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I´m writing in response to Debra Phairas' recent letter entitled "Just look at the numbers" (Sept. 11).

Like many of us, I get a kick out of newspapers. As an ambitious transplant from the Great Plains, I got a job delivering papers for the Register in 1989.

As a West Point freshman in 1997, I woke up early to deliver the New York Times to all the older cadets' doors. As we stood in formation before breakfast we freshmen were required be able to recite from memory all the details of every article that appeared on the front page of the Times.

Young habits die hard, and I have been, when the circumstances of life permitted, a daily reader of the Register for 29 years and the Times for 21.

Debra, the Science section of the Times contains its best reporting, largely because it is the section least riddled by slants and "isms"--notably scientism.

So let´s look beyond the numbers. Fox News is far worse than 60 false. It is worse because of the way the truths or lies are presented soaked in tense, ugly, disorienting emotions--anger, false laughter, incredulous disdain. It is worse because it is presented in a circular, babbling maelstrom of false logic.

Any attempt to sort it all out ends quickly; one sets one's capacity for logical discernment aside and just floats along in the river of emotion. The emotion by this time, since the body has had time to process the adrenaline released by the shock of verbal conflict, seems stimulating and no longer ugly.

As a kid who has danced with bullets and knives and PTSD in general, let me assure you that the adrenaline cycle is addicting.

Yep, Fox News is not in the business of peddling lies, nor even propaganda, but addiction.

But you don´t fight fire with fire, you don't remedy cultural sewage with cultural trash. I haven´t read the New York Times back editions all the way to 1918, but in the last 21 years I have noticed an undeniable decline in the quality of its writing. This decline has accelerated in the last few years to a mudslide.

In simple terms, the Times has openly abandoned any pretense at journalistic impartiality. This is not only true of the Editorial section, but of the reporting across the board. Everyday articles are full of logical fallacies, obfuscating terminology, and what can only described as "the party line." And I lament this; in 1997 it was not so.

Let´s consider just one of the logical fallacies, one of the "-isms," that runs rampant in the Times these days. Let's consider scientism. This fallacious line of reasoning treats as empirical what is not empirical. It throws numbers around as a cultural weapon. Its most destructive weapon is what it leaves unsaid: "my opponents aren't just ignorant of the numbers, they don´t even believe in numbers; but here I am, the enlightened, long-suffering empiricist, and I'll give them the numbers anyway."

John Barker

Napa

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