BEHIND THE CURTAIN: The alleged philosopher's flimflam and quest!


Part 3—Hero of his own gong-show:
Perhaps it's time to define the nature of Jim Holt's actual quest.

His quest is explained in the first two pages of his Ten Best Books of 2012 book, "Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story." His quest adopts this form:

Holt was raised Catholic in rural Virginia. He was told by the nuns and the monks that God created the world.

As "a callow and would-be rebellious high school student," he "began to develop an interest in existentialism" in the 1970s. He was bowled over by Heidegger's presentation of the question, or perhaps the pseudo-question, Why is there something rather than nothing at all?

The explanation Holt had received from the nuns no longer seemed to work. Almost forty years later, he set out on a quest to write a book to examine this deepest question.

Did God create the world, and was God "self-caused?" The nuns told us that story too; we memorized the correct answers as part of Catechism class. As Holt notes on his second page, "It is a story still believed by a vast majority of Americans."

For ourselves, we got talked out of that story in (we think) ninth grade. Full disclosure:

Like many people who cease to believe that story, we don't think that we the humans are likely to provide an alternate answer to Holt's question, at least not any time soon.

Physicists can take us back to the Big Bang, but it has proven rather hard to explain things much beyond that. And when "philosophers" enter the scrum, the foolishness really gets started, as Holt demonstrates, again and again, all through his ridiculous book.

We don't think the three-year old preschoolers up the street could build a ladder to Mars. We also don't think that a person like Holt has any real chance to answer the question which has dogged him, or so he claims, since he became a rebellious teen, Heidegger and Sartre in hand.
so he
Forty years later, Holt set out to see if he could answer that question, or at least so he pretended. The result was a plainly ridiculous book of a rather familiar kind, a book larded with silly self-dramatization and obvious manifest bull-roar.

In other words, the type of book the New York Times adores! In the next dew weeks, we'll be peeking behind the curtain in an attempt to come to terms with this state of affairs.

Credit where due! When Dwight Darner reviewed Holt's book for the Times, we thought we saw green shoots of scorn pushing up through the ground.

Still and all, Holt was a "made man" within the journalistic elite, and Garner is employed within that guild. Perhaps for that reason, he was willing to describe Holt's basic account of his quest without noting how silly and absurd this premise actually is:
GARNER (8/2/12): Mr. Holt’s book was inspired partly by Martin Amis, who suggested in an interview that humanity is, in terms of discovering the algebra of existence, “at least five Einsteins away.”

This comment lights more than a few synapses in Mr. Holt’s mind. “Could any of those Einsteins be around today?” he wonders. “It was obviously not my place to aspire to be one of them. But if I could find one, or maybe two or three or even four of them, and then sort of arrange them in the right order...well, that would be an excellent quest.”

An excellent quest it mostly turns out to be.
It’s no spoiler to report that the author doesn’t return, like Ernest Hemingway with a marlin, with a unified theory of everything. “Why Does the World Exist?” is more about the nuances of the intellectual and moral hunt.
An excellent quest it (mostly) turns out to be? Scripted reviewer, please!

Holt does in fact describe that "quest" in his book's opening pages. As he does, we're introduced to the heroics which animate this ridiculous book—and we're asked to believe Holt has magic trombones for sale which basically play themselves.

For the record, Holt's book starts on page 3. The rumination shown below, concerning a search for the "algebra of being," arrives quite early on.

Trust us—nothing Holt writes before this passage helps us understand the term "algebra of being." The showy term is a type of flim-flam, of a type which litters this book:
HOLT (pages 10-11): How close are we to discovering such an algebra of being? The novelist Martin Amis was once asked by Bill Moyers in a television interview how he thought the universe might have popped into existence. “I'd say we're at least five Einsteins away from answering that question," Amis replied. His estimate seemed about right to me. But, I wondered, could any of those Einsteins be around today? It was obviously not my place to aspire to be one of them. But if I could find one, or maybe two or three or even four of them, and then sort of arrange them in the right order...well, that would be an excellent quest.

So that is what I set out to do.
My quest to find the beginnings of an answer to the question Why is there something rather than nothing? has had many promising leads. Some failed to pan out.
So begins Holt's "quest." Let's note how silly this is.

For starters, why the Sam Hill would Bill Moyers have popped that question to Amis?

We don't have the slightest idea how to answer that question. That said, if you work off things like published transcripts, this is the actual Q-and-A which actually seems to have transpired back in 2006:
MOYERS (7/28/06): What brought you to this PEN festival of writers on faith and reason? Because you're not a believer?

AMIS: Right. No. I wouldn't call myself an atheist any more. I think that's it's a sort of crabbed word. And agnostic is the only respectable position, simply because our ignorance of the universe is so vast that it would be premature. We're about eight Einsteins away from getting any kind of handle on the universe. So there's not going to be any kind of anthropomorphic entity at all.
At least on that occasion, that's what Moyers actually asked. And that's what Amis said in reply.

That exchange occurred in 2006. Seven years later, the Moyers site was still linking to the transcript of that program, while posting the videotape of that specific exchange. To convince yourself, click here.

Holt, who's extremely light on sourcing, provides no source for the exchange he describes. We're prepared to consider the possibility that it never occurred, at least not in this part of the multiverse.

Whatever! Holt's presentation does supply the tiny gist of what Amis actually said. That said, what Amis actually said is this:

Amis said that he doesn't think that three-year-olds could build a ladder to Mars. He also doesn't think that we the humans have anything like the ability to answer the kinds of questions Holt pretends to explore in his flimflam-laden book.

Amis said we're "eight Einsteins away." That's what his statement meant.

To Holt, Amis' statement seems to suggest something different. He cut "eight Einsteins" down to five, then handed his readers a hero quest—a hero quest starring himself and driven by servings of flimflam.

Charlatan, please! Einstein (1879-1955) is popularly considered the greatest physicist since Newton. Newton was born in 1643. In short, an Einstein, in the sense Amis meant, comes along every 236 years.

(Full disclosure: When Amis said we're eight Einsteins away, he wasn't suggesting that the eight Einsteins would show up all at once.)

Holt says that he himself couldn't aspire to be one of these Einsteins, thereby lodging the idea that he maybe possibly could. But he imagines that he might be able to find as many as four such people just by flying around on somebody's dime and talking to people he's heard of.

Humblebragging skillfully, Holt imagines himself discovering as many as four new Einsteins, within just a couple of years! After finding these four people, Holt was further planning to "arrange them in the right order."

Holt assumed that book reviewers would ignore the absurdity of this idea. Quite correctly, he assumed they would respectfully describe his "quest" as if it made some sort of sense.

"So that is what I set out to do," our humble hero says. In the rest of his page 11, he proceeds to describe three of the "promising leads" which actually "failed to pan out."

But alas! Even when his leads fail to pan out, Holt skillfully humblebrags in the course of describing the failures. This incessant elevation-of-self is basic to this style of flam, which is widely observed in "cable news" and within the types of silly books the New York Times adores.

At any rate, our humble hero assigns himself a quest. He plans to jet around the world in search of maybe four Einsteins.

What isn't explained is why we should think that he would be able to spot a new Einstein even if he stumbled upon one. He didn't even provide a source for his nugget anecdote, which he seems to have misrepresented and which doesn't seem to make sense. But somehow, he's going to find a string of Einsteins as he flounces about in the finer cafes—with time out for talking about his dead dog, "the best part of the book."

Holt seemed to feel sure that the New York Times wouldn't notice small matters like these. That they wouldn't mention a basic fact—again and again and again and again, his utterly silly and ludicrous text makes no earthly sense.

Tomorrow: On to the text-in-itself

People Comey the God had no reason to fear!


People like Tomasky and Drum, along with Kornacki and Maddow:
Last weekend, Kevin Drum wrote a long post about James B. Comey which struck us as oddly illogical.

Did James B. Comey's behavior last year tip the election to Donald J. Trump? That is surely quite possible.

On the other hand, the election tipped to Trump by a narrow margin in three states. In such a situation, many factors can be said to have possibly tipped the election to Trump. Examples:

It may be that Clinton would have won if Comey hadn't behaved as he did. But it's also possible that Clinton would have won, in spite of Comey, had she run a better campaign in some way.

Beyond that, it may be that Clinton would have won in spite of Comey absent the Russian invasion. Especially in a narrow race, any number of different factors may have tipped the campaign.

For some reason, Drum seems determined to fix Comey as the "decisive" cause of November's outcome. Absent further explanation, that doesn't exactly make sense. Neither does Drum's claim that Clinton probably ran an average campaign, not a bad campaign.

In truth, there is no objective way to say who ran a "bad" campaign. Drum chose several subjective measures, then used them to say that Clinton's campaign wasn't all that bad.

In this, his nugget explanation, he correctly says that Clinton outperformed one predictive model. This leads him to suggest that Clinton's campaign just wasn't all that bad:
DRUM : [T]hat got me curious: how do Clinton and her campaign compare to past elections? There's no way to measure this directly, but you can get an idea by comparing actual election outcomes to the predictions of a good fundamental model. So I hauled out Alan Abramowitz's model, which has a good track record, and looked at how winning candidates performed compared to the baseline of what the model predicted for them.


