Refuse to count the children well!

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2019

The Lincoln Bedroom returns:
By the time of the days of impeachment, upper-end American journalists had agreed on one basic idea.

Statistics were boring and hard, they said. Except when statistics could be embellished to drive home some preferred point.

By common agreement, journalists refused to cite data at all unless the data had been "enhanced." As one example, consider the photo report in today's (hard-copy) New York Times about that city's very large number of homeless school-age kids.

In print editions, the report fills the first four pages of the "New York" section. For reasons only the Times can explain, it doesn't even appear in the "Today's Paper" listing on line.

You can peruse the photo report here.
In print, the report appears beneath this large, bold banner headline:
114,000 Students in New York City Are Homeless.
That's a gigantic number of homeless kids—and no child should be homeless.

That said, are there really 114,000 homeless students in New York City? Eliza Shapiro was the reporter, so we were already checking our wallets.

We were on full red alert. As she started, Shapiro said this:
SHAPIRO (11/20/19): Darnell, 8, lives in a homeless shelter and commutes 15 miles a day to school.

Sandivel shares a bedroom with her mother and four brothers. She is 10 and has moved seven times in the past five years.

The number of school-age children in New York City who live in shelters or “doubled up” in apartments with family or friends has swelled by 70 percent over the past decade—a crisis without precedent in the city’s history.
Wait a minute! Just like that, it almost seemed like some of New York City's homeless kids may not exactly be homeless!

Some of these kids are living in homeless shelters. But some of these kids are living in apartments shared with family or friends!

For an upper-class legacy kid like Shapiro, living in a crowded apartment is apparently the same thing as being homeless. Before too long, a new number emerged in her photo report:
SHAPIRO: Sandy is one of over 73,000 homeless students who lived “doubled up” last year.
According to Shapiro, 73,000 of Gotham's homeless students actually live "doubled up." In other words:

Of Gotham's 114,000 homeless students, 41,000 are homeless!

Presumably, it isn't ideal to be "doubled up" in the manner described. That said, being "doubled up" doesn't exactly make you homeless.

In this particular case, Sandivel's mother pays $700 rent per month for the apartment her family shares. They aren't living on the street, nor are they in a homeless shelter. They're living in an apartment for which they pay monthly rent.

We're not sure why people like Shapiro like to toy with numbers. In our world, 41,000 homeless kids is an extremely large number of kids. We can't imagine why "journalists" seem to feel the need to goose such numbers up.

That said: As we saw these numbers float by, we thought all the way back to the Lincoln Bedroom pseudo-scandal of 1997.

We recalled the ugly, unconscionable way the Washington Post and the New York Times goosed the number of overnight guests the Clintons had housed, back in the days when the liberal world was sleeping soundly as a succession of journalistic scams just kept rolling on.

Long story short:

To make the number of overnight guests as large as inhumanly possible, the two newspapers added in the 72 teenage girls who had attended a set of White House slumber parties as guests of Chelsea Clinton. They also added in 35 overnight stays by assorted family members.

To goose the number as high as possible, these 107 overnight stays were added to the total. This was done to create the impression that Bill and Hillary Clinton were selling access to the Lincoln Bedroom, and on a massive scale.

We reported this unbelievably stupid and ugly story in real time. We revisited it in 2005, when it turned out that, on a per year basis, President Bush was hosting overnight guests at a rate which basically matched the number once deemed so heinous.

You probably know what happened. Under Clinton, this had been a giant pseudo-scandal. Under Bush, the same (utterly pointless) phenomenon came and went in barely a day.

You can review the whole story here, but yes, it's actually true. In order to hype a phony scandal well, the Post and the Times added Chelsea's slumber party guests to the allegedly scandalous number of Clinton "overnight guests."

There's a special hook involving the way the Post goosed the number up. The story goes like this:

At first, the Post had used the accurate number of non-family adult overnight guests. But when the Post saw everyone else using the phony larger number, they decided to go ahead and use the embellished number too!

This is the way the upper-end press was functioning 22 years before these current days of impeachment. By the time of these days of impeachment, kids who lived in crowded apartments were being listed as "homeless."

By this time, a general agreement had emerged. By general agreement, upper-end journalists refuse to cite any statistic unless the number in question has been embellished. We'll guess that they do this because of their exposure to lead in the years long before Flint, another situation they massively embellished.

Warning!

Your lizard brain is going to tell you that you should get mad about what we've written. Depending on your rate of exposure to "cable news" and social media, your lizard may be telling you things like that every day of the week.

