BREAKING: An unusual moment of self-loathing!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25, 2018

Three letters in the Times:
We just ordered Amy Chozick's book. This has produced a rare moment of self-loathing.

Aside from that, consider yesterday's trio of letters. Try to place them in the context of modern journalistic history.

In last weekend's Sunday Review, the Times let Chozick spout and prattle about her new book. Three letters about her essay appeared in yesterday's Times.

Needless to say, all three beat up on Candidate Clinton. You can read them here.

The first letter, from South Carolina, beat up on Clinton for running a lousy campaign. It also accepted, as accurate, an unsourced, self-pitying statement Chozick attributes to Clinton on Election Night—a statement we can find quoted by no one else at any time.

(More on that quoted statement next week. It became the headline for Chozick's piece in the Sunday Review.)

The second letter, from Florida, beats up on Clinton by saying that Chozick is being too hard on herself. It's crazy to say that the New York Times overdid the coverage of the emails and the pointless Wall Street speeches! Why would Chozick say that?
In her new book, “Chasing Hillary,” Amy Chozick, a longtime Hillary Clinton beat reporter, grapples with the role she had in publishing John Podesta’s emails and excerpts from Mrs. Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street, which were leaked by WikiLeaks in October 2016. Ms. Chozick harshly assesses her own conduct, writing that she “chose the byline” over responsible journalism and unwittingly became a puppet “in Vladimir Putin’s master plan.”

I think this conclusion is both a bad case of revisionism and unhelpful to The Times’s readership.
The speeches, for which Mrs. Clinton was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the emails, which included unflattering observations of Mrs. Clinton by her own staff, were newsworthy regardless of the manner in which they were obtained. The same would be true of the “Access Hollywood” tape or Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Plainly, the New York Times can't be wrong, even when it says it was wrong!

The third letter, from St. Louis, just beats up on Clinton in general, in passive-aggressive fashion. The letter starts with this:

"In my circle of liberal friends, no one is listening to Hillary Clinton."

And it ends with this:

"Enough already."

Nuf said!

All three letters batter Clinton. No letter had anything critical to say about the glorious Times.

Who knows? Maybe these letters were representative of the letters the Times received. Still, they may perhaps offer a look at one of the ways the upper-end press corps works.

When Chozick says the coverage went off the rails, the Times swings into action, publishing letters which say that she is wrong. These letters are the perfect extension of 26 years of Clinton/Gore/Clinton coverage in the Times.

As we've long noted, liberal journalists aren't allowed to discuss those decades of coverage. Apparently, neither are people who write letters to the clownish Times.

We expect to discuss Chozick's book all next week. The fact that we've actually purchased the book has produced a bit of self-loathing.

BREAKING: Experienced pilot lands damaged plane!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25, 2018

Angry prize winner crashes and burns:
Last Wednesday, a Southwest Airlines plane blew an engine mid-flight.

An experienced, highly skilled pilot skillfully landed the plane. Four days later, the Washington Post treated readers like total fools in its Sunday Outlook section.

The foolishness came from Beverly Weintraub, "who won a Pulitzer Prize as a member of the New York Daily News editorial board, is a member of the Ninety-Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots, and the board of directors of the Air Race Classic."

To our ear, that doesn't quite make sense either. But that's what the Post reported in its author identity line.

Weintraub seems to think we're all six years old. In the high-profile Outlook section, she started her essay like this, sillybill headline included:
WEINTRAUB (4/22/18): Why call the Southwest captain a 'female pilot'?

A feeling of pride swept through the small community of female pilots Wednesday
as word spread that the captain who had safely landed Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 after an engine blew out in midair the day before was a woman. But disappointment tempered that sentiment: Virtually all news coverage of the incident put the word "female" before "pilot." As a private pilot, aircraft owner and airplane racer, I shared both the pride and the disappointment.

Why not call the hero captain simply a pilot?
Was Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger—to whom captain Tammie Jo Shults was immediately and aptly compared—referred to as a "male pilot" after landing US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River? And why the surprise that a former Navy fighter pilot and seasoned airline captain, as Shults is, could handle an emergency situation calmly and competently?
Please note:

Within her opening paragraph, Weintraub uses the term "female pilot" herself, then complains that others have done so. Weintraub, who belongs to the International Organization of Women Pilots, was wondering why a news org might refer to Shults in a similar way.

As we'll see below, Weintraub's claim about "virtually all news coverage" simply isn't true. But why might some news orgs have described Shults as a "female pilot?"

Duh. As Weintraub continued, it became clear that—Duh!—she already knew:
WEINTRAUB (continuing directly): Part of it could be the numbers: In 1960, there were 25 female air transport pilots—those licensed to fly for the airlines—in the United States; in 2016, there were 6,888, a huge increase but still only 4 percent of the U.S. airline pilot population. Overall, of nearly 600,000 pilots licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, approximately 39,000 are women. That's about 6 percent, a proportion that has held steady for decades.
Duh. Based upon that murky prose, it sounds like only four percent of "pilots licensed to fly for the airlines" are women—and that's way more than in the past.

Many people may not know that there are any such pilots at all, let alone a pilot who performed a brilliant feat of air rescue.

Meanwhile, why did news orgs call attention to Shults' gender? They did so to praise her for her feat, as the latest report along the lines of "women can do these jobs too."

Such reporting may tend to be overdone, but in appropriate situations, it's also highly instructive. People are interested in this sort of thing! See Hidden Figures, the best-selling book which became an Oscar-nominated movie.

As a former Pulitzer winner, Weintraub may have felt obliged to make a factual overstatement. In fact, the term "female pilot" appeared in reports about this incident less often than Weintraub alleged. For example, it had never appeared in the Washington Post until Weintraub's utterly silly complaint hit the streets.

That said, the term was used on one occasion in the New York Times. It appeared in a second-day "tick tock" report on the way the terror in the skies unfolded.

Below, you see the passage in question. It's very, very hard to see what's supposed to be wrong about this:
HEALY AND HAUSER (4/19/18): In the cockpit, Tammie Jo Shults, a veteran Navy pilot, flew on with one engine, displaying what one passenger would later call ''nerves of steel.''

Ms. Shults was well trained to handle stress in the cockpit. She had flown supersonic F/A-18 Hornets as one of the Navy's first female pilots at a time when women were still barred from combat duty, before leaving active service in 1993. Ms. Shults calmly radioed air traffic controllers in Philadelphia to discuss her approach. She told them the flight was carrying injured passengers and needed emergency medics on the ground.
According to Nexis, that's the only time the term "female pilot" appeared in either the Post or the Times concerning this incident. Who could possibly think that something was wrong with that brief, informative passage in the Times?

(We're glad we got to read that account. We're also glad that little boys may have had a chance to hear that this is the sort of the thing the little girls around them will grow up to do.)

Weintraub's essay was silly, childish, stupid. As such, it typifies the work which is becoming more prevalent as pseudo-liberal culture bends toward the ethos of Always Finding A Way To Be Offended on the basis of "identity" issues.

(Why did, and do, so many reports say that Jackie Robinson was black? Could anyone be silly enough to ask?)

Our culture is awash in "identity breakthrough" reports. This is often overdone, but it's also completely appropriate. In this silly piece in the Post, Weinstraub reports that she and her fellow "female pilots" swelled with pride about Shults' brilliance. Then she says that she was offended by the use of the term "female pilot."

(We know—that isn't a flat contradiction. But it comes pretty darn close.)

Sad! As the culture of Taking Offense At All Times gathers steam in the pseudolib world, the Weinstraub types are increasingly enabled. Even as "a feeling of pride swept through the community of female pilots," one such pilot took offense at the (largely non-existent) use of the troubling term.

Do we live in an idiocracy? Work this silly appears in Outlook pretty much all the time. The Sunday Review is even worse. Once again, an award-winning question:

What kinds of creatures are we?

GAPS AND STANDARDS: The rude bridge confronts The Gateway Arch!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25, 2018

Part 3—Huge achievement gaps:
Way back in April 1775, the so-called "war of western aggression" began with the famous Battle of Lexington and Concord.

If we're going to stick to the facts, the famous "rude bridge that arched the flood" was actually found in Concord. That said, the first shots of the battle were fired in Lexington, located right next door.

That was 1775. About 1100 miles to the west, the famous Gateway Arch of St. Louis marks a later part of our history.

When the memorial was proposed in 1933, it was envisioned as "a suitable and permanent public memorial to the men [sic] who made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States."

President Jefferson was specifically named. So were "his aides Livingston and Monroe," along with "the great explorers, Lewis and Clark, and the hardy hunters, trappers, frontiersmen [sic] and pioneers who contributed to the territorial expansion and development of these United States."

The famous rude bridge is where it all began. The nation's development proceeded through the site of the present-day Gateway Arch.

That development hasn't always gone perfectly smoothly. Consider some of the punishing gaps between those locales today.

Today, Lexington is an upscale suburban community with a population of roughly 32,000. Right next door, Concord is a town of roughly 18,000.

St. Louis is a struggling city with a population a bit above 300,000 and a major league baseball team.