According to this, Hillary Clinton did way better than any winning candidate of the past three decades, outperforming her baseline by 2.4 percent. Without the Comey effect, she would have outperformed her baseline by a truly epic amount.

Now, was this because she ran a good campaign, or because she had an unusually bad opponent? There's no way to tell, of course. Donald Trump was certainly a bad candidate, but then again, no one thinks that Dole or Gore or Kerry or McCain were terrific candidates either.

Bottom line: we don't have any way of knowing for sure, and this is an inherently subjective question. But the evidence of the Abramowitz model certainly doesn't suggest that Hillary Clinton ran an unusually poor campaign or that she was an unusually poor candidate. Maybe she was, but aside from cherry-picked anecdotes and free-floating Hillary animus, there's not really a lot to support this view.
Drum acknowledges that this is a subjective question. Still and all, we're semi-gobsmacked by what he says about Candidate Trump in that passage.

Drum notes that Clinton outperformed the (necessarily crude) Abramowitz predictive model. He acknowledges that this may have happened because Clinton had "an unusually bad opponent" in Candidate Trump.

He goes on to say that Donald J. Trump "was certainly a bad candidate." But he says that Kerry and Gore and McCain were no great shakes themselves.

People! In a wide array of (subjective) ways, Donald J. Trump was the most god-awful candidate in our political history! At several points, he engaged in such bizarre extended behavior that people debated the possibility that he was trying to lose.

Judged by a somewhat objective measure, he currently has the lowest approval ratings of anyone elected president in the past three million years. By a fairly wide margin.

It has widely been said that a President Clinton would have horrible approval ratings now too. But it's a simple matter of fact that President Trump stands much lower than any elected candidate in the history of poling. This suggests the possibility that he was an historically horrible candidate.

Let's get clear on the way this works. If Candidate A runs a truly awful campaign, Candidate B can run a bad campaign and still outperform predictions. Is that what Candidate Clinton did? We don't see any real point in trying to figure that out.

We do see an unpleasant point in thinking about the Comey matter. Yesterday, Michael Tomasky wrote a piece about Comey's lack of fear of Democrats when he began his interventions last July. Drum links to, and agrees with, Tomasky here.

Comey staged the first of his intervention on July 5, 2016. Aside from Democrats, we can think of other people he had no need to fear when he made this fateful decision. They have names like Tomasky and Drum—and like Kornacki and Maddow.

A basic pattern has been acted out here, especially in Tomasky's piece and Drum's reaction to it. More of this misery tomorrow, with links to the silent past of our liberal intellectual leaders.

When Comey started down that road last July, Barney Fife would have known to nip it in the bud! Following Tomasky's line of reasoning, Comey may have understood that our big liberal stars were never going to do that.

At any rate, that's what happened. The same thing had happened again and again in the previous twenty-five years.

Long ago, Candidate Clinton got demonized in this way. The liberal silence, our lack of fight, politely persisted last summer.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Who the Sam Hill is Jim Holt?


Part 2—Stopped before reaching Kyoto:
Who the heck is best-selling author Jim Holt? By the norms of Internet information collection, it's remarkably hard to find out.

In this essay for New York Magazine, Holt revealed that, in the summer of 68, he, unlike Jackson Browne, was 13. This would mean that he was born in 1954 or 1955. You can work out his current age from there.


Based upon a few passages in his 2012 book, Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story, it seems That Holt grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, the city of seven hills. Beyond that, his biographical profile is remarkably fuzzy.

We'd say the standard version of Holt's bio is offered in the blurb promoting his TED Talk. In its overview, TED also provides an upbeat account of Holt's book:
TED: In his 2012 book Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, Jim Holt creates a narrative out of one of the biggest questions we can ask—and how modern scientists and philosophers are asking it. Can answers be found in many-worlds theory, in quantum mechanics, in a theology? Traveling around North America and Europe, he talks to physicists, including David Deutsch; philosophers, including Richard Swinburne; and the novelist John Updike. Why? Because as he tells Vanity Fair, "To me it’s the most sublime and awesome question in all of philosophy and all of human inquiry."

A longtime contributor to the New York Times, Slate and the New Yorker, Holt has written on string theory, time, infinity, numbers, humor, logic, truth and bullshit, among other topics. Holt studied mathematics at the University of Virginia, and was a faculty fellow in the philosophy department at Columbia. He is now at work on a book about free will, weakness of will, self-knowledge and happiness.
Holt has written on bullshit, among other topics. Let's fill out that basic bio:

It's often said that Holt got a master's degree in math at Virginia, then went to Columbia to study philosophy. That "faculty fellow" designation may mean that he was a graduate teaching assistant. We've seen no claim that he received a degree from Columbia, or that he was an actual faculty member.

Somewhat comically, TED quotes Holt's interview with Vanity Fair—an interview which paired him with a young English major one year out of college. As we noted yesterday, the young journalist started the session by telling Holt that she didn't have the first fucking idea what the Sam Hill he was talking about in his book. Holt pretended that this meant that he had "failed" in his book.

Somewhat cynically, we'd wonder if that young woman's statement didn't mean that Holt had actually succeeded in his basic mission. Leaving such speculations to others, we'll note that the Vanity Fair interview gives us some sense of who Holt may actually be.

As we all await Professor Trump's war, we'll also suggest that the interview may give us a tiny peek behind a significant cultural curtain. The foolishness behind that curtain has led us to our current degraded state.

In the summer of 2012, Vanity Fair had tasked Linda Christensen, one year out of Princeton, with interviewing the seer. As we noted yesterday, she quickly said she had no idea what the fuck Holt was talking about in his new book.

But uh-oh! Being well-mannered and well-employed, she quickly added words of mandated praise. In this initial back and forth, we're peeking behind a curtain:
CHRISTENSEN (7/16/12): Mr. Holt—I have to confess: a lot of this book was over my head.

HOLT: Oh no! That’s terrible. I’ve failed.

CHRISTENSEN: That’s not a total negative. It’s certainly an impressive whirlwind of complex arguments in cosmology, philosophy, physics, and mathematics—but why the fixation with being and nothingness?

HOLT: To me it’s the most sublime and awesome question in all of philosophy and all of human inquiry...
It wasn't Christensen's fault that she'd been handed this assignment, for which she had no apparent qualification. Indeed, having been handed this absurd task, she proceeded as best she could.

That said, we see an intriguing juxtaposition as the interview starts. His interlocutor told Jim Holt that she didn't have the first fucking idea what he was talking about. That much said, so what? She quickly added words of high reassurance:

"It’s certainly an impressive whirlwind of complex arguments in cosmology, philosophy, physics, and mathematics," the young scribe unknowingly said. This joined the introductory appraisal she had penned:

Jim Holt had "established himself as an invaluable fixture in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today," the young scribe had unknowingly said.

Stating the obvious, this young journalist had no way of knowing whether those judgments made sense. But so what? Having said the book was "over her head," she went on to praise its "complex arguments," having already certified its author's "invaluable" status.

This pattern is widely observed when people like Holt write books of this type. Journalists know they've been assigned to applaud, and so they proceed to do so. A standard group assessment thereby gathers steam.

Our view? Holt's book is, at heart, a giant pile of heavily self-referential bullroar. Again and again as we plow through its text, we're struck by the author's sophisticated humblebragging and by his truly spectacular nonsense.

The intellectual namedropping performed in the book has surely established world records. Other music men play this game, but Holt is a grand past master.

In 1988, Michael Kinsley described the 39-year-old Al Gore as "an old person's idea of a young person." In similar fashion, Holt's book might be seen as an untutored journalist's idea of "an impressive whirlwind of complex arguments" compiled by an "invaluable" guide.

(As we'll note before the week is done, Holt's is precisely the type of book the New York Times will inevitably name as one of the year's ten best. They crowned Holt's book in 2012, did the same thing last year.)

Good God, this book is awful! But before we look at a bit of its text, let's ponder the glimmerings we can glean from the rest of that Vanity Fair interview.

Poor Christensen! Having no idea what Holt's book was about, she was forced to engage in small talk about the process by which it had joined the great chain of being.

As TED tells us, Holt had "travel[ed] around North America and Europe," talking to physicists and philosophers in the course of compiling his book. Early on, Christensen briefly tried working with that:
CHRISTENSEN: How much of this scavenger hunt for answers had you planned out before you began research?

HOLT: In 2009, I thought the journey was going to end up in Kyoto. I ran out of traveling money, actually.


HOLT: It turns out that the Kyoto school of Buddhism makes Heidegger seem like Rush Limbaugh—it’s so rarified, I’ve never been able to understand it at all. I’ve been knocking my head against it for years.


CHRISTENSEN: But you didn’t end up working from there, in the end.

HOLT: I found the Café de Flore in Paris to be a very convenient base from which to operate. It’s where Jean-Paul Sartre wrote Being and Nothingness and hung out with Simone de Beauvoir during the war, and Descartes is buried right across the square. And Leibniz, when he was in Paris, was also right across the street.
We're sparing you Holt's fuller thoughts on the Kyoto school. We're giving you the tiniest taste of the book's high culture foppishness, along with a taste of the nonstop intellectual namedropping to which we have alluded.

