BREAKING: What we read on our autumn vacation!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2018

The latest academic hoax v. the western canon:
What did we read on our autumn vacation? At long last, thank you for asking!

Good lord! We dug out of a musty old box our copy—actual, our two copies—of Norman Malcolm's slender yet once definitive volume, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir With a Biographical Sketch by Georg Hendrik Von Wright.

(This slender volume is still on sale through the Oxford University Press.)

Memories came flooding back, especially memories of NAME WITHHELD. Did Proust ever scarf down a whole sack of madeleines? If so, that's what it was like.

Malcolm met Wittgenstein in 1938, across the pond, at Cambridge. Malcolm was a graduate student on loan from god-like Harvard. Wittgenstein was developing the puzzling, admittedly muddled work which would eventually define "the later Wittgenstein" in his 1953 book, Philosophical Investigations.

Malcolm's memoir was first published in 1958. In Von Wright's biographical sketch of Wittgenstein, we encountered a peculiar passage concerning the definitive work of the early Wittgenstein, the catchily titled Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921).

Quickly, a bit of background:

Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus when he was still in his twenties. As Von Wright explains. "The author of the Tractatus thought he had solved all philosophical problems. It was consistent with this view that he should give up philosophy."

Had the early Wittgenstein really solved all philosophical problems? In accord with that somewhat peculiar idea, Wittgenstein quit philosophy after writing the Tractatus. Later, though, he returned to the field, throwing the work of "the early Wittgenstein" pretty much under the bus.

He was involved in this re-evaluation when he met Malcolm.

Whatever! As we read Von Wright's biographical sketch, we were struck by an almost comical passage rather early on. In this passage, Von Wright describes the way the early Wittgenstein hit upon one of his most seminal ideas while serving in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I:
VON WRIGHT (page 7): The oldest parts of the Tractatus are those dealing with logic. Wittgenstein had formed his principal thoughts on these matters before the outbreak of the war in 1914, and thus before his twenty-sixth year. Later he became engrossed in a new problem. It was the question of the nature of the significant proposition. Wittgenstein told me how the idea of language as a picture of reality occurred to him. It was in the autumn of 1914, on the East front. Wittgenstein was reading a magazine in which there was a schematic picture depicting the possible sequence of events in an automobile accident. The picture there served as a proposition; that is, as a description of a possible state of affairs. It had this function owing to a correspondence between the parts of the picture and things in reality. It now occurred to Wittgenstein that one might reverse the analogy and say that a proposition serves as a picture, by virtue of a similar correspondence between its parts and the world. The way in which the parts of the proposition are combined—the structure of the proposition—depicts a possible combination of elements in reality, a possible state of affairs.

Wittgenstein's Tractatus may be called a synthesis of the theory of truth-functions and the idea that language is a picture of reality. Out of this synthesis arises a third main ingredient of the book, its doctrine of that which cannot be said, only shown.
In that passage, Von Wright describes "how the idea of language as a picture of reality occurred to [Wittgenstein]." We're told that this idea—the idea that language is a picture of reality—formed a basic part of the book which made its author a famous part of the philosophical establishment of the day.

Here's why that passage strikes us as almost comical, in an all-too-familiar, perhaps instructive way:

First, Von Wright pictures Wittgenstein making an observation any 6-year-old could have made. While serving on the Eastern front, Wittgenstein suddenly realizes that the various parts of a schematic picture of an automobile accident "serve as a proposition; that is, as a description of a possible state of affairs."

This observation or insight is so obvious that any child could make it. The pictures of two cars in an accident serve as a description of the accident itself!

This observation, thought or idea seems to be blindingly obvious. From there, we move directly to a claim which is so vaguely described that it has no particular meaning at all, at least as Von Wright presents it:

"It now occurred to Wittgenstein that one might...say that a proposition serves as a picture, by virtue of a similar correspondence between its parts and the world. The way in which the parts of the proposition are combined—the structure of the proposition—depicts a possible combination of elements in reality, a possible state of affairs."

Might a proposition "depict a possible state of affairs?" Since something like that happens all day long every single day of the year, this seems fairly obvious too, if perhaps a bit hazily defined.

Let's move on! Might "the way in which the parts of [a] proposition are combined—the structure of the proposition—depict a possible combination of elements in reality, a possible state of affairs?"

Presumably, yes, that could happen! But from this extremely hazy account, do you have any idea why this isn't the most fatuous idea in all of human history? Do you have any idea how this idea—"the idea that language is a picture of reality"—could possibly lay at the heart of a celebrated book, one whose author thought he had solved all philosophical problems?

Youngsters who study "philosophy" are expected to swallow this type of guff on a regular basis. Many are willing to do so. Others will occasionally note that the work of upper-end practitioners in the field may often seem to make no earthly sense.

