clinton.


Donald Rumsfeld famously described the map of our knowledge.

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

Hillary herself traces the origin of her campaign anecdote to a story told by a deputy sheriff at a meeting. At that point the information was a "known unknown". That's to say, it was unverified information. And had Hillary been so inclined, she could have assigned a staff member to verify the particulars. Find out the woman's name. Interview her relatives, etc. The fact that Hillary Clinton didn't order a fact check may reflect badly on her capabilities as a potential Commander in Chief, because in the future she claims she will be bombarded by calls at 3 a.m., and it bodes ill if she is accustomed to playing fast and loose with facts. But had she been inclined, Hillary could have acted on the "known unknown."

But what tagged her in this case was the emergence of the "unknown unknown". She did not anticipate that the NYT would do investigative pieces on her. This was something she did not anticipate, and therefore did not guard against. And now that her penchant for embellishing, or even inventing facts has become a "known known", every story she ever told about her accomplishments as co-President; every campaign anecdote she ever related has become a potential time bomb.

Barack Obama's earlier trouble over the Jeremiah Wright revelations was much the same thing. For as long as he could assume that his books, campaign speeches and life would be glossed over by an adoring press he was safe. When one particular -- what went on at Trinity Church -- received scrutiny the full extent of his political liability became clear.

But the incidents tell us more than that one candidate embellishes anecdotes while the other associates with racist pastors. The revelations strongly imply there's more we still don't know. Whenever we find a new "known known", it correspondingly creates an implied "known unknown". It's like going into the basement and finding a trickle of water coming from behind the wall. It's what you know you don't know that starts to bother you.

The unknown unknown is how the heck we are going to find out.




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30 Comments:

Blogger Nomenklatura said...

Hillary was outed by the NYT because they quite predictably support the candidate who is farther to her left. There's nothing new about that.

Obama's pastor Wright problems were driven to prominence by the presence of the videos on YouTube. Ditto the Tuzla story. The new factor as far as the politicians are concerned is the web.

It's causing them problems, but doubtless they will learn to adjust. Witness already Obama's carefully constructed, decade-long and nearly perfect lack of a 'paper trail'.

4/05/2008 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

It irritates me nobody has outed her on that fib she's told about being down there at Ground Zero the day or so after.

4/05/2008 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

I live in Ohio, though not the part that is portrayed in this story, and I must say I thought it untrue when I first heard it. You can hardly drive through the cities in this state without seeing a "crisis pregnancy" billboard. These are put up by the Catholic Charities and they are pretty much everywhere. Also, Medicaid in Ohio reimburses hospitals in a lot of these "working poor" cases (which apparently the woman was not). I could see an emergency room referring her to a charity or a clinic but only if she was non- critical. I could imagine she then feels a bit better and doesn't follow up on her appointment. A few weeks on and she is deeper in trouble. In other words, there may have been a 10 percent truth involved. Apparently, not even that much.

O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio, sounds like a Catholic Hospital. Catholics are quite proud of their charities and they form the core of Hillary's support. She should pick on the Episcopalians. Athens is where the University of Ohio is located (sibling to OSU) and not exactly Hicksville.

I've noticed for years the MSM lies through the use of anecdotes. Often the problem they describe may exist and they will even give an "in the ballpark" description of its impact. Then, through the examples they choose for illustration, they will leave the "news consumer" with the idea that the problem is far worse than it really is. Of course "the victim" is encourage to play it up to the hilt for the cameras.

But I always assumed the anecdotes themselves were close to the truth.
But many cases have turned up where the anecdotes have been fabrications -- sometimes the media is willingly taken in and sometimes it cooks them up itself.

The double irony is Hillary getting clobbered by a media that pretty much does the same thing on a daily basis. Where's the outrage?

4/05/2008 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Sorry, it's not a Catholic Hospital. It was named honor of Charles G. O'Bleness, the hospital's major benefactor. Maybe he was an Episcopalian.

4/05/2008 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

The most interesting question is why conventional wisdom at the beginning of the campaign should have held Hillary Clinton to be a "strong" candidate. In the light of what is now public, Hillary Clinton is arguably one of the weakest candidates the Democratic Party could have fielded.

Conventional wisdom so badly mis-estimated Hillary that one wonders how badly they mis-estimate other things. If conventional punditry can get Hillary so wrong, why do we have any confidence that the NYT's standard lines about Iran, for example, are any better?

