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Decade’s Worst Ideas

20 Dec

As you know, End-of-the-Year Top Ten lists are ubiquitous in North America. This year, we also get to mark the end of a decade, which doubles the fun. In fact, it marks the end of the first decade of an entire millennium (although, having written that, it doesn’t look as impressive in print as it sounded out loud). The Washington Post has published its Worst Ideas of the Decade. The grim introduction to the list opens thus:

When the best you can say about a 10-year span is that Y2K was overblown and that at least our downturn wasn’t a Depression, you know it was hardly the best of times.

Since the WaPo list isn’t numbered, I can’t figure out if they started with #1 and worked their way down to #10, or with #10 and worked their up to #1. It probably doesn’t matter either way, so, without further ado, I give you the Washington Post’s Worst Ideas of the Decade.

Vaccine scares
The Battle of Tora Bora
Television Dancing Competitions
The BlackBerry
The Torture Memos
World-is-Flat Movies
Sarbanes-Oxley
Compassionate Conservatism
The Endless Sports Season
Housing Prices Always Rise
The Prosperity Gospel

What do you think? Do you agree with the WaPo’s selections, or would your list differ? As always, you may share your opinions in the comments.

UPDATE: If reviewing a mere decade is too limited for you, you may find The Onion’s Top Ten Stories of the Past 4.5 Billion Years more to your liking.

– the chaplain

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20 Comments

Posted by on December 20, 2009 in history, society

 

20 responses to “Decade’s Worst Ideas

  1. The Exterminator

    December 20, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    I’d say that the decade’s worst idea was the myth that Barack Obama would be “the candidate of change.”

     
  2. the chaplain

    December 20, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Ex:
    That idea certainly deserves a place on the list.

     
  3. Digital Dame

    December 20, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    How about flu scares? We’ve seen SARS, bird flu, and now H1N1 evaporate without decimating the global population. I’m tired of Big Pharma trying to get rich with these terrorist tactics of theirs. Now that no one is worried about getting a flu shot, suddenly they’re readily available everywhere, no more shortage. Imagine that.

    Reality tv in general.

     
  4. the chaplain

    December 20, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    DD:
    Flu scares and reality tv in general are good additions, too.

     
  5. The Vicar

    December 21, 2009 at 12:02 am

    I don’t know whether to be annoyed because Sarbanes-Oxley is being disparaged in that list or be amazed because the Washington Post has actually come out explicitly against the Iraq war, Bush, and torture in their list. (Okay, they claimed that conservative governors “successfully reformed Welfare” in the one which complains about Bush, which is an outright lie, but it’s still amazing that they were critical of the man after spending the better part of the decade in question proclaiming from its editorial page that the man could do no wrong.

    Maybe next Bill Gates will turn around and write a column for the New York Times saying “I didn’t want to admit this while I was the head of the company, but Microsoft’s products really are nothing but cheap knockoffs of products other people developed. We’ve been putting actual innovators out of business and degrading the quality of available software as often as possible all along. I thought you all knew that.” I can hardly wait.

    Sarbanes-Oxley is getting a bum wrap because, in effect, it’s hard to comply with and it doesn’t prevent all possible corporate fraud. Wow, really? The only way to prevent all corporate fraud would be to eliminate corporations entirely as legal entities. A corporation has what is called fiduciary duty to their stockholders to maximize profit, and so any possible fraud which is not illegal yet will be explored by a corporation; they have no choice under the terms of incorporation.

    The claim is, to summarize, that SOx is wrong because it would prevent the sort of fraud of which Enron is an example, and that’s all in the past so the burdens placed on corporations by the law are unnecessary. To put it bluntly: Enron-style fraud is in the past only because laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley were passed making it too difficult for most companies to attempt. If SOx is overturned/repealed, we’ll see a bunch more such frauds as soon as enough time has passed for them to mature. When laws are repealed which penalize financial crimes, the crimes appear again. A while back, the specific law forbidding bucket-shops was repealed because it also forbad other things, and in the very brief period it took to make them illegal again, lo and behold — bucket shops appeared!

    The simplest solution to this class of problems would be to (1) repeal the “personhood” of corporations and make board members/top-level management take punishment for illegal activity undertaken on their behalf, and (2) institute mandatory capital punishment for financial crimes beyond a certain (low) threshold. Capital punishment doesn’t deter crimes which are performed in emotional outbreaks and are therefore unpremeditated, but there is no unpremeditated financial fraud. (“But, Your Honor, I didn’t know I was selling her a package of complex and obfuscated financial products which could potentially lose all of its value if the market stopped rising. I checked the wrong box on the form — I was trying to sell her a certificate of deposit.”)

