THE ART OF THE CON: The insanity style in American politics!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2016

Part 2—It didn't start with Trump:
Could Republican candidate Donald J. Trump win November's election?

Yes, we think he plainly could. He could also lose badly, of course. But yes, we think he could win.

Last night, on CNN, former Obama aide Van Jones begged Democrats and liberals to understand the troubling fact that Donald J. Trump could win. We think Jones' assessment is correct. In part, here's why we say that:

Candidate Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee. She's also badly damaged. It's amazing how badly she is damaged, compared to the way she was perceived when she ran for the White House eight years ago.

She has been badly damaged by the email matter. She has been badly damaged by the speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. Before that, she was damaged by the deal the New York Times struck with conservative hackster Peter Schweizer. Therein lies a tale:

The fruit of that collaboration was the Times' ludicrous, ginormous report about the scary uranium deal—the scary deal with the Russkies, or with someone like that. It was a thoroughly ludicrous piece of journalism, the dumbest report of 2015; it also ran 4400 words. On his TV program, Chris Hayes hailed the hapless report as "a bombshell." But this is the way our hapless tribe now plays on the corporate end.

Candidate Clinton is badly damaged. Just for the record, this damage extends inside the tents of the Obama coalition. Within those tents, Candidate Clinton is being damaged by discussions of the 1994 crime bill, and by discussions of the 1990s in general. In other ways, she is being badly damaged by elements of the Sanders campaign.

For the record, she could be damaged much more badly by future events in the email probe. She could be damaged by a single speech, comment or leak from FBI head James Comey, who fits the description for such a possibility—he's a stiff-necked Republican nominee with a reputation for probity.

Comey's judgment could come in good or bad faith. Either way, it could produce major damage.

(During the 2000 campaign, Candidate Gore was being investigated by other figures who fit that description. Very few liberals remember this fact; our tribe has agreed that the basic events of Campaign 2000 must never be discussed, largely because so many of our tribal leaders played such horrible roles within them. We restrict our small helpless minds to the events of the Florida recount, concerning which we tell ourselves the types of tales we love to hear. As a a result, we wander toward this year's general election clueless about what might come.)

Candidate Clinton is badly damaged. Like Van Jones, we know of no reason to feel sure that Donald J. Trump couldn't beat her. As you know, he was prescient about the war in Iraq! Why wouldn't people decide to vote for someone like that?

Meanwhile, what could happen if Candidate Sanders gets nominated? Concerning that question, Michelle Goldberg has provided a service at Slate.

Goldberg's headline imagines the future: "This Is What a Republican Attack on Bernie Sanders Would Look Like." In her report, Goldberg describes the kinds of attack a Trump campaign would direct at a Candidate Sanders.

Below, we offer you a small taste. By the way, have you ever heard of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party? According to Goldberg, if Candidate Sanders is nominated, you and your neighbors will:
GOLDBERG (5/2/16): [Sanders] has never been asked to account for his relationship with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, for which he served as a presidential elector in 1980. At the time, the party’s platform called for abolishing the U.S. military budget and proclaimed “solidarity” with revolutionary Iran. (This was in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis.) There’s been little cable news chatter about Sanders’ 1985 trip to Nicaragua, where he reportedly joined a Sandinista rally with a crowd chanting, “Here, there, everywhere/ The Yankee will die.” It would be nice if this were due to a national consensus on the criminal nature of America’s support for the Contras. More likely, the media’s attention has simply been elsewhere.
For ourselves, we've always worried about potential GOP treatment of the honeymoon to the Soviet Union and the spoken folk music album. The Trotskyist Part isn't likely to help. Other parts of Goldberg's roll call of political horribles may be even worse.

By traditional norms of American politics, Candidate Trump can't get elected. Of course, by those same traditional norms, neither can Candidate Sanders—and Candidate Clinton is damaged goods and a gaffe machine who is loathed in wide swaths of the press.

In last Sunday's column, George Will urged his fellow conservatives to defeat Trump in all fifty states. Theoretically, that could happen. But Trump could also win.

These possibilities all take form within a new moment in American politics—within a moment in which insanity, or near-insanity, is becoming an established norm.

Yesterday afternoon, Candidate Trump almost sort of told the world that his opponent's father was the gunman on the grassy knoll, the man who shot JFK. By the time we reach the general election, he may be saying that his opponent probably killed J. R.

There is no sign that craziness of that general type would keep Trump from the White House. Yesterday's crazy statement about Lee Harvey Oswald has largely passed without notice.

Of course, even as Trump is making such statements, the nation's most famous and smartest newspaper keeps saying that the brilliant fellow was prescient concerning Iraq. The claim is false, but the New York Times said it three times in eight days, with barely a peep of rejoinder from the silly, self-impressed hustlers so prevalent within our own tents.