Please tell your lizard well:

In New York City, it seems that 41,000 school-age kids are living in homeless shelters. That's a very large number of homeless kids. That very large number doesn't need to be goosed.

It's important to get homeless kids into homes. On the other hand, it's also important to stop all the upper-class dissembling and novelizing.

That said, alas! Due to the sickness of the times, the modern journalist won't publish a number unless the number is wrong!

Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves contributed to this report through the auspices of their award-winning future news service, FAHIC News.

DAYS OF IMPEACHMENT: A funny thing happened to American discourse!

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2019

All silly, wherever you looked:
A funny thing happened to the American experiment on its way through the first few decades of the 21st century.

In November 2016, in part due to the nation's peculiar electoral system, Donald J. Trump was elected president. He had highly unusual views concerning America's role in the world and, on an alternate track, he often engaged in peculiar conduct and made extremely peculiar statements.

Roughly one year into his term,
it was decreed that the national press should not discuss the possibility that his behavior was caused by some form of mental illness, psychological disorder or cognitive impairment. Instead, the nation's influencers agreed to be "shock, shocked" on a daily basis by whatever peculiar thing the disordered president had most recently said.

The president's intellectual disorder tracked that which had prevailed in the upper-end press corps for decades. By the time of the days of impeachment, assessments of this type were commonly being made:
GIVHAN (11/20/19): The uniform did what uniforms are designed to do.

When Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, his striking presence in his serviceable eyeglasses and his military uniform exuded authority, ferocity and patriotism. As one of the Democratic committee members noted admiringly, Vindman was wearing a Purple Heart on his uniform. He also had a Combat Infantry Badge pinned on the left side of his chest, indicating he’d been involved in active ground combat. For civilian viewers, it was helpful to understand the meanings of some of the insignia on his jacket. But even without the details, anyone looking at the vast collage of medals spread across his chest could understand the story they told: that Vindman is one of the many dedicated individuals who choose to stand guard so that others might sleep easily.
In the case of this particular witness, it wasn't just his military uniform which let the nation's influencers assess his character. His "serviceable eyeglasses" let hapless citizens "understand the story" too.

Normal intellectual standards had almost completely disappeared. On the highest-rated "corporate liberal" cable TV program, viewers put up with self-referential nonsense like this as the days of impeachment started:
MADDOW (11/14/19): Tomorrow will be a big day. Not only is tomorrow a Friday in the year 2019, tomorrow's going to be day two of the impeachment hearings.

Marie Yovanovitch, ousted as Ukraine ambassador, her testimony and that second impeachment hearing will start at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Also tomorrow, a closed door deposition from somebody named David Holmes. He's the first of potentially two staffers from Kiev who heard President Trump on a phone call to Ambassador Gordon Sondland in a restaurant in Ukraine asking Sondland about the investigations into the Bidens that he wanted Ukraine to do.

I should also tell you that tomorrow, we will be awaiting a jury verdict in the Roger Stone trial. The jury is already out deliberating in that case.

It's going to be a big day tomorrow. We'll see you then. That does it for us tonight. Now, it's time for The Last Word, where Joy Reid is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Joy.

REID: Good evening, Rachel. So, I can tell you that as of tomorrow, you can officially class me as a shut-in. I will not leave my home. No one is to call me. Do not text me. I will not answer.

I am so ready for this. I'm so fascinated by it. I don't know if you've responded to it the same way. I cannot stop watching it.

MADDOW: I have to tell you I'm already nervous now about how fast I need to sleep so I can be awake and do all my business, like have breakfast and have a shower and have a shower and walk the dog and do all the things I need to do so that I'm seated and paying attention by 9:00 because 9:00 a.m. is not my key time of day.

REID: I'm with you.

MADDOW: We're stressed about it.

REID: It's hard because I have insomnia, really bad insomnia.

MADDOW: I know you do.

REID: So I've been trying to trick myself to fall asleep at 11:00, so I can be up at 8:00. So, I'm like trying tricks. I've got like the calm app going because I'm like–my poor husband, I'm like I've got to be asleep. I need to sleep in like ten minutes. I've got to get up at 8:00.

You know, it's really bad. At least with me, it`s really not been easy this week.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Also I love how you and I have the same approach to sleeping. Like, "Must sleep now, focus, sleep fast."

REID: Turn on Matthew McConaughey app where he reads me a story now. Like it`s really bad.