At the Café de Flore, Holt was operating right across the street from the place where Leibniz once had been! Concerning Holt's reference to "traveling money," this exchange raised a basic question for us about this piddlerich book:

Who in the world paid for all the hard traveling Holt performs in the book? For all the trips to Paris, and to Oxford and/or Cambridge? For all the fancy meals Holt describes himself consuming? Not to mention the bottles of wine!

Given the worthlessness of this book, why was there any money to fund this manifest nonsense? Presumably, we can feel blessed that the money ran out before Holt reached Kyoto. But given the glimpses Holt provides of his own background; given his relatively light prior output; we're curious how a high-livin' grab bag of nonsense like this ever got funded at all.

Christensen didn't ask. Instead, she proceeded to a standard question, triggering an incorrect answer:
CHRISTENSEN (continuing directly): Bone to pick: your list excludes women.

HOLT: It wasn’t meant to be that way! I was going to include a Harvard physicist who’s not only a woman but she’s extremely attractive. But then I alienated her by writing an insufficiently favorable review of a book of hers in the Times. So I never asked her—it would have been too gelid an atmosphere.
Poor Christensen! She tried to throw in a type of question which was standard even in 2012. For her trouble, she received a tone deaf remark about a Harvard physicist "who’s not only a woman but she’s extremely attractive."

Holt seems to refer to Harvard's Lisa Randall, high school classmate of Brian Greene. Given Holt's review of Randall's book, any such conversation would have been too "gelid," the VF scribe was told.

Christensen didn't complain. With the book's actual contents off limits, she took one more side trip:
CHRISTENSEN: The book is just as much a personal journey as it is one of science—what made you want to include autobiographical elements into your analysis?

HOLT: Of course, there was a certain amount of death intruded into the book—first of all, one of the philosophers almost killed me—but also my dog dies while I’m in Austin. It’s the best part of the book—it’s really sad. And then later, my mother dies towards the end, and it’s kind of tacky to exploit the death of one’s mother, but I saw not only a self but the self that engendered my own being flicker out of existence. Contemplating the question of why the world exists makes one contemplate the precariousness of one’s own existence.
"One of the philosophers almost killed me?" As we'll likely explain in a later installment, this is a humblebrag, of a type which pervades this book.

That said, Christensen gets credit for noticing the constant self-reference in this high philosophical work. The best part of his book concerns the death of his dog, the invaluable philosophe says. It was really sad.

Can that possibly be the best part of this deeply sophisticated book? Tomorrow, we'll look at some actual text from Holt's "detective story." We'll be peeking behind a cultural curtain as we take this step.

Tomorrow: Spectacular nonsense of the type the New York Times runs to reward

Sheryl Sandberg's superb op-ed!

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

That was their father:
Have we ever read a better op-ed column than Sheryl Sandberg's transplendent essay in today's New York Times?

With co-author Adam Grant, Sandebrg has written a book about resilience. In hard copy, her column appears beneath these headlines:
How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss
I needed to find ways to help my children after their father's death
We think it's a stunning column.

Two years go, Sandberg's husband unexpectedly died. Their children were seven and ten.

In her column, Sandberg describes the things she did, after seeking advice from Grant and others, to help her children cope. We were struck by this all the way down:
SANDBERG (4/24/17): One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day—with the rules written by my kids in colored markers—still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.

Dave and I had a tradition at the dinner table with our kids in which each of us would share the best and worst moments of our day. Giving children undivided attention—something we all know is important but often fail to do—is another of the key steps toward building their resilience. My children and I have continued this tradition, and now we also share something that makes us feel grateful to remind ourselves that even after loss, there is still so much to appreciate in life.


Since my children were so young when they lost their father, I am afraid that their memories of him will fade, and this breaks my heart all over again. Adam and I also learned that talking about the past can build resilience. When children grow up with a strong understanding of their family’s history—where their grandparents grew up, what their parents’ childhoods were like—they have better coping skills and a stronger sense of mattering and belonging. Jamie Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, has found that expressing painful memories can be uncomfortable in the moment, but improves mental and even physical health over time.

To keep Dave’s memory alive, I asked dozens of his closest family members, friends and colleagues to capture their stories about him on video. I also taped my children sharing their own memories, so that as they grow up, they will know which are truly theirs. This past Thanksgiving my daughter was distraught, and when I got her to open up, she told me, “I’m forgetting Daddy because I haven’t seen him for so long.” We watched the video of her talking about him, and it gave her some comfort.

Talking openly about memories—not just positive ones, but difficult ones, too—can help kids make sense of their past and rise to future challenges.
Whenever we read an essay like this, we think of the millions of kids who don't get this kind of parenting. Sandberg reminds us of those kids too, early in her column.

Just yesterday, we were thinking about the way children (and adults) want to know the history of their family members, especially their parents. We were thinking about the emotional power of Big Fish, the Tim Burton film in which a young man tries to find his way through the persistent tall tales of his evasive father, who is dying.

Our own sainted mother was extremely reticent about discussing her personal history. On the rare occasion, she would let a random anecdote fly:

The time she skated so far up the Merrimack that she couldn't get home till long after dark. The time she was halfway down the ski jump and spotted her mother off to the right, glaring angrily at her.

The time she thought the ballplayer had stood her up on a date, until it turned out that he had just played in the longest game in major-league history! (We assumed this referred to the Red Sox.)

The time Casey Stengel told her he liked her because his wife was named Edna too! (We assumed this would have been in the 1950s, when Stengel was with the mighty Yanks, after our mother had married our father.)

How did our mother and father meet? We'd never heard the story until our older half-brother, now deceased, told us maybe fifteen years ago. The story he told us was very familiar to us and very believable. Almost surely, our mother would have been someone a gent would have noticed.

Children want to know about their family histories. About a year ago, we were lucky enough to be sitting at a dinner table when a relative of ours (by marriage) suddenly told everyone, including his then 9-year-old daughter, about the first time he saw her mother.

(It happened in the D.R. The 9-year-old's father was coaching the Dominican national track team, on loan from God in the form of Fidel. The 9-year-old's mother was in the D.R. working for UNICEF.)

His daughter, our great niece, is easily one of our all-time most favoritest people. We thought her eyes grew extremely wide as she listened, with great interest, to this sudden story about her mother and father in the years before she was here.

"That was your mother," Paul Simon said. In the case of Sandberg's column, that was their father. We don't know when we've encountered so much decency and so much wisdom on an op-ed page.

Two long stories short: A few years ago, we decided to fact-check our mother's story about that "longest game." Had there actually been an extremely long MLB game in Boston during the relevant years?

Sure enough! On June 27, 1939, the Boston Braves (then called the Boston Bees) and the Brooklyn Dodgers battled to a 23-inning tie at Braves Field. We'd always assumed that she meant the Red Sox. But if we might borrow from Don Corleone, it was the Braves all the time!

We checked to see who was on the Braves' roster. Manager of the 1939 Bees?

Who else? Casey Stengel!

(You can see him colorized here.)

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Assigned to interview the savant!

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

Part 1—The semi-comical functioning of our rather fraudulent world:
A funny thing happened, five years ago, in the suites at Vanity Fair.

Jim Holt, whose name won't ring a bell, had written a recognizable type of book. For unknown reasons, Vanity Fair assigned Lauren Christensen to interview him about it.

The fruit of that session can be squeezed here. Before the Qs-and-As began, readers were handed this overview:
CHRISTENSEN (7/16/12): New Yorker Jim Holt has established himself as an invaluable fixture in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today, as an author and essayist for The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. With his latest book, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, out today from Liveright, Holt allowed VF Daily to pick his brain...
Was it true? Had Holt "established himself as an invaluable fixture in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today?"

That is a matter of judgment. The humor of the situation involves the person Vanity Fair picked to deliver this judgment.

At the time her judgment was rendered, Lauren Christensen was one year out of Princeton, where she had majored in English. Starting in June 2011, she had worked at Vanity Fair. According to she best positioned to know, she had worked in some or all of these capacities:
Assistant Editor to Aimée Bell, Deputy Editor
• Edited features, columns, and Spotlights across politics, culture, and Hollywood sections
• Coordinated an integrated monthly development process across all departments for incoming stories
• Directly aided contributing editors with story ideas, research, and editing
• Compiled the Vanity Fair books list for first serial and Hot Type considerations
• Pitched, researched, and wrote independent book reviews for both the print magazine and
By this time, Christensen may have edited features, columns, and "Spotlights" across politics, culture, and Hollywood sections. She may have compiled the Vanity Fair books list for "Hot Type" considerations.

Now, through zero fault of her own, she was handed a new assignment. She was assigned to name the people who are invaluable fixtures in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today!

Question: in what world would an editor assign such a task to such a young, unqualified person?

Answer: in the world of our modern journalistic elite, after the curtain's drawn back! In the world of the music men who have helped create the world in which we all cringe today.

Nothing that happened in this comical instance was Laura Christensen's fault. Had deputy editor Aimee Bell made this rather unlikely assignment? We have no idea.

(In 1992, Bell, then 26, was reportedly "an editor of the Vanities section of Vanity Fair magazine in New York and is the books editor there." You can confirm those facts here.)

