Daily Archives: August 8, 2014

Art Woolf spews numbers, provides zero insight

In the past, I’ve given UVM economist Art Woolf two nicknames: Vermont’s Loudest Economist, for his inescapable media presence; and Vermont’s Laziest Economist, for his thoroughly conventional views. Well, now I’ve got a new one: The Human Almanac.

In addition to (Lord help us) educating the next generation of UVM students, Woolf also does a lot of corporate consulting, publishes a costly newsletter, and writes a weekly column in the Burlington Free Press. The latter is where I see his work, and it’s consistently unimpressive. The typical Woolf column includes an oversized chart or graph (to fill space), a shallow review of statistics, and/or a bit of thoroughly conventional wisdom, all served up in a few hundred words.

In his last two columns, he didn’t even bother injecting a bit o’ the old C.W. They were just bland overviews, free of any context or insight.

This week’s entry is “Vermont Fertility Rate 15% Lower Than U.S.” And, well, that title just about covers it. The column is full of shameless padding, like this:

The average Vermont woman will have 1.6 babies over her lifetime. …Of course, no one has six-tenths of a baby, but when we’re dealing with large numbers of women, and large numbers of babies, fractions and decimals do play a role.

Do tell, Art. I was picturing a landscape littered with partial baby corpses. Glad you set me straight.

He also stretches the content with a parade of irrelevant, or marginally relevant, statistics:

The fertility rate for the U.S. as a whole is 1.9 babies per woman over her lifetime, so Vermont’s fertility rate is about 15 percent below the U.S. average. By contrast, Utah, the state with the highest fertility rate, is 25 percent above the national average.

It’s like a high school student writing a five-page paper.

The “bulk” of the column is given over to a recitation of current and past numbers from the US and the world, followed by one paragraph listing possible reasons why Vermont might have a low fertility rate. That paragraph ends with:

We really don’t know the full reasons.

For this, we need an expert?

Woolf wraps things up with this thrilling conclusion: low fertility has consequences for the economy.

Last week’s entry in the Woolf oeuvre was even less meaty “Vermont Immigration patterns Differ From U.S.

Stop the presses!!!!!

Do you mean to tell me that Vermont has fewer immigrants from Latin America than, say, Florida or Texas? I am shocked, shocked.

But yes, that’s the knowledge bombshell Woolf drops on our heads: Vermont gets relatively few immigrants, and most of ’em are from Canada or Europe. No shit, Sherlock.

Woolf doesn’t even try to contextualize this nothingburger of a column. The big conclusion reads like this:

Sometimes it’s hard for Vermonters to understand why the concerns and passions about immigration run so deep. One reason is that our immigrant population, and our experience with immigrants, is very different than it is in the rest of the United States.

I really, really hope that Woolf’s own ($150 per year plus tax) newsletter has more to offer than his Freeploid blurts. For that matter, I hope he’s doing some more substantive academic work to justify his UVM sinecure. Because judging by his newspaper columns, Art Woolf is a man without substance.

The implosion of RecruitFour

Ruh-roh. Something’s rotten in RecruitFour, the “movement” aimed at getting Republican write-in candidates for the four statewide offices without an official Republican on the ballot. As I’ve reported, RF has been unveiling their “slate,” beginning with Burlington attorney Shane McCormack for Attorney General and moving on to pro-F35 activist Nicole Citro for Secretary of State and Stefanie Webster Dion, budget director of Champlain College, for Treasurer.

Not so fast, my friend.

Turns out that RecruitFour has been promoting candidates without their permission. Two of the three, Citro and Dion, have gone on the RF page to decline the honor. Citro:

While I am flattered there are those who think I would make a great candidate for the Secretary of State of Vermont, I will be not running for this position. …I do not rule out a scenario in the future where I might use my ability to effectively communicate the voice of Vermonters again, but a run for any office is not in my plans right now. Thank you for your show of confidence!

And Dion:

I echo Nicole’s comments. I am flattered and won’t rule out future service to the State but I will not be running for this position. Thank you so much for your vote of confidence!

Okay, how can I describe this nutty endeavor? Counterproductive? Wacko? Doomed? Creepy?

Yeah, I think “creepy” is about right. Publicly promoting a candidacy without the candidate’s permission? That’s closer to identity theft than it is to responsible, effective politics. No wonder the “brains” behind RecruitFour hasn’t publicly identified him/herself.

Speaking of which, said “brains” did post a brief explainer a couple days ago:

This effort started with one Republican–not the establishment, not the party apparatus–just one Republican. Just one Republican who believes in a state of 600,000 people we can find four qualified Republican candidates to run for Auditor, Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Attorney General.

The folks we are trying to draft did not encourage this effort, they are merely the recipients of this bottom up effort from the people of Vermont.

Keep this in mind as you fail to see a multi-million dollar campaign for this effort. This is grassroots baby, all the way. Freedom and Unity!

See,that’s the problem with Facebook: it only takes one person to erect a plausible a Potemkin village.

As for the identity of this “one Republican,” I have no idea and I really don’t care. The name “Jeff Bartley” has been suggested to me — the state GOP’s “Victory Campaign Director” and chair of the Chittenden County GOP. I dunno; he’s served on his share of Titanics in the past (notably Len Britton’s Senate bid, which ended with Bartley suing Britton for unpaid wages), but this seems awfully sad even by his standards.

Anyway, I think it’s safe to bid a fond farewell to this stillborn “movement.” RecruitFour, we hardly knew ye.

This could be bad. Really bad.

Today was Day One of the new regime at the Tennesseean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. If you’re wondering why this is relevant to a Vermont political blog, well, the T’n is part of the Gannett chain, and is the “beta” version of Gannett’s “newsroom of the future.” As in, Coming Soon to a Gannett Paper Near You, i.e. the Burlington Free Press.

(Sharp-eyed journalism observer Jim Romenesko pointed out today that this is the second time in eight years that Gannett has launched the “newsroom of the future.” Guess it didn’t take the first time.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 9.33.14 PMThe Tennesseean is still in the process of downsizing and downgrading its newsroom staff, but today’s was the first edition under Executive Editor Stefanie Murray, head cheerleader for the new N.O.T.F.  And there, on the front page, was a story about the Kroger supermarket chain, a major T’n advertiser, lowering prices in its stores. 

And this is news…… why?

But wait, there’s more. If you went to the T’n website today, the homepage was dominated by — mirabile dictu — an ad from Kroger touting its new low prices! Wow, wotta coincidence.

This screenshot only includes the top half of the print edition’s front page. (Full front page can be seen here.) Below the fold is an almost equally ghastly front-page “news” story about twerking as the new fitness craze. I kid you not.

Seems to be a very aggressive application of the T’n’s new commitment to “audience analytics” driven journalism. Give the peoples what they want, and the stupider the better.

Coming soon to a Freeploid near you.