Saturday, December 25, 2004

the clairvoyant powers of william safire

One of the news stories you always see at the end of the year is where somebody looks back at the predictions various tabloid psychics made and notes that, as ever, all of them are wrong.  When you read them--especially in light of what actually happened that year--you think: it's almost like the psychics aren't actually trying to be correct, but instead their just making predictions for their entertainment value. 

Meanwhile, a couple days ago in the NYT, William Safire presented his annual "Office Pool", where he makes predictions about the upcoming year.  I noticed how he didn't make any mention of his predictions last year.  It's irritating that newspapers revel in the erroneous predictions of psychics but nobody ever takes note of how well pundits do with their predictions.  I decided to pay the $3 to see what he did predict last year.  When I read them--especially in light of what actually happened this year--I thought: it's almost like he isn't trying to be correct, but instead he's just making predictions for their conservative flak value. 

Anyway, to get the most out of my $3, here they are.  He presents his predictions as a multiple choice quiz and then offers his prediction as an answer; I've reproduced his answer in brackets after the question.

1. Next tyranny to feel the force of U.S. liberation: (a) North Korea; (b) Iran; (c) Syria; (d) Venezuela.  [Safire's answer: (none) -- alas, his crystal ball gets cloudy from here on]

2. Iraq will (a) split up, like all Gaul, into three parts; (b) defeat the insurgents and emerge a rudimentary democracy; (c) succumb to a Sunni coup. [(b)]

3. First to fall from power will be (a) Little China's Chen Shui-bian, whose two-China campaign oratory on Taiwan is asking for trouble with Big China; (b) Pakistan's Musharraf, double-crossed by his Islamist military; (c) the U.S.'s Bush, after abandoning fiscal restraint; (d) Russia's Putin as his electorate miraculously awakens; (e) Cuba's Castro. [(e) (I've made this yearly prediction for three decades and now is not the time to stop)]

4. Long-overdue exoneration will come to embattled media megastar (a) Martha Stewart; (b) Michael Jackson; (c) Kenneth Lay; (d) Pete Rose. [(a)]

5. The economy will (a) see a booming 13,000 Dow and 3,000 Nasdaq; (b) grow more slowly as a weakening dollar drives up interest rates; (c) be rocked by the abuse of manipulative derivatives in hedge funds. [(all); note the Dow is at something like 10,800 now]

6. The fiction best seller will be (a) ''Retribution'' by Jilliane Hoffman; (b) ''Confessions of a Bigamist'' by Kate Lehrer; (c) ''Flying Crows'' by Jim Lehrer (presumably one of Kate's husbands). [(b)]

7. The nonfiction sleeper will be (a) ''Inside -- A Public and Private Life'' by Joseph Califano Jr.; (b) Carl Zimmer's brainy ''Soul Made Flesh''; (c) Michael Korda's biography of U. S. Grant; (d) Gertrude Himmelfarb's ''The Roads to Modernity.'' [(a)]

8. The scientific advance of the year will be (a) age retardation enhanced by memory protection; (b) a single pill combining erectile dysfunction treatment with a fast-acting aphrodisiac; (c) neuroscientists' creation of a unified field theory of the brain; (d) the awakening of geneticists to the liberating study of bioethics.  [(d) - weird set of choices, no?]

9. Best-Picture Oscar: (a) Anthony Minghella's ''Cold Mountain''; (b) Edward Zwick's ''The Last Samurai''; (c) Clint Eastwood's ''Mystic River''; (d) Sofia Coppola's ''Lost in Translation''; (e) Gary Ross's ''Seabiscuit.'' (This is the category I'm good at.)  [Yes, Safire really did add that last remark.  His answer: (c).  Actual winner: "Lord of the Rings", which he wasn't even prescient enough to see as an option.]

10. Bush's domestic initiative will be (a) Social Security personal accounts; (b) community college scholarships; (c) a moon colony; (d) snowmobile restrictions in Florida parks. [(b) -- not sure why "cutting Pell grants" was not on list]

11. The U.S. Supreme Court (a) will decide that the rights of alien detainees in Guantánamo have not been violated; (b) will deadlock, 4-4 (Scalia recused), in the Pledge of Allegiance case, thereby temporarily affirming the Ninth Circuit decision declaring ''under God'' in the pledge unconstitutional; (c) in Tennessee v. Lane will uphold a state's immunity to lawsuits, limiting federal power in the Americans with Disabilities Act. [(all) - so he's 0-for-3 on this one, but note the especially dramatic error of (b)]

12. Howard Dean will (a) sweep Iowa and New Hampshire and breeze to a boring nomination; (b) lose to Gephardt in Iowa and do worse than expected in N.H., leading to a long race; (c) transform himself into the centrist, affable ''new Dean''; (d) angrily bolt and form a third party if the nomination is denied him. [(b) -- I can't remember if Dean was third and Gephardt fourth in Iowa, or the other way around]

13. The ''October surprise'' affecting our election will be (a) the capture of bin Laden in Yemen; (b) the daring escape of Saddam; (c) a major terror attack in the U.S.; (d) finding a buried bag of anthrax in Tikrit. [(c)]

14. Debating Cheney on TV will be the Democratic running mate (a) Wes Clark; (b) Bob Graham; (c) Bill Richardson; (d) Dianne Feinstein; (e) John Edwards; (f) Carl Levin. [(b)]

15. The next secretary of state will be (a) Richard Holbrooke; (b) Paul Bremer; (c) Donald Rumsfeld; (d) John Kerry. [(b)]

16. Israel, staunchly supported during the U.S. election year, will (a) build its security barrier including the Ariel salient and the Jordan Valley; (b) undermine Arafat by negotiating territory with Syria after Assad quiets Hezbollah in occupied Lebanon; (c) close down illegal outposts before ''redeploying'' settlers out of Gaza. [(all)]

(originally posted to Pub Sociology)

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