Whatever! Someone asked an English major one year out of college to engage in the act of judgment to which we have alluded. Understandably, when the Qs and As began, the Qs and As started like this:
CHRISTENSEN (continuing directly from above): Holt allowed VF Daily to pick his brain—highlights from our chat:

CHRISTENSEN: Mr. Holt—I have to confess: a lot of this book was over my head.

HOLT: Oh no! That’s terrible. I’ve failed.
In truth, that was an excellent way for this young journalist to start. In his utterly bogus response, it was Holt who cast himself in the role of cosmic pretender.

At the time this piece appeared, the alleged success of Holt's new book hadn't yet been established. Holt is an elusive figure whose background is surprisingly hard to pin down. Even today, the leading authority offers only the short bio shown below, but the bio does start to establish the worldly success of his book:
Jim Holt is an American philosopher, author and essayist. He has contributed to The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The American Scholar, and Slate. His book Why Does the World Exist? was a NYTimes bestseller for 2013.

He hosted a weekly radio spot on BBC Wales called "Living in America, with Jim Holt" for ten years. He has appeared on William F. Buckley's Firing Line, NBC News with Tom Brokaw, and CNN. In 1997, he was editor of The New Leader, a political magazine. Holt lives in Greenwich Village, NY.
Is Holt "an American philosopher?" Only the recent college grads know for sure!

This bio does make the somewhat muddled claim that Holt's book "was a NYTimes bestseller for 2013." Under "Awards and Honors," it further notes that Holt's book was a 2012 finalist for a National Book Award.

(According to Nexis, the book appeared on the Times hard-cover bestseller list for three weeks during 2012, and for one week during 2013, never rising above number 23. During 2013, it appeared on the paperback bestseller list four times.)

In truth, Holt's book wasn't a giant best-seller, whether for 2012 or for 2013. That said, the leading authority doesn't mention another high honor received by Holt's book. Inevitably, in December 2012, the New York Times selected Holt's "existential detective story" as one of the ten best books of the year.

Should the Times have made that selection? That's a matter of judgment. That said, Christensen couldn't know this honor was coming when she received her assignment in the summer of that year.

Presumably, Christensen asked around concerning Holt, then voiced a conventional view. As an author and essayist for The New York Times and The New York Review of Books, Holt had established himself as an invaluable fixture in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today. She herself didn't understand Holt's book. But it was what everyone said!

Christensen did something very right when she started her conversation in the way we've cited. She said she had no fucking idea what the fuck the invaluable fixer was talking about in his highly sophisticated book.

Did Holt know what he was talking about? We'll flirt with that question this week. In the process, we'll be starting a highly controversial conversation, one we expect to extend over several weeks.

At present, we're all waiting for Donald J. Trump to start his invaluable war. With our national discourse now a mere memory, we think it's time to take a peek behind the curtain and chuckle about the assortment of journalistic and academic frauds who have brought us to this darkly amusing point.

Who would ask a college kid to make an assessment like the one which landed in Christensen's lap? Music men would take that step—and none of Us would notice.

Tomorrow: Who the Sam Hill is Jim Holt? And what the Sam Hill has he said?

Later today: Drum on Comey

Maddow in the "killing" fields!


We have no fish today:
Initially, we planned to return today to Monday evening's Maddow Show—specifically, to the remarkable way the program doctored a statement by Jeff Sessions.

Last Thursday, April 13, the program had played the same game. We discussed this rather obvious con in last Saturday's post.

This Monday, April 17, the program did it again. We'd have to say that Session's statement was doctored even more aggressively on this second occasion.

We'd even have to say that Monday's program introduced a striking new form of the "Maddow edit!" Also, and alas, the con was delivered this time around by guest host Joy Reid.

Reid is much, much smarter than this. But as we've long suggested, everyone who draws outsized pay from "cable news" ends up playing these cable news games.

Watching Maddow's show last night, we decided to change today's topic. We decided to discuss Maddow's propagandistic, uninformative trip to the "killing" fields.

Sadly, MSNBC hasn't produced a transcript for last night's program. And we don't plan to depress ourselves, at this time, by returning to Monday night's con.

That said, the Maddow Show is an endlessly devolving con which feeds on liberal brain cells. Watching its host perform last night, we thought again of the description she gave, a few years back, of her own emotional problems.

To our eye, Maddow seemed to be struggling last night, in a way you never want a person to struggle. But her work this week has been very poor. Liberal brain cells die each time this car salesman goes on the air.

We promise! We'll take you to the "killing" fields at some future date. We'll show you what this program's writers made Reid say Monday night.

We just don't want to do those things today. Our culture is in a downward spiral, and it seems to us that Maddow is central to this dangerous state of affairs.

On Monday, we plan to start an award-winning series, "The Music Men." Maddow is part of this upscale assemblage, but we plan to start somewhere else.

Finally, a chance for a last bit of fun as we all await you-know-who's war!

To us, these critiques seem fair: This morning, we stumbled across this Heat Street report, and on this Hot Air comment about it.

It seem to us that these critiques are probably on-target. Maddow strikes us as a struggling soul. Her program strikes us as a highly unhelpful, uninformative pseudo-progressive mess.

EMBRACE OF HATE: Loss of empathy for Those People!

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2017

Part 5—Loss of our brains and our souls:
In her column in last Friday's New York Times, Professor Fels described the varied effects of political hate.

What are the motives of "people who hate?" How are such people affected by their loathing of The Others? Today, we'll think about one possible motive, and about one effect:
FELS (4/14/17): The point is to hurt and humiliate. Those who hate want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have. It is this that makes the attacks so personal and lends them their crude, violent and often sexual nature. The intent is not to challenge opposing beliefs but to destroy those who hold them.


People who hate can blame others for their losses, reducing doubts about their own inadequacies.

Hate converts a sense of helplessness into one of action. It can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution, relieving their sense of isolation or powerlessness. As a consequence, though, there’s a loss of empathy, and beliefs become simplified and rigid.
When we liberals swallow the type of stew served by Amanda Marcotte this week, we're being taught to hate. For background, see yesterday's award-winning report.

Let's start with that one possible motive. Does our gulping of this stew allow us to "blame others for [our] losses, reducing doubts about [our] own inadequacies?"

It's hard to know how to answer. On the whole, we'd say that we liberals are too clueless, at this point in time, even to consider the possibility that Candidate Trump's win last year reflects in some way on Us—on "our own [massive] inadequacies."

We're just too dumb to see things that way. But good God! Our tribal inadequacies are comically endless. Consider another recent piece which appeared in the new, improved tribal Salon.

In the piece, David Masciotra reviewed an embarrassing new book. Masciotra's review appeared beneath these thrilling headlines:
Hillary hatred, exposed: What drives America’s never-ending case against Clinton
Susan Bordo's "The Destruction of Hillary Clinton" is a vital but incomplete look at her strange political life
Could the ineptitude of our tribe be put on more vivid display?

Hillary Clinton has been demonized, in ludicrous ways, over the course of the past twenty-five years. Now that it's officially too late, our pitiful tribe has somehow managed to cough up a book which explores, or pretends to explore, these decades of demonization.

Could any political group or tribe be more hapless than this? Our biggest corporate stars—think TV's Rachel Maddow—have repeatedly run and hid in the woods rather than confront this phenomenon. Our biggest stars—think Rachel Maddow—report their admiration for their "dear friend," Chris Matthews, one the greatest and most misogynistic demonizers of Hillary Clinton over those many long years.

We liberals just sit there and take it! And now that it no longer matters, as if to amuse the gods on Olympus, a book has appeared which claims to discuss this phenomenon. In a similar vein, we liberals started our "resistance" against Trump on January 21, 2017—exactly one day too late.

We had twenty-five years to get off our ascots, stand on our hind legs and fight. We rose in opposition, and staged our march, exactly one day after Trump took office! (Because we can't stop praising ourselves, we've dubbed our pushback "the resistance.")

Truly, we must be the least competent bunch that ever drew breath on the earth. Despite this rather obvious fact, our tribal propaganda is replete with the claim—see Marcotte's report—that We are the very smart people, while The Others, the ones Over There, are "low information voters." Has any group, of any type, ever been more obnoxious than We?

On balance, The Others are low-information, of course—but We Over Here are worse. We're stupid and venal and nobody likes Us. We're also too dumb to understand these patterns. For that reason, there's no obvious way in which, in our gulping of hate, we're trying to cover the fact of our own inadequacies.

We liberals are tremendously dumb. But we're too dumb to know it.

On balance, how dumb are We in the end? Let's consider what Fels said about the "loss of empathy" which obtains among "people who hate."

At this point, lack of empathy for The Others is virtually our tribal calling card. We can't "feel the pain" of a 59-year-old woman who can't afford to go to the doctor. (Reason: she's rural, Southern and white.)

In a similar vein, consider a second book review, a piece by Jennifer Senior in yesterday's New York Times.

In our view, Senior has done tremendous work in this new role at the Times. In her review, she praises Amy Goldstein's new book, Janesville: An American Story.

Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Goldstein's book concerns Janesville, Wisconsin, Speaker Ryan's home town. As every good pseudo-liberal will know, this will likely let us smirk and snark about the ways of Those People, whose votes for Candidate Trump last November Marcotte so deftly "explained."