But the reason conventional wisdom makes such huge bloopers is because MSM pundits tend to reinforce each others opinions; they create a consensus and those whose opinions don't fit the mold find themselves marginalized by their peers.

For example, the MSM has recently declared Sadr the victor against Maliki. This despite the fact that Maliki started the fight; Sadr told his men to stop fighting and Maliki continues to round up Sadr's men. Despite all the media consensus is that "Sadr is winning". And because it is the consensus people will go on repeating it, however true or false it is.

But a consensus doesn't alter reality and illusion is smashed by the first real rock thrown at it. Imagine a world without Barack Obama. Hillary might have sailed all the way to Denver on a tide of acclaim, not because the facts against her didn't exist, but because the facts against her were ignored.

The disastrous British retreat from Kabul in which Lord Elphinstone's Army of the Indus was annihilated was in retrospect, perfectly predictable. Every one of Elphinstone's weaknesses was obvious -- even at the time. They just didn't show up.

But though we can imagine a world without Barack Obama, in reality the universe contained such a man. And while the MSM might have self-censored itself in a contest between a Democrat and a Republican, in a fight between a white woman and black male the usual immunity did not apply. And where it applied it the protection was afforded in proportion to the victim status of the candidate. In that world, some facts about Hillary were bound to emerge.

One of the reasons why "no plan ever survives contact with the enemy" is because the shock of reality exposes the what consensus has refused to recognize. That the Maginot Line doesn't work; that battleships can be sunk by airplanes; that Hillary Clinton is not a strong candidate.

4/05/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

It would be interesting to run an experiment in which journalists could not read each other's newspapers or columns. Suppose we had fifty journalists, none of whom knew each other or who had heard of Hillary beforehand, and had them assess her fitness for the Presidency. And imagine they each wrote columns unaware of each other. Their view of Hillary would probably be very different from a world in which they all ready each other's columns; heard each other's talk shows or read each other's blogs.

A summary of independent samples would be different from one in which the samples were affected by one another.

4/05/2008 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

I believe that little litany predates Rumsfeld. I first heard it from the manager of the B70 project who was teaching a graduate class. His formulation was known-knowns, known-unks, and unk-unks. As a programmer, I understood him to be saying specs, parameters and bugs.

4/05/2008 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

The trouble with the independent assessment method is that nobody would know where to look. Think about the blogstorm on the Rather/Mapes episode. The group-mind is more productive and there is a lot of competition among journalists. The problem is that the really good politicians are really good at keeping things to themselves and telling each person exactly what that person wants to hear. Politicians are about the opposite of bloggers.

4/05/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Nomenklatura, the alternative explanation, and IMHO more likely one, is that far from a "stealth" candidate, Obama is a LAZY one. Lazier than GWB. Which says something.

His lack of paper trail is because he is LAZY. [Perhaps also manic depressive.] He found the energy to write his "drama queen" biographies, with lots of revealing (and negative) information there, particularly his anecdote about his granny ("racist" for being afraid of threatening black man at the bus stop, at age 57 or so).

A man who was a stealth candidate would have picked a more acceptable pastor and church. At the least, left years ago. Oprah did (she figured it wasn't worth her broadcasting empire). A man who was a stealth candidate would have written a bland, policy-wonk platitude filled book. A man who was a stealth candidate would have figured "Paris is worth a mass" like Henry IV and wore a flag lapel pin, paid respect during the National Anthem.

Obama did none of these things. Suggesting he was fundamentally LAZY and unwilling to change his ways to seek power. Or perhaps arrogant in thinking he did not have to.

He forgot that in the Internet Age, an embarrassing video is only a moment away. Hillary's Tuzla moment will be matched by Obama nodding along on camera as Wright denounces America, Whitey, and the Flag.

And if Republicans or 527's or ordinary people need help finding that footage, I'm sure Hillary will give them a hand. Even or especially if she loses.

4/05/2008 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

Whiskey said:

"And if Republicans or 527's or ordinary people need help finding that footage, I'm sure Hillary will give them a hand. Even or especially if she loses."

