‘Reputable’ and ‘Solid’: OC Register’s Article and Brandman’s Will to Believe

You should definitely read Martin Wisckol’s article in the Orange County Register asking experts for their views on the economic impact study done to assess the impact of the Angels’ presence in Anaheim.  It’s available at this link; if it costs you $2 — well, the value of the information is far greater.

Angels study cover

This does not count as one of the CSL study’s twelve pages.  So at least there’s that.

The brunt of the article involves taking the 12-page report written by the Texas-based consulting firm Conventions, Sports & Leisure (“CSL”) and having experts probe it.  This is the firm that the City Council or its agents actively sought out and hired for either an objective analysis of the Angels’ economic impact on the city (which they’d claim) or for a slanted report they could brandish to justify what they wanted to do anyway (which seems more likely to be the case.)  Please consider familiarizing yourself with the details — which are pretty devastating.

You don’t even have to get into the report itself to see a huge problem, though; CSL’s reputation precedes it.  They’re in the business of facilitating this sort of transaction with rosy economic predictions — and someone in this situation (my guess is that it was Charlie Black) doesn’t consult them for objectivity, but for advocacy.  (This sort of thing ranks high in my “what I hate about Law” list.)

The key phrase is probably this one.

“Based on everything else I’ve seen CSL do, this is a promotional study,” said Andrew Zimbalist, co-author of “Sports, Jobs and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums.” “If CSL came out with a study that said Anaheim had no positive economic impact, they wouldn’t get any more work.”

Beyond that, I’m only going to quote some material from the end.

City Council members’ reaction to the commissioned report – and to the critiques by other economists interviewed by the Register – range from outright rejection of the document to complete embrace of it. Tait is the council’s harshest critic, calling the study’s assumptions “absurdity upon absurdity.”

Brandman, however, said he was fully convinced of the Texas consultant’s findings.

I absolutely believe the report,” he said. “It’s a reputable company.”

When read Adibi’s comments about the study, Brandman said he respected the Chapman economist – but it didn’t change his view.

Everyone has the right to disagree,” Brandman said. “Economists do it all the time. There may come a time when we get another study, but this study is solid and I believe it.”

The importance of the Angels deal — particularly the non-Angels, direct benefit to Arte Moreno, portion of it — to Anaheim’s future can hardly be overstated.  The City has decided to approach the negotiations from the standpoint of its being prepared to pay just about any price to keep the team in Anaheim — this without any really credible threat of its leaving — because the economic importance of the Angels to the city is so enormous.  That invites the question: “how enormous is that impact?”  This 12-page study was designed to answer that question.  If it was poorly done, the entire rationale for capitulating collapses.

In other words, it’s really, really important.  It’s far too important to be approached with bullshitting.

The verb “bullshit,” by the way, is not really a mild obscenity — it’s a technical term of art from the academic study of Philosophy.  It was the subject of Harry Frankfurt’s slender book “On Bullshit,” which became popular in 2005.  (Note: I’m publicly acknowledging that this following quote is from Wikipedia.)

Frankfurt argues that bullshit either can be true or can be false; hence, the bullshitter is a man or a woman whose principal aim — when uttering or publishing bullshit — is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression favorable to the speaker, with no concern for the truth of what they’re saying. Likewise, the bullshitter is not concerned with consistency between what they’re saying at the moment, and anything they’ve previously said. Consequently, “the bullshitter is faking things, but that does not necessarily mean he gets them wrong.” He simply doesn’t care. In contrast, the liar must know the truth, of the matter under discussion, in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie; while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to his or her agenda; bullshit thus is a greater enemy of the truth than are lies. [citations omitted]

If Truth is moral and Lies are immoral, Bullshit, then, is amoral.  It’s not even bothering to lie — or to remember one’s statements or explain and defend them.  It’s just giving bland reassurances and hoping that people go away and stop asking questions.  It’s arguably the worst enemy of political virtue — partly because, unlike a well-constructed lie, it’s so damnably easy to do.  For the most part, all a bullshitter needs is vagueness and an inattentive audience.

You may notice that I’ve highlighted some of Councilmember Brandman’s statements in red.  They are:

  1. That he is fully convinced of the Texas report’s findings.
  2. That he absolutely believes them.
  3. That this is because they are a reputable source.
  4. That he respects the Chapman University economist cited by the Register.
  5. That he nevertheless dismisses that economist’s statements out of hand.
  6. That he respects people’s right to disagree.
  7. That economists always disagree so the disagreement doesn’t bother him.
  8. That the study is solid.
  9. That he believes it.

I’m not saying that Brandman is lying here.  (Well, his believing that CSL is a reputable source might be.)  I’m saying that it looks to me like he may be bullshitting.  Look at those comments: he doesn’t actually have to understand or know a single thing within the report to say any of it!  He just has to be sufficiently convinced to convince everyone else to pipe down go away, because “reasonable people can disagree.”  If you’re not familiar with William James’s discussion of the “will to believe” — have a look at it.)

But maybe Brandman really is an expert.  Maybe he really can defend the study.  I say: give him that chance!

Brandman against Tait — mano a mano.  Televise it.

  • Start with the decision to engage CSL (who decided, with what purpose, based on what reputation?)
  • Then address what the study was supposed to accomplish; why was it important?
  • Then describe how the City Staff should have assessed the study before it began — and its success or failure afterwards.  By that, I don’t just mean temporary staffer Charlie Black; I mean the permanent staff.  What did the City Council expect of them?
  • Then address what a member of the City Council should do when assessing it for themselves.  Should they even bother forming their own opinion, or just take the assertions of staff as a basis for “absolute belief” in the findings and the study’s being “solid.”
  • Assuming that their own opinions did matter, what questions should Council Members have asked?  Is it important to consider alternative information — or can they just be dismissed because “people always disagree”?  If people trying to be objective do always disagree, how should one go about determining the truth at all — let alone the sorts of confident assertions Brandman makes above?
  • Is this decision important enough to require serious investigation — or not?  Why?

Maybe Brandman isn’t just bullshitting here.  That would be nice.  But we’ll only know if the basis for the confident assertions he makes about in dismissing, among other things, Wisckol’s strong and appropriate journalistic efforts here by putting him to the test.  And, based on the article, Tait seems to be the one able to provide it.

(One final note to my friends from my political party: if you think that we want ours to be a party that supports bullshit, I disagree with you.  I think that rejecting bullshit is the only way that we survive as anything resembling actual Democrats in difficult terrain like Orange County’s.)

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)