    Bernie Madoff would never have been a problem if he would have been certain of being whisked off to the electric chair in the event of being unable to meet his multi-million dollar obligations. Heck, the whole derivatives market would not have existed — no bank CEO would be willing to risk their neck on a product they did not understand through and through, and history shows that every one of them failed to even question the underlying mechanisms of derivatives once it became clear that derivatives were profitable.

    Of course, nothing even remotely like that will ever be instituted, because all of our lawmakers are beholden to the financial sector, which at this point consists of a bunch of traditional services which are well-understood, grudgingly offered, and not very profitable, and a bunch of shiny new “financial products” which are basically varying degrees of fraud.

    (Thus endeth the rant for the day.)

     
  6. ildi

    December 21, 2009 at 12:03 am

    We’ve seen SARS, bird flu, and now H1N1 evaporate without decimating the global population. I’m tired of Big Pharma trying to get rich with these terrorist tactics of theirs.

    Oh, that evil Big Pharma! Just like terrrorists! The horror!

    From Science-Based Medicine: An Influenza Recap: The End of the Second Wave

    On the one hand, we have a virus that has proven itself to be widespread and highly contagious, to have claimed the lives of at least 1,336 and hospitalized over 30,000. Conservative estimates from the PLoS study place one’s risk of hospitalization if infected at ~1/625, and risk of death ~1/14,285. Furthermore, though we have completed the second wave of the pandemic, a third wave is almost certain to come. A small minority of the population has thus far been infected, past influenza pandemics have featured a triple peak, and we have now entered the beginning of the traditional influenza season.

    On the other hand, we have an inexpensive vaccine which is an excellent match to this strain, generates an appropriate antibody response in most people (particularly those in the highest risk groups for 2009 H1N1), and after over 46 million doses has yet to be significantly correlated with any severe adverse events.

     
  7. Robert Jago

    December 21, 2009 at 1:25 am

    Windows Vista. If you add up all the time companies spent dealing with that abortion of an OS, buying new printers, installing and reinstalling drivers, clicking on security exceptions – it’d porbably be enough to pay for the Iraq War, auto bailout and a manned mission to Mars.

     
  8. seantheblogonaut

    December 21, 2009 at 4:16 am

    I don’t know if we are out of the woods with H1N1 yet – but its better to be prepared.

    And I am rather tired of this “I’m tired of Big Pharma trying to get rich with these terrorist tactics of theirs.” sort of conspiracy thinking. I won’t deny that they profit from making vaccines and its in their interest to sell vaccines to the governments but terrorist tactics? Come on?

     
  9. ildi

    December 21, 2009 at 8:21 am

    From Science-Based Medicine:

    On the one hand, we have a virus that has proven itself to be widespread and highly contagious, to have claimed the lives of at least 1,336 and hospitalized over 30,000. Conservative estimates from the PLoS study place one’s risk of hospitalization if infected at ~1/625, and risk of death ~1/14,285. Furthermore, though we have completed the second wave of the pandemic, a third wave is almost certain to come. A small minority of the population has thus far been infected, past influenza pandemics have featured a triple peak, and we have now entered the beginning of the traditional influenza season.

    On the other hand, we have an inexpensive vaccine which is an excellent match to this strain, generates an appropriate antibody response in most people (particularly those in the highest risk groups for 2009 H1N1), and after over 46 million doses has yet to be significantly correlated with any severe adverse events.

    Did they have denialist asshattery on their list as one of the ten worst ideas of the decade?

     
  10. Vinny

    December 21, 2009 at 9:33 am

    I think I would go with the SEC’s decision in April 2004 to ease capital requirements on the big investment banks on the theory that they were in the best position to know how much debt they could handle.

    I would certainly agree that Barack Obama has failed to deliver the promised change, however, given the available alternatives, I don’t think there were any better ideas at the time. The Supreme Court’s decision to end the Florida recounts in 2000 was much worse in that sense.

     
  11. ildi

    December 21, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I just noticed that I reposted the same general information; the first one disappeared in the tubes of the interwebz for hours and hours…

     
  12. PhillyChief

    December 21, 2009 at 11:23 am

    I think it’s silly to have things like TV dance competitions on the list. That undermines any credibility they were pretending to have. Sure they suck, but there’s always been sucky entertainment. So what? To put that on a list with say Sarbanes-Oxley makes whatever serious points they wanted to make seem not worth taking seriously.