Trump wrote a book called The Art of the Deal. His invention of that fact about Iraq helps display the art of the con. This particular con about Iraq may help him win the White House this fall. That said, let's return to his craziness, which is tied to the art of the con:

Trump's claim about Cruz and JFK helps define an emerging insanity-laced political style. We'll only note two point:

Donald J. Trump didn't invent that style; within our media elites, it has been in development for decades now. Meanwhile, grabbers and climbers like Maddow and Hayes don't intend to use their skills to teach you how to defeat it. Such things simply aren't done.

The insanity style has been spreading for years; so has the art of the con. The cons have been coming from outside our tents, but also from deep within them.

Tomorrow: Who's zoomin' who?


Missionary watch: Those racist Trump voters have done it again!

TUESDAY, MAY 3, 2016

In which we assist Brother Drum:
Kevin Drum asks a fairly decent question today. It appears as the headline of an intriguing post:

"What's the Best Way to Talk About Racism?"

Eventually, Drum says he doesn't know how to talk about racism. Needless to say, the racism he has identified can be found Over There, among Those People, The Others.

Drum starts by offering a pair of short excerpts from two liberal writers. Then, he starts his rumination. Truer words were never spoken than the ones we highlight:
DRUM (5/3/16): Needless to say, there's no real disagreement here. Both writers are suggesting that Trump is winning because he appeals to a Republican Party base that thinks white people are getting screwed and doesn't much like all the non-white people they think are doing the screwing. So they're all pretty happy about Trump's wall and his proposed Muslim ban and his endless griping about "political correctness."

I think it's safe to say that nearly all liberals believe this. There's voluminous evidence beyond just these two charts, after all. But here's my question: what should we do about it? This has been bugging me for a while.
"There's no real disagreement here...I think it's safe to say that nearly all liberals believe this."

Truer words were never spoken! From there, Drum proceeds to the question which has confronted the missionary down through the annals of time:

God's chosen people that We are, how can We persuade Those People to be more like Us?
DRUM (continuing directly): If we attack it head on—"Republicans are racists!"—it accomplishes nothing. Or worse than nothing: it pisses off our targets so badly that they'll never hear another word we say. Besides, it's all but impossible to prove that racism is at the core of any particular belief, and doubly impossible to do so in the case of any particular person. It's also really easy to go overboard on charges of racism once you get started.

Alternatively, knowing that this is a political loser, we can skirt the direct charges of racism and focus instead on tangentially related topics. The upside is that we have at least a chance of winning over some voters who aren't too far gone. The downside, obviously, is that we're avoiding the elephant in the room. How do you fight racism if you're not willing to talk directly about it?

I don't have a good answer.
Accusing people of racism is the fastest way to shut down a conversation and ensure implacable opposition. Avoiding racism is the fastest way to make sure nothing serious ever gets done about it. So what's the right approach?
("It pisses off our targets." No really, that's what it says.)

"I don't have a good answer," Drum says. Luckily, we do! For starters, you might consider this:

As you can see, Drum's post tilts a bit toward the slightly ugly. As the missionary always does, he takes it upon himself to pass a sweeping judgment on the souls of tens of millions of people, some of whom he hasn't met or spoken to on the phone.

Needless to say, the judgment is highly negative; no exceptions are imagined. (Just like that, we get from Trump voters to all Republicans! No qualifiers are offered.) It then falls upon the Good People like Drum to find a way to address the sweeping evil which has been so skillfully diagnosed among our targets Over There.

(Does Drum really think this way? Or is he just showing us that he "knows his customers?" We have no idea.)

"What's the best way to talk about racism?" Drum says he doesn't know, and we agree with him on that point.

Luckily, we do. When you decide to talk about racism, you should do so with great care.

You shouldn't offer a sweeping indictment of tens of millions of people. You should allow for the possibility that somewhere, someone is almost as moral as you, even though they don't vote or answer survey questions the same way you do.

This brings us to Matt Yglesias' piece at Vox. Yglesias is one of the writers to whom Drum refers at the start of his post. His contribution to this discussion involves a question from a survey—a question he doesn't even transcribe accurately in his piece at Vox.

Let's ignore Yglesias' two mistakes as a copyist. In his piece, he cites a survey in which respondents were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statement:

"Today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities."

Among all respondents, 43 percent agreed with that statement. Fifty-five percent disagreed.

Among Republicans, 64 percent agreed. On this basis, Drum offers his immortal words: "Republicans are racists!"

You'll note those words came straight from his text, along with the exclamation point. We assume he's merely playing us rubes, but it's always possible he forged that claim in some sort of good faith.