Each of these communities runs its own school system. When Professor Reardon and his associates performed their statistical analysis of every public school district in the country, they recorded a rather large income gap between these well-known locales:
Median family income of students:
Lexington, Mass.: $163,000
Concord, Mass.: $164,000
St. Louis, Mo: $27,000
They also recorded different "racial" demographics, as shown below:
Demographics of student populations:
Lexington, Mass: 59 percent white; 4 percent black; 4 percent Hispanic; 33 percent Asian-American
Concord, Mass.: 81 percent white; 5 percent black; 4 percent Hispanic; 10 percent Asian-American
St. Louis, Mo.: 13 percent white; 81 percent black; 4 percent Hispanic; 2 percent Asian-American
We're offering these demographics because you go to war with the demographics you have. Most of our data can be found within the graphics supplied as part of this New York Times report about the Reardon study.

The income gap displayed above is extremely large. The demographics differ substantially too.

Now we come to the gap on which we're focusing all this week. We come to the so-called "achievement gap" between the students in these school systems, Grades 3-8 inclusive:
Where the average student stood:
Lexington, Mass.: 3.8 years above grade level
Concord, Mass.: 3.2 years above grade level
St. Louis, Mo.: 2.1 years below grade level
According to Professor Reardon, the average student in Lexington, Mass. was working 3.8 years above grade level at the time of his recent study. That figure was derived from a study of the test scores of all students in grades 3-8 in two subjects, reading and math.

We'd regard that figure as highly approximate, but also as highly instructive. Nor is it entirely clear what a person means by saying that any student is "3.8 years above grade level" in reading or in math, unless that person offers an explanation.

We don't mean any of that as a criticism of Reardon's work. In fact, his work strikes us as deeply important, and as highly instructive.

As even our experts can probably see, those numbers describes a humongous "achievement gap" between the average student in Lexington, Mass. and her or her counterpart in St. Louis. Taking those numbers at face value, they seem to say that the average student near the rude bridge is working 5.9 years above the average student beneath the Arch, quite possibly by the beginning of sixth grade.

Can the gap possibly be that large? Does any such statement even make sense?

We'll leave those questions to the historians, assuming that any will survive Mr. Trump's Coming War. For today, we'll only say this:

Those numbers define an enormous gap between different groups of American kids. They also suggest that our "education experts," from Arne Duncan right on down, are just what they've seemed to be for the past many years—crazy/nuts out of their heads.

In his recent column for the Washington Post, Duncan applauded the idea of grade-by-grade "learning standards." Simply put, the adoption of such "content standards" mean that every student in the sixth grade should be taught the same "sixth grade" math curriculum.

This idea will seem to make perfect sense—unless you've been alive on this planet at some point in the past many years. Unless you understand the obvious—that gaps like this exist:
Where the average student stood, perhaps at the start of sixth grade:
Lexington, Mass.: 3.8 years above grade level
St. Louis, Mo.: 2.1 years below grade level
Please understand! Those are the numbers Reardon devised for the average student in each school district.

Applying a bit of common sense, we can assume that the higher-achieving students in Lexington surpass the less successful St. Louis kids by a "gap" of more than 5.9 years!

Can gaps that gigantic really exist? What can such a claim even mean? These are the sorts of questions we're leaving to the survivors.

For today, you only need to puzzle about the oddness of Arne Duncan, who thinks, in the face of gaps like these, that every American sixth graders—Bob and Billy and Mary and Susan—should be taught the same math curriculum when they're in sixth grade.

Warning! By now, your lizard may be thrashing about, looking for ways to deny what is blindingly obvious. Your lizard may be telling you that Lexington is a crazy outlier—a town of a mere 32,000 souls whose walloping achievement levels tell us nothing about the wider country on either side of The Arch.

It's true that the Lexington Public Schools is one of the nation's highest-performing school districts. But Lexington is hardly alone. Just in Middlesex County, Mass., it's joined by a wealth of upper-income, high-performing districts:
Selected school districts in Middlesex County, Mass.:
Lexington: 3.8 years above grade level ($163,000 median income)
Carlisle: 3.5 years above ($192,000)
Westford: 3.4 years above ($138,000)
Sudbury: 3.3 years above ($180,000)
Boxborough: 3.3 years above ($122,000)
Concord: 3.2 years above ($164,000)
Winchester: 3.2 years above ($177,000)
Belmont: 3.2 years above ($121,000)
Newton: 3.1 years above ($147,000)
Acton: 3.1 years above ($149,000)
Weston: 3.1 years above ($182,000)
Boxborough and Carlisle are very small towns. (Students in Carlisle move on from middle school to Concord-Carlisle High.)

That said, Newton is a community of roughly 85,000 people. The population of those eleven towns adds up to roughly 300,000 people, roughly the size of St. Louis. And we aren't even including low-income Arlington, Mass. (median income, $106,000), whose slacker average kid is only 2.8 years above grade level, according to Reardon's study—a meager 4.9 years above his counterpart under the Arch, perhaps at the start of sixth grade.

Arlington's population is roughly 42,000. In Middlesex County, it continues from there, through somewhat less affluent towns like Natick, Reading, Wakefield and Melrose. The achievement gaps between the kids in those towns and those in St. Louis are only a bit less huge than the gaps we've already defined.

Nor is St. Louis alone among low-income districts. A sample of other struggling districts can be seen here:
Selected low-income school districts:
Buffalo: 1.9 years below grade level
Milwaukee: 1.9 years below
Cleveland: 2.0 years below
St. Louis: 2.1 years below
Memphis: 2.1 years below
Detroit: 2.3 years below
Camden, N.J.: 2.4 years below
Syracuse: 2.5 years below
Meanwhile, raw numbers from urban districts may disguise the gaps which exist within. According to Reardon's study, major gaps existed within the D.C. Public Schools, and in other such districts:
Where the average student stood:
White students, DCPS: 2.7 years above grade level
Black students, DCPS: 2.2 years below grade level
Hispanic students: 1.4 years below grade level
All these data can be found within the New York Times graphics. According to Reardon's demographics, an achievement gap of 4.9 years existed within these D.C. schools. (Again, we're offering you the demographics we have.)

Tomorrow, we're going to turn to the Naep for other daunting figures. We'll leave you today with the basic question we're asking all week:

Given the giant achievements gaps which obtain in our sprawling nation's schools, on what planet would it make sense to teach the same math curriculum to every Grade 6 student? Also this, coming on Friday:

What kind of creature is Arne Dncan? What kinds of creatures are we?

Tomorrow: Gaps on the Naep

Twenty miles outside St. Louis: Outside St. Louis, largely to the west, lies the largely suburban St. Louis County.

According to the leading authority on the county, its population is roughly one million souls. It's served by twenty-four different school systems, the largest of which serves approximately 140,000 Missouri citizens and was profiled by Reardon as shown:
Selected Missouri school districts:
Rockwood R-VI: 1.6 years above grade level ($118,000)
St. Louis: 2.1 years below grade level ($30,000)
That's also a huge achievement gap at the start of sixth grade!

Should all those kids in all those schools be taught the same math in sixth grade? If so, on what planet? Do our nation's top experts live there?

BREAKING: Hayes pretends to interview Chozick!

TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018

But first, what Lozada did:
Last night—actually, early this morning—we watched Chris Hayes as he pretended to interview Amy Chozick.

To watch the segment, click here.


The New York Times made Chozick its "Hillary Clinton reporter" in July 2013 [sic]. It was more than three years until the presidential election in question. But in its stupid, inexcusable way, the Times was going to hound this pre-candidate every step of the way.

In our view, Chozick did a terrible job as the Times' Clinton reporter. Now she's written a book about the experience, hoping to pocket some cash.

(She's married to a Goldman Sachs VP. As far as we know, that's legal.)

Last night, Hayes pretended to interview her about it. Assuming minimal intelligence on their parts, it struck as a thoroughly disingenuous performance by both participants. We don't think it's ever seemed so clear that Hayes has been lost to the world thanks to his job with corporate cable, or perhaps thanks to his general ambition as a "career liberal" journalist in an age when such folk must play nice with the Times.

(How much does Hayes get paid for this? You aren't allowed to know that!)

We expect to spend next week reviewing the Chozick tour in terms of her performance on the three-year campaign trail. For today, though, let's consider something Carlos Lozada did.

This Sunday, Lozada reviewed Chozick's book on page one of the Washington Post's Outlook section. Basically, he fingered Chozick as a self-absorbed lightweight, which of course explains why the New York Times liked her so much.

Lozada didn't much like the book. That said, we think it's worth noting the way he starts his review:
LOZADA (4/22/18): Amy Chozick, the lead New York Times reporter on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, believes that the news media’s focus on Clinton’s private e-mail server—a story the Times broke and that Chozick would write about extensively—was excessive. She even grew to resent it. Chozick also thinks that reporting on campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails turned journalists into “puppets” of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, and she struggles to explain why they did it anyway. She contends that sexism played a big role in Clinton’s defeat but also encounters it first-hand among Clinton’s campaign staff. And while she hammers the candidate for having no clear vision for why she sought the presidency, Chozick allows that competence, experience and policy were hardly selling points in 2016, when it “turned out a lot of people just wanted to blow s— up.”

