REPORTING MISSOURI AND YALE: Amputated tomcat ears!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2015

Part 1—The medical kit of the press:
Be forewarned! For our money, Stacy Schiff's new book is an annoying, difficult read.

You won't be told that in the reviews, almost all of which are glowing. But for our money, Schiff takes a fascinating historical episode and, through her precious, confusing constructions, makes it a very hard slog.

That said, even Schiff can't rob this episode of its fascinations. In the passage shown below, she describes the state of medical science in the Massachusetts colony at the time of the Salem witch trials.

Samuel Parris is the minister whose 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old niece touched off the famous panic in January 1692. This is the sort of help he got when he called in the doctors:
SCHIFF (page 23): Through February Parris looked largely to fast and prayer. He consulted with fellow clergymen...But when he had had enough of the “odd postures and antic gestures,” the deranged speeches, when it became clear that Scripture would not relieve the girls’ preternatural symptoms, Parris called in the doctors.

Years later, the practice of medicine in Boston would be deemed "perniciously bad" by a university-trained physician: in 1692, no university-trained physician had yet arrived in Salem town or its neighbor, tiny Salem village, where the girls twitched and snapped. A basic medical kit looked little different from an ancient Greek one, consisting as it did of beetle’s blood, fox lung, and dried dolphin heart. In powders or plasters, snails figured in many remedies. They were at least easier to harvest than unicorn's horn. The fat of a roasted hedgehog dripped into the ear constituted "an excellent remedy for deafness." The most informed medical man in the colonies at the time swore by saltpeter for measles, headache and sciatica. Cotton Mather believed sixty drops of lavender and a mouthful of gingerbread cured memory loss...Hysteria had been cataloged well before 1692. A Salem physician treated it with a brew of breast milk and the blood from an amputated tomcat ear.
As we read that passage, we're supposed to be struck by the total lack of medical science available to Salem village. We're supposed to be struck by the way the world of Salem differed from ours.

We had a second reaction. You see, we read that passage shortly after the crackpot grilling of Candidate Clinton before that special House committee. But also this:

We read that passage during the time when several major American news orgs pretended or seemed to stage debates in which the current Republican candidates were questioned about economic issues.

On October 28, CNBC pretended or seemed to stage the first of these two debates. Thirteen days later, on November 10, the Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal pretended or seemed to stage the second such session.

We watched the way those debates were conducted. We also watched the way those debates were critiqued by the mainstream news corps, including our top liberal pundits.

During this period, we read that passage from Schiff's book. Perhaps for that reason, we had a second reaction to that passage:

As were read Schiff's descrption of Salem's lack of medical science, we thought of the utter lack of journalistic skill on display in our modern "press corps"—the lack of skill we accept from these doctors on a regular basis.

Did Mather believe that lavender drops might cure memory loss? That's nothing! Ezra Klein didn't know what it meant when a journalist accused a candidate of running a "comic book" campaign!

Did Salem physicians treat hysteria with blood from an amputated tomcat ear? That's nothing! Our brightest, most dispassionate liberal pundit thinks that derisive comments represent the most honest way for a journalist to challenge a crazy tax plan!

He couldn't think how else you could do it!

Is it strange to think that doctors in Salem village carried basic medical kits which "consisted of beetle’s blood, fox lung, and dried dolphin heart?" Does it seem strange to think that no one perceived this as strange?

On both counts, it does seem strange, at least from the modern perspective. But it was just as strange to see the attention deficit disorder which seemed to afflict the highly-paid, high-ranking journalists who conducted those recent debates. And it was just as strange when our leading liberal pundits couldn't seem to discern this affliction, even as it played out before our eyes.

When Samuel Parris called in the doctors, did the doctors arrive bereft of any medical skills? So it seems from Schiff's account. But that's nothing! A similar problem obtains in our own village when we call in the people who, or so we're told, come bearing journalistic skills.

Why did we think of Harwood, Quick and Quintanilla—of Klein, Saletan, even of Drum—when we read that passage from Schiff's book? A very fast review:

The current GOP candidates have proposed the craziest budget plans in the history of the republic. One day before the CNBC debate, one of their number, Candidate Kasich, expressly said as much.

"Crazy," Candidate Kasich said. He was describing the budget plans of Candidates Carson and Trump.