Please note: Young Yglesias was so thrilled by his moral certainty that he couldn't even make himself report what respondents were asked. In his excited attempt at a report, he excitedly and mistakenly says that respondents were asked this:

"Is racism against white people a bigger problem than racism against racial minority groups?"

Racism is different from discrimination. Similarly, bigger is different from as big as. Whatever! Yglesias was so sure of his moral goodness that he didn't even bother transcribing what respondents were asked. (Needless to say, his errors make their answers seem ever weirder.)

That actual question they were asked is often asked in surveys. How should we talk about those damning responses, Father Drum piously asks.

"Very carefully," we would suggest.

For starters, we'd recommend this. Instead of telling respondents that they're racists, we might consider asking them something. We might consider asking them why they gave the answers they did.

Quite a few people agreed with the statement in question. Indeed, 28 percent of Democrats answered the question that way.

Why did they answer that question that way? What kind of discrimination did they have in mind? Being less pious than Drum, we'd be curious to hear what they said.

Drum has decided to save us some time. He simply decides that "Republicans are racist!" He doesn't even seem to restrict it to the 64 percent!

How should Kevin Drum talk about racism? Once we're assured that he's being sincere, we would suggest that he talk some lessons from history's most decent people. For today, we'll skip Dr. King's ruminations on the Montgomery city fathers. We'll go straight to Edie Dugan, speaking to Terry Malloy, not far from the waterfront in a very famous film.

In this, their first conversation, Terry and Edie remember their days at the local parochial school. “Boy, the way those sisters used to whack me, I don’t know what!” Terry says. “They thought they were going to beat an education into me, but I foxed them.”

“Maybe they just didn’t know how to handle you,” Edie says, launching an exchange for the ages:
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: [Long pause] Ohhhh— What, are you kidding me? Come on, I better get you home. There’s too many guys around here with only one thing on their mind.
According to Terry, everyone thought the very same way down on the waterfront too!

To Drum, we'll offer the following thought about his question:

How should we talk about racism? Try not to make your diagnosis before you've spoken to your millions of victims. Try a little more patience and kindness.

Also, climb down from that f*cking high horse. No one but tribals believes you.

How should we talk about racism? Like real human beings, we said.


Public school watch: Four grade levels, the New York Times says!

TUESDAY, MAY 3, 2016

Obvious questions unasked:
In this morning's New York Times, Motoko Rich has a lengthy "Upshot" report about family income and achievement in the public schools.

(When you see the "Upshot" label, you're supposed to conclude that you're reading brainiac work.)

We want to wait a day or two before commenting on Rich's work. It's based on voluminous data from Stanford's Sean Reardon.

That said, there are some fascinating graphics if you read the report on-line. And by the way: If you read the report on-line, you'll be met by these headlines:
Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares
Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.
Let's focus on that striking sub-headline: "Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts."

We have one question to ask about that. You will never see this question addressed in education reports in the New York Times. It's the most obvious question on the face of the earth. For that reason, it will never occur to the gang which reports on schools for the Times.

Our question:

If achievement levels vary that much in the sixth grade, what does it means when the various states adopt statewide grade-level standards? Viewed from a slightly different angle, how can the nation's public schools work from a single grade-level "Common Core" for each of the grades?

We've been asking some variant of this question for the past forty years. That said, it's impossible to get education elites and education reporters to focus on this question, which is blindingly obvious.

Let's review what that question means:

According to that headline, sixth graders in some higher-achieving school districts are "four grade levels ahead" of their peers in some lower-achieving districts.

Based on Rich's graphics, we seem to be talking about average achievement levels for kids in these districts. That means that the achievement gaps will be even larger if we compare the highest-achieving individual students to those with the poorest skills.

There gaps are said to obtain across the nation in the sixth grade. How then can a state adopt a single set of grade-level "standards" for that state's sixth-graders? How can a single set of standards—a single curriculum—make sense for all those kids, when their achievement levels are so widely divergent?

We've been asking this question for forty years; the question is blindingly obvious. That said, it's impossible to get education experts or education reporters to focus on this blindingly obvious question.

Even on the most elite levels, our public discussions of public schools are just amazingly primitive. That's the thought which popped in our heads when we saw that headline today.

The winter of 82: In the winter of 82, we wrote an op-ed for the Baltimore Evening Sun about a related topic. It concerned the suitability of recommended textbooks for grade school kids in the Baltimore City Schools.

Below, you see excerpts. For a bit of background and some context, you can just click here:
SOMERBY (2/9/82): In grade after grade, for topic after topic, [Baltimore teaching] guides recommend textbooks that are clearly too difficult for most city students to work from—books that are completely inappropriate for children who may be several years below traditional grade level in reading.

In the first semester of fourth grade, for example, the two most commonly cited textbooks are Daniel Chu’s “A Glorious Age in Africa”—a textbook with a measured eighth-grade reading level—and Frederick King’s “The Social Studies and Our Country”—Laidlaw’s sixth-grade textbook.