These are some of the revelations and contradictions permeating Chozick’s “Chasing Hillary,” a memoir by turns poignant, insightful and exasperating. It’s a buffet-style book—media criticism here, trail reminscences there, political analysis and assorted recollections from Chozick’s past tossed throughout—and while the portions are tasty, none fully satisfies...
Lozada didn't much like the book. That said, our analysts howled at the way he began his review.

Their point was extremely basic. As he starts his review, Lozada tells us what Chozick believes about the media's focus on Clinton's emails. (She "believes it was excessive.")

He tells us how she came to feel, apparently in real time, about this focus. (She "grew to resent" it.)

He tells us what she thinks about the coverage of the Podesta emails. (She "thinks that reporting on campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails turned journalists into 'puppets' of Putin.")

Lozada refers to these as "revelations." Here's the problem:

Lozada can't possibly know if Chozick really believes, and really felt, such things. He knows that this is what she's saying. He can't know if what she's saying is actually true.

For ourselves, we wouldn't trust Chozick as far as we could throw her. Lozada seems skeptical too.

For that reason, it's endlessly disappointing when journalists like Lozada write this way—when they turn something a hustler has said into something the hustler believes. Good journalists shoudn't do that.

For the record, Lozada knows how to write with greater precision. He does so in this very passage:

"[Chozick] contends that sexism played a big role in Clinton’s defeat..."

In that sentence, Lozada reports what Chozick has said. He doesn't say, in his own voice, that it's what she believes. This distinction is major and basic. The analysts wept and moaned when Lozada blew right past it as he began his review.

(For what it's worth: we thought Chozick and Hayes were at their disingenuous worst when they kept returning to sexism as the cause of Clinton's defeat. Among other things, this is the mainstream press corps' slithery way of ignoring their own decades of attacks on Clinton. More on this next week.)

Does Amy Chozick really believe that the media's focus on the emails was excessive? Does she really believe that this focus turned her guild into puppets of Putin?

She seems to be saying that she regret the coverage the media provided. But does she really regret the coverage, or is she just saying she does, as a means of personal rehabilitation?

We're disinclined to believe anything Chozick says. Beyond that, we've never seen Hayes as phony, faux and disingenuous as he seemed to be last night. On the side of illumination, last night's disingenuous outing largely defines an age, an age in which the mainstream press corps refuses to tell you the truth about its own attitudes, values, behavior.

Doers anyone escape corporate cable intact? By the way, how much does Hayes get paid to con us liberals like that?

Coming next week: What happens in the mainstream press corps stays in the mainstream press corps...

BREAKING: Today's initial "Noteworthy Fact!"

TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018

Sad, but thought-provoking:
At the very top of the reimagined page A3 in the New York Times, we get each day's "Noteworthy Facts" in the "Of Interest" section. (Hard copy only.)

This morning, we were offered seven such facts. The one shown below appeared first:
Of Interest
NOTEWORTHY FACTS FROM TODAY'S PAPER

Leeds Castle, in Kent, England, has a collection of dog collars dating to the 15th century.
Within the modern New York Times, that counts, at least in one person's mind, as a noteworthy fact!

The reimagined page A3 is like this pretty much all the time. In its spectacular daily dumbness, we're inclined to regard it as the sign of the end of a culture.

Coming tomorrow: Last Sunday's Washington Post best-sellers

Others of today's "Noteworthy facts:" These facts are also noteworthy today:
Pablo Picasso's lovers Dora Maar and Marie Therese-Walter had a wrestling match in his studio while he was painting "Guernica."

On the bill for the 2018 Youth Olympics are cross-country running, futsal (indoor soccer), beach handball and a basketball dunk contest.
Our own noteworthy fact would be this—no, we aren't making this up!

GAPS AND STANDARDS: Do grade level "standards" even make sense?

TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018

Part 2—Two kids in sixth grade:
As we start, let's imagine two great kids on the first day of sixth grade.

They may live thousands of miles from each other, on the east and west coasts. They may live in different communities in some individual state.

They may attend different schools within the same school district. Who knows! They may be sitting next to each other, in the same classroom, on this first day of sixth grade.

We'll call them Student A and Student B. We'll also tell you this:

According to reliable testing, Student A is working two years above "grade level" in reading and math. By way of contrast, Student B is two years below grade level in reading and math.

In this way, we've described a four-year "achievement gap" between these two sixth graders. For the sake of clarity, let's memorialize them like this:
Two public school sixth graders:
Student A: Two years above grade level in reading and math
Student B: Two years below grade level
For the record, the public schools of this sprawling nation are full of kids who are working "above grade level." Our schools are also full of kids who are working "below grade level."

Having established this obvious point, let's return to some of the things Arne Duncan recently said.

Duncan served as Barack Obama's secretary of education and as his basketball buddy. He recently wrote an op-ed column in the Washington Post.

After making some comments about test score gains—comments which seemed to make little chronological sense—Duncan offered these thoughts about so-called "learning standards," a term he didn't define:
DUNCAN (4/2/18): None of our progress happened because we stood still. It happened because we confronted hard truths, raised the bar and tried new things. Beginning in 2002, federal law required annual assessments tied to transparency. The law forced educators to acknowledge achievement gaps, even if they didn’t always have the courage or capacity to address them.

A decade ago, learning standards were all over the place. Today, almost every state has raised standards.
According to Duncan, public schools have "raised the bar" over the past ten to sixteen years. Specifically, "almost every state has raised standards," Duncan said. He was referring to the various states' "learning standards," a term he didn't define.

What the heck did Duncan mean by his reference to "learning standards?" In part 1 of this report, we showed you one example.

We linked you to the "State Curriculum" for the state of Maryland, "the document that identifies the Maryland Content Standards and aligns them with the Maryland Assessment Program."

That document includes "broad, measurable statements about what students should know and be able to do" in each grade, from Pre-K through Grade 8. We also linked you to Maryland's "content standards" for Grade 6 math—"broad, measurable statements about what students should know and be able to do" by the time he or she has been taught Grade 6 math.

Simply put, that's the Grade 6 math curriculum for Maryland's public schools. That's the sort of thing Duncan means when he talks about the various states' "learning standards."

Plainly, Duncan thinks it's a good idea for the various states to have such "learning standards." He also seems to think it's good that the states have made these curriculum requirements harder in the past ten years—have "raised the bar" by "raising" their learning (or content) standards.

This sounds like a perfectly sensible thing. On the face of things, who could possibly object to the idea of "raising standards?"

It seems that Duncan is making good sense! That said, we refer you to our two imaginary students, between whom there exists a yawning "achievement gap."

Forget about higher standards for now. When we think about those two students, does it actually make sense to have grade-by-grade "standards" at all?

More specifically, should a pair of sixth-graders with that four-year gap confront the same curriculum in math? Does Arne Duncan's high-minded prescription actually make any sense?

We would say it doesn't! This raises question about the standards which are maintained by the nation's "education experts," who have mainly been expert, in recent decades, at noticing virtually nothing at all.

Should those sixth-graders, with that four-year gap, be taught the same math curriculum? Should they be taught the same way in other subject areas?

We'd say the obvious answer is no. We'll offer a quick two-point overview:

First, consider the challenges which may arise in the assignment of textbooks or reading assignments in general.

Student B, who's two years below grade level in reading, won't be able to read and understand the same books Student A can read. In a sensible universe, these two kids will not be given the same reading assignments in areas like history and science. Nor will they likely choose the books they read for pleasure from the same pile of books.

That four-year gap creates all kinds of challenges in the general realm of reading assignments in various subjects. Now let's consider math:

Those students are sitting side-by-side on the first day of sixth grade. Should they encounter the same lessons in math, drawn from the same set of "learning standards?"

We'll answer your question with one of our own. Imagine two additional students. This time, they're juniors in high school:
Two public school high school juniors:
Student C: Took Latin 3 last year; got an A-minus
Student D: Took Latin 1 and flunked
Now it's the start of a new school year. Should Student C and Student D receive the same Latin instruction this year just because they're in the same grade? On what planet would this question even need to be asked?

As with Latin, so too with math. Our original students, A and B, are light-years apart in math achievement and understanding. You'd have to be crazy, out of your mind, to confront them with the same math instruction.

Either that, or you'd have to be an "education expert" within our floundering culture.

A four-year gap at the start of sixth grade is a very large gap. That said, gigantic achievement gaps are found all through our sprawling nation's public schools.

In yesterday's report, we showed you the gap which exists between the average student in Baltimore City and the average student in nearby Howard County. The gap between those students is vast.

You ain't seen diddly yet! The gaps get much larger than that...

Tomorrow: Lexington, Mass. meets St. Louis, Missouri

Still coming: Horrific gaps on the Naep. Luckily, no one cares!

BREAKING: Is there something we're missing here?

MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2018

The mind of the New York Times:
The New York Times and the Washington Post tend to dance a peculiar pas de deux.

From Monday through Friday, the Times is the far more interesting paper. On the weekends, though, the roles reserve. It seems to us that the Post produces much more interesting material.

That's largely because, on the weekends, the Times publishes work like this, on a regular basis.

The link transports you to a puzzling piece in yesterday's Sunday Review. It was written by Lindsay Crouse, "a senior staff editor for Op-Docs at The Times" who graduated from Harvard in 2006.