As we noted yesterday, Wisconsin was one of the midwestern states Marcotte sought to explain. Why did voters turn to Trump last fall, flipping these states from blue to red and sending Trump to the White House?

According to Marcotte, it was their "blatant racism" which led them to do it, full freaking tribal stop. When we liberals indulge our hate, this is the only answer we currently know. It's our answer to every question!

Before we look at Senior's review, a word about Janesville, Wisconsin. According to the leading authority, Janesville is "the county seat and largest city of Rock County and the principal municipality of the Janesville, Wisconsin Metropolitan Statistical Area."

As of 2010, Janesville's population (63,575) constituted about 40 percent of Rock County's population. And good lord! Rock County supported Clinton over Trump by a significant margin last year:
Rock County, Wisconsin, 2016 election
Clinton: 51.7 percent
Trump: 41.4 percent
By Marcottian analytical standards, this might mean that we can't blame Rock County, or presumably Janesville, for what happened last year. Except uh-oh! Clinton ran five points behind Senate candidate Russ Feingold in Rock County last November—and this is the way the county voted in 2012:
Rock County, Wisconsin, 2012 election
Obama: 61.0 percent
Romney: 37.8 percent
Oof! Clinton ran more than nine points behind Obama. As such, Janesville seems to have been part of the general pattern across Wisconsin in which Clinton significantly underperformed Obama, producing a narrow statewide loss.

According to Marcotte, voters supported the black Democrat in 2012, then dumped the white Democrat in 2016, because of their "blatant racism." As noted above, this has become the only story our own tribe knows how to tell.

This brings us back to Senior's review of Goldstein's new book. Why might people in Janesville have flipped to Trump last year?

In our view, a vote for Trump represented an act of bad political judgment. But why might other people have judged it differently, as they're allowed to do?

Goldstein's book examines what happened in Janesville after General Motors closed a plant in 2008. Massive dislocation ensued. We'll let Senior tell it:
SENIOR (4/20/17): “Janesville” joins a growing family of books about the evisceration of the working class in the United States. What sets it apart is the sophistication of its storytelling and analysis.

The characters are especially memorable. This may be the first time since I began this job that I’ve wanted to send notes of admiration to three people in a work of nonfiction.


[P]erhaps the most powerful aspect of “Janesville” is its simple chronological structure, which allows Goldstein to show the chain reaction that something so calamitous as a plant closing can effect. Each falling domino becomes a headstone, signifying the death of the next thing.

Because the G.M. plant closes, so does the plant at the Lear Corporation, which supplied it with car seats and interiors. Because so many in Janesville are now out of work, nonprofits lose board members and contributions to local charities shrivel. Because their parents are out of work, students at Parker High start showing up for school both hungry and dirty. A social studies teacher starts the “Parker Closet,” which provides them with food and supplies. (Deri Wahlert: She’s one of the people to whom I’d like to write a fan note.)

The fabric of hundreds of families unravels, as an itinerant class of fathers—“Janesville Gypsies,” they call themselves—start commuting to G.M. factories in Texas, Indiana and Kansas, just so they can maintain their wage of $28 an hour. Those who stay home invariably see their paychecks shrink drastically. One of the men Goldstein follows, Jerad Whiteaker, cycles through a series of unsatisfying, low-paying jobs, finally settling in one that pays less than half his former wage and offers no health insurance. His twin teenage girls—to whom I’d also like to send awed notes—share five jobs between them, earning so much money for their family that they compromise their eligibility for student loans.

You will learn a lot about the arbitrary rules and idiosyncrasies of our government programs from this book. They have as many treacherous cracks and crevices as a glacier—and offer about as much warmth.
As has been widely noted, Candidate Clinton never campaigned in Wisconsin. Candidate Trump kept telling the victims of such dislocations that he was aware of their plight, and that he would be able to help them as president.

In our view, people who believed Trump's representations likely made a bad judgment. That said, they're nowhere near as dumb as we liberals are when we swallow ridiculous hate-driven essays such as Marcotte's latest.

Senior's review lets us examine our values. Are we able to empathize with people affected in the manner described? Are we able to understand that people can make judgments we consider faulty without necessarily being the most evil persons on earth?

Are we able to consider the lives of real people? Are we more than four years old?

We liberals get conned by our own big corporate stars every day. Are we able to live in a world where other people may get fooled by con men in different ways?

More and more, we liberals are unable to so such things. We're stupid and ugly and nobody likes us. But we're so sure of our manifest brilliance that we just keep pouring it on.

Tomorrow: The Maddow Show plays us again!

EMBRACE OF HATE: Amanda Marcotte explains The Others!


Part 4—"Blatant racism" decried:
Near the end of last Friday's op-ed column, Anna Fels described the type of world which gets created by "people who hate."

In our view, there's a lot to ponder in her portrait. The professor says, correctly we think, that such conduct is "on the rise:"
FELS (4/14/17): The point is to hurt and humiliate. Those who hate want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have. It is this that makes the attacks so personal and lends them their crude, violent and often sexual nature. The intent is not to challenge opposing beliefs but to destroy those who hold them.


People who hate can blame others for their losses, reducing doubts about their own inadequacies.

Hate converts a sense of helplessness into one of action. It can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution, relieving their sense of isolation or powerlessness. As a consequence, though, there’s a loss of empathy, and beliefs become simplified and rigid.

All this may help to explain why hate and its retributive punishments are on the rise. In a way, hate functions like a Geiger counter, signaling where there are serious disruptions of the social fabric or where cultural beliefs are under the most stress—whether it be from a new awareness of inequality, diversity or the radical redefining of gender.
Fels' portrait is well worth considering. First, though, let's consider two weaknesses in that passage.

Fels says her portrait "may help to explain why hate and its retributive punishments are on the rise." We don't know why she says that. We see Fels make no attempt to explain why political hate would be more attractive now than at some earlier point.

That strikes us as an obvious weakness in Fels' passage. For a second weakness, consider her examples of the places where "cultural beliefs are under the most stress," thus giving rise to political hate.

According to Fels, cultural beliefs are under the most stress in three areas. Cultural beliefs are being put under most stress by "a new awareness of inequality," by "diversity" and by "the radical redefining of gender."

Presumably, culturally beliefs are being put under stress in all three ways. But let's note an obvious point: in all three instances, Fels describes types of cultural stress which are being felt "on the right."

In all three instances, Fels thereby suggests that political hate is on the rise among Those People, the conservative folk Over There. She imagines no ways in which political hate might be on the rise among Us, the intelligent, well-meaning, wonderfully nuanced liberal folk Over Here.

Does this reflect a "bias" on Fels' part? It's hard to answer such questions. For today, let's restrict oursleves to a thought experiment, in which we ask such questions as these:

Is it possible that political hate is on the rise Over Here? Is it possible that we liberals have been identifying "objects of hate" against whom we launch "crude attacks?"

Is it possible that we've been involved in "the formation of new communities" in which we "share grievances" about our objects of hate? In which we experience "a loss of empathy" for such targets? In which our beliefes "become simplified and rigid?" In which we get to blame The Others for our political losses?

Could that be happening Over Here? Consider yesterday's piece by Amanda Marcotte at the new and improved Salon.

Marcotte's piece appeared beneath a punishing headline. Even as it cited a "new analysis," it told a tribally pleasing story—a story we liberals get served every day:

"New election analysis: Yes, it really was blatant racism that gave us President Donald Trump"

It wasn't just racism which gave us President Trump. It was blatant racism, the pleasing Salon headline said.

Briefly, let's be fair. Marcotte never refers to blatant racism in her actual text. We'll assume the extra word was added by an editor at the new Salon, making Marcotte's essay more "simplified" and more "crude."

That said, it would be hard to simplify Marcotte's text more than Marcotte did. And since everyone who writes for Salon will know that its headlines are tricked up this way, we'll have to grant Marcotte an authorship share in the exciting headline which sat atop her text.

That said, let's turn to that text-in-itself. Is it true? Did "blatant racism" give us President Donald J. Trump in some definable way? To what extent can racism be blamed for his status at all?

Asking Marcotte to address such questions is a bit like asking Donald J. Trump to analyze the Bolshoi Ballet. At one time, Marcotte specialized in issues involving gender. In the past few years, she has begun to wrote about pure politics.

Her work tends to be extremely poor. Consider the way she starts this latest pleasing piece:
MARCOTTE (4/19/17): It’s worth remembering, particularly when the Hillary Clinton recrimination news cycle is in full swing, that Donald Trump is president today because of a margin of fewer than 80,000 votes spread across three states.

“The most important states, though, were Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,”
Philip Bump in The Washington Post wrote in December. “Trump won those states by 0.2, 0.7 and 0.8 percentage points, respectively—and by 10,704, 46,765 and 22,177 votes.”

Those three states, however, had been comfortably won by Democrat Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Much of the recent shift, however tiny, was due to slightly more white working-class voters voting Republican than before. This, in turn, has prompted an ugly and ongoing fight between two progressive factions: those who believe those voters were primarily motivated by a sense of economic insecurity and people who think the shift occurred because racist appeals are prompting more white people to vote for Republicans.
As is often the case with Marcotte's work, she starts with a bit of puzzling logic. She says, correctly, that Obama won the three midwestern states in question by "comfortable" margins in 2012. She then says that Clinton's loss of these three states was occasioned by a "tiny shift" in votes, "due to slightly more white working-class voters voting Republican."