Few fourth graders anywhere will be able to profit from textbooks as difficult as these. In an urban system like Baltimore’s, this selection is particularly surprising—and dooms any attempt to teach the social studies curriculum in a rigorous, systematic way.

The results of this situation are all too predictable. Baltimore teachers find it difficult—indeed, impossible—to find readable textbooks with which social studies and science can be taught to their numerous below-level readers. The result may be that such children are not taught social studies and science at all.
Thirty-four years later, extremely wide achievement gaps still obtain in our public schools. That's even true on the grade school level.

Without fail, the obvious questions raised by this fact will go unaddressed. Once or twice, we've suggested the possibility that nobody actually cares.

THE ART OF THE CON: Who's getting conned?

TUESDAY, MAY 3, 2016

Part 1—Paul Krugman cites Trump voters:
Last Friday, Paul Krugman said that conservative voters have been getting conned for years.

The headline on his column was "Wrath of the Conned." This was Krugman's first account of the con in question:
KRUGMAN (4/29/16): Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-and-switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.
Anger about this long-running con has produced the Trump phenomenon, Krugman says. Republican voters have finally realized that they've been getting conned.

We don't necessarily agree with Krugman's more detailed account of this particular con. But it seems fairly clear that some version of this account is true.

That said, a lot of cons seem to be going on; these cons aren't all run by the GOP establishment. At one point, Krugman even alleges a type of con by Candidate Trump himself:
KRUGMAN: What Donald Trump has been doing is telling the base that it can order à la carte. He has, in effect, been telling aggrieved white men that they can feed their anger without being forced to swallow supply-side economics, too. Yes, his actual policy proposals still involve huge tax cuts for the rich, but his supporters don't know that—and it's possible that he doesn't, either. Details aren't his thing.
Trump's voters don't know that their standard bearer has proposed "huge tax cuts for the rich," Krugman says.

Almost surely, that is largely true. (It's absurd to think that Trump doesn't know.) But this is where the source of our cons and apparent cons tends to grow in number.

Almost surely, many people don't know that Candidate Trump has proposed huge tax cuts for the rich. That includes many subscribers to Krugman's own newspaper, which has failed to present standard reporting about Candidate Trump's tax proposal, the craziest such proposal of modern times.

Is Krugman's newspaper running a con by ignoring this topic? We don't know how to answer that question. But Krugman's paper has also engaged in strange behavior in the past ten days, pimping Candidate Trump's fake claim about his opposition to the war in Iraq, opposition which never existed.

The New York Times has recited Trump's fake claim at the top of the paper's front page. Inevitably, it has recited his fake claim in an op-ed column by Maureen Dowd—a column it ran on the front page of the high-profile Sunday Review.

The New York Times also recited Trump's fake claim in a cover report in its high-profile Sunday magazine. These recitations of Candidate Trump's fake claim have all taken place in just the past ten days. For more details, click here.

Trump's ridiculous claim about his past insight concerning Iraq has been debunked again and again, but the New York Times has now repeated his phony claim three separate times in ten days. Is the New York Times running a con? We don't know how to answer that question, but we do know this:

The invention of phony facts of this type is one of the practices which has decided recent White House elections. It's abundantly clear that Candidate Trump has been inventing this phony fact for use in the general election. In the end, this phony fact could help him reach the White House.

Is the New York Times running a con? We don't know how to answer. But liberal voters are getting disadvantaged by the newspaper's ongoing conduct, and someone else is part of this game—the heroic liberal corporate media stars who will refuse to call the Times on this conduct, which has been common at the Times over the past many years.

Did Al Gore say he invented the Internet? Actually no, he did not. He didn't say quite a few other outrageous things, the crazy alleged statements which sent George W. Bush to the White House. But were those puzzling statements were relentlessly put in his mouth over the course of the two-year 2000 campaign.

Gore didn't say he invented the Internet, but so what? All during that ugly and stupid campaign, liberal heroes repeated the claims about Candidate Gore, or at least refused to challenge those claims. The same pattern obtained in early 2004 when the talking points were invented concerning Candidate Kerry.

The New York Times has seemed to work quite a few cons over the past twenty-years. And make no mistake! As the Times has engaged in this conduct, the Christopher Hayeses and the Rachel Maddows have always averted their gaze.

Again and again, legions of liberal voters have been conned by this type of conduct. And alas! Unlike Krugman's rebellious Trump voters, we liberals haven't been smart enough to notice this problem yet.

For whatever reason, the New York Times has been advancing a con about Trump and Iraq. Just as it ever was, the liberal world has largely been silent.

We're skilled at getting conned in this way. We'll examine the syndrome all week.