(And no, this isn't the actress.)

Crouse ran in last week's Boston Marathon, which took place in unusually cold weather. Apparently because of the weather, dropout rates during the race were apparently higher than usual this year.

We say "apparently" because Crouse presents no source for her various statistical claims about how many runners did, and did not, drop out during the race. But as she began her piece, this year's allegedly unusual dropout rates had her thinking, and leaning toward certain conclusions:
CROUSE (4/22/18): This year’s Boston Marathon, with its horizontal rain and freezing temperatures, wasn’t just an ordeal unfolding amid some of the worst weather in decades.

It was also an example of women’s ability to persevere in exceptionally miserable circumstances.
In good weather, men typically drop out of this race at lower rates than women do, but this year, women fared better. Why, in these terrible conditions, were women so much better at enduring?
To Crouse, this year's race constitutes "an example of women’s ability to persevere in exceptionally miserable circumstances." She says that, in the terrible conditions, women turned out to be "so much better at enduring."

Inquiring minds will want to know: how much better were women at enduring? Incredibly, these are the (unsourced) numbers which had Crouse writing this piece for the Sunday Review:
CROUSE (continuing directly): The results for Boston, one of the most competitive marathons in the world, were doleful this year: The winning times for both men and women were the slowest since the 1970s, and the midrace dropout rate was up 50 percent overall from last year.

But finishing rates varied significantly by gender. For men, the dropout rate was up almost 80 percent from 2017; for women, it was up only about 12 percent. Overall, 5 percent of men dropped out, versus just 3.8 percent of women. The trend was true at the elite level, too.
Those numbers don't seem hugely different. Adding to the foolishness, the headline on the piece says this: "Why Men Quit and Women Don't."

Let's assume Crouse's numbers are accurate. Overall, that means that 96.2 percent of women finished the race this year, versus a measly 95 percent of men.

That doesn't strike us as a very large difference. That said, Crouse says the opposite is normally true. She says that, in a more typical weather year, a lower percentage of men drop out.

Let's perform some math:

Based on the numbers Crouse provides, it would seem that, in 2017, 2.8 percent of men dropped out during the race, versus 3.4 percent of women. Putting that another way, 97.2 percent of men finished the race last year, versus 96.6 percent of women.

Whichever year we're looking at, the differences between women and men don't strike us as very large. The difference between 2017 and 2018 doesn't seem very large either.

But so what? At the New York Times, these minor differences led to a lengthy piece in the Sunday Review, one of the paper's most visible platforms, in which Crouse imagines various possible reasons for these allegedly meaningful outcomes.

Is there something we're missing here? Crouse's essay strikes us as maybe three steps beyond daft. But the work appeared in the New York Times, in the highly visible Sunday Review.

We truly wonder if lead exposure explains the state of the culture. For what it's worth, a somewhat similar piece appeared yesterday in the Post's Outlook section.

We'll try to get to that piece tomorrow or Wednesday. But Crouse's piece seems to make little sense. It's the kind of work which spills from the Sunday Times on a regular basis.

Has lead exposure eaten our brains? Do you have a better explanation?

Is there a name for this: Is there a name for the statistical hook Crouse employs here? To wit:

If you compare the percentages of men and women who dropped out, the difference can be made to seem rather large. But if you compare the percentages who didn't drop out, the difference will almost surely seem rather small.

Consider an exaggerated example:

In next year's marathon. 99.9 percent of women finish, compared to 99.8 percent of men. The numbers will seem very similar—unless you decide to compare the percentages who didn't finish, in which case you can say, with technical accuracy, that men dropped out at double the rate of women, or perhaps that twice as many men dropped out.

(In that scenario, 0.1 percent of women will have dropped out, versus 0.2 percent of men. That's twice as many!)

Is there a name for that type of statistical sleight of hand? Anthropologically speaking, does it tend to appeal to people who suffer from lead exposure?

BREAKING: The New York Times did it again!

MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2018

Long ago, Trump got his start:
Within our failing American culture, is there any mistaken or ridiculous narrative which didn't get its start at the New York Times?

We'll guess the answer is yes! That said, in yesterday's Washington Post, we learned how Donald J. Trump conned his way onto the original Forbes 400 list way back in 1982.

At the time, Trump was actually worth $5 million, according to yesterday's report. Forbes listed him at $100 million. It was a 95 percent deception, and the start of a long, continuing con.

How did Trump con his way onto the inaugural Forbes 400 list? On page one of yesterday's Outlook section, the story is told by Jonathan Greenberg, the journalist who got conned by Trump when he and Trump were young.

How did Greenberg, and his editors at Forbes, get themselves conned by Trump? Therein lie some important tales.

Greenberg's report is long and intriguing. It runs some 3500 words. We can't vouch for its accuracy in all respects, but it is a first-person account.

That said, we'll single out two basic ways Forbes managed to get itself conned.

For starters, we'll note that Greenberg was very young when he was put in charge of this inaugural project. He was 25 years old, and perhaps a bit easy to con.

In fairness, his editors were surely older. They got tooken by Donald Trump too—and, as noted above, they got tooken good:
GREENBERG (4/22/18): [I]t took decades to unwind the elaborate farce Trump had enacted to project an image as one of the richest people in America. Nearly every assertion supporting that claim was untrue. Trump wasn't just poorer than he said he was. Over time, I have learned that he should not have been on the first three Forbes 400 lists at all. In our first-ever list, in 1982, we included him at $100 million, but Trump was actually worth roughly $5 million—a paltry sum by the standards of his super-monied peers—as a spate of government reports and books showed only much later.
If Greenberg is right today, he and his editors were off by a factor of 95 percent! How did they manage to bungle so badly?

According to Greenberg, it all began with a typical gong show at the New York Times. In a "fawning profile" of Trump back in 1976, the Times had grossly misstated the number of apartment units he owned.

Dimwittedly, Forbes assumed, six years later, that the Times report had been accurate. Why would anyone ever think that about anything the New York Times does?
GREENBERG: My Forbes editors and I spent many hours deliberating about where to place Trump [on the 1982 list]. Based on what little we knew—his claims; a 1976 New York Times profile that said the Trump Organization owned 22,000 apartments; and Fred's reputation for housing a generation of working-class New Yorkers in Brooklyn and Queens—we ranked Donald and Fred in the bottom tier among major real-estate developers, each with half of a $200 million apartment empire.

Even though I learned later that this was far more money than Donald possessed, it did not satisfy him for the following year's edition. During his 1983 interview, Trump claimed that there were actually 25,000 apartments and that his net worth had ballooned because of the success of his new projects...

[...]

Eventually, nearly every one of Trump's pronouncements about his wealth unraveled.

The number of apartments was the first problem.
The commonly cited figure—that his family owned 25,000 units—began with the mention of 22,000 apartments in that fawning 1976 New York Times profile. In 1988, after I left Forbes, I counted the units and found fewer than 8,000. (I was working briefly on a documentary about Trump that was never completed.) Another Forbes reporter that year, John Anderson, found the same thing.
Note the lunacy there.

The whole thing started with a claim in a fawning New York Times profile. The profile said that Trump owned 22,000 apartment units. Six years later, the people at Forbes simply assumed this was true.

How lax were the journalistic standards at Forbes? This lax:

In 1988, Zimmerman says, he actually counted the apartments! It turned out there were fewer than 8,000 units, not the 22,000 originally reported in that fawning profile.

According to Zimmerman, he was able to conduct this census while "working briefly on a documentary about Trump." Since it took so little time, why didn't he engage in this basic due diligence while at Forbes? In his 3500-word piece, Zimmerman doesn't say.

Assuming Zimmerman's current account is accurate, the journalistic standards at Forbes were virtually non-existent. This brings us to that "fawning 1976 New York Times profile," where he says this gong-show began.

Sadly, the profile can still be seen online.
Trump was 30 years old when the fawning occurred. Sadly, pitifully, the profile started like this:
KLEMESRUD (11/1/76): He is tall, lean and blond, with dazzling white teeth, and he looks ever so much like Robert Redford. He rides around town in a chauffeured silver Cadillac with his initials, DJT, on the plates. He dates slinky fashion models, belongs to the most elegant clubs and, at only 30 years of age, estimates that he is worth “more than $200 million.”

Flair. It's one of Donald J. Trump's favorite words, and both he, his friends and his enemies use it when describing his way of life as well as his business style as New York's No. 1 real estate promoter of the middle 1970's.
Apparently, dazzling teeth helped a fellow date slinky models during those disco days. Before a fellow knew it, he was worth $200 million—or was at least saying he was.

If Zimmerman is right today, Klemesrud repeated a wildly inaccurate claim about Trump's net worth. The wild misstatement about the apartments appeared in paragraph 4:
KLEMESRUD (continuing directly): “If a man has flair,” the energetic, outspoken Mr. Trump said the other day, “and is smart and somewhat conservative and has a taste for what people want, he's bound to be successful in New York.”

Mr. Trump, who is president of the Brooklyn based Trump Organization, which owns and manages 22,000 apartments, currently has three imaginative Manhattan real‐estate projects in the works. And much to his delight, his brash, controversial style has prompted comparisons with his flamboyant idol, the late William Zeckendorf Sr., who actually developed projects as striking as those Mr. Trump is proposing.
Sad. The inaccurate claim which started it all was presented there as a fact.