Many metaphorical madeleines died as we reread Von Wright's biographical sketch and Malcolm's memoir. Upon our return to our sprawling campus, we reviewed our musty copy of Professor Kenny's 1973 book, Wittgenstein, in which the professor explains, or attempts or pretends to explain, "the famous picture theory of meaning," which he describes as "the central doctrine" of the Tractatus.

(Needless to say, the dust jacket says this: "Dr. Kenny's book will be of value not only to students of philosophy but also to general readers with no special knowledge of the subject." According to the publisher, Kenny made Wittgenstein easy!)

Alas! Kenny's explanation of "the famous picture theory of meaning" reads like something The Onion discarded as too absurdly fatuous to serve as winning satire. That said, this is the sort of thing the philosophy student is asked to dunk in tea and swallow whole, preferably without any chewing, pretty much all the time.

So it goes with the highest level work of the otherwise absent logicians of us, Aristotle's rational animal. We expect to return to such ruminations in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile, ponder this:

Just before our autumn vacation, we read Professor Egginton's New York Times column about the recent academic hoax. Lustily, the analysts cheered as Egginton lamented the way "overly specialized scholars...read and exchange ideas in hermetic academic bubbles, in very much the same way that the public has increasingly tended to read and exchange ideas in hermetic news bubbles."

The analysts cheered Egginton on. "Hang on, though, professor," one of the youngsters thoughtfully cried. "Is it possible that the history of western philosophy is a long, perhaps slightly dumb example of this very phenomenon?"

That youngster spoke out of turn, and was suitably punished. Still, our logicians have completely, totally failed us over the course of the past thirty years.

People are dead all over the world because of the silence of these highly specialized lambs. Did this youngster perhaps come close to explaining how we all got to our current degraded and dangerous place?

We recommend Egginton's column! On Monday, though, we'll be forced to continue our current rumination, to the all-too-familiar tune of The Baby Elephant Walk.

Michelle Cottle was working on dating issues, then moved to the Times editorial board! Last week, she sounded off on the only topic these hopelessly cosseted, hermetically sealed life-forms care about.

People are read all over the world because the children have endlessly played it this way. If we might borrow from sacred Hawthorne:

"Rappaccini! Rappaccini! And is this the upshot of your experiment?"

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL WALK: The one thing the animals care about!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2018

Galloping Cottleism:
Early yesterday morning, to the tune of The Baby Elephant Walk, we read Michelle Cottle's Editorial Observer piece in our hard-copy New York Times.

Cottle joined the Times editorial board on June 1 of this year. The appointment was her reward for a quarter century of saying nothing of interest or importance from the highest platforms offered by contemporary pseudo-liberal pseudo-journalism.

The editors, signing with first names only, explained the appointment as shown below. We'll highlight a few key points:
THE EDITORS (5/22/18): We’re delighted to announce that Michelle Cottle will join the editorial board June 1 as our lead opinion writer on national politics.

Michelle has been covering Washington and national politics with passion, nuance and wit since the Clinton administration, and we look forward very much to the sense of history and proportion, along with the gimlet eye, that she will bring to bear on the Trump era. (punctuation as shown)

She arrives from The Atlantic, where she’s been covering the culture and politics of the nation’s capital as a contributing editor. Before that, she was a senior writer at National Journal, specializing in in-depth profiles. From 2010 to 2014, she served as a Washington correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. She’s also been a longtime senior editor at The New Republic and an editor of The Washington Monthly, as well as a frequent television and radio commentator.

Among many other gems, her recent work has included (politely) nudging Hillary Clinton toward the exit, dissecting the #MeToo era in state government and sticking up for unpaid interns—all the while, digging into today’s dating scene as a Date Lab columnist for The Washington Post.

Michelle grew up in Alabama and Tennessee, with stints in Georgia and Mississippi—in other words, she was, as she puts it, reared “red state to the core.” She now lives in Maryland with her husband, children and dogs.

Michelle will be based in the Washington bureau. Please join us in welcoming her.

—James, Katie and Jim
There's only one word for that: Sad.

Among other accomplishments, Cottle had recently been "digging into today’s dating scene as a Date Lab columnist for The Washington Post." This is the sort of performance which signals to lifeforms like James and Katie, and even to Jim, that the gimlet-eyed writer in question needs to be on the board.

To the tune of The Baby Elephant Walk, we thought of the famous paraphrased claim which is now being called "Aristotle's error" within the international expert community. That paraphrased claim would be this:
Man [sic] is the rational animal.
We humans are the rational animal! Could anyone survey Cottle's career and draw any such conclusion? Just consider her Editorial Observer piece, along with other such detritus from yesterday's Times.

Sad! At lest for us pseudo-liberals, the New York Times is branded as our smartest national newspaper. The paper pleasures us with incessant suggestions that we subscribers are cognizant, super-sharp, morally good, even smart.