    I’d add electing officials on the basis of how much they’re like you, the infamous “beer test” where they have to exhibit their ability to have a beer with you and sound just as ignorant as you. What? How about abstinence only education, especially in light of the spike in teen pregnancies and stds in its wake? Or perhaps the media’s shift to giving EVERY side equal time regardless of how stupid one side is? Oh, how about the court case Fox won (2003?) which essentially said news outlets weren’t legally responsible for reporting accurate news? How does tv dance competitions compare to any of these?

     
  13. That Other Guy

    December 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I’m also sick of the people who complain about H1N1 being nothing. The reason H1N1 has turned out to be less of a problem than experts were saying it could be is BECAUSE of those experts. They saw a train coming down the tracks we were standing on, and told us to get off the tracks. Then when we did, some of us whined that “that wasn’t so bad, what was all the fuss about?” It was the rush to develop a vaccine and get people inoculated that prevented a major pandemic disaster, not the H1N1 itself being no problem.

     
  14. (((Billy)))

    December 21, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    TOG: Remember Y2K? Big disaster coming down the tracks, so the programmers went to work, solved the problem, and put in the fix before it was too late. Which, to most Americans, means it was a false alarm. This is also why so many Americans are against any environmental regulations (the environment is so clean, we don’t need regulations), workplace regulations (work is so safe and we are treated so well by our bosses, we don’t need regulations), unions (we have an 8 hour workday and don’t have to lay the boss to keep our job, so why do we need a union), and, paradoxically, universal health care (I’m healthy, why do we need to straighten out healthcare).

    And, from personal experience, H1N1 is not ‘nothing.’ I still ain’t recovered.

    As for the worst idea of the 00′s? How about invading Iraq based on cherry-picked evidence?

     
  15. the chaplain

    December 21, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    As for the worst idea of the 00’s? How about invading Iraq based on cherry-picked evidence?

    Was it cherry-picked or fabricated?

     
  16. The Exterminator

    December 21, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Here are a few more bad ideas of the aughts:
    * Joe Lieberman should caucus with Democrats.
    * “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” (What weasel-y bullshit!)
    * No Child Left Behind
    * Morse v. Frederick
    * Hein v. FFRF
    * Atheists can make a valid point by paying for slogans on billboards or buses

     
  17. the chaplain

    December 21, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Ex:
    1. Those two SCOTUS decisions are bad. Not surprising, given the current composition of the court, but bad nonetheless.
    2. Lieberman is an ass, not an asset.
    3. Billboards are evidence that atheism is moving into the American capitalist/commercialist mainstream.
    4. No Child Left Behind epitomizes Compassionate Conservatism, so, of course it sucks.
    5. Sometimes, the purportedly good is the enemy of the better, not to mention the perfect.

    Philly:
    The WaPo list is an odd blend of the serious and the strange.

    Vinny:
    That SEC decision is a good addition to a bad list (if that statement makes any sense).

    Robert:
    I never used Windows Vista, but my husband did. He just replaced his laptop and one of his primary stipulations was that the new computer would not have Vista.

     
  18. Lorena

    December 23, 2009 at 1:07 am

    I agree with whoever said Windows Vista. I disagree with the newspaper regarding the Blackberry. Why would that be a bad idea?

    Worse than the blackberry is that we let children play endless video games that involve killing people and spattering blood while at it.

     
  19. Modusoperandi

    December 23, 2009 at 2:28 am

    And before violent video games it was just gangster rap. And before that it was (generic) video games. And that it was rap music. And before that it was D&D. And before that it was hippie music. And before that it was Rock ‘n’ Roll. And before that it was comic books. And before that it was…

    Culture has been corrupting our children ever since we invented culture and discovered reproduction.

     
  20. Lurker111

    December 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Regarding the Y2K problem: It turned out not to be a problem because many industries had people working hard to avoid problems. I fixed several old systems myself and I can tell you that oblique and subtle references to 6-character dates were sometimes fiendishly difficult to find. One system I thought I’d converted I had to look at three times–and still found more things to change. Folks in general don’t realize the amount of work that went into fixing this issue. True, the Y2K thing doesn’t rise to the matter of getting the U.S. into a phony war in Iraq, but I get tired of folks poo-pooing the severity of the Y2K bug.

     

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