Those plans are crazy—and Kasich said so! But one night later, the journalists from CNBC arrived with peculiar medical kits. They pretended to ask a couple of questions about the craziness of those plans, and then, their attention deficits took hold.

Losing their focus, they wandered the countryside; they avoided the craziness of those plans for the rest of the evening. But so what? By the next day, liberal pundits were standing in line to praise them for the "substantive" nature of their evening's work!

The moderators' bags had been full of lavender too. Our pundits couldn't seem to see this. Within our own failing culture, it has become the norm to see TV stars work from journalism kits filled with tomcat ears.

For eighteen years, we've been trying to warn you, much as Cassandra once did:

Our modern mainstream press corps is a Potemkin village. Its inhabitant are largely actors. They possess, or are willing to employ, almost no journalistic skills.

Salem's physicians were hopeless, clueless. Our journalists pretend or seem to be clueless too.

Last week, our journalists focused their lack of skill on a new, extremely important topic. They focused their lack of skill on events at Missouri and Yale.

What's happening at Yale and Mizzou? Like you, we don't have the slightest idea. All week, we'll examine the journalism about those important events.

Try to remember—we're talking about the journalism, not about the students involved in those important events. Regarding the journalism, we'd have to say this:

It's been the fat of a roasted hedgehog, pretty much all the way down.

Tomorrow: Attempts to report what happened at Mizzou

The one high-placed dissenter: Routinely, our mainstream journalism works from script. Not infrequently, this is true of book and film reviews.

Schiff's book has been widely praised. One dissenter spoke from a rather high scaffold. We refer to Professor Kamensky, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

For our money, Schiff's book is a strangely difficult slog. To review Professor Kamensky's critique, you can just click here.

Jim Sleeper didn't like the book either. He opined at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

68 comments:

  1. I visited Salem many years ago and acquired a 50-page booklet outlining the trial. Beyond that, there're informative treatments in Wikipedia and Britannica online. Spend an evening with Arthur Miller's "Crucible," not for the history but for the blacklist parallels.

    But a 500-page book? On the Salem witch trials? For me that's a big TMI.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doesn't Rachel Maddow live near Salem? Didn't she and her partner build a dunking tank on their place?

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    2. The old Salem is now Danvers. The current Salem isn't where the witch trials occurred.

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  2. Twenty days after a Republican debate in which the moderators failed to take the lead of Kandidate Kasich and grill the other Kandidates for the Krazy proposals so labelled by Kasich, Bob returns to the topic of Salem Witch trials. He returns to this infamous event, which he was discussing when the debate interrupted, and uses it to review the fifteen post history of his coverage of the interruption provided by the debate.

    His review illustrates how everything, including bodily fluids and domesticated pets, reminds him of how we have no journalism any more.

    We are told Kollegian Kamensky did not like the book about Salem. Alas, we are not told anything about Kamensky's kin.

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    Replies
    1. Your three paragraphs tell us a lot about you.

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    2. As does your third identity for the day.

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    3. The Almighty TrifectaNovember 16, 2015 at 7:00 PM

      Enough of this nonsense! Enough of this nonsense! Enough of this nonsense!

      Delete
  3. In our view this post makes Bob Somerby look crazier than a Republican budget plan written in tomcat blood and bound in human urine cake.

    Can't wait till he gets to the swastikas scrawled in feces! It's going to be a great week that makes us all long for the bygone days of the gatekeepers.

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  4. Warning to casual readers of this blog: These comments are unmoderated. They are infested by one or more trolls who routinely take up space without contributing to discussion and/or attack the blog author in a variety of ways, rarely substantive. Such comments are not an indicator of the level of interest of other readers, the validity of the content posted nor of the esteem in which the blog author is held by others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Warning to new readers of this blog: There are no casual readers of this blog.

      Delete
    2. Isn't that the truth? Traffic for this blog is down to 24,000 TOTAL visits per month. Not "unique" visits. Total visits.

      Nobody is coming here "casually" by referral or by accident. In fact, there are only a couple hundred who come here at all.

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    3. 24000 =/ nobody
      When other blogs reference Somerby, as they did this past month, new people do wander by.
      Why does it matter how many people there are if it is interesting to read and participate in discussions here?

      This is like someone evaluating their popularity by how many friends they have on Facebook. If you cannot see what is wrong with that, you probably won't like it here.