Tomorrow: Drum and Politi push back

Original sin watch: Sanders supporter complains to Josh!

MONDAY, MAY 2, 2016

Those People are dumb, genius says:
Josh Marshall has posted an email from a Sanders supporter who feels the game has been rigged against Sanders. This is his or her first example:
EMAILER (5/2/16): I know you’re not in love with Hillary, I’ve read your site daily since you started and I know you have deep reservations about Hilary, so I’m not coming from a place of saying you’re in the tank for her. But I do think you ignore some huge factors. One is the degree to which all those super delegates picking Hillary early on and thereby making her the front runner in the media, polls, etc. served as a self fulfilling prophecy. As you well know people want to vote for a winner. The Super Delegates allowed Hilary to jump out to a huge early lead which in turn supported numerous media outlets calling the Sanders campaign “insurgent,” “long shot,” etc. So to a degree all of these Super Delegates lining up for Hilary created a self fulfilling prophecy.
Whatever you think of the super-delegate system, that seems pretty silly. Here's why:

Sanders was called a "long shot" last summer because he was a long shot. "He started at three percent," Jane Sanders accurately said on last Thursday's Maddow Show. "And he's now at 49 percent, 50 percent, 51 percent in the polls. "So we've gone...Bernie has gone up 47 points since April last year in one year."

When you're starting at three percent, you are, in fact, a long shot! Sanders has made an incredible run. But he started as a very long shot. The super-delegates had little to do with that initial obvious fact.

It was the emailer's second point which made our analysts break out in hives and emit a loud piteous wail. In this, you see the original sin of our own self-impressed tribe:
EMAILER (continuing directly): There are other aspects of the game being “rigged” aside from the caucus system. For example, our educational systems in this country are so poor relative to other economically wealthy countries. We spend more per student than all but 4 small countries but generally rank in about 30th place for results. I believe many American voters lack even a rudimentary understanding of our system of government. My favorite example like yours is: “Keep government out of my Medicare!” Do you still have that photo?
In statements like this, our progressive tribe's hubris really starts to show. This is why we say that:

The emailer complains that the game was rigged against Sanders because our educational system is so bad! He or she then offers a stereotypical example of the Dumb Stupid Brainwashed Tea Party Rube, even as he or she repeats a bogus, cherry-picked claim about how bad our public schools are compared to schools in other nations.

In other words, this fiery progressive recites a piece of standard cant he himself has swallowed, even as he complains about how dumb The Others are. As he continues, he offers this:
EMAILER (continuing directly): Other examples: a widespread belief among Republican voters that the PBS television budget accounts for more than 50% of US Government spending.
Is there "a widespread belief among Republican voters that the PBS television budget accounts for more than 50% of US government spending?" We'd never heard that claim before, so we engaged the Google.

In 2012, CNN polled that very question. According to CNN's data, six percent of all respondents copped to that absurd idea, but only four percent of Republican respondents signed on to that claim. Warning to our cocksure progressive—at least in that CNN survey, Democrats may have been a little bit daffier on that matter than Republicans were.

(Apparently due to sample size, CNN didn't come up with a number for Democrats.)

Over here in our own flawless tribe, we've long been convinced of our own brilliance and goodness. The least humane among us have always felt sure of such things, ever since we alleged humans first crawled from the swamp.

The Others are stupid, inhuman and bad! It's the oldest known human belief, the one which leads to the wars.

We're sure the emailer is a good person. He or she ought to consider getting over him or herself. He or she ought to consider the possibility that all wisdom doesn't exist Over Here, with all the dumbness Over There among Those People, The Others.

In closing, let's recall that other key point. We liberals can swallow cant from elites and from our tribal authority figures, just the way The Others do.

In fact, it happens all the time. The emailer seemed to prove it.

WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT: Still a high-ranking favorite at Salon, even two days after posting:
We must shame dumb Trump fans: The white working class are not victims
It's not smug liberalism to point out Trump backers are low-educated. What's dangerous is to sympathize with them
DAVID MASCIOTRA
SATURDAY, APR 30, 2016 09:29 AM EDT
According to the photo Salon has chosen, they aren't just dumb, they're fat.

Invention watch: Dowd spreads Trump's invented fake fact!

MONDAY, MAY 2, 2016

The way elections are lost:
Yesterday, Maureen Dowd affirmed Donald Trump's invented fact.

She did so in a column which appeared on the front page of the New York Times' Sunday Review. It was a very high-profile piece. This was part of her column:
DOWD (5/1/16): The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like Obama, he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea.

[...]