The New York Times published that dreck in 1976. Six years later, a kid reporter at Forbes took that statement about the apartments as a fact, then proceeded to bungle from there. Trump got on the inaugural Forbes 400 list and built his myth upon this initial rock.

We return to our origianl question. Is there any stupid story which didn't start at the Times?

In 1964, a bungled front-page report in the Times started the Kitty Genovese myth, a major tale of the era. In 1992, bungled front-page reporting in the Times started the history-changing Whitewater pseudo-scandal.

In 1999, Katharine Seelye "accidentally" "misquoted" Candidate Gore about Love Canal, then refused to accept correction. This set the history-changing AL GORE, LIAR narrative in stone. And in 1976, the Times included a bogus fact in a fawning profile of Trump. Six years later, the dopes at Forbes simply accepted it as a fact, or so Greenberg now says.

For twenty years, we've tried to tell you—these people are slightly subhuman. In their essence, they're narrative-driving clowns.

That said, Donald Trump had dazzling teeth. In the minds of the dopes at a famous newspaper, the public deserved to be told!

GAPS AND STANDARDS: Gaps between two large school districts!

MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2018

Part 1—Twenty miles apart:
Let's talk today about some gaps between two large school systems.

There are more than 13,000 public school systems in the United States. The two of which we speak today are located roughly twenty miles apart.

Each of these systems is among the nation's hundred largest. The two school systems are these:
The Baltimore City Public Schools, which was serving roughly 84,000 students as of 2010.

The Howard County (Md.) Public Schools, which enrolled roughly 51,000 students that year.
These large school systems aren't far apart as the fast car or transit bus drives. But according to Stanford professor Sean Reardon, some other gaps between the two districts are huge.

In April 2016, the New York Times published this data-rich report based on research by Reardon and two associates. Online, the newspaper's interactive graphics included basic information on every school district in the United States.

What kinds of gaps existed between the two school systems under review? Let's start with median family income of the two systems' pupils. From this point on, all data come from Reardon and the Times:
Median family income of students
Baltimore City: $36,000
Howard County: $118,000
The "income gap" is very large. We'd even call it huge.

It's also true that there are differences in demographics, as our society conceives them, between these large school districts. Acording to Professor Reardon, those numbers looked like this:
Demographics of student populations
Baltimore City: 8 percent white; 86 percent black; 4 percent Hispanic; 2 percent Asian-American

Howard County:
49 percent white; 22 percent black; 7 percent Hispanic; 22 percent Asian-American
Each of these systems is full of great kids. That said, Baltimore's students come from families which are much less wealthy. The breakdowns by "race" are different too.

Now we come to the type of gap we'll be discussing all week. We speak about the so-called "achievement gap" between these two groups of public school students.

As part of a massive project on which the Times was reporting that day, Reardon had analyzed test score data from every school district in the nation. Through a bit of statistical legerdemain, he'd created statistics which purported to show how many years above and below "grade level" the average student in each district was.

Professor Reardon has done lots of valuable work through the years. That said, we think these statistics should be taken as highly approximate.

That very much doesn't mean that his data are no darn good! And according to Professor Reardon, this is where the average student in each of our two school districts stood, across the sweep of six school years, in a combination of reading and math, Grade 3 through Grade 8:
Where the average student stood
Baltimore City: 1.5 years below grade level
Howard County: 1.8 years above grade level
Those average scores cover a sweep of six school years. They combine the average student's standing in reading and math.

We'd regard those numbers as highly approximate. We also regard those numbers as highly revealing and useful.

Those numbers suggest that, perhaps at the start of the sixth grade year, there may be something like an "achievement gap" of 3.3 years between the average student in Howard County and the average student in Baltimore City, a mere twenty miles away (in some cases, quite a bit closer).

More than three years is a lot, especially at the start of sixth grade! Now, we direct you to various lists of so-called "learning standards," the official "content standards" now in effect in Maryland, one of the fifty states.

More specifically, we'll direct you to Maryland's "State Curriculum," defined as "the document that identifies the Maryland Content Standards and aligns them with the Maryland Assessment Program."

According to that official document, the State Curriculum offers "broad, measurable statements about what students should know and be able to do." More precisely, the State Curriculum offers "measurable statements about what students should know and be able to do" in each grade, from Pre-K through Grade 8.

What should students "know and be able to do" in math in Grade 6? It's not that anyone actually cares, but you can check that here.

If you click that link, you'll be looking at the "content standards" for Grade 6 math all over the state of Maryland. They're the official "content standards" for every public school and school system in the state.

Having said that, hold on! Citizens, let's review:

In Baltimore City, the average student in sixth grade is something like 3.3 years below the average student in Howard County. And those are just the average students! The less successful Baltimore kids are even farther behind the higher achieving students in Howard County!

Should those students all be taught the same math program in sixth grade? Based on his recent column in the Washington Post, that's what Arne Duncan seems to think, and the harder the program the better!

All week long, we'll be exploring a basic question:

On what planet could such a thought possibly make any sense?

Tomorrow: The gaps get much, much larger!

Please don't call him Johnson: You shouldn't confuse the Baltimore City Public Schools with the Baltimore County Public Schools, a large suburban public school system just outside Baltimore City.

The Baltimore County system is larger than that in Baltimore City. As of 2010, it was the nation's 26th largest, serving roughly 104,000 students.

According to Professor Reardon's data, its average student was 0.4 years above grade level, 2.1 years ahead of the average student in neighboring Baltimore City.

Due to annoying glitches in the New York Times' graphics, we can't give you the rest of Reardon's data for this large system, which surrounds Baltimore City on three sides, separated, not by a moat, but by a two-year gap.

BREAKING: What Happened back in 2016?

SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 2018

We outline one possible novel:
What actually happened in 2016, during that year's White House campaign?

More specifically, what explains the conduct of James B. Comey, known then as "Comey the god" within the establishment press?

A person could imagine the story any number of ways. Today, we offer the incomparable outline of one possible novel.

This novel would turn on the idea that Comey is possibly just a bit "wack" in the general area of possible "moral vanity." As an example of what we mean, we offer this photo from Comey's Twitter account—a photo from Gettysburg, to which he appends this pensee:

"Little Round Top, Gettysburg. Good place to think about leadership and values."

(For background, just click here.)

You might expect a post like that from a college kid who's trying to form his identity. By way of contrast, Comey was almost 57 years old when he posted that photo last fall. This novel would suggest that there was some sort of "identity issue" which, even at that age, Comey was still working out.

That identity issue would involve a rather juvenile sense of moral greatness on Comey's part. Novelistically, it would be alleged that he saw himself as a successor to the Jedi, a guild defined as shown below by the leading authority:
The Jedi are...an ancient monastic, academic, meritocratic and paramilitary organization whose origin dates back to c. 25,000 BBY (Before Battle of Yavin; the destruction of the first Death Star).

The Jedi Order mostly consists of polymaths: teachers, philosophers, scientists, engineers, physicians, diplomats and warriors. The Jedi value knowledge and wisdom, and serve others through acts of charity, citizenship, and volunteerism...
Novelistically, Comey would believe, perhaps in somewhat juvenile fashion, that his own modern-day guild—the guild of executive law enforcement, especially male executive law enforcement—was, in effect, our society's equivalent to the Jedi. Within that modern-day guild, he would novelistically see himself as the greatest of the modern-day Jedi—as someone superior even to the other knights around him.

That would be the novel's framework. What Happened would be this:
July 5, 2016: Comey has long since decided that Loretta Lynch, his putative superior, doesn't exhibit the qualities of his "master class" guild. On that basis, he decides to override Justice Department lines of authority so he can denounce Candidate Clinton, who also falls short of the moral greatness on constant display within his fraternal order.

Beyond that, Comey knows that he'll be attacked by a powerful rival guild, The Luddi, for his decision not to charge Clinton with crimes. In Comey's view, the history of the human race depends on his ability to lessen damage to himself from such attacks. This is the second reason for his lusty attacks on Candidate Clinton, which violate DOJ policies but diminish the Luddi attacks.

Late October 2016: By now, Comey believes he's "making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president." Polling never established any such certainty, of course. But Comey has joined a long list of elites in making this faulty assessment.

Why did he break Justice Department policy by making another announcement about Candidate Clinton, this time late in the campaign? Again, he knew he'd be attacked by the Luddi if he played by DOJ rules—and in his view, the history of the human race depended on his escape from any such opprobrium.

Also this: major liberal "cable news" stars had thoroughly enabled his conduct back in July. Given their history of supine behavior, he assumed they'd do so again.
Within the pages of this particular novel, Comey is a superlative husband, father, neighbor and friend. But at the age of 57, something still hasn't fallen into place regarding his identity issues in the "moral exemplar" realm.

Even at age 57, there's something he hasn't worked out! As a result, Donald J. Trump, who may be stark raving mad, now holds the nuclear codes.

Who offers Twitter posts like that, except when they're maybe 19?

There's always room for one more: Is Comey the only real successor to the masterful Jedi of old?

In this morning's Washington Post, Matt Zapotosky describes the way he's now thrown his trusted assistant, Andrew McCabe, under the DOJ bus.