As almost anyone can see, those conjoined claims don't exactly seem to make sense. It's true that Candidate Clinton lost those three states by narrow margins. (She lost Ohio by 8.1 points.)

But though the margins were tiny, the shifts in votes were not, given the size of Obama's wins in 2012. Here's the breakdown on Michigan in those two elections:
Michigan 2012:
Obama 2,564,569 (54.2 percent)
Romney 2,115,256 (44.7 percent)

Obama won by 9.50 points
(4.731 million votes cast)

Michigan 2016:
Trump 2,279,543 (47.5 percent)
Clinton 2,268,839 (47.3 percent)

Clinton lost by 0.2 points
(4.799 million votes cast)
Where Obama won by almost ten points, Clinton narrowly lost. This involved substantial shifts in votes, whatever the explanation for those shifts may be.

As with Michigan, so too with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Candidate Clinton lost those states by narrow margins, but she lost a lot of votes as compared to Obama's comfortable wins four years before. Meanwhile, here's how Ohio went down:
Ohio 2012 versus Ohio 2016:
Obama 2012: 2,827,709 (50.7 percent)
Clinton 2016: 2,394,164 (43.6 percent)
Obama won Ohio by 3.0 points in 2012. Four years later, Clinton lost the state by 8.1 points.

Candidate Clinton lost a lot of votes in these midwestern states in 2016 as compared to Candidate Obama in 2012. This leads us to our second question: how did those votes get lost?

This is where the "blatant racism" theory comes in. The "new analysis" to which Marcotte refers belongs to Sean McElwee, a scrub-faced recent college grad (Kings College, 2013) who is becoming the liberal world's go-to guy for "blatant racism" analyses.

For ourselves, we would be slow to assume the competence of McElwee's analyses. That said, here's how he analyzed the vote changes in these decisive states, at least according to Marcotte:
MARCOTTE: For people who pay close attention to politics, McElwee argued, it’s been clear for decades that Democrats have been more progressive than Republicans on the issue of racial justice. But for the less informed voters, the “election of a black president, the reaction to that and then the Trump campaign” made race and racism more salient as electoral issues than they have been in recent political memory. The result is that people with racist attitudes are rapidly shifting toward becoming Republicans, and people with more progressive views on race are flocking to the Democrats.

This, in turn, helps explain the small number of voters who voted for Obama once and maybe even twice but then turned to Trump. They may have initially perceived Obama to be “post-racial” candidate whose color was not important. But after years of racist vitriol aimed at Obama, as well as the increase in racial justice movements like Black Lives Matter, those voters have turned to more racialized thinking and flocked to Trump. The constant complaining of Trump supporters about the pernicious influence of “political correctness” also suggests this reading.
Inevitably, we're told that the decisive changes in votes came from "less informed voters." According to Marcotte's account, McElwee attributes the changed votes of these dunderheads to "race and racism," to their "more racialized [current] thinking."

Please note the apparent oddness of this one-size-fits-all analysis:

In 2012, the Democratic candidate was socially defined as "black." In 2016, the Democratic candidate was socially defined as "white." Why did the white candidate get substantially fewer votes than the black candidate had? Because of race and racism—indeed, because of blatant racism—we are now being told!

On its face, that analysis doesn't quite seem to make sense. Remembering that this is Marcotte's account of McElwee's position, let's consider the factors which are said to have accounted for the switches in votes:
Factors causing Clinton to lose votes in 2016, as compared to Obama in 2012:
1) The election of a black president
2) These voters' reaction to the election of this black president
3) The Trump campaign, approval of which seems to be read as racism, no explanation required
Does this analysis make sense? Remember, that "election of a black president" actually happened in 2008. We're now told that it explains the switch of votes away from a white Democratic candidate in 2016.

We're even told that the election of that black president, and the reaction to it, explains the anti-Clinton votes of people who voted for the black president in 2012! Does this highly simplistic theory actually make good sense?

Has Marcotte discovered that all those votes were lost because of "blatant racism?" Has she discovered that the white candidate did substantially worse than the previous black candidate due to that "blatant" cause?

Forgive us for making an unpleasant suggestion. Forgive us for suggesting that this may be the "crude" and "simplified" way we humans tend to reason when we launch campaigns against objects of hate.

Is Marcote's explanation "crudely simplified?" Consider all the possible reasons for Candidate Clinton's loss of votes she doesn't even seem to consider:
Possible factors unmentioned by Marcotte:
1) The fact that Clinton ran a lousy campaign
2) Twenty-five years of demonization aimed at Clinton, both by the "right-wing noise machine" and by the upper-end mainstream press
3) The intervention of James B. Comey (starting in July 2016, not just in October)
4) The intervention of Vladimir Putin
5) The ridiculous assurances of the Professor Wangs and their pundit enablers (i.e., the claim that Candidate Clinton couldn't possibly lose)
6) The possible role of sexism/misogyny!
Amazing, isn't it? Marcotte is so eager to push the "blatant racism" line that she doesn't even mention the possibility that the female candidate did worse than the previous male candidate because of sexism/misogyny, the topic she rode in on.

(We're instructed in Marcotte's opening sentence that we mustn't even consider the "Clinton ran a lousy campaign" explanation. See text above. You're looking at pure propaganda.)

Let's return to Professor Fels' presentation. Is it possible that Marcotte's piece can be seen as an example of the way political hate is "on the rise" in this country? Can it be seen as an example of the way political groups offer "crude" and "simplified" story-lines to attack the people they loathe?

Ever since November, this crude attack about "blatant racism" has been peddled wherever liberal story-lines are sold. Is it possible that this simplified account represents an attempt by our own liberal tribe to "blame others for [our] losses, reducing doubts about [our] own inadequacies?"

Could it be that this rather crude story-line "converts a sense of helplessness into one of action"—that it "can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution?" Is it even possible that this crude story about "blatant racism" involves our tribe is a "loss of empathy" for the people we're sliming in such crude, reductionist ways?

We'd say that all those things are possible—indeed, that they're happening every day. This helps explain why we swallow the idea that the white candidate underperformed as compared to the black candidate because of the "blatant racism" found Over There among The Others. Full and complete freaking stop!

In a fairly typical way, Fels could only see hate on the rise Over There, on the right. That said, we liberals are human too—human, if only just barely.

Tomorrow: The loss of empathy, combined with the rise of our own music men

EMBRACE OF HATE: Fels describes hate aimed at woman and blacks!


Part 3—Leaves other Others alone:
Is political hatred on the rise in the United States?

Professor Fels says it is. We're inclined to agree.

Professor Fels discussed this phenomenon in an intriguing if murky column in last Friday's New York Times. She built large parts of her discussion around the role evolution has and hasn't played in selecting for the impulse to hate in this manner.

Before long, Fels was discussing "altriusm punishments"—hate-fueled behaviors like suicide bombing, behaviors "that don’t provide a genetic benefit to the individual or even to his or her immediate gene pool." She says a wide array of eggheads "have all studied this puzzling impulse to extract revenge and have come up with a surprising theory: that such punitive actions may have evolved to protect the complex communities in which humans live."

Muddily, Fels proceeds to discuss the way political hatred can serve the interests of various "communities" and groups. She starts with the helpful role hatred can play at time of overt war:
FELS (4/14/17): In its most extreme form, hate motivates the altruistic punishment of organized warfare—a necessity for the defense of any society. In his trilogy on the Allies in World War II, the historian Rick Atkinson describes it as the emotional engine needed to drive troops into battle for that “just war.”

Allied officers were constantly fretting that the troops’ hate levels weren’t high enough. A memorandum urged commanders to “teach the men to hate the enemy—to want to kill them by any means.” George Patton’s aide praised him as “a great hate builder.” Dwight Eisenhower bragged, “I am not one who finds it difficult to hate my enemies.” In war, hate is celebrated.
In 1952, campaign buttons said "I Like Ike," and that candidate won. A few years earlier, at time of war, Ike had said he liked building hate!

It's obvious that hating The Others might be a boon during war. As she continued, Fels described a similar process which might obtain during peacetime:
FELS (continuing directly): But there is a more subtle aspect to the impulse for revenge. Researchers have found that it often arises to curb perceived infractions of cultural norms: It may help hold societies together by punishing those seen as breaking the social contract.

Altruistic punishment flares when there is an inequitable allocation of resources or a transgression of cultural traditions—all threats to social coherence. Such acts of retribution appear to activate the brain’s reward center, presumably generating a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure.
Fels writes a bit murkily here, but her prose can be dumbed down. Her stress on evolution has largely flown at this point, but she seems to be describing a fairly simple dynamic.

According to Fels, political hatred may serve to punish despised groups within a peacetime society. This political hatred inspires members of some aggrieved group to "punish those seen as breaking the social contract."

These acts of hatred may help hold the aggrieved group together. Such acts "appear to activate the brain’s reward center, presumably generating a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure."

This matter seems bone simple. For good or for ill, we humans are inclined toward hatred of other groups, even at times of peace and even within our own societies. According to Fels, hatred of this type is currently "on the rise."