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    4. Nobody likes liberals anyway.

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    5. Corby, nobody is coming here casually. Repeat, nobody is coming here casually.

      Divide 24,000 by 30. You get 800 total daily visits. Total, not unique. Now think of how many times you click on here a day. Each time counts as a "visit."

      As for "other blogs" that reference Somerby, who would they be? Kevin Drum is the only one left who throws him a bone, and he does that about once every six months or so. Even Gene Lyons has stopped mentioning Somerby in his columns, or at least he hasn't done so in a long, long time.

      Which is truly said because Somerby once was linked to all over the place.

      Then it got to his head and he started deliberately making enemies even among those who would link to him, and even at one time looked up to him. And even Josh Marshall no longer takes his bait.

      Then Somerby came down with a truly bad case of Maddow Derangement Syndrome, which led a lot of people to slowly back away, out of the room, and away from the crazy guy on his soapbox.

      And now he is down to a few hundred people reading his blog at all. And even fewer than that engaging in the sport of commenting.

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    6. How many people do you imagine are interested in what you say? In the single digits.

      Delete
    7. I would "imagine" that there are far fewer people interested in what I say that Somerby "imagines" there are people interested in what he says.

      And the number of people actually interested in either of us is pretty close.

      Trouble is, one of us realizes that.

      Delete
    8. But do you imagine you are a gifted prophet cursed to be ignored or judged insane?

      Delete
    9. "And the number of people actually interested in either of us is pretty close."

      Even at Somerby = 800, you're flattering yourself by a few orders of magnitude.

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    10. I like "Corby" better than a number. Even if it does have three digits.

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    11. Dear 799,

      For the ignorant of web traffic analytics, that would be 800 total visits, not 800 different people reading him.

      That would include both fanboys and trolls who click on numerous times a day, each time making a new "visit."

      So the actual number of people reading this blog on a given day? You're guess is as good as mine, but it would be somewhat less than 800, perhaps as few as 200.

      That's some audience this great and gifted prophet has managed to build over the course of 17 years.

      Delete
  5. I continue to find this analogy between Salem witch trials and the performance of journalists during recent debates to be labored. I think it is very hard to see the parallels that Somerby claims exist, and I agree that our journalists are not behaving very professionally.

    I do take exception to the remark that hysteria was well known in that time period. Yes, it had been cataloged by the Greeks, but it was attributed to a wandering uterus, not to the mind. The connection between mind and body was not well understood, and not treated appropriately, until the end of the 1800's with Freud and hypnosis and other approaches to psychotherapy. Such disorders as battle fatigue, PTSD and psychosomatic illness have only recently been sufficiently understood for effective treatment. If doctors in the 1690's relied mainly on placebos, I don't think that is their fault. Whereas today's journalists have access to both knowledge and training but do not apply either, especially when their goal is to be celebrities and provide public entertainment. Borrowing from the past to support very different complaints about the present seems inappropriate to me. The past needs to be understood in its own context and I think the present also benefits from that approach.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Warning to new readers of this blog: This comment was written by the author of the warning to casual readers which appeared above. That was part of a long running conversation he is having with those he calls "trolls" whom he accuses of stifling "conversation" in this comment box. He also claims to be a psychology professor and often posts long comments trying to prove it. Virtually nobody converses with him in response to such comments.

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    2. This is why using a nym is a bad idea. Corby didn't put his name on the disclaimer and the name Corby was not attached to any of the previous complaints about trolls, yet this obvious troll has decided to base a personal attack against Corby on those accusations. It is a distraction, which is what trolls do, but one based on the nym instead of any content of any comment. Nyms lead to ad hominem attacks like this.

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    3. I haven't seen such a nondenial denial since Joe Biden leaked about his son trashing the Clintons again on his deathbed and thus mislead the Great Geezer Guesser that it was his other son who did it.

      Delete
    4. It doesn't matter who posted the disclaimer or who Corby is or even who the trolls are. What matters are the ideas expressed. Someone unwilling to engage on that level is, by definition, a troll.

      Delete
    5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY&list=RDgp5JCrSXkJY#t=0

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    6. See, nobody cares about the ideas advanced by a pseudo psych prof.

      Delete
    7. One handy, if rough, rule of thumb in Internet discussions: Expertise held is in inverse proportion to expertise claimed.