It's getting crowded under that bus! Loretta Lynch still seems to be there, according to some who've read Comey.

READING COMEY: Roads not taken, questions not asked!

FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2018

Part 5—Once again, god gets a pass:
We haven't read James B. Comey's book, the lofty and deeply thoughtful "A Higher Loyalty."

In part for that reason, "reading Comey" in the colloquial sense isn't real easy for us.

He strikes us as a rather strange duck, in large part due to his obsession with hiw own moral standing. Reading Niebuhr in college was one thing. Obsessing on Niebuhr at age 57 strikes us as different and odd.

Some reviewers have shown true belief in Comey as they've reviewed his book. For many years, Comey was treated as a mainstream god—as the most upright person then living. In her review of the his book for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani seemed to read Comey that same old way. The gent was still Comey the god.

Other critics have taken a different approach, saying that Comey comes across, in his new book, as a bit of a moral exhibitionist. But in our view, it's even been frustrating to follow the work of these critics.

Basic questions have gone unasked; basic issues have gone unstudied. It's the way our mainstream press corps has long played the game.

Consider one basic criticism of Comey's behavior during the 2016 campaign, when his actions may have changed the outcome of the election. We refer to the claim that Comey broke basic Justice Department policies as he attacked Candidate Clinton, first in July 2016, then again in late October.

Is that criticism accurate? Did Comey break clear-cut, basic Department policies when he savaged Clinton?

Did Comey really do such a thing? Consider the discussion which occurred on Monday evening's Last Word.

(MSNBC has posted the wrong transcript for Monday night's show, so we can't give you a link.)

As the discussion in question began, Lawrence threw to Matt Miller, a Justice Department spokesperson under Eric Holder. Miller said that Comey "still doesn't have a good reason to explain why he did what he did" during the 2016 campaign. According to Miller, "When you see his explanations of the Clinton investigation in particular, I think a lot of them just don't really add up."

We tend to agree with that. At this point, Lawrence turned to the New York Times' David Leonhardt. In a classic contradictory statement, Leonhardt brought the eternal note of scripted blather in:
O'DONNELL (4/16/18): David Leonhardt, your reaction to what we have been listening to?

LEONHARDT: I agree with that [with what Miller said]. I mean, I think, look, James Comey comes across as very honest in these interviews. He admits that his wife and his daughters attended the Women's March. Those are things that, if you were just trying to cultivate your image, you wouldn't say, but they are honest.

On the other hand, he is not persuasive about why he made a decision about Hillary Clinton. Department policy, as Matt knows better than I do, is very clear. You don't talk about active investigations that could disrupt campaigns the way he did it. And so this whole dichotomy he set up, "speak or conceal," just doesn't make any sense.

Justice Department policy is you don't go out and criticize people you are not going to charge and affect a presidential campaign in the final days.
And so, I understand that he still believes he did the right thing, but I don`t think the rest of us should believe that he did the right thing in 2016.
Alas, poor Leonhardt! As if in thrall to an ancient law of the guild, he started by saying that Comey has been "coming across as very honest" in his initial interviews in support of his book.

His one example, which he pluralized, made no earthly sense. When Comey "admits" that his wife and daughters attended the Women's March, he is, in fact, helping his image among the groups who will support him now that he's locked in combat with Donald J. Trump.

This is hardly an example of a "very honest" person making an admission against interest. Sadly, though, this is the way life forms like Leonhardt play.

Leonhardt started in the traditional manner, praising Comey's honesty. At this point, the real nonsense started, with Leonhardt agreeing that Comey's statements about 2016 don't make any sense.

Along the way, Leonhardt made the claim you've heard a million times by now. In summary, this is what Leonhardt said:
Justice Department policy is very clear. You don't talk about active investigations that could disrupt a campaign in its final days. Also, you don't go out and savage people you aren't going to charge.
By now, you've heard it a million times over the past two years. According to a million pundits, Justice Department policy was very clear on each of those ways, and Comey broke those policies—first in July 2016, then again late in October.

Justice Department policies were clear, and Comey broke those policies! Indeed, this is exactly what Rod Rosenstein said in his now-famous memo for Attorney General Sessions:
ROSENSTEIN (5/9/17): I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the Director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.

The director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General's authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. There is a well-established process for other officials to step in when a conflict requires the recusal of the Attorney General. On July 5, however, the Director announced his own conclusions about the nation's most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.

Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation. Derogatory information sometimes is disclosed in the course of criminal investigations and prosecutions, but we never release it gratuitously. The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.
Oof! Rosenstein said it way back when. He said "almost everyone" agrees that Comey broke "longstanding" principles and policies when he launched his unauthorized attacks on Candidate Clinton starting that July.

For perhaps the ten millionth time, Leonhardt said it again this Monday night. Comey violated "very clear" Justice Department policies, Leonhardt said, even as he that Comey "comes across as very honest" when he disputes these claims.

Now for our questions about the current treatment of Comey, who was once known as Comey the god:

Have you seen any major news organization present a serious report about this familiar claim? Have you seen any such news org establish the existence of the established policies Comey is said to have violated?

Also:

Have you seen any interviewer ask Comey if he did break clearly established policies, and if so, why he did?

We haven't seen anyone do these things. Simply put, we haven't seen the former god pushed about what he did. Comey, the once and future god, is still getting a major pass, just as he so plainly did in real time.

Understand what happened on Monday night. Leonhardt kept saying that Comey "comes across as very honest," even as he agreed with Miller's statement that Comey's explanations "just don't really add up."

Comey was getting a pass all over again as this nonsense occurred. With this, we come to the way the very honest Comey keeps throwing Loretta Lynch under the bus.

Let's give (some) credit where due! In his full, five-hour interview with Comey, George Stephanopoulos pushed Comey harder than you might have expected about his trashing of Lynch. He asked Comey many questions before he finally gave up.

How has Comey treated Lynch? Let's recall the record:

In July 2016, Loretta Lynch was James B. Comey's boss. Crazy as the statement may sound, she was his superior within the Justice Department!

As Rosenstein noted in his memo, Comey usurped his boss' authority when he launched by first attack on Candidate Clinton that month. He didn't even tell his boss that he planned to ignore Department policies in launching his surprise attack.

That's what the godlike Niebuhr reader did in July 2016. From that point on, he has repeatedly suggested that he did what he did because his superior was possibly dirty. Stephanopoulos pushed him on the extremely shaky "Russian email" part of that story, but finally gave up in despair.

Leonhardt would probably tell you that Comey "came across as very honest" as he stumbled his way through Stephanopoulos' questions. We'll only tell you this about this factually jumbled matter:

Comey's story concerning Lynch seems to have changed in the past two years. Today, he claims he never thought that Lynch was in the bag for Clinton.

He claims he never believed that stupid Russkie transmission. That doesn't seem to be what "Mr. Comey's defenders" were telling the New York Times at this time last year.

The story here is complicated, but uh-oh! People who have read Comey's book seem to say that he still seems to be sliming Lynch, if only perhaps by inference. Even a leading Comey-enabler like Rachel Maddow has now, ever so briefly, raised this point:
MADDOW (4/19/18): The thing that troubles me about that is it seems like even the way you talk about it in the book sort of casts aspersions on Loretta Lynch and whether or not she was doing anything wrong with regard to this investigation.
In the summer and fall of 2016, Maddow may have been the liberal world's most important Comey-enabler. Even she has now raised this point about Comey's book, if only as a brief afterthought. In July 2016, she bowed low to the Establishment God, permitting him to run roughshod over both Clinton and Lynch.

(Maddow did the same thing in the fall of 2012 when McCain and Schieffer began the sliming of Susan Rice in the course of inventing the Benghazi narrative. Benghazi and the emails defeated Candidate Clinton. As these damaging narratives were being invented, Rachel Maddow was totally MIA each time.)

Last night, even Maddow raised the Loretta Lynch question, if only briefly at the end of her hour with Comey. That said, no one has really challenged Comey on this point, and David Leonhardt is quick say that he still "comes across as very honest," even though "this whole dichotomy he set up...just doesn't make any sense."

Comey doesn't exactly "come across" that way to us. But especially now that he's anti-Trump, the children aren't going to tell you that, and the children aren't going to push him.

As far as we know, Matt Miller had it right this past Monday night. To our ear, Comey's statements about 2016 still don't seem to make sense.

That said, that was then and this is now—and Comey is now anti-Trump. No one, least of all Maddow, is going to push him about the way he managed to get Trump elected to office.
.
Comey threw Lynch under the bus, where she had plenty of company. People who have read his book, even including Maddow, say it still sounds like he's sliming that woman, his boss.

Would a reader of Niebuhr do such a thing? Leading stars of the mainstream press corps won't likely try to find out.

BREAKING: Arne Duncan on "learning standards!"

THURSDAY, APRIL 19, 2018

What's the matter with standards:
Doggone it! The Naep Data Explorer is down. That means we can't gather data for the report we'd planned to offer today.

No sense in letting the day go to waste! Let's review what Arne Duncan recently said about higher "learning standards."

On April 2, Duncan published a shocking op-ed column in the Washington Post. Amazingly, he noted the fact that American kids have shown large score gains in reading and math over the past forty-plus years.