As she continues, Fels is quick to state another obvious point. The fact that someone holds a hate-fueled sense of grievance doesn't mean that his or sense of grievance is justified or right.

Fels cites two examples of this type of misguided hatred drawn from our own recent history. The examples she cites are entirely obvious and perfectly right. We'll only suggest that you note the fact that other possible examples have maybe perhaps been left out:
FELS (continuing directly): This, of course, doesn’t mean the punishment is just or directed at any justified target. Dylann Roof, after opening fire on a group of African-Americans during Bible study, said, “I have to do this, because you’re raping our women and y’all taking over the world.” In his mind, his community was the one being victimized.

A feminist journalist I know sent me some of the hate mail she routinely receives. Here are a few of the printable lines: “If you try telling a man what to do you’ll get punched across the face.” “I’ll go house to house shooting feminists like you.” One characterized her as an “omni-reptile-doglizard-piranha kin.”

The point is to hurt and humiliate. Those who hate want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have. It is this that makes the attacks so personal and lends them their crude, violent and often sexual nature. The intent is not to challenge opposing beliefs but to destroy those who hold them.

The men who wrote these emails undoubtedly feel threatened by the changing role of women, and their hatred of feminists provides an organizing principle and an outside focus.
In that passage, Fels describes political hatred as directed against African-Americans and against women.

She describes the killings in South Carolina, in which a person who was deranged murdered nine people who very much weren't. She describes the types of heinous conduct which is routinely directed at women on line.

(Fels says the people who behave in these ways "want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have." We'll suggest that she should change that "as they think or claim they have.")

By now, this is blindingly obvious stuff. People who succumb to political hatred are likely to behave in heinous ways toward the groups they loathe.

Still, their behavior may provide internal rewards, Fels says. Their hate "converts a sense of helplessness into one of action," Fels writes. "It can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution, relieving their sense of isolation or powerlessness."

Fels also notes the psychic and intellectual downsides of their group hatred. "As a consequence, though, there’s a loss of empathy," she writes, "and beliefs become simplified and rigid."

By now, what started as a search for deep knowledge has become a recitation of the obvious. Hatred of Others can be a powerful force, not just during time of war, but also within a peacetime society.

We'll only ask you to notice one thing about Fels' formulation. She correctly identifies two targeted groups. Is it possible that there are other targeted groups she has neglected to name?

Everything Fels says about Dylann Roof is correct. So too for her comments about men who hate women on line.

That said, these examples form a powerful part of the current liberal worldview. Fels is describing political hatred which, at least within the liberal framework, comes from the "conservative" world, from Those People, the ones Over There.

We'll leave today with a set of questions:

Is it possible that political hatred is also being sytirred up within our own liberal world? With political hatred "on the rise," is it possible that liberals are being encouraged to "relieve their sense of isolation or powerlessness" by loathing some otherized groups?

Is it possible that we liberals are being encouraged to surrender our "sense of empathy" at the current time? Is it possible that we're being handed types of hatred as a way to "provide an organizing principle and an outside focus?" Is it possible that our sense of empathy left us a longtime ago?

Are we being given "a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure" by the hate-fueled things we're told? Can it happen Over Here?

We agree with Profesor Fels; political hatred seems to be on the rise. The loss of empathy is manifest too. Tomorrow, though, we'll return to that question:

Can this sort of unfortunate conduct also be found Over Here?

Tomorrow: Empathy abandoned

Krugman softens his tone on the white working class!


Rampell refuses to budge:
We were intrigued by a line near the end of Paul Krugman's column in yesterday's New York Times.

"I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to miners and industrial workers," Krugman said at the start of his final paragraph. We were struck by that because we already thought he did sound a bit unsympathetic to Those People, the lesser breed.

That doesn't mean that what he was saying in his column was "wrong." It means that he may have had just a bit of a tone.

What did Krugman say in Monday's column? He seemed to say that "the public discussion of job loss" focuses on mining and manufacturing to an excessive degree, "while virtually ignoring the big declines in some service [industry] sectors."

Krugman provided job loss numbers for various sectors. "All jobs matter," he cheekily said.

Was Krugman "wrong" in his basic claims? Presumably, no—he was not. Having said that, we'll also say this:

If you're going to say that you don't want to sound unsympathetic to someone, it might be better to say it at the start of your column, before the unwanted impression may have been spread.

In his column, Krugman offers some possible reasons for the emphasis on job loss in the manufacturing and mining sectors. Inevitably, he ended up saying that these jobs may get extra attention because they're disproportionately held by white men.

In the modern liberal world, such ruminations are required. Left unexamined was a related question: if that speculation is accurate, why has our liberal world made so little attempt to address the lack of emphasis on jobs in the service industries?

For ourselves, we don't know how much mining and manufacturing job loss has been over-emphasized down through the years. If those sectors have been over-emphasized, we can think of one explanation that Krugman skirted but missed.

Along the way, Krugman made an extremely important point—but wouldn't you know it? As he made his important point, he seemed to kick down at those People:
KRUGMAN: [W]hy aren’t promises to save service jobs as much a staple of political posturing as promises to save mining and manufacturing jobs?

One answer might be that mines and factories sometimes act as anchors of local economies, so that their closing can devastate a community in a way shutting a retail outlet won’t. And there’s something to that argument.


A different, less creditable reason mining and manufacturing have become political footballs, while services haven’t, involves the need for villains. Demagogues can tell coal miners that liberals took away their jobs with environmental regulations. They can tell industrial workers that their jobs were taken away by nasty foreigners. And they can promise to bring the jobs back by making America polluted again, by getting tough on trade, and so on. These are false promises, but they play well with some audiences.
In that passage, Krugman describes the conduct of demagogues, but then mainly seems to sneer at the regular people who believe their bogus statements and promises. It's the demagogues who are mainly at fault, but it's the regular people they misled who get snarked at in that passage.

When we liberals kick down in such ways, we give the impression that we enjoy kicking down at our lessers. We also create a world in which we have to say, at the end of our columns, that we don't want to sound unsympathetic.

The demagogues are the culprits here, not the people they mislead. Also at fault are the liberal leaders who have never quite bothered to address the dynamic Krugman describes.

Alas! We liberals often seem to enjoy kicking down at "some audiences!" It's long been a basic part of the way we play our (losing) game.

And sure enough! In this morning's Washington Post, Catherine Rampell continues to sneer at working-class women in rural Kentucky who can't afford to go to the doctor. As in this column from December, she finds it "puzzling" when such people are dissatisfied with this state of affairs.

Rampell is the Princeton-graduate child of two other Princeton graduates. Truth to tell, she sounds like the Princeton grad child of two Princeton grads in the passage shown below.

Four months later, she still doesn't get it! A super-privileged Princeton kid just can't be more clueless than this:
RAMPELL (4/18/17): Many of the stories in the booming “blue-state reporter ventures into Trump country” genre have featured Trump supporters with deep hostility toward Obamacare, among other government programs. Some of these Trump supporters are, perhaps puzzlingly, themselves Obamacare beneficiaries, receiving government subsidies for private insurance on the individual exchanges. But often what these Trump voters say they want is not a return to pre-Obamacare days; rather, they want in on the great insurance deal that they think their lazy, less-deserving neighbors are getting.
In fairness, the problem may be genetic. At any rate, Rampell is still unable to understand the situation described in late November, when Sarah Kliff interviewed white working-class women in rural Kentucky.

As in her earlier column, Rampell remains "puzzled" by the way one of Kliff's interview subjects views her Obamacare coverage. The 59-year-old woman in question was paying $3000 per year for an Obamacare policy. But uh-oh! Because of her high deductible and because of those high premiums, she couldn't afford to go to the doctor. At all!

This woman did have health insurance. But she couldn't afford health care! At the age of 59, she can't afford to go to the doctor. (This is a problem Catherine Rampell is never going to have.)

At the same time, this woman's neighbors, who were less well off, were receiving free health care through Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid. For reasons which are perfectly obvious, this woman thought that she was getting a rather terrible deal.

Who but the Princeton-grad child of two Princeton grads would find this matter "puzzling?" Let's review:

The 59-year-old woman in question was paying $3000 per year for her health insurance. Despite this, she was receiving no health care. By way of contrast, her less affluent neighbors were paying nothing at all, and they were receiving health care. The 59-year-old woman thought her neighbors had the better deal.

Only a kid who prepped at Andover would find it "puzzling" when the 59-year-old woman thought she was getting a lousy deal. For better or worse, our liberal team is crawling with people like this.

What makes Catherine Rampell seem to be so heartless? Whatever it is, it has long been part of our liberal world's standard approach to Those People, the rural white working class. This is one of the self-defeating, correctable ways we put Donald Trump where he is.

We thought Krugman flirted with condescension before he issued yesterday's last-minute disclaimer. One day later, Rampell plowed ahead with unvarnished class contempt. She's puzzled to think that a 59-year-old woman might want to go the doctor!

Earlier in her column, Rampell made us wonder why we send these brainiacs to Princeton at all. This involves her rather clear implication, early on, that the federal government "gives insurance to the elderly" through the "single-payer health care" program known as Medicare. (Emphasis on "gives.")