You can actually envision a foreign policy debate between Trump and Clinton that sounds oddly like the one Obama and Clinton had in 2008, with Trump playing Obama, preening about his good judgment on Iraq, wanting an end to nation-building and thinking he could have a reset with Russia.
In that first excerpt, Dowd seems to say that it's a "fact" that Trump opposed the war in Iraq. In the second excerpt, she imagines Trump "preening about his good judgment on Iraq" in the October debates.

Here's the problem:

As a million fact-checkers have noted by now, there is zero evidence that Donald J. Trump opposed the war in Iraq. There is zero evidence that he ever displayed any good judgment concerning this topic.

About a million fact-checkers have noted this point by now. But so what? The New York Times seems heavily invested in helping Trump spread this phony fact.

This is the way elections get lost; we'll discuss that recurrent problem later in the week. For today, let's record the recent efforts by the Times to spread this invented fake fact.

Last Thursday, the invented fact appeared at the very top of the New York Times' front page. This was the second paragraph of a front-page news report about Trump's foreign policy address:
LANDLER AND PARKER (4/28/16): Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, pledged a major buildup of the military, the swift destruction of the Islamic State and the rejection of trade deals that he said tied the nation’s hands. But he also pointedly rejected the nation-building of the George W. Bush administration, reminding his audience that he had opposed the Iraq war.
Right at the top of the Times front page, Landler and Parker vouched for Trump's invented fact—for the widely-debunked, inaccurate claim that Donald J. Trump opposed the war in Iraq.

Three days later, Times readers met the phony claim again, this time in Dowd's column. That column appeared on the front page of the Sunday Review, a very high-profile placement.

Sadly, these weren't the first instances in which the Times affirmed Trump's phony invented claim. Over the weekend, we read Mark Landler's cover story from last week's New York Times Sunday magazine.

We'll be danged if Landler didn't play this phony card too:
LANDLER (4/24/16): Neither Trump nor Cruz favors major new deployments of American soldiers to Iraq and Syria (nor, for that matter, does Clinton). If anything, both are more skeptical than Clinton about intervention and more circumspect than she about maintaining the nation's post-World War II military commitments. Trump loudly proclaims his opposition to the Iraq War. He wants the United States to spend less to underwrite NATO and has talked about withdrawing the American security umbrella from Asia, even if that means Japan and South Korea would acquire nuclear weapons to defend themselves.
It's true that Trump "loudly proclaims his opposition to the war in Iraq." He has been doing so since at least last summer.

It's just that a million fact-checkers have noted that Donald J. Trump seems to maybe perhaps be lying about this. There is zero evidence that he opposed the war, and some evidence that he didn't.

Last summer, Trump said he could produce twenty-five news reports about the way he opposed the war. So far, no one has been able to find even one.

Despite this fact, the New York Times now seems to be working hard to endorse Trump's invented fact. They're even framing his invented fact in exactly the way he likes it.

This is the way elections are lost. To date, the evidence suggests that we liberals will sit and twiddle our thumbs about this bizarre conduct by the Times, just exactly as we've done at other such times in the past.

Dowd says she can picture Trump playing this card in October's debates. Given what the Times is doing, we can now picture that too.

EINSTEIN'S OWN WORDS: Still hazy after all these years!

MONDAY, MAY 2, 2016

Part 4—The case of the hundred-year fail:
Not to boast, but we constitute the target audience for Albert Einstein's brief book.

The book appeared in 1916; it was aimed at general readers. In his preface, Einstein explained who the book was for. One hundred years later, we meet his basic criteria:

"The present book is intended, as far as possible, to give an exact insight into the theory of Relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics. The book presumes a standard of education corresponding to that of a university matriculation examination, and, despite the shortness of the book, a fair amount of patience and force of will on the part of the reader."
We're interested in relativity. That said, we're not "conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics."

Regarding patience and will, we've spent decades reading a steady succession of Einstein-made-easy books. We've watched a succession of PBS broadcasts, programs which have often taken the form of a multipart series.

Since last November, we've also spent a lot of time trying to puzzle out Einstein's brief book, especially the part of the book which inspired one part of the latest PBS broadcast. We refer to Nova's hour-long program, Inside Einstein's Mind, which appeared last November.

We've tried to puzzle out Einstein's brief book, and we've failed. The reason for this is fairly simple. One hundred years later, after all this time, the relevant part of the book remains largely incoherent, just as it ever was.

We refer to Chapters 8 and 9 of Einstein's brief book, the two short chapters which formed the basis for Nova's silly account of special relativity. Last Thursday, we took you through Einstein's brief Chapter 8, which seemed to establish a few very simple points.

In Chapter 9, Nova's fast-moving train appears, as do its two lightning strikes. In the process, Einstein's attempt at explaining his work turns incoherent. In our view, Einstein's work becomes as clear as mud.

Here's the remarkable part of our story: One hundred years later, our leading professors and journalists still haven't noticed this problem! Meanwhile, Nova gave the task of explaining this material to a writer whose previous program was called The Wonder of Dogs.

