Off With Their (Expert) Heads

It’s fortunate I don’t watch much TV because on Sundays it’d be slim pickings.  The few channels I have with “limited” cable that aren’t shopping channels are dominated by “talking heads” purporting to be, or presented as, “experts” we can learn from. Riiight…!  

My skepticism (bordering on antipathy) for ‘experts” goes all the way back to when I was less than a year old.  All the “expert” pediatricians in Manila refused me admittance to their hospitals because everyone “knew” that my illness – gastroenteritis – was incurable.  Why waste a valuable pediatric ward bed on someone who would be dead soon when that bed could be used for someone who had a chance?  So logical…

Well, 59 years later, those “experts” are probably all dead now and I’m writing this blog.  Sunday Blogger: 1;  Experts: 0.  So what happened?  

A pediatrician who had just arrived from the U.S. (but who had no hospital privileges yet) agreed to put me up in one of his examination rooms with 24-hour care.  I had every known antibiotic, and who knows what else,  injected into me.  No improvement.  I was on intravenous feeding but I kept jerking out the needles and they were running out of usable veins.  Death by starvation looked to be a matter of when, not if.

Then, I developed a fever which the doctor could not bring down.  The fever began rising and the doctor called my parents to the clinic and told them I might die that night.  They packed me in ice.  The fever hit a temperature often associated with brain damage (which probably explains why I’m “over the edge“) before finally coming down.  But the fever did it’s job:  it wiped out the virus.    

Since then, I’ve been in excellent health.  Didn’t even have any normal childhood diseases until I caught chicken pox in my 50s. 

A few years ago, a consultant in our program thought he had eaten some bad Chinese food.  One test led to another before a diagnosis: metastasized lung cancer.  It took less time to explain where he didn’t have cancer than where he did.  He was in a hospital room with seven different “expert” specialists.  Six said he had four to six months to live.  The seventh said he believed he could fight it.  

A few years after his “terminal” diagnosis by six “experts” he was still alive.  And working.  He still had cancer, but it was under control.  He died about a month ago…from mowing the lawn one morning when it was probably 100+ degrees.  Disbeliever:1;   six “experts”: 0.
 
When it comes to doctors, I’ll find an “expert” who’s not so quick to surrender.  Because medicine isn’t much different from poker.  It’s principally about probability.  Even 2-7 off suit still has a 12% probability of beating pocket aces.  Doctors only have degrees, not certainty, but how many doctors have the humility to admit that?   

And it’s even worse in those areas that are not based on “science.” Remember the “missile gap?”  It was non-existent and purely political. But did we learn from that hoax?  

In the ‘60s, the “best and brightest” solemnly intoned that if Vietnam fell to the communists, then all southeast Asia would become “falling dominos” and become communist.  So over 50,000 Americans lost their lives, not to mention some $600 billion wasted, and to no avail because Vietnamese nationalists who fought first the French and the Japanese, the French again (following World War II) and finally the U.S., finally won independence.
 
(Isn’t it “interesting” that World War II, which was purportedly fought to preserve democracy, ended with the European colonial powers returning to rule their colonies instead of freeing them?  I know, I know…it was the white man’s burden.)   

And did the dominos fall?  Not at all…  If that’s what the “best and brightest” are all about, then we don’t need them.  Think about what the U.S. might be like today if there had been no Vietnam war…. 

But we never learn, do we?  Along comes the “slam dunk case” for WMDs in Iraq and the masses exhibit mass amnesia.  By the time the masses awake, it’s too late… FUBAR.  The Bushies said the troops would be home in a few months and Iraqi oil would pay for the war.  Riiiight!  (When the troops do leave Iraq and it becomes ruled by Islamics favorable to Iran, thank the neo-cons and those who drink the Kool Aid of  “American exceptionalism” for that mess while the talking heads yap about how Saddam wasn’t so bad after all because he was a secular counterweight to Islamic radicalism.) 

Same big FUBAR in Afghanistan.  Not a single U.S. ground combatant was needed to eject the Taliban but eight years later, the Afghans can’t defend themselves despite a $6 billion training effort? What’s wrong with that picture?  Like Vietnam, few Afghans want to die for a corrupt and unpopular government

Then, there’s the economy.  Greenspan and other “experts” assured us that the free market needs to be left alone.  Regulation is bad; leave the free market to its own devices and the rising tide will lift all ships.  His mea culpa before Congress that he had been naive to think that fiduciary duty would not be sacrificed for short term profit is worthless.  (I like the Chinese practice of executing folks like him who don’t have the decency to commit suicide as a form of accountability for “errors” that have widespread destructive consequences. )
Then there was the financial bailout.  Congress was stampeded to bail out the banks because they are “too big to fail.”  And where are we now?  
The bankers are doing very well but the “little people” who are too insignificant to be of concern, get to stay unemployed and be foreclosed on.  They must be held “accountable” but the banks are not.  Like the Titanic, the “first class” passengers are offered lifeboats;  “steerage” passengers get to drown.       