      It is also the old "appeal to authority" logical fallacy. When one has to gloss what they say with credentials, then what they say isn't capable of standing on its own.

      Delete
    8. Corby has left the buildingNovember 16, 2015 at 3:42 PM

      This is the only comment I've made about being a professor:

      "Joseph Cannon at Cannonfire is claiming that this hoax happened to him too. He thinks psychology professors may regularly do this kind of thing to their students. As a psychology professor, I know that they do not. "

      That is not an appeal to authority but a claim of familiarity with classroom practices among those who teach psychology.

      You are welcome to disbelieve what I said and assume that psychology professors are constantly playing dirty tricks on their students. Ben Carson will welcome your support.

      Delete
    9. Don't know if you are a professor but you are quite the projectionist.

      For casual. new, and gullible readers of this blog:

      Professor Dr. Corby assumed this identity in response to an entreaty by CMike Saturday before last, shortly after admitting, under Anonymous, he was the author of the Disclaimer comments. Previously a commenter calling him/herself Anonymous often alluded to her/his role as a psychology professor, usually trying to bolster credentials in arguments about social science research.

      Since out of the shadow Corby appeared and then invoked his professorial status on November 9, he revealed himself to be the person prone to use the criticism of "excess literalism" which he constantly diagnoses as a mental disorder. This is usually invoked by the Professor when someone demonstrates Somerby has lied by performing the terrible trick of quoting the blogger.

      Professor Dr. Corby subsequently demonstrated how a professional psychologist such as he is can tell a person is lying because of the Three Billy Goats Gruff rule of thumb.
      ("Three bears, three stooges, three days of the condor" were later thrown in for free...and I might add he used three examples, but that would be like chastising a four year old
      rather than an esteemed professor.)

      Corby may have left the building. The crackpot who claimed to be him will keep commenting.

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    10. Creepy stalking guy. Can you prove you don't have a major mental disorder?

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    11. As soon as I prove they doctored the picture of Clinton with the moustache in HuffPo I'll get right on it, Professor.

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    12. Are you actually suggesting the possibility that she has a moustache?

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    13. As a famous blogger has been telling his readership of varying size for 17 prophetic years, "anything is possible."

      Delete
  6. Interesting, because I have been, of course, reading about Mizzou. I live in Kansas and have a nephew right there at Mizzou. I have not noticed all that much about the journalism. Although I did jump on one article which said Mizzou is "overwhelmingly white". Uh, yeah, kinda like the state of Missouri. Althoughj, so far, I have not seen any stats on the racial make up of Missouri's high school seniors. I wonder if the black students at Mizzou do not come from High schools that are 60%+ black and then get to Mizzou and think "this place is way too white" or they ask "why is this place so white?" and find the simplest answer - because of discrimination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And sometimes you'll be thinking about a Salem Witch Trial. And somebody will say "trial", or "witch", and someobdy smoking a Salem will say "which trial."

      For the record, many, as Somerby noted in his brief mention of this important topic, will turn out to be scrub faced white kids.

      Delete
    2. Thomas Parham at UC Irvine has wondered why black students with scores that could get them into the UC system prefer instead to attend CSU Dominguez Hills. His conclusion was not that UCI discriminates against them but that they prefer to attend where they will not be a small minority but are instead the majority on campus. This has also been noticed in housing and is behind the title of the book "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" by Beverly Tatum. I doubt anyone feels comfortable as a minority group member, but I'm not sure black students realize this cuts both ways.

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    3. I doubt anyone feels comfortable as a minority group member, but I'm not sure everyone realizes using "anonymous" instead of a Nym doesn't prevent you from being spotted as a numbnut.

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    4. @ 12:34 PM - thanks for the whitesplanation.

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    5. Parham and Tatum are both black.

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    6. Are you black, Corby?

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    7. Seems to me you are setting up another complaint about argument from authority if I say I am, or lack of authority if not. Does my race change what Parham and Tatum said (which anyone can read for themselves)? You didn't bother asking before you accused me of cultural misappropriation did you? Do you think truth is determined by skin color? If not, why ask?

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    8. I didn't accuse you of anything Dr. C. I just aksed a question based on your statement about Parham and Tatum. I have no reason whatsoever to think that you have accurately or inaccurately reresented anthing those two say or correctly connect it to the point you make in response to Dr. T.