Everybody understands the way this industry works. Our professors and journalists pretend that they can explain Einstein's work; we pretend that we understand the various things they tell us. This silly behavior lies at the heart of our society's sprawling "culture of incoherence," a wide-ranging set of behaviors which create the gong-show pseudo-discussions found in most parts of our world.

Is it possible that Albert Einstein failed as a popular writer? Is it possible that Einstein himself couldn't make Einstein easy?

It's possible, and in this case, it actually happened! One hundred years later, the Novas and the Isaacsons haven't yet noticed or acknowledged this fact. Instead, major professors blurb Isaacson's book, saying how wonderfully clear it is. In return, he blurbs their books and appears in the Nova broadcast!

When it came to explaining that fast-moving train and those lightning strikes, Issacson's book was as clear as mud. But then again, so was Einstein's own book, which he checked for clarity by reading its text to his niece, who was 16 years old.

She found it baffling, Isaacson says. But she didn't want to tell her famous uncle.

Isaacson treats this as a humorous story, which of course it is. It doesn't enter his standardized head that this comical method may have helped produce a muddled text.

After all this prolegomena, let's turn to the text-in-itself:

Einstein's Chapter 9 is brief; it's also clear as mud. When we say it's brief, we mean really brief. It contains seven paragraphs and one graphic. The chapter runs roughly 900 words.

For Einstein's whole book, just click here.

In the first paragraph of this chapter, Einstein introduces the fast-moving train which Nova described in last November's broadcast. ("We suppose a very long train travelling along the rails with the constant velocity v and in the direction indicated in Fig. 1," Einstein writes.)

In our view, Einstein is already lost in the weeds before this first paragraph is done. But he goes on to pose a basic question in paragraph 2.

We highlight that question below. Already, we'd have to say that Einstein's work is puzzling, perhaps as clear as mud. Please note: In the standard translation, Einstein speaks about a railway embankment, not a railway platform:
EINSTEIN: As a natural consequence, however, the following question arises:

Are two events (e.g. the two strokes of lightning A and B) which are simultaneous with reference to the railway embankment also simultaneous relatively to the train? We shall show directly that the answer must be in the negative.
Let's do a quick review:

In Chapter 8, Einstein discussed a pair of lightning strikes; we knew that they were equidistant from the midpoint of the railway platform. When light from the strikes reached that midpoint at the same time, we agreed that it made sense to conclude that the strikes were simultaneous.

Now, Einstein is making a puzzling statement. He says those lightning strikes aren't simultaneous for someone on the fast-moving train which is rapidly moving past the railway station!

Specifically, he is referring to someone in the middle car of the fast-moving train, as you can see from his text. But how weird! The two lightning strikes are simultaneous for someone standing on the platform. But they aren't simultaneous for someone on the train!

At this point, Arsenio Hall should appear to say, "Things that make you go oooh." Instead, let's note what Einstein is and isn't saying.

Einstein doesn't say this:

He doesn't say that the two lightning strikes may not appear to be simultaneous to the observer on the train. He doesn't say that the strikes may not seem simultaneous.

Seeming to speak in an absolute sense, he seems to says that the two strikes "aren't" simultaneous to or for or with reference to that observer. Certainly, that's the way his words were taken on Nova's program last fall.

(A reader may complain that we're ignoring Einstein's actual language, which is a bit more technical. That's part of the problem. This chapter is larded with technical language, language which needs explaining. The general reader may choose to recite that technical language, but he won't understand what he's saying.)

At any rate, this is Einstein's paragraph 3, along with the start of paragraph 4. For "embankment," read "railway platform." To review his graphic, click here, see Chapter 9:
EINSTEIN (continuing directly): When we say that the lightning strokes A and B are simultaneous with respect to the embankment, we mean: the rays of light emitted at the places A and B, where the lightning occurs, meet each other at the mid-point M of the length A ~ B of the embankment. But the events A and B also correspond to positions A and B on the train. Let M' be the mid-point of the distance A ~ B on the travelling train. Just when the flashes of lightning occur, this point M' naturally coincides with the point M, but it moves towards the right in the diagram with the velocity v of the train. If an observer sitting in the position M' in the train did not possess this velocity, then he would remain permanently at M, and the light rays emitted by the flashes of lightning A and B would reach him simultaneously, i.e. they would meet just where he is situated. Now in reality (considered with reference to the railway embankment) he is hastening towards the beam of light coming from B, whilst he is riding on ahead of the beam of light coming from A. Hence the observer will see the beam of light emitted from B earlier than he will see that emitted from A. Observers who take the railway train as their reference-body must therefore come to the conclusion that the lightning flash B took place earlier than the lightning flash A. We thus arrive at the important result:

Events which are simultaneous with reference to the embankment are not simultaneous with respect to the train, and vice versa (relativity of simultaneity).
We're Einstein's target audience. One hundred years later, we don't understand why he said those things. Neither does anyone else who watched last November's Nova program.