Why was Duncan's column shocking? Rather plainly, there has been some sort of long-running agreement in which elites agreed that we the people mustn't be told such things.

To all intents and purposes, major newspapers like the Post and the Times have never reported the basic facts about these large score gains. Instead, they have promulgated propaganda favored by "education reformers," according to which nothing has worked, and nothing is working, in our public schools.

Our public schools could be better, of course. That said, our major newspapers could be much better—though in fairness, promulgation of elite propaganda of this type is their one great skill.

At any rate, there was Duncan on April 2, suddenly breaking the news—"today's kids perform as much as 2 1/2 grades higher than their counterparts from [1971]." Luckily, no one reads op-ed columns by people like Duncan. Otherwise, citizens might have died of shock all across the land.

Why did Duncan wrote this column? We've already offered our best guess. Today, let's consider something else he said.

These score gains didn't happen by accident, Duncan said. He said the score gains have been achieved because of—what else?—education reform!

As we'll recall below, a fair amount of what Duncan wrote didn't make sense on a simple chronological basis. But for the record, here's part of what he said:
DUNCAN (4/2/18): None of our progress happened because we stood still. It happened because we confronted hard truths, raised the bar and tried new things. Beginning in 2002, federal law required annual assessments tied to transparency. The law forced educators to acknowledge achievement gaps, even if they didn't always have the courage or capacity to address them.

A decade ago, learning standards were all over the place. Today, almost every state has raised standards. The percentage of high school students taking college-level classes has tripled since 1990.
According to Duncan, the score gains happened because "we raised the bar."

Not long ago, something called "learning standards" were "all over the place," Duncan wrote. By now, he said, "almost every state has raised standards."

How about it! Did those score gains occur because almost every state "has raised standards?" Please! In his column, Duncan tracked the score gains to 1971. He also said the "higher standards" started ten years ago.

So it goes when you read the work of major liberal "intellectual leaders." That said, what does Duncan mean by the term "learning standards," and how have they supposedly been improved?

By "learning standards," he simply means the various learnings and skills a student is supposed to master by the end of some specific grade. When he says that learning standards "were all over the place" ten years ago, he means that the various states had a wide array of such curricular "standards"—that these grade-by-grade curricular standards were different for every state.

That's what he means when he says that standards were "all over the place." When he says that every state "has raised standards" in the past decade, he means that kids are now expected to master more challenging material by the end of the different grades than was the case in the past.

Already, you've noticed another non sequitur! If learning standards were all over the place; and if every state proceeded to raise its learning standards; then why wouldn't learning standards still be "all over the place," except at a higher level?

You're asking a very good question! Again, you see the kind of service we get from our "intellectual leaders."

That said, it always sounds good to say that every state has "raised its learning standards." What could possibly be wrong with having "higher standards?" The question seems to answer itself!

In fact, there may be plenty wrong with having higher / tougher / more challenging standards. It all depends on who the student is.

Beyond that, it isn't clear that it makes sense to have grade-by-grade "learning standards" at all. In fact, we'd say it rather plainly doesn't make sense.

Tomorrow, if the Naep Date Explorer is up, we'll explain what we mean. Through the use of some horrific data, we'll show you why it doesn't make sense to have grade-by-grade "learning standards" at all.

Duncan reported some highly important basic facts—basic facts which have always been kept from public view. Since no one actually cares about any of this, you've seen his information mentioned nowhere else in the seventeen days since his column appeared.

Beyond that, Duncan made some incoherent remarks about those "learning standards." His statements sounded extremely good.

In fact, his statements made very little sense. Obama! Thanks a lot!

Tomorrow: Strong logic, horrific data

READING COMEY: Narrative tics versus comforting look!

THURSDAY, APRIL 19, 2018

Part 4—Evoking the young Joni Mitchell:
Many mainstream press observers are trying to read James Comey.

Finally, this very morning, Vanessa Friedman weighs in.

Her piece appears on the front page of the New York Times' "Thursday Styles" section. According to the hard-copy headline, Comey is "The Model G-Man, Still Looking the Part:"
FRIEDMAN (4/19/18): Mr. Comey stares out from small screens and promotional pictures everywhere—trailers, social media and reviews. He is steely eyed, often glancing upward, as to a higher goal, or resolutely ahead; dark, brush-cut hair just beginning to be smudged with gray; the squareness of his jawline matched only by the squareness of his shoulders, his 6-foot-8 frame often draped in layers of true blue.

[...]

The look is in many ways the culmination of a cinematic romance with bureaucratic iconography that began in 1935 with James Cagney’s film “‘G’ Men,” and continued through Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” Mr. Comey fits neatly within this predetermined, easily read lens. It’s both comforting and slightly unnerving to see how closely he resembles the fictive embodiments of his role.
Comey's look is in many ways the culmination of a cinematic romance with bureaucratic iconography, at least according to Friedman. As they read her reading of the G-Man, our analysts nodded appreciatively over and over again:
FRIEDMAN: It’s a character Mr. Comey has been honing for years, since he took the oath of office as F.B.I. director in 2013, and immortalized in his testimony before Congress last June, when he appeared in a dark suit, pristine white shirt and dark red tie, caught forever in multiple cameras and the watching imagination.

Even when he takes off his tie, as he has for his recent TV appearances, or swaps the jacket for a collared shirt in a dark shade, as he did for his Twitter page and his author photograph, as if to acknowledge his role as a private citizen, his clothes still convey sincerity and sobriety. There’s nothing really casual about them.

On Mr. Colbert’s show, he wore a black shirt and matching trousers with a gray jacket finished in black buttons: Johnny Cash, the lawyer version. You can take the G-man out of the suit (and the job), but not the suit out of the former G-man.

This has the Pavlovian effect of giving his words a believability (at least for those who buy into the cultural stereotype).
It helps counteract the (understandable) perception that he is limelight seeking and self-promotional, because even as he stands out there on his own, he is connected to a much bigger tradition.
It's so obvious once you read it! According to Friedman, Comey "is increasingly casting himself...as the mission-driven antipode [sic] to the president." In this increasing act of self-casting, "his appearance acts as a kind of supporting argument."

Reading Friedman's analysis, we had to admit that we've missed a lot as we've tried to read Comey. We haven't focused on his suits, or on the way they help his casting as an antipode. Like Jack Oakie in The Great Dictator, we'd blown right past the Pavlovian effect triggered by his wardrobe selections.

For whatever reason, we've focused on other parts of Comey's performance in the past week. We've focused on behavioral tics which made us think that James B. Comey, while perhaps a thoroughly decent person, is also perhaps a slightly odd duck, in ways which may have changed a little thing called the history of the world.

We haven't read Comey's book. Plainly, we haven't attended enough to his suits.

We did read Carlos Lozada's review of Comey's book in Sunday's Washington Post. The review appeared on the Post's front page, and grabbed us in several ways.

Lozada, of course, is picking and choosing from Comey's book in ways which make sense to him. It may be that some of the material he cites will seem different when read in the book's full context.

That said, let's start with something which may seem trivial. In the passage shown below, Lozada describes a behavioral tic which comes to us straight outta Rachel Maddow.

"When Comey cops to petty misdeeds...the self-criticism—and self-regard—is almost comical," Lozada writes, offering several examples. "But when the stakes rise, self-examination diminishes," Lozada goes on to allege.

We've often noted this same pattern in Rachel Maddow's almost comical self-corrections regarding trivial errors, matched by her refusal to correct herself concerning larger, highly significant bungles. According to Lozada's fuller passage, Comey displays the same self-serving behavioral tic:
LOZADA (4/16/18): When Comey cops to petty misdeeds...the self-criticism—and self-regard—is almost comical. At 6-feet-8, he used to lie about having played basketball for William & Mary, and he still feels bad about it. (After finishing law school, he reached out to friends and fessed up.) He once regifted a necktie to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “Because we considered ourselves people of integrity,” Comey explains solemnly, “I disclosed it was a regift as I handed him the tie.” And he congratulates himself for not exercising director’s prerogative and cutting in line at the FBI cafeteria. “Even when I was in a hurry. . . . I thought it was very important to show people that I’m not better than anyone else.”

But when the stakes rise, self-examination diminishes. On his decision to publicly denounce Clinton’s handling of classified information in her private emails in July 2016, Comey’s misgivings are cosmetic. He wishes he had organized the statement differently and explained early that no charges were warranted, and he wishes he had not characterized Clinton’s actions as “extremely careless”—even if “thoughtful lawyers” could understand what he meant. (Too bad thoughtful lawyers weren’t his only audience.)
Is Comey a alightly odd duck, especially with regard to his solemn self-regard in the moral sphere?

To us, it's strange to think that he would have lied to friends about playing basketball in college, though that would have happened long ago, when Comey was still in his twenties.

It seems extremely strange to think that this ancient, rather weird episode would be present in Comey's new book—a book about such serious topics as the possible end of the world. Perhaps it seems different in context.

When Lozada reads Comey, he finds a nearly obsessive focus on Comey's own moral status. "Consider the egotism of being preoccupied by your [own] egotism," Lozada writes at one point, taking a pot shot at Comey.