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  7. Dr. T -- the phrase "overwhelmingly white" is media code for implying racism, or at least, implying that blacks are victims. Similar wording was used to criticize the Tea Parties. As you point out, any group of Americans is likely to include a minority of blacks.

    In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, "[Mizzou's] 35,000-strong student body is 77% white and 7% black."

    Doing the math, that makes 2,450 blacks and 5,600 other non-whites.

    BTW I don't buy the implication that blacks have to have lots of other blacks around in order to do well academically. Outstanding black intellectuals like Thomas Sowell and David Blackwell got their education at a time when few blacks were enrolled in colleges and graduate schools.

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    Replies
    1. If you don't buy implications you are in the wrong place.

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    2. You need to be surrounded by lots of similar people in order to avoid daily microaggressions. Now that racism is being defined in terms of microaggressions, I don't see any way to avoid it when people are members of a minority group. I suppose one way would be to make race (or some other characteristic) less salient, but I don't see the current focus on race and gender as heading in that direction.

      Delete
    3. Patty O'FurnishingsNovember 16, 2015 at 1:12 PM

      I don't know. There are times when Somerby appears to be
      peddling inference.

      Delete
    4. I am grateful we have David in Cal to decode the media codes for implying things.

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    5. In our view it is overwhelmingly white of him to share this with us.

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    6. Someone who finds racism offensive wouldn't use that phrase, even to pick on David in CA.

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    7. You might not use the phrase, Don't say what anyone else would do.

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  8. I see Somerby in his quick review still has Kasich calling budget plans "crazy".

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    1. Plus Obama is "not interested in [...] American leadership." Not interested in "America winning " and Obama said so!

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    2. I see Somerby in his quick review still has Kasich calling budget plans "crazy".

      No. That is your misrepresentation of what Somerby wrote.

      "Crazy," Candidate Kasich said. He was describing the budget plans of Candidates Carson and Trump.

      Delete
    3. Except, in his inimitable style as shown to you in Somerby's own words, he evolved that into all GOP candidates and their "crazy" plans.

      Again, Somerby using the very tactics in growing his own stories (and nose) until they fit the precise narrative he is trying to sell.

      And again, he has said it over and over and over and over in the course of these last weeks. This was shown to you, and you continue to cherry-pick the one quote that you think "Etch-A-Sketches" everything else he said.

      Delete
    4. Poor mm.

      Kasich only mentioned the tax level stated by Carson as an example in an earlier debate. As Somerby himself noted, Carson doesn't even have a full tax plan much less a budget proposal. And Kasich said nothing about Trump's tax, spending, or budget proposals.

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    5. This is almost getting comical. OK, Kasich didn't have time to call out each and every individual republican opponent's tax proposal as being "crazy". There really wasn't enough time for Kasich to explore all the various different flavours, colors, spins and charges of crazy on that stage that night, but I think he made his point. That was clear from the focus group post debate universal loathing of the man.

      Delete
    6. Kaisch's comments came at his own campaign rally in Ohio the day before the debate. He had all the time he wanted since it was his own event.

      You and Somerby have been comically hypocritical on this topic from the git go.

      Delete
  9. "For eighteen years, we've been trying to warn you, much as Cassandra once did"

    Sad fantasy of a truly Crazy Old Coot

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Professor Corby was only Professor Corby for eight days, then turned into Elvis.

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    2. "Crazy Old Coot." It must be fun for you to throw around insults like this but it makes you look like an obnoxious jerk.

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    3. @ 5:57 PM - are you being sarcastic or are you completely oblivious to the irony of your comment?

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    4. I think more of us agree with @5:57 than with you @6:54.

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    5. "us"

      That would be you and the the weasel in your pocket, Dr. Consensus.

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    6. 5:57 and 6:58 seem to prove Dr.Corby Disclaimer right about casual readers. Only a casual reader would fail to remember the role of old coots in the evolution of the Howler insult menagerie.

      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2014/06/anthropology-lessons-oleaginous-oily.html

      Delete
    7. Bob Fan Club Rule:

      When Bob says it, it's genius.

      When anybody else says it, it's oleaginous. And we must grab out smelling salts.

      Delete
  10. This was a good one Bob, spot on, from Salem, MA.

    ReplyDelete

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