Yesterday, in hard copy, Cottle's Editorial Observer piece sat in the real estate normally occupied by the Times' unsigned editorials. Meanwhile. on the paper's "reimagined" page A3 (hard copy only), readers were shown a collection of seven "Noteworthy Facts" from that day's edition.

Three such facts looked like this—and sadly, we kid you not:
Of Interest
NOTEWORTHY FACTS FROM TODAY'S PAPER

Big Bird, the "Sesame Street" character, is 8 feet, 2 inches tall.

Adult acne overwhelmingly occurs in women.

Sample questions from the Certification of Astrological Proficiency exam include: What is the harmonic of a quintile aspect, and how many degrees is it? How how often are Mercury and Venus trine?
The other facts which some editor listed weren't a lot more noteworthy. Meanwhile, this:

In the Spotlight section, on the same page (ADDITIONAL REPORTAGE AND REPARTEE FROM OUR JOURNALISTS), the Times presented four photos taken by Viggo Mortensen, "one of the six cover subjects of [T Magazine's] annual Greats issue."

(T Magazine is the Times' reliably vacuous, eleven times yearly "style magazine." Mortensen isn't a New York Times journalist, but his photos had been taken by a Hollywood celebrity. On this basis, inclusion of these pointless photos was, in the traditional phrase, "close enough for New York Times work.")

On the same page A3, yesterday's Quote of the Day concerned the way Canadians can now "smoke pot without worrying police are going to arrest us." Below that, in the Here to Help section, the Times was helping readers out in the following way:
Here to Help
A RECIPE FOR MARK BITTMAN'S APPLE CRISP
"I don't know why anyone would make a pie instead of a crisp." So Bittman helpfully said as he helpfully started out.

So it increasingly goes as the Times no longer attempts to hide its orange-shoed downward spiral. Meanwhile, on page A22, Cottle's lengthy Editorial Observer piece sat in the place where the newspaper's editorials normally reside.

Recently, Cottle was "digging into today’s dating scene as a Date Lab columnist." Apparently, this convinced James, Katie and Jim that the time had come to add her asp to the editorial board.

It was that, plus "the gimlet eye that she will bring to bear on the Trump era!" For the record, "gimlet eye" is a gendered term which is only applied, within the realm of pseudo-liberalism, to female pseudo-journalists whose fatuous work is designed to maintain the culture which Katherine Boo prophetically denounced, long ago, as Creeping Dowdism.

Cottle has said and done nothing of interest over the past thirty years. Because she had proven herself in that way, the Times had finally come to see that she belonged on the board.

Warning! "Among many other gems, [Cottle's] recent work has included (politely) nudging Hillary Clinton toward the exit." While dropping any need for politeness, it was to this favorite subject that Cottle turned her "gimlet eye" in yesterday's Observer piece.

For the record, we agree with Cottle's first point—with the idea that Clinton's recent interviews are likely to be unhelpful to Democrats in next month's elections. But after five paragraphs of that, Cottle produced a longer discussion of her real interest—of the only topic on which boys and girls like Cottle have been able to focus in the past 26 years.

We read Cottle's piece to the tune of The Baby Elephant Walk. We'll turn to the content of what she wrote as our award-winning series continues.

To the tune of The Baby Elephant Walk, we thought about the way people like Cottle have curried favor at the Times over the past many years. We also thought of the many people, all over the world, who lie dead in the shadow of this destructive behavior.

Inevitably, we also thought of the consensus view of the international expert community. We humans are the rational animal? That assessment should be seen as "Aristotle's error," these seers have now widely said.

Our view? You can't understand our failing culture till you grasp what these experts have told us.

Tomorrow: Pre-rational all the way down

Still to come: You-Know-Who's fourth accuser

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL WALK: Avenatti supplied five names!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2018

What happened when NBC asked:
"You can't fix stupid," the columnist said.

Because "stupid" generally reads as an insult, we decided to clean up his comment. Yesterday, we skillfully said that he really meant:

Simply put, you can't fix human. There is no cure for that.

Today, we'll admit that even we succumbed, in recent weeks, to the temptation of human. We did so when the Kavanaugh clash led us away from our earlier, high-minded pledge—from our pledge to examine certain "philosophical" topics, while leaving the world of the American public discourse behind.

The blinding stupidity of liberal discourse had made that previous effort pointless. Or so we said, until the dumbness of the Kavanaugh clash drew us in again.

In fairness to us, our own tribe's spectacular dumbness had been both transplendent and general. For one example, consider what Chris Hayes reported, ever-so-briefly but still to his credit, back on October 1.