MADDOW: Yes, and then you scream at it and it's weird, it doesn't relax you but you just sleep. I know. We're terrible people. But at least you and I are in the same boat. Thank you, my friend.

REID: There are at least two of us. There are two of us. So, I don't feel alone.

MADDOW: I think there's more. You and I will both be awake all night and sleep on Saturday. Fair?

REID: There you go. Sounds good.

MADDOW: Fair, thanks, my friend. All right.

REID: All right, have a good night. Bye.
Just for the record, we'd have insomnia too, if we were willing to behave that way night after night, on national TV, for very large corporate pay checks.

You aren't allowed to know how large. But in such ways, the multimillionaire "chattering class" had long since agreed to chatter.

Nothing was clear as impeachment proceeded, except that Candidate Warren had flipped on Medicare for all. She had instead decided to propose a public option, even as she agreed to pretend that she still had a plan to pursue the original proposal in Year 3 of her term.

The gods on Olympus had long since stopped laughing at what was transpiring. It was embarrassing all the way down, as even these great gods acknowledged.

Tomorrow: Maria Butina's boyfriend to jail! Plus, NBC's Watergate theme song!

Long day's journey into toothache!

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2019

Could someone buy Castor an ice cream?:
We're afraid that we've spent the bulk of the day watching the bulk of the hearings.

Our principal finding:

Watching Steve Castor interview anyone is a deeply painful experience. That may well be part of the plan.

Several days of this punishment lie ahead. We may be forced to rethink our approach.

It's been obvious for a long time!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2019

No, we aren't making this up:
Earlier today, we discussed the so-called "dullard journalism" currently being popularized by the New York Times.

Principally, experts use that term to refer to a type of journalism which avoids facts and information in favor of novelized storylines—supersimplified renderings which may even border on fable and fairy tale.

Why is American health care spending so astoundingly high? Within the school of "dullard journalism," a question like that will never be answered, and the reason is simple:

In the world of "dullard journalism," the basic statistics defining that problem will never be reported!

Increasingly, the Times is becoming famous for its adoption of this Hamptons-based school, sometimes known as "the new anti-journalism." Basic data are never reported concerning even the most basic topics. Preconceived novelizations prevail.

How dumb can "dullard journalism" become? What effect can it have on a newspaper's readers?

You're asking important questions! This morning, on the Times' "reimagined" page A3, this feature appeared (print editions only):
The Conversation
FOUR OF THE MOST READ, DISCUSSED AND SHARED POSTS FROM ACROSS NYTIMES.COM

[...]

4. It Was Obvious from Day 1
This Vows column told the story of Ariel Shepherd-Oppenheim and Eliza Ladensohn, who were married Oct. 26 in California. The first time someone asked them how long they had been together, it was the very first day they met.
Key point! What follows isn't meant as a reflection on the couple in question. That said, consider this:

Consider everything which was reported over the weekend "from across NYTimes.com." Then, try to imagine how this item could possibly be one of "the most read, discussed and shared posts" from across the vast sweep of national and world events.

In truth, we find it hard to believe that the item in question actually was one of the most read, discussed and shared posts. We'll assume that someone within the New York Times structure selected this item as some sort of branding exercise.

For what it's worth, this item was the only "fluff" item included in today's "most read" listing. By way of contrast, the third item looked like this:
3. How FedEx Cut Its Tax Bill to $0
In the 2017 fiscal year, FedEx owed more than $1.5 billion in taxes, an effective tax rate of 24 percent. The next year, it owed nothing, thanks to the Trump administration's signature tax cut—and had not made good on its promises to invest in new equipment and other assets, this Times article found.
This article appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times. Assuming the reporting is accurate, it concerns a very serious topic—the decades-long attempts to rig the system in favor of American oligarchs.

Our questions:

What are the chances that this report will ever be discussed on "liberal cable?" In our view, it's much more likely that cable will continue with its standard diet of easy-listenin' topics—Trump Trump Trump, impeachment impeachment, polls polls polls polls polls.

Second, average citizens, red and blue voters alike, are undermined by this kind of rigging. Why can't liberals and Democratic pols use such topics as a way to build red/blue political coalitions?

This question will never be discussed at any time in any forum. With the modern liberal world, we're trained to avoid and loathe The Others, full-satisfying-stop.

That tribal training is another part of "dullard journalism." According to future experts, the practice of this style of journalism was very good for short-term profits, but helped bring on Mister Trump