BREAKING: A time of turmoil and chaos!

MONDAY, AUGUST 21, 2017

No distraction left behind:
In his latest display of 16-dimensional chess, Steve Bannon is claiming that he actually resigned from the White House last week.

Privately, Bannon is telling friends that he simply decided he wanted to spend less time around Donald Trump's family. Many others may feel the same longing in this time of turmoil and chaos.

With help from folk on many sides, Donald J. Trump has created an amazing amount of turmoil in the twenty-six months since he announced his run for the White House. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, this turmoil has basically come to define what's left of the national discourse.

At times of turmoil, we the people tend to start racing in many directions. Relatively unhelpful ideas are bruited across the land.

Our lack of competent leadership becomes painfully obvious. No distraction is left behind!

Today, we'll be returning to our sprawling campus from our current location in the impossibly chic Hudson Valley. Tomorrow, we'll start exploring this era of turmoil and chaos. Again and again, a voice instructs us to frame it as "Anthills Down."

Easy to be hard: In this morning's New York Times, Charles Blow offers these thoughts about Donald J. Trump. Headline included:
BLOW (8/21/17): Failing All Tests of the Presidency

We are leaderless. America doesn’t have a president. America has a man in the White House holding the spot, and wreaking havoc
as he waits for the day when a real president arrives to replace him.

Donald Trump is many things—most of them despicable—but the leader of a nation he is not. He is not a great man. Hell, he isn’t even a good man.

Donald Trump is a man of flawed character and a moral cavity. He cannot offer moral guidance because he has no moral compass. He is too small to see over his inflated ego.

Trump has personalized the presidency in unprecedented ways—making every battle and every war about his personal feelings. Did the person across the street or around the world say good or bad things about him? Does the media treat him fairly? Is someone in his coterie of corruption outshining him or casting negative light on him?

His interests center on the self; country be damned.
Personally, we don't think it's a great idea to try to determine which public figures are morally "despicable."

But alas! Setting Blow's moral declarations aside, it's amazingly easy to write that same passage about our American press corps, even about our professors. It might go something like this:
BLOW, REVISED: Failing All Tests of Intellectual Leadership

We are journalistically and intellectually leaderless. America doesn’t have a functioning press corps,
or even a helpful academy. America has people in newsrooms holding those spots, and wreaking havoc as they wait for the day when real journalists arrive to replace them...
That would be harsh, but it wouldn't exactly be wrong. Have you read all of Mika's books? The problems with our broken discourse extend well beyond Donald J. Trump.

We've entered a time of general turmoil and chaos. Tomorrow, we'll start exploring the era the savants now refer to as "Anthills Down."

Mika and Joe provide comic relief!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 18, 2017

As we summer again:
We're off on a mission of national import, summering for the next few days at an impossibly chic, undisclosed location in the Hudson Valley.

But first, a bit of comic relief, live and direct from yesterday morning's Morning Joe.

(To watch what follows on videotape, you can just click here.)

At 6:13 Eastern, in the program's first segment, Mika read a report from prompter about Steve Bannon's latest escapade. The background:

Bannon had made a phone call to liberal icon Robert Kuttner. This followed Kuttner's piece for The American Prospect concerning North Korea.

Kuttner had battered Donald J. Trump pretty good. At the end of his piece, he wrote this:
KUTTNER (8/15/17): For all of his nuclear bluster, Trump may find that the price of avoiding a catastrophic war with North Korea is that the United States becomes even more of a client state of China. In the meantime, the risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange is more serious than at any time since October 1962.
Oof. For whatever 16-dimensional reason, Bannon called Kuttner with words of praise, possibly failing to realize that his deathless remarks were on the record and were indeed being recorded.

Now it was Thursday morning. Joe and Mika were trying to explain what Bannon had done.

Their sidekick, Willie Haskell-Geist Jr., was even present this day. At 6:13, Mika began reading from prompter. This is what she said:
MIKA (8/17/17): Robert Kuttner described being surprised to get the phone call from Bannon. The White House chief strategist apparently called to praise him for a recent piece in which Kuttner had written about North Korea.

