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All thumbs

May 12, 2023

There’s way too much thumb-sucking going on around here, and I am tired of it.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

A thumbsucker is newspaperese for an article written by someone who has no idea whether the putative subject of his or her ruminations will ever come to pass; and if so, what it will mean, and if not, what that might mean. It is, in short, pointless palaver churned out by someone who has to turn in 600 words today whether he or she or anyone else likes it, or not.

I don’t like it. Please cut it out. I intend to stop reading thumbsuckers, and have made some headway on it.

The most popular — by which I mean, most-written and rehashed thumbsuckers today involve 1) the 2024 U.S. presidential election, 2) the so-called spring offensive of the Ukrainian army, 3) the state of the U.S. banking industry, and 4) so-called artificial intelligence.

We shall begin with 1.

No one today, in the news business or out of it, has any idea of what will happen on Tuesday, November 5, 2024. Those nationwide elections are 524 days away from us today, if you are reading this on Friday. Therefore, the 2024 presidential election is not actually news, yet. And smart newsmen, or -women, should not pretend that it is, actually, news. It is not. It is thumb-sucking.

We move on to 2.

The so-called, as yet imaginary, spring offensive in Ukraine is no more news today than is the Second Coming of You Know Who. I, for one, will believe either of those things when I see it happen. And then, maybe.

Belief in something, far away or supposedly imminent, is not news. It’s belief. If you want news about what beliefs cause, Google what happened yesterday in mass shootings: USA; or Narendra Modi; or Afghanistan; or white Christian nationalism; or any damn thing at all about the Middle East. That’s news. But what may happen when the roads dry up around Kharkiv sometime in June is not news yet. It’s thumb-sucking.

This brings us to 3: the state of the U.S. banking industry.

Bank collapses are news. What the future may bring is not news: It’s thumb-sucking. I don’t care what the price of any bank’s stock is. What I do know is that anyone who is dumb enough to put more than $250,000 of his or her own money into one account, in one bank, deserves to lose every penny they have over $250,000 in that account if the bank goes belly-up: and that whoever did that is, or was, rich.

What I also know is that if enough rich people lose enough money from being stupid, in that particular way, is that the United States government, under a Democratic or Republican administration, will bail the rich people out.

So stop sucking your thumbs, financial analysts. That’s the way it is, and you know it better than I do. But hypothesizing is not news. It’s thumb-sucking.

This brings us to 4: so-called artificial intelligence.

Could a machine fool me about something? Probably. So what? 

Could a machine write a halfway decent love letter? Probably.

Could a machine write a halfway decent love sonnet? Maybe. So what? What are the implications of this? I don’t know, neither do you, and neither do the machines. Machines don’t know anything. A good machine only does what it’s told.

But I’ll tell you one thing: A good machine won’t spend any time sucking its stupid thumbs.

(For the record: 600 words, give or take a thumb.)


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