Of this I am absolutely convinced - Hillary's worst nightmare is an Obama nomination followed by an Obama victory. President Obama would be the presumptive democrat candidate in 2012, meaning unless she was willing to offer a primary challenge (could even she be so bold?), she's pushed off to 2016 until she's able to run again, and even then, it'd be against Obama's two-term VP. (Forgetting for a moment that after eight years of Obama, we may no longer be a cohesive society) It'd be a bit like running against GHWBush in 1988 after two terms of RWR.

I can't imagine Democrat party insiders supporting such a thing any more than Republican insiders would have supported a challenge to GHWBush in 1988.

If Obama lands the nomination, Hillary ABSOLUTELY must deep six his campaign in any way possible, or her chances to be president are G-O-N-E.

4/05/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...

Wretchard wrote:

"At that point the information was a "known unknown". That's to say, it was unverified information. "

It seems pretty clear that a "known unknown" is something you know you don't know, like, "Does Sadr read the paper while he takes a shit". We know we don't know the answer to that. It has little to do with information veriied or not. You then write:

"But the reason conventional wisdom makes such huge bloopers is because..."

I, humbly, suggest you stick to simply stating your opinion as opposed to assessing 'conventional wisdom'. Similarly you might want to read a little more widely on Maliki's victory. Is he being magnaminous in victory by ordering a countrywide freeze against Iraqi raids against Shia militants one day after promising to expand the crackdown to Baghdad?

4/05/2008 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

Once again Ash rides to the rescue with a fresh "take" on W's post - and once again completely misses the point by aiming for the butterfly at the tip of the branch, instead of whatever might be seen at the base of the trunk.

Excellent post, W.

4/05/2008 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...

Hillary spouts a lot of Bullshit. ya! Still Wretch regals us with pointless misinterpretations of Rumbsfeldians. He is falling on his own sword - ya shoot a bit a bull and all of your pontifications are then relegated to the bullshit bin.

4/05/2008 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Habu said...

Fredederic Bastiat, who had he lived longer would have been one of the greatest economists to ever live. That is the opinion of the great economists who followed his works.
His first volume of work begins:

"In the economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law,gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The others unfold in succession...they are not seen: it is well for us if they are forseen.

A writer on economy he may have been but that opening sentence of his most famous That Which Is Seen, And That Which Is Not Seen addresses both of the Democratic Party presidential aspirants.

For now the focus has turned to Hillary Clinton, a sociopath driven to lie,cheat,steal, and perhaps even to murder to achieve her goal of attaining the White House.

There should be no serious argument any longer about her veracity for she is the definition of opprobrium.

As a nation we can not afford one who is so unmasked that the rouge of all rectitude could not cover her lying. The world has seen it.

Obama's has yet to be unmasked so quickly but before the election this man will have been proved an equal but smoother liar. His deceptions will become that which is seen also.

For any good they have done they have already stayed too long. They should become That which is not seen

4/05/2008 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Absent hereditary aristocracy, seniority in whatever form, representative democracy faces the socio-political ordeal of self-selection.

Notice that recent Democrat candidates are wealthy lawyers, legislators bereft of private or public executive experience. This is not only only a function of perpetual incumbency due to absence of Congressional term limits, but reflects insidious disincentives for ordinary citizens --average income, non-professional, long-term private sector workers-- to seek political office even on municipal scales.

Today's Congressional incumbents have typically sat for decades (think Byrd, Kennedy), insulated from reality, immune to consequences. A self-perpetuating political elite notoriously gerrymanders districts, constrains public discourse, channels resources to a dysfunctional apparat where failure successfully attracts escalating remedial funds.

"Estrogen vs. melanin": MzBill and Obama cite equally foolish nostrums, pad scandalously thin resumes, habitually prevaricate in patterns revealing contempt for their constituents, intellectual vapidity, sociopathic tendencies unique to major public figures.

Above all, democracy fosters procedural solutions to conflicts that in other venues spill over to riots in the streets. But perpetual incumbency, self-selection, active barriers to ordinary citizens' electoral success, must eventually sink even America to the atavistic, retrograde, collectivist Statism that seems humanity's universal default-mode of choice.

4/05/2008 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Absent hereditary aristocracy, seniority in whatever form, representative democracy faces the socio-political ordeal of self-selection.