(Signalling heightened interest)

Here we go! He said, quote, "In Kim, Trump has met his match. The risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange is more serious than at any time since October 1962."
Uh-oh! Mika was quoting what Kuttner had said. But, as would soon become clear, she apparently thought she was quoting Bannon.

As it turned out, that's what Joe thought too! When Mika stopped reading from prompter, this is what he and Mika wonderfully said:
JOE: So Willie, really, I don't know where to begin with this. But let's just start with the part where he calls the president of the United States, his boss, a blundering fool.

MIKA: That's a problem.

JOE: Blundering fool. And then undercuts his military strategy...He's just going—

WILLIE: Right to the top.

JOE: —straight for attacks on the commander in chief, calling him a blustering fool and saying he's lying to the world.

MIKA: "Blundering."
Willie continued from there. Wonderfully, Mika had corrected Joe's wording of the quotation, failing to realize that it was being attributed, if we might borrow from Hitch, to "the wrong man."

At 6:18, Axios' Jonathan Swan was introduced into the discussion. He quickly corrected the gang's mistake. Nobody batted an eye.

As we've noted in the past, everyone makes mistakes. This one was amusing, but also perhaps instructive.

In the humorous realm, we get to see Mika's work on this program in a nutshell. In saying "That's a problem," she offered one of her trademark, three-word affirmations of Whatever It Is That Joe Said.

In this case, she did so without understanding that the remark in question was being attributed to the wrong person. Her later correction of Joe's wording was icing on the cake.

That was the humorous side. More strikingly, none of the program's three principals—Joe, Mika and Haskell-Geist—seemed to have familiarized themselves with the material being discussed on their program.

Producers had planned for this topic to be reviewed in the program's opening segment. When the topic arose, it was left to Swan to come on the air and straighten the whole thing out.

Things like that can happen. In this case, the error provided some late-summer comic relief.

We expect to post tomorrow even as we summer. For one thing, Jason Zinoman's profile of David Letterman's relationship with Donald J. Trump strikes us as horribly, deeply revealing concerning The Way The TV World Works.

We plan to read Mika's third book, Obsessed, over the weekend. We recently read her second book, Knowing Your Value (2011), in which she extensively drew on the wisdom of a fellow you may know—a fellow named Donald J. Trump.

Charlottesville: Instant desire to kill the pig!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017

Also, what Edie Doyle said:
Peter Cvjetanovic, who's 20 years old, took part in last weekend's ridiculous, pitiful and ridiculous Charlottesville march. Apparently, he's a college student at Nevada-Reno.

As Cvetanovic marched around chanting his ridiculous chants, he was photographed; later, he was identified. As he achieved local notoriety, he explained his thinking to a Nevada TV station:
CVETANOVIC: I did not expect the photo to be shared as much as it was. I understand the photo has a very negative connotation. But I hope that the people sharing the photo are willing to listen that I’m not the angry racist they see in that photo.

[...]

I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture. It is not perfect; there are flaws to it, of course. However I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.
We got these quotes from this post by Josh Marshall.

Those comments by Cvetanovic strike us as rather dumb. Then again, did we mention the fact that he's only 20?

Beyond that, we can't speak for what this young person actually does and doesn't believe. That said:

On Monday, in that same post, Marshall recommended a twitter thread in which a bunch of our brightest liberals were aggressively egging each other on, seeking ways to kill this particular pig. We're surprised that Marshall would recommend this approach.

When we read that twitter thread,
we thought of The Mortal Storm, a fascinating 1940 fictional film about the rise of Nazi Youth. We thought of the many deaths which occurred during China's "cultural revolution."

We thought of Lord of the Flies, and of course of killing the pig. We also thought of Edie Doyle.

Edie Doyle is the main female character is the great, somewhat testosterone-laden film, On the Waterfront. The part was played by Eva Marie Saint in Saint's first film role.