While doing some investment research, I came across this:  Over a two year period in the late ‘90s, the S&P index gained about 18%.  If you had listened to the “experts” of any of 32 different “market timing” newsletters, your return during that same period would have been anywhere from a high of 15.9% to 5.84 percent.  In other words, you’d have lost money listening to these “experts” instead of just going with the flow…

Which is why I’ve never sought the advice of financial planners.  It’s my money, not theirs.  All they want is their fee, which is not tied to performance.  Which means they don’t believe their own advice.  (And if they work on a commission, then your retirement future is easy to predict: you’ll be homeless.)

I could go on and on and on…but I don’t believe in overkill.  At least, not all the time…  

If you want to hold experts in awe, you’ll get no criticism from me because that’s your prerogative.  Freedom is the freedom to make the wrong choice, the wrong decision.  And accept the consequences.  (Unless you’re a big investment bank.)   

I’d rather make a decision and be wrong than just blindly accept an “expert’s” decision and hope he’s not wrong.  Besides, for every expert who says one thing, there’s another expert saying the opposite. We see the “dueling experts” on those TV talking heads shows and in high profile criminal cases.  So, you can pick the expert that confirms your own thinking and feel good that you’re following an “expert’s” advice.  If you need that cover… 

When someone exhorts me to follow the advice of “experts” in some field, I demur and reply that I know where those experts live.  After a quizzical look, I reply that “those experts live in Plato’s Cave.”  After another quizzical look, I advise them to “Google it.”
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5 responses to “Off With Their (Expert) Heads

  1. Plato’s Cave, indeed! I always love that story about your near-death as a baby, and how much it has shaped your life to come. Of course you do know you are a bit of a grump, but I find this post to be seriously incisive. It cuts to the heart of the chase, so to speak.
    I have to say that I usually don’t let anything really get to me personally, but lately…I just saw the news on Friday that Bank of America (where I bank) is about to start charging $5.00 per month if you use your debit card for purchases. (No charge for using it at ATM’s–their ATM’s that is.) Wait just a frigging minute there! Do you remember when we were all encouraged to use debit cards? It was a time-saver (and therefore, a labor-saver) for the banks. They needed fewer tellers, fewer people to process checks, etc. And the reason? Because Congress passed a law limiting the amount banks can charge merchants. So they are going to take it from us instead. I can’t tell you how outraged I am. So now I have to pay $5.00 a month to use my own money?
    This week Andy Borowitz did a hilarious post on the subject. “Banks to begin charging the very people who bailed out their asses”. Says BOA President, “This is our way of saying Thank You to the taxpayers. We think of you every time we go yachting or visit our third homes, and we want you to think of us too–every time you use your debit card.”

    • > you are a bit of a grump

      It’s because I escaped from the cave and those left behind don’t believe me about the “real” world! LOL! So now I’m not going back to the cave…I’m going to have a Mai Tai on the beach!

      As for the $5 fee, it was my sorry bank – SunTrust – that started it before BoA. For years, I had an “ATM only” card and refused debit card offers since I wanted credit card points. But last year, it was replaced with a “check card” because they discontinued the “ATM only” card. Why? Because the check card was so “popular.” And I would get “rewards points” for using it. Soon, the rewards program disappeared, then the fee came. I have free checking with SunTrust because (a) I’m a senior and/or (b) I have enough balances.

      But of course, I always have an escape plan. I belong to a credit union, a good “socialist” entity since I am an “owner.” When the time comes that SunTrust charges me any fee for whatever reason, it will be adios SunTrust. The only reason I stay with them is that they have a huge ATM network, at least along the east coast. Saw one in DC.

      And of course, I am pleased by the Wall Street protests. They are the tip of the iceberg of Main Street’s anger. Someone needs to exploit that.

  2. “(Isn’t it “interesting” that World War II, which was purportedly fought to preserve democracy, ended with the European colonial powers returning to rule their colonies instead of freeing them? I know, I know…it was the white man’s burden.) ”

    It’s because the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor isn’t it?

    • I was out of town Sunday & Monday and the hotel’s computer seemed to be running Windows 3.1 because it was so sloooow and all it displayed was an empty black box so I had no idea what the reference was to.

      I had forgotten about that scene; the only scenes I remember were when he smashed a beer can on his forehead and the scene with Otis Day and the Knights singing “Shout.” I could not “relate” to the movie because it was not my experience. There were no Greeks on campus when I was there and our focus was completely different.

      But, with all the “teaching to the test”, so much has fallen by the wayside. I’d not be surprised that if you asked high school seniors to answer as “true or false”: The U.S. entered WW2 after Germany bombed Pearl Harbor, a large percentage would answer “true.” Sad…

  3. Hmmm… thought I just posted a comment here. Guess not. Weird.

    Anyway, the gist of it was, I’m with you on this issue. Experts have not proven themselves reliable.

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