We'll leave that point for another day. But our team's condescension toward the lesser breed just keeps marching along.

EMBRACE OF HATE: The gods of evolution at work!


Part 2—Their treatment of love versus hate:
Anna Fels wrote an intriguing column in last Friday's New York Times.

Her column bore an intriguing, somewhat fuzzy headline: "The Point of Hate." The column turned on an impression—an impression that's hard to quantify.

Fels is a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College. She has the impression that political hate—the hatred of targeted groups—is on the rise in the United States.

We have that impression too! In her column, Fels wonders why evolution has "preserved such a destructive emotion." Indeed, that was the boxed sub-headline of her piece as it appeared in hard copy:

"Why has evolution preserved such a destructive emotion?"

As we explained yesterday, we're puzzled by Fels' puzzlement concerning that basic question. It doesn't seem surprising to us that evolution has "preserved" the human instinct to hate certain targeted groups.

That said: as we look around the world, it does seem clear that the gods of evolution selected for this destructive instinct in the annals of prehistory.

Good lord! Everywhere we humans roam, we seem to display the instinct to split the world into Us and Them, and from there to start loathing The Others. We split the world into Us and Them in every conceivable way.

We split the world into Us and Them on the basis of "race," a concept invented for this particular task. We also split the world on the basis of ethnicity, geography, religion, social class, gender.

In her column, Fels specifically notes the hatred being directed at women in these highly cyberized times. She points to highly loathsome behavior, but political hatred/loathing/ridicule is currently being directed at a wide array of groups.

An impulse which is so widely displayed was surely "selected for." Presumably, we're all inclined to such reactions, to greater or lesser extent.

As a general matter, responsible people in high-profile positions ought to try to avoid triggering such destructive tendencies. Instead, the triggering of otherization has become a big business in recent decades. The impulse to create and hate The Others is currently being pursued for gain all through the political world.

Tomorrow, we'll return to such destructive corporate behavior in the (highly) present tense. We're thinking of a heinous bit of sleight-of-hand we saw on cable just last night!

For today, let's continue to examine the ways this kind of political hatred might have been selected for in prehistory. In particular, let's consider Fels' review of the way the gods of evolution treated love versus hate.

As a general matter, the gods of evolution have always wanted the individual to pass on his or her genes. Early in her column, Fels describes one result of this preference:
FELS (4/14/17): Lately it seems like hate is in the air, including in the United States, where hate crimes are reportedly on the rise...Clearly evolution has preserved hate as a powerful motivating force. Is there perhaps a benefit to experiencing hate?

A 2008 study of the human brain experiencing this emotion confirms that there is a distinct “hate circuit” of activated neurons. Several of the brain regions involved are known to generate aggression and to translate that aggression into action—in this case, revenge.

Strangely, other parts overlap with regions of the brain engaged by feelings of romantic love. Love is accompanied by the deactivation of areas that generate reasoning and judgment. As any poet can tell you, the critical faculties of an infatuated person are lost or at least attenuated.

Individuals experiencing hate, on the other hand, retain nearly all of their capacity for evaluating a situation. Neuroscientists have suggested that rational planning is maintained because “the hater may want to exercise judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or otherwise extract revenge”—hardly an encouraging conclusion.
Doggone it! According to Fels, the gods of evolution have given the lover the impulse to swoon. At the same, they've let the hater retain the capacity to calculate.

Professor Fels calls this differential treatment "strange." To us, it doesn't seem strange at all.

The lover will be inclined to swoon, while the hater will calculate? Why would the gods have created that world? To us, it seems fairly basic:

When the lover swoons, he or she will move to pass on his or her genes. With reasoning power swept away, reproduction is likely to follow.

(We believe Shakespeare first said that.)

The lover who swoons passes on his genes. As a general matter, this is the outcome these gods consistently favor.

But uh-oh! In the annals of prehistory, the hater who swooned, who failed to calculate his behavior, might get himself killed by The Other tribe. AS a result of impulsive behavior, his or her genes wouldn't enter the gene pool at all.

As a general matter, these gods have always had just one thing on their minds. They wanted the individual to pass on his or her genes.

Presumably, they created the alternate wirings Fels describes to facilitate such outcomes. The lover would swoon and leap into action. The hater would be more careful.

None of this seems especially hard to us. Beyond that, it doesn't seem especially hard to understand why political hatred—hatred of targeted groups—seems to be on the rise.

Long ago, the gods of evolution created a world in which we're all so inclined. Giant industries now exist to encourage us in that direction.

We're all inclined to create and loathe The Others. In the past few decades, along have come the hustlers, the corporate suits and the music men.

We're all inclined to create The Others and loathe Them. Mugging and clowning and weirdly grinning, big corporate stars are only happy to push us in this direction.

Tomorrow: Hatred trumping truth

EMBRACE OF HATE: Hatred seems to be on the rise!

MONDAY, APRIL 17, 2017

Part 1—Professor wonders why:
According to the New York Times, Anna Fels is "a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College."

Last Friday, Fels published an intriguing column in the hard-copy Times. Her column appeared beneath this headline:

"The Point of Hate"

Fels began by describing two recent suicide bombings in Egypt. In her second paragraph, she stated a basic premise and posed her basic questions:
FELS (4/14/17): Lately it seems like hate is in the air, including in the United States, where hate crimes are reportedly on the rise. Like most people, I’m horrified by this outpouring of venom, but as a psychiatrist who tries to understand feelings, I also find myself asking: What is the underlying motivation? And what is it about hate that makes it different from other reactions like anger or frustration? Clearly evolution has preserved hate as a powerful motivating force. Is there perhaps a benefit to experiencing hate?
According to Fels, it seems that hatred, and hate crimes, are on the rise in the United States. She seems to be talking about political hatred—about the hatred of targeted groups, rather than the hatred of one's spouse or one's boss.

Is such hatred on the rise in the United States? As with Fels, so with us—it seems to us that it is.

Fels seeks "the underlying motivation" for such hatred and for such acts. More specifically, she wants to know why evolution has preserved this type of hate in our world.

(In hard copy, her boxed sub-headline said this: "Why has evolution preserved such a destructive emotion?")

To our mind, it doesn't seem hard to understand why hate of the type Fels describes is on the rise. Beyond that, we're puzzled by Fels' puzzlement concerning evolution.

Quickly, let's explain:

In our view, it's easy to see why the gods of evolution would have selected for this type of hatred during the vast sweep of prehistory. Consider the surroundings:

Your tribe lived in your mountain pass; our tribe lived in ours. There was no order of any kind. There were no laws, no policemen.

In that environment, fear of The Other might well have been a survival skill. If you feared (and therefore avoided) The Others, you would have lived long enough to pass on your genes.

Those who didn't fear The Others may have wandered over for a visit. These more trusting, less fearful souls may not have made it back.

In such a world, fear and loathing might well confer an evolutionary advantage. Today, such instincts tend to be less socially useful. Beyond that, these instincts confer no evolutionary advantage on the suicide bomber, who takes his own life in the pursuit of his hatred of The Others, who now live close at hand.

The suicide bomber removes himself from the gene pool. For this reason, Fels wonders why the gods of evolution have preserved this unhelpful emotion.

To us, that question seems puzzling. The answer seems fairly simple: evolution takes a long time!

Indeed, evolution typically takes a very long time. By removing themselves from the gene pool, suicide bombers may be tilting the evolutionary frame away from the love of hate. But changes like that only take place over a vast expanse of time.

Whatever! We're somewhat puzzled by Fels' puzzlement over evolution's preservation of this type of hate. Beyond that, it doesn't seem gigantically hard to speak to her other question, which is a bit more basic:

Why would hatred of this type be on the rise in the U.S.?

Is it true that this type of hatred is on the rise in the United States? We'll agree with Fels—that's how it seems. To us, though, this apparent rise in hatred of The Other doesn't seem real hard to explain.

We'll start with a possible meta-point—the loss of the Soviet Union as an object of hate. To the extent that we're all inclined to hate The Other, the Soviet Union tended to "bring us together," to use the Nixon-era phrase.

We all got to funnel our instinct for hatred Over There. When the Soviets went away, we lost a beloved hate object.

That strikes us as a relatively minor point. There's a more obvious reason for the (apparent) rise in this type of hate: the selling of this type of hate is now a very big business.

The selling of hate has become a big business! With the rise of talk radio, cable and the Internet, everybody can take part, and almost everyone does.

Back in the day, we had a half-hour of news every night. Basically, you could watch Walter Cronkite for this half-hour, or you could watch David Brinkley.

Lesser groups were peddling versions of hate at this time. But for the most past, it was fairly hard to access these groups. You had to go looking for the types of specialized hate which Walter and David weren't selling.

Today, the selling of hate is a 24-hour, seven-day per week business. For ourselves, we'd be inclined to say that this type of peddling mainly started on the right. But today, it's also being directed at us, Over Here in our own liberal tents.

Over and over and over again, we're being taught to loathe The Others, the very bad people found Over There. We're sold this product in various ways. This constant peddling is done for profit, for fame and for fun.

Important note to Professor Fels—the selling of hate tends to work! Prehistory wired us for it, and some of our biggest media stars have happily jumped in the game.

Tomorrow: Levels of hate