Edie Doyle's working-class parents have saved their nickles and dimes to send her off to be taught by the nuns, far away from the corruption of the waterfront. On Christmas vacation, her brother is killed. She insists on learning how he died before she returns to the nuns.

With this, a note about this unusual film:

On the Waterfront's major theme involves the exciting world of street-fighting real men. The more significant undercard involves the values of Edie Doyle, and the discovery of same by Terry Molloy, the Marlon Brando character.

Early in the film, Saint and Brando walk through a park, recalling the fact that they attended parochial school together. Brando recalls the way the nuns abused him. In reply, Saint expresses the time-honored views of the bleeding-heart liberal:
TERRY: You know, I've seen you a lot of times before. Do you remember parochial school out on Puluski Street? Seven, eight years ago?

[...]

You don't remember me, do you?

EDIE: I remembered you the first moment I saw you.

TERRY: By the nose, huh? Some people just got faces that stick in your mind.

EDIE: I remember you were in trouble all the time.

TERRY: Now you got me. The way those sisters used to whack me, I don't know what. They thought they was going to beat an education into me, but I foxed them.

EDIE: Maybe they just didn't know how to handle you.

TERRY: How would you have done it?

EDIE: With a little more patience and kindness. That's what makes people mean and difficult. People don't care enough about them.

TERRY: Are you kidding me? I'd better get you home. There’s too many guys around here with only one thing on their mind.

Am I gonna see you again?
Cinematically, you have to be there. Saint's performance is angelic. Beyond that, she's plainly lit to glow.

At any rate, how would Edie have "handled" Terry? "With a little more patience and kindness," she says.

For our money, the greatness of this film begins in that scene. Rather plainly, Terry sees that Edie is a better person than he is. An unusual desire is also signaled: as he absent-mindedly slips the glove she has dropped onto his own hand, we can see that he wants to be more like her, more like this better person.

In very, very few major films do you see the major male character observe and accept the moral superiority of the major female character. But that's the (secondary) theme which plays out all through the rest of this film, as the Brando character turns his back on the values of the waterfront where he's been raised.

In this famous film, the Brando character has played an unknowing role in the killing of Edie's brother. Last weekend, in Charlottesville, a lost soul named James Field killed an admirable young woman named Heidi Heyer. A few hundred other people paraded around on Friday and Saturday, exhibiting tremendously unfortunate behavior and saying ridiculous stupid things.

As it turned out, Field was already badly disturbed by the time he was 13 years old. "There but for fortune"—or so we liberals used to say in the face of such a miserable, profoundly unfortunate story.

Edie would have handled him with a little more patience and kindness. Josh encouraged our liberal teammates to go out and start killing the pig.

Why was Cvjetanovic at that pitiful rally? We can't tell you that. But we're going to guess that the best results don't come from aping the hatred.

Susan Bro was Heidi Heyer's mother. She says that hate will breed more hate. That's what Dr. King also said! As a general matter, we the humans aren't wired to see things that way.

Susan Bro said she felt sorry for the lost soul who killed her daughter. "Jesus Christ is here on the waterfront." That's what the local priest, played by Karl Malden, says in Elia Kazan's great film.

We thought that twitter thread was deeply unwise. In fairness, we humans have always been wired that way. People are dead all over the world because of this inbred reaction.

A few more words of advice: Should we call the marchers dumb? Or should we call them evil?

When we call people evil, we tend to invest them with substantial power. When we say they're pitiful, lost and remarkably dumb, we create them a different way.

When we call a lost soul a terrorist, we encourage the next lost soul to achieve notoriety that same way. What makes us build these people up? It seems to us that Edie Doyle, like Susan Bro, would have looked for a better way.

Once again, the discussion not traveled!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017

Bernstein goes there again:
Maybe once a month or so, Carl Bernstein is permitted to say it.