Please understand: we're not saying there's no possible explanation for Einstein's century-old remarks. We're not saying that relativity is "wrong" in some sense.

We're saying that, one hundred years later, attempts at explaining or elucidating this material remain as clear as mud. Einstein's initial attempt was unclear. From that day to this, our professors and journalists have failed to make his work more clear.

Some of what Einstein says or seems to say in that passage is obvious. Let's review what that is:

Consider an observer in the middle car of that fast-moving train. Obviously, light from the two lightning strikes will not reach that observer at the same time.

As Einstein explains in paragraph 3, this observer has "hastened towards" one lightning strike and has hastened away from the other. For this reason, "the observer will see the beam of light emitted from" the one lightning strike "earlier than he will see [the light] emitted from" the other strike.

That much is perfectly obvious. Of course, the same thing will be true for an observer who is standing motionless at the far end of the railway platform. He too "will see the beam of light emitted from" the one lightning strike "earlier than he will see [the light] emitted from" the other strike.

Meanwhile, an observer in the caboose of the train will have the same experience as the observer who is standing at the midpoint of the railway platform. The light from the two lightning strikes will reach the (fast-moving) caboose at the same time, as will be the case for the (motionless) observer at the midpoint of the platform.

For that reason, it's unclear why Einstein goes on to say what follows. One hundred years later, we can't explain what he means:
EINSTEIN: Now before the advent of the theory of relativity it had always tacitly been assumed in physics that the statement of time had an absolute significance, i.e. that it is independent of the state of motion of the body of reference. But we have just seen that this assumption is incompatible with the most natural definition of simultaneity; if we discard this assumption, then the conflict between the law of the propagation of light in vacuo and the principle of relativity (developed in Section VII) disappears.
Why does Einstein refer to "the state of motion" of the observers? Why does he focus on their "state of motion," rather than on their propinquity to the lightning strikes, which seems more directly relevant here?

We can't answer that question. Presumably, an observer in the caboose has the same "state of motion" as an observer at the midpoint of the train. And yet, the strikes will appear to be simultaneous to the one observer, but won't appear to be simultaneous to the other.

By the same token, a person standing at the far end of the platform will experience the two lightning strikes in the same way as the observer in the middle car of the train. For each observer, the strikes will not appear to be simultaneous, even though their "states of motion" differ.

We're Einstein's target audience. One hundred years later, we throw our lot in with his teen-aged niece. We don't understand what he wrote in this chapter; we don't know how to explain it. We don't understand the point he was making. In our view, Chapter 9 doesn't make clear sense.

In our view, Einstein did a lousy job in this attempt to explain this matter for the general reader. We don't find that hugely surprising. The more striking point is this:

One hundred years later, no one has been willing to say that Einstein did a lousy job when he tried to write for us rubes! Beyond that, no one has been able to clarify the point of that very brief chapter.

Back in 2007, Isaacson's explanation of this material was about as clear as mud. Last November, we had an instant reaction to Nova's broadcast: when we watched the relevant part of the program, we thought that Nova had provided one of the most obvious non-explanation explanations we had ever seen.

Last November, Nova's explanation actually was clear as mud. In fairness, that may be what you'd expect from a writer whose previous work includes the mini-series documentary, Easter Eggs Live.

On the merits, Nova's presentation was a joke. That said, it was a familiar joke.

For the past one hundred years, a string of ranking journalists and ranking professors have pretended to make Einstein easy. We've all engaged in a certain transaction:

They have pretended to explain the material; we consumers have agreed to pretend that we understood what they said. It's a bit like the famous old joke from the Soviet Union, in which the worker describes the economic system:

They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.

Gigantic swaths of our public discourse are phony, fake, fraudulent, faux. The phoniness of our public discourse can be seen in a wide array of areas, covering a wide array of topics. They pretend to explain all sorts of things. We agree to pretend that they've done so.

That said, this "culture of incoherence" is especially rich in the case of our Einstein-made-easy books and TV shows. What's most amazing is this:

One hundred years later, our major professors and journalists still lack the skills with which they might explain this giant's work. In some cases, they may also lack the honesty which would let them acknowledge this problem.

We're often struck by the state of these peoples' skills. How have they managed to remain so unskilled?

When our award-winning series continues, we'll start to describe one hundred years of intellectual sloth. Our elites are lazy, indifferent, inept.

In the case of Einstein, it doesn't much matter. In other areas, we pay a very large price for this professional sloth.

Starting next week: The later Wittgenstein