It's the kind of easy jibe to which Lozada is sometimes inclined. Still, this longer passage fleshes out what Lozada means:
LOZADA: Comey revisits his own big career moments—prosecuting mobsters, standing up to Vice President Dick Cheney and his consigliere David Addington over counterterrorism policies—with understandable pride. Yet he constantly worries he is too self-centered. “I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident, and driven by ego,” he admits. “I’ve struggled with those my whole life.”

That struggle continues in this book.
Comey isn’t just the kind of writer who quotes Shakespeare, but the kind who quotes himself quoting Shakespeare. He rejects the notion that “I am in love with my own righteousness” yet notes that “I have long worried about my ego.”
Lozada's examples continue from there. Is Comey's apology to Clinton in his book "a very Clintonian apology?" In our view, Lozada would be a better writer if he would avoid such easy, almost slick, jibes.

That said, James B. Comey is 57 years old, and he has long been a very important public official. To us, it's odd, and far from reassuring, to see a person of such years and such standing still debating his own moral standing in the tortured ways Lozada describes.

“I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident, and driven by ego?" Incomparably, we think of a brilliant lyric from Joni Mitchell, though you do have to hear it performed:
He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease
And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
That beautiful lyric (especially as performed) constitutes a very unusual, very direct piece of moral self-flagellation. But it was written by a poet, not by a former head of the FBI, and the poet was 27 years old at the time. We don't think it's reassuring to hear its tone in that excerpt as Lozada reads Comey.

We'll note a third element which caught our ear as we read Lozada's review, and as we watched Comey interviewed by George Stephanopoulos. We refer to the psychiatric tone in Comey's prose, which may serve to make him an object of pity and to undermine judgment of his behavior:
LOZADA: [Trump] lurks in Comey’s schoolboy battles with bullies, for instance. “All bullies are largely the same,” he writes. “They threaten the weak to feed some insecurity that rages inside them.” Or in his days battling mafia families as U.S. attorney in Manhattan, a time that came back to him once he encountered team Trump. “As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things.”
Please note: Comey wasn't just having flashbacks—he was having flashbacks once again. He seems to have them a lot. He referred to his flashbacks as she spoke with Stephanopoulos, and of course to his out-of-body experiences:
STEPHANOPOULOS (4/15/18): How weird was that ["pee tape"] briefing [with Trump]?

COMEY: Really weird. I mean, I don't know whether it was weird for President-elect Trump, but I— It was almost an out-of-body experience for me. I was floating above myself, looking down, saying, "You're sitting here, briefing the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow." And of course, Jeh Johnson's voice is banging around in my head. President Obama's eyebrow raise is banging around in my head. I just wanted to get it done and get out of there.
Comey wanted to descend from the ceiling and hastily exit the room.

Later in the interview, Comey describes the meeting where Trump suggested that he should drop the investigation of Michael Flynn. Sure enough! It happens again:
STEPHANOPOULOS: What were you thinking as you left the Oval Office that day?

COMEY: That something really important just happened, and that I was a little—another one of those out-of-body experiences, like, "Really? The president just kicked out the attorney general to ask me to drop a criminal investigation." Wow, the world continues to go crazy.
Sung to the tune of "Back in the Saddle," he was up on the ceiling again.

For a guy who was running the FBI, Comey seems to have had a lot of flashbacks and out-of-body experiences. This doesn't seem reassuring wither. Nor does it strike us as true.

Does anyone really believe that Comey (presumably felt he) "was floating above myself, looking down" as he spoke with Trump that day, with Obama's eyebrow raise banging around in his head? It seems to us that his out-of-body experiences and flashbacks create a highly dramatic narrative structure which serve to excuse his perhaps peculiar, perhaps slightly craven behavior in these exchanges with Trump.

This is also true of the unconscious forces he says may have affected his judgment in October 2016, when he took Candidate Clinton down for the second of his three times. It seems to us that these narrative tics mainly serve to position Comey as a figure buffeted by forces of superhuman power. For ourselves, we'd prefer to have an FBI head who doesn't end up floating above the room when a figure like Donald J. Trump makes inappropriate suggestions.

Lozada is highly skeptical of Comey's super-moralistic stances and frameworks. He ends up suggesting that Comey isn't wholly unlike Donald Trump. Here's how his reading ends:
LOZADA: [Comey] laments Trump’s lack of self-reflection or self-awareness. “Listening to others who disagree with me and are willing to criticize me is essential to piercing the seduction of certainty,” Comey writes. “Doubt, I’ve learned, is wisdom. . . . Those leaders who never think they are wrong, who never question their judgments or perspectives, are a danger to the organizations and people they lead.”

Trump is the most severe example of that tendency in this book. But he is not the only one.
Oof! For all his flamboyant self-reflection, is Comey really a bit like Trump is his foundational self-regard? Does he secretly lack the self-awareness gene? Is his moral self-flagellation really a form of cover?

Perhaps we'd have a better idea if we'd paid more attention to his clothes. That said, we don't believe in bad people here. We do believe in rather strange ducks, and that's how Comey tends to strike us.

Everybody's some kind of way; also, nobody's perfect. That said, Comey's behavior in 2016 may have changed the history of the world, in a rather unpleasant way.

This brings us back to Loretta Lynch, who we find under a bus, huddling there with Hillary Clinton and with several others. Why did Comey get such a pass when his amazingly well-intentioned blunders began?

Tomorrow: Big stars give Comey a pass

BREAKING: A few ideas about teaching reading!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 2018

Reading is a culture:
Is the third time the charm?

If so, three renowned experts have discussed the rise in public school test scores, in just the past few weeks.

First, Arne Duncan did so at the Washington Post. Duncan was education secretary under Barack Obama.

This Monday, we offered a similar post, in reaction to Natalie Wexler's bogus claim about reading scores in The Atlantic.

We've been writing such posts for the past dozen years. Later that day, Kevin Drum followed suit.

If the third time was the charm, this information would start appearing widely, wherever journalism is sold.

In fact, this information won't travel at all. No one will call attention to this information or distribute it any further. We'll discuss this puzzling phenomenon in a Friday post, naming one new major name.

For today, let's discuss something Drum said in his Monday post. He said he doesn't know anything about the best way to teach reading:
DRUM (4/16/18): ...Last week I promised to write again about the latest NAEP scores, and today Bob Somerby reminds me to do that. Bob and I may have a fraught relationship, but one thing we agree on is a tiredness over the knee-jerk narrative that interprets all test scores at all times as evidence that American schools are failing. So let’s take a look.

Over at the Atlantic, Natalie Wexler has a piece titled “Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years.” Her theory is that it’s related to the way we teach reading, and I had it open in a tab over the weekend but eventually closed it because I don’t have any special knowledge of how best to teach reading. However, Bob points out that the first order of business is to see if it’s even true that American students have flatlined over the past 20 years, as Wexler claims.
Drum went on to note the fact that reading scores actually have improved. Math scores have improved substantially more, but that's another story.

According to Wexler, how should we be teaching reading? We don't know what she said! After her bogus opening premise, we stopped reading her piece. What would you have done?

Drum said he doesn't "have any special knowledge of how best to teach reading." It's possible that we do. In the interest of keeping hope alive, we'll offer a brief rumination.

Around the world, it has generally proven easier to improve math scores, harder to improve scores in reading. As a general matter, we'd say that's true for the following reason:

Reading is largely a culture. On the general level, math is more a set of definable, teachable learnings.

Kids who read "below grade level" will often come from "low-literacy" homes. There aren't a lot of books in the home, if there are any at all. These kids, though loved, haven't been read to from birth by their parents, as is often the case in higher-literacy homes.

When these kids arrive in public school, reading isn't part of their personal culture. By way of contrast, we still remember seeing a relative of ours, at Thanksgiving the year she was 4, pretending to read the New York Times as she sat on her parents' living room couch.

The adults around her had always done that. She wanted to do it too.

Reading is a culture. When kids are way "behind" in reading, their schools and their teachers should look for ways to make reading part of their personal culture. In their classrooms, they should be surrounded by piles of books—books about topics that interest them; books written at "reading levels" they can actually handle.

Children need to be smothered in books. They need to have plenty of time to read those books, both on their own in some hidden nook and also out loud with their friends. This is a normal part of middle-class culture. Kids from lower-literacy backgrounds don't get these experiences at home.

Children need to be introduced to the culture of reading. If they're invited to read lots of (readable) books about lots of (interesting) topics, the ability to "comprehend" what they read will tend to follow. They'll struggle to understand what they're reading.

Kevin hasn't been a public school teacher. We have been, right here in Baltimore. We taught loads of fabulous kids. They deserved to be smothered in (readable, interesting) books.

Having said these things, we'll now say something else—no one cares about any of this. More precisely, liberal journalists don't care about this, or about low-income kids in general. They've made this quite plain through the many long years.

Tomorrow, we'll return to Arne Duncan's op-ed column to discuss his thoughts about "raising learning standards." On Friday, we'll return to the topic of liberal disinterest in low-income kids. We'll also discuss the impossibility of forcing accurate information into our national discourse.

Nobody cares about low-income kids. That includes Rachel, Lawrence and Chris, even Jonathan.

Absolutely nobody cares. Could anything be more clear?