He makes yet another attempt to start the relevant discussion—the discussion about Donald J. Trump's mental health. Last night, speaking with Anderson Cooper, his effort began like this:
BERNSTEIN (8/16/17): I think there's considerable evidence that there's a consensus developing in the military, at the highest levels, in the intelligence community, among Republicans in Congress, including the leaders in the business community, that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is unfit to be the president of the United States.

And that's the undercurrent. I've talked to you about it for weeks, that I've been hearing in Washington. There is increasing talk about his emotional and mental stability, as David Gergen referred to earlier.
More on Gergen below. Once again, Bernstein was saying that major players in Washington think Donald J. Trump is unwell.

Our big news orgs have been ducking this obvious question for months, perhaps for years. Just this morning, Joe Scarborough suggested that his bosses have told him not to go there.

Bermstein goes there once a month. Here's the way he continued:
BERNSTEIN (continuing directly): This is extraordinary. It's a dangerous moment in our history. Trump is under siege. Also from a special prosecutor, his family is under siege from a special prosecutor.

But more than anything else, I think there's a sense among military, congressional, business leaders that he's in a kind of freefall, and he made not have many parachutes left, except for his base, to land safely. And that's an awful thin cushion.

We've never seen anything like this. We don't know where it's going.
Below, we'll offer some thoughts on the key words there: "It's a dangerous moment in our history."

More on that comment below. Later in his segment with Cooper, Bernstein restated his basic points:
BERNSTEIN: This is unprecedented. That's exactly right. Donald Trump knows the peril of where he's in because he is cognizant of what he is facing. That he now knows that things are closing in on him, that he has lost the constituencies, the business leaders that he had to fire, as it were or dismissed from an advisory council before...

We are in territory we've never been in, but again what we're hearing—and I think all reporters need to be checking their sources and finding out what people on the Hill, in the military, the intelligence communities are saying, because of this element that David Gergen said today, somebody who served in many White Houses, about the stability and mental condition of the president of the United States.

COOPER: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: This is something we haven't dealt with before.
During the 7 PM hour, Gergen had spoken with Erin Burnett. During the 9 PM hour, he spoke with Cooper, saying this:
GERGEN: Anderson, I think we're going to go through a rough period now on race relations. We're going to have to work our way through it...

The scarier part right now is the state of the presidency and the man who's in it. I just—

It echoes some of what you've been saying. Leadership starts from within, from within a person. That's just sort of what's the— Are you anchored? You know, are you sound? Are you of good mind? And I think there are increasing questions tonight about whether this president, about his temperament, about his emotional and mental stability. These issues are now rising among psychiatrists in the country. How do we come to grips with the anger that's in this man, the narcissism, the impulsivity?

You know, there's a "Goldwater rule," as they call it, that says psychiatrists can't comment really or can't offer diagnosis of public figure without having a personal evaluation. That rule is under challenge tonight by a lot of psychiatrists who think they need to speak out. They need to put this on the record. And we have never experienced this before and I think it's why the military has spoken up today.

[...]

I think there's a reason the military rallied today, because they have genuine fears about the emotional and mental stability of the man in the Oval Office.
We don't know if Gergen is right what military leaders think. Let's note a few points about Bernstein and Gergen's remarks:

First, the networks and major news orgs are avoiding this discussion. This reluctance may be understandable. But in a modestly rational world, this discussion would be seen as the one we need.

(In fairness, no serious person thinks our press corps, especially our cable news corps, is capable of conducting such a discussion.)

This isn't a question of whether Donald J. Trump should be described as a liar. That's the least of our problems. It's a question of whether Donald J. Trump is unwell. Concerning that, consider this:

We see people exulting about the new pressures being brought upon Trump. We think this is silly, shortsighted.

If Donald J. Trump isn't "anchored;" if Donald J. Trump in truly unwell; the feeling "that things are closing in on him" could be extremely dangerous. Donald J. Trump holds the nuclear codes. If he is truly unwell, additional pressure may be the last thing we need.

Last night, we watched Cooper as he mocked Christopher Cantwell, a visibly unhinged leader of last weekend's Charlottesville march. Cooper is very brave about mocking these people now. But as he did so last night, we couldn't help remembering the way he played Candidate Trump's pool boy/caddie during last year's election.