Notice that recent Democrat candidates are wealthy lawyers, legislators bereft of private or public executive experience. This is not only only a function of perpetual incumbency due to absence of Congressional term limits, but reflects insidious disincentives for ordinary citizens --average income, non-professional, long-term private sector workers-- to seek political office even on municipal scales.

Today's Congressional incumbents have typically sat for decades (think Byrd, Kennedy), insulated from reality, immune to consequences. A self-perpetuating political elite notoriously gerrymanders districts, constrains public discourse, channels resources to a dysfunctional apparat where failure successfully attracts escalating remedial funds.

"Estrogen vs. melanin": MzBill and Obama cite equally foolish nostrums, pad scandalously thin resumes, habitually prevaricate in patterns revealing contempt for their constituents, intellectual vapidity, sociopathic tendencies unique to major public figures.

Above all, democracy fosters procedural solutions to conflicts that in other venues spill over to riots in the streets. But perpetual incumbency, self-selection, active barriers to ordinary citizens' electoral success, must eventually sink even America to the atavistic, retrograde, collectivist Statism that seems humanity's universal default-mode of choice.

4/05/2008 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger Habu said...

Pyrthroes,

It isn't simply the government that is stagnant and isolated but the entire top tier of banking and Wall Street is sclerotic and inbred..

It is not , however a situation where upward mobility or new fortunes can not be made and thus new power (money) can not be exerted on our rulers, ah representatives.

It is a question of the size of the government and thus the encroachment on the Ninth Amendment.

So many have said it beginning with Aristotle, that representative democracy is the best of the worst and the worst of the best forms of government.

The citizenry is the responsible party in allowing our Representatives and Senators to remain in office. WE have an opportunity every two years to change the composition of the House of Reps, the first part of he government mentioned in the Constitution...we continue to fail.

The government is in our continuing ly irresponsible hands.

4/05/2008 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

My lawyer tells me, Bob, for the rest of your life, just always vote against whoever is in office, until you die.

Somebody said Barack Obama is Malcolm X on the inside and Sidney Poitier on the outside.

4/05/2008 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

If he was Denzel, I'd vote for him.

4/05/2008 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger Habu said...

Bobal,

Your lawyer is a wise man. An unusual characteristic for those who guide their lives by stare decisis.

We now have a population of over 300 million. The last time the size of the House was increased was after the 1910 reapportionment when it was increased it to 435, where it remains today. The 1910 census placed our population at 92.2 million people. This disparity creates the environment for Representatives to cater only to the wealthy while the average citizen gets no serious thought.

A good deal of our dysfunction is in this fact. Each citizens representation has been diluted. In debating representation in the Federalist Papers #55 and in the convention a figure of 30,000 citizens per representative was determined to be a correct number, citing:

“It will not be thought an extravagant conjecture that the first census will, at the rate of one for every thirty thousand, raise the number of representatives to at least one hundred. … At the expiration of twenty-five years, according to the computed rate of increase, the number of representatives will amount to two hundred, and of fifty years, to four hundred.”

We are vastly underrepresented.

In the state conventions and in the press, many warned that an undersized House (with oversized districts) would emerge and thereby render the House an inadequate guardian of the people. They warned that a smaller House would be dominated by the “aristocratic” class and also be more vulnerable to corruption.

Well here we are.

4/05/2008 10:53:00 PM  
Blogger Habu said...

Charlton Heston dead at 84 R.I.P.

4/05/2008 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger some said...

"In the light of what is now public, Hillary Clinton is arguably one of the weakest candidates the Democratic Party could have fielded."

But one might say the exact same thing about Obama.

In fact these two were the last Dems standing because they both could leverage the traditional Democratic strength: the willingness of the press to cover for them. But each not only leverages it, they *depend* on it. (So did Kerry, which is why the Swift Vets' non-press counternarrative sunk him.) Both are weak when stripped of such protection, as we are seeing. But if there had only been ONE such candidate, the weakness might never have appeared -- or not until very, very late.

4/06/2008 12:22:00 AM  
Blogger bobal said...

Scotland may secede from England. Maybe we ought to do the same, seriously. Just have a common defense. What do I have in common with people in San Francisco, or Houston, or Las Vegas, or Seattle, for that matter. Or they with me. If the country is too big, and we're not represented properly, maybe we ought to just bust it up. I get to feeling this way, once in a while. Particularily when I read some late news from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which I'm in, like it or not.