Michael Avenatti, an obvious con man, had become a liberal god through his representation of Stormy "Stephanie Clifford" Daniels, another fairly obvious hustler and all-around fraudster. Just as conservatives can't see through ridiculous people like Rush and Sean, we liberals can't seem to see through ridiculous hustlers like Avenatti and Clifford.

Avenatti had become a god through his representation of Clifford. Now, he had produced the latest accuser of Kavanaugh!

Her name was Julie Swetnick. Her accusations were thrilling, but were her claims actually true?

NBC News asked Barrister Bluster if his client had any corroboration for her admittedly thrilling claims. To Hayes' credit, he ever-so-briefly let us know what happened when NBC asked:
HAYES (10/1/18): So far, three women have stepped forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh, on the record, of sexual misconduct or sexual assault. And one of those women, Julie Swetnick, has now given her first interview to NBC News senior national correspondent Kate Snow.

Swetnick does not accuse Kavanaugh himself of sexual assaulting her, but of being present at a party where she says she was gang raped.

Tonight, NBC News has not been able to independently corroborate Swetnick's claims. When we asked her attorney, Michael Avenatti, for any witnesses who could back up Swetnick's account, he provided four names of friends Swetnick says went to parties with her. One of them says he does recall anyone named Julie Swetnick. Another of the friends is deceased.

NBC News has reached out to the other two and has not heard back. Swetnick's mother's name was also provided, but she too is deceased.
By now, Swetnick was accusing Kavanaugh "of being present at a party where she says she was gang raped." As Hayes and Snow went on to note, Swetnick had walked back the original thrilling claims in her original sworn statement, which Avenatti had thrillingly produced.

By now, "Swetnick [did] not accuse Kavanaugh himself of sexual assaulting her," Hayes was willing to note. That said, the pathetic part of Hayes' remarks involve what happened when NBC News asked Barrister Bluster "for any witnesses who could back up Swetnick's account" of the parties at which she now said wasn't assaulted by Kavanaugh.

Avenatti provided five names. Pitifully, let's re-post Hayes' account of what happened next:
HAYES: NBC News has not been able to independently corroborate Swetnick's claims. When we asked her attorney, Michael Avenatti, for any witnesses who could back up Swetnick's account, he provided four names of friends Swetnick says went to parties with her. One of them says he does recall anyone named Julie Swetnick. Another of the friends is deceased.

NBC News has reached out to the other two and has not heard back. Swetnick's mother's name was also provided, but she too is deceased.
According to Hayes, our most brilliant liberal god had given NBC News five names. Two of these corroborating witnesses turned out to be dead.

A third of Avenatti's corroborators said that he or she can't recall anyone named Julie Swetnick. The other two didn't call back.

So it went when Barrister Bullroar gave NBC five names. On the one hand, this was just the latest gong show from the ridiculous Avenatti. But in truth, this kind of embarrassing, pre-rational nonsense has been general all through our liberal world in recent weeks, and in the past thirty years.

Avenatti supplied the names of at least two witnesses who are dead. To Hayes' credit, he did report this pitiful fact, though very much in passing.

Elsewhere, we liberals were kept from hearing about Avenatti's latest gong show. Almost surely, he'll soon be back on the air with Lawrence, with Lawrence staring at him in such rapt admiration that the analysts will surely shout that they need to go rent a room!

To his limited credit, Hayes briefly reported this tribal idiot's latest pathetic gong show. Elsewhere, we liberals have been spared the pain of knowing that this occurred.

Over on Fox, by way of contrast, viewers have heard all about this sort of thing from Avenatti. It's one more example of a fairly recent phenomenon, in which Fox viewers actually receive more information about various matters than we bottle-fed liberals do.

You can't fix [human], that columnist said. Beyond that, you plainly can't fix tribal.

In recent weeks, as in the past thirty years, we liberals have plainly established that we're extremely "human." Over those previous years, we helped build the world which has given us Trump in the White House. As the world has become more tribal, our "human" impulses have surfaced to an even greater degree.

When we went on our autumn vacation last weekend, we listened to Krista Tippett's weekly NPR program. We've long admired Tippett's sensibility, but we actually found this last program inspiring.

That said, the program aired in the midst of a vast sea of tribal stupidity. It drew us away from our earlier resolve—away from from the loftier story to which we expect to return next week

To his limited credit, Hayes ever-so-briefly let us know about Avenatti's latest folly. Aside from that, we liberals have been kept in the dark about Barrister Bluster, while our counterparts who watch Fox News are being more fully informed.

This is happening more and more often. You can't fix stupid, one columnist said. Also, you can't fix blindingly tribal (and corporate) to the point of dishonest, a point we'll consider tomorrow.

Today's report should be read to the tune of The Baby Elephant Walk. Baby elephants can be lots of fun. Our own species' Rational Animal Walk can, of course, be more destructive.

Tomorrow: Our Own Rhodes Scholar played us again. But then, what else is new?