Cooper is very bold today. Last year, he was a highly-paid pool boy. He rolled over and died.

Again and again and again and again, people like Cooper rolled over and died for Candidate Donald J. Trump. Their bosses wanted the ratings and the income. The millionaire caddies of cable news did as they were told.

WEAKER APART: We pause our previously planned report!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017

Pause—With a few simple starter questions:
As announced yesterday, we've decided to pause the report we'd planned to pursue this week. Charlottesville has overtaken it, in several ways.

That said, we thought we'd leave you with a few simple starter questions. Imagine that someone—a person you knew, or perhaps an academician—approached you with questions like these:
Question 1: Do unauthorized immigrants commit fewer crimes, on average, than native-born Americans? Than native-born white Americans? Than native-born black Americans?

Question 2: Would it be racist to say that they do?
If someone asked us those questions, our own award-winning answers would be these:
Answer 1: As far as we know, they do commit fewer crimes, on average.

Answer 2: Please. Could we possibly start to grow up?
Those would be our answers, based on things we've read.

Moving right along, let's consider two more questions. Suppose a researcher jumped you with these questions:
Question 1: Do Asian-American kids work harder in school, on average, than American kids of other ethnicities?

Question 2: Is it racist to say that they do?
Incomparably, our answers might go something like this:
Answer 1: We have no way of knowing. It's certainly possible.

Answer 2: Same as Answer 2 above.
Why do we imagine such questions? Here's why:

As we've noted in the past few days, the Washington Post has produced a mini-orgy of eye-catching headlines about the "racism" of These Millennials Today, or perhaps about the racism of These White Millennials Today.

One such headline appeared earlier this week. The op-ed column it topped linked to an earlier analysis piece—a piece which appeared in June 2015, under this eye-catching headline:
"Millennials are just about as racist as their parents"
That's an unpleasant-sounding headline. It seems to reflect on tens of millions of people—on These Millennials Today.

We think that's an unwise headline. In fairness, the headline basically captured the judgment expressed in that earlier analysis piece—a piece which was written by the Post's polling director.

In part, the polling director was basing his judgment on a set of survey questions—questions which aren't gigantically different from the ones we've imagined above. Let's consider one of those sets of questions:

In fairness to These White Millennials Today, 70 percent of These White Millennials answered the questions in a way which freed them from the claim of being "racist."

That said, thirty percent of These White Millennials answered the questions wrongly, in way which were judged in-correct. On this basis, the polling director judged them to have displayed "racial prejudice," which was instantly turned into "racism" by the gods of These Headlines Today.

In this and a thousand other presentations, These Professors and Journalists Today have tossed their favorite bombs around in rather dull-witted ways. Within our liberal tribe, this can create real problems:

For many liberals, it's hard to consider the possibility that our ranking academics may not be especially sharp, especially when their deathless research results in the types of judgment which fire our tribal narratives.

For ourselves, we've long found that our academics aren't always especially sharp. Back in the day, Albert Einstein drew the exact same conclusion!

We have decided that Einstein was right. These Academics Today aren't always especially sharp. And once they mate with These Journalists Today, we can be in for a rather dumb ride.

Work of this type, with R-bombs attached, tends to fire us liberals. It also tends to leave us weaker apart.

More than anything else, such work just isn't especially bright. As we've often said to imaginary inquisitors:

Academics and researchers, please! Could we possibly start to grow up?

What Athene said: We think Athene, daughter of Zeus of the aegis, had it just about right when Odysseus returned from the fighting around Troy. Her deathless words of wisdom were recorded by sacred Homer, right at the end of The Odyssey:
And now they would have killed them all, and given none of them homecoming, had not Athene, daughter of Zeus of the aegis, cried out in a great voice and held back all the company: "Hold back, men of Ithaka, from the wearisome fighting, so that most soon, and without blood, you can settle everything."
We think Athene had it right. In fairness, we're just saying.