4/06/2008 01:16:00 AM  
Blogger bobal said...

Since there isn't a chance in hell of that happening, and since it might not be a good thing anyway, taken all in all, and the country as a whole, I take it back. Never said it.

4/06/2008 01:23:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

I too, view the underrepresentation of individuals to be the greatest obstacle to having a responsive, responsible and transparent government. But what to do? More layers (regional sub-government), more lawyers or more guns?

Somewhere there is a proportional number that allows for responsive and respectful representation. but potting that number to work in one legislative body is impossible, even in this age of email. The structure ought to retain the process and still respect the rights of individuals. Big task designing that.

4/06/2008 02:19:00 AM  
Blogger Habu said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/06/2008 03:45:00 AM  
Blogger Habu said...

Wadeusaf,
We wail about student /teacher ratios as inimical to learning. The same applies to citizen/Representative ratios. It is inimical to good government. I mean we're coming up to 98 years since they increased OUR representation.

The answer is to increase the number of Representatives we have in the House. Using the guide lines originally set out may be a bit of a circus however instead of one Rep per 660.000 how about one per 220,000.

In this manner the people, not the fat cats could have a much greater influence over their lives, which is essentially what the Republic is all about.

Not only that but when you factor out the time our reps spend globe trotting for "information" , on vacation, or out collecting money from the fat cats ,we few , we underrepresented unhappy few are getting screwed.

4/06/2008 03:52:00 AM  
Blogger Dale St. Clair said...

Obama's has yet to be unmasked so quickly but before the election this man will have been proved an equal but smoother liar.

Would that it were so. The MSM is in love with him and that is all any prudent candidate needs. You could be an ax murderer but if you make the MSM’s legs tingle you have nothing much to worry about.

If you are in the way of history as the MSM wants history to unfold your formerly overlooked or ignored negatives will be suddenly ‘discovered’ and you will become engulfed in flames. Burn, Hillary, burn.

The Rezko affair won’t hurt him. True, there’s a connection but mere connection is not enough if you are anointed by the pundits.

The Wright connection has not been enough and although the Repubs will try to use it in the coming campaign their efforts will be futile or he would already be toast.

After the Dem’s convention is over and Hillary is officially put to roast McCain will begin to feel heat which will swiftly increase until he too bursts into flames.

Unless Obama has committed a crime or some other heinous act that even the leg-tinglers cannot overlook, apologize for or explain away – which isn’t likely – Obama is our next Pres.

4/06/2008 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger amr said...

One thing that is a known known, but not in the MSM that I can find, is that Hillary started this trait of “call it what you will” about facts in at least 1974. According to his blog and in an interview by Dan Calabrese, Mr. Jerry Zeifman, the now-retired general counsel and chief of staff of the House Judiciary Committee, who supervised Hillary when she worked on the Watergate investigation, says Hillary’s history of lies and unethical behavior goes back to 1974. A lifelong Democrat, he supervised the work of 27-year-old Hillary Rodham on the committee. When the investigation was over, Zeifman fired Hillary from the committee staff and refused to give her a letter of recommendation – one of only three people who earned that dubious distinction in Zeifman’s 17-year career. In the interview Mr. Zeifman said he fired her because she was a liar and that she was an unethical, dishonest lawyer. That she conspired to violate the Constitution, the rules of the House, the rules of the committee and the rules of confidentiality.

4/06/2008 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Habu and Wadeusaf,

As you perceive, the underrepresentation of citizens is a chronic structural problem of our system, caused mostly by the political distance between levels of government. No one can know what's really going on.

The cure is smaller units, but expanding a single level, such as Congress, is not going to do the job. I like the idea of voters' unions, where everybody belongs to a club of like-minded people, similar perhaps to an investment club. Each club elects representatives to a higher level assembly, which elects representatives to the next higher level until there is a single small group of people representing all the clubs in the union.

The only job of the representatives is the find out the truth about issues and personalities in politics and report back. When it comes time to vote for a candidate or issue, the entire union will vote as one, giving the people much more influence and access than they otherwise would have.

You can see the same principle working in swing states today with the winner-takes-all policy prevalent in the Electoral College. How much it actually benefits those states, I don't know, but it certainly increases their importance to the candidates.

4/08/2008 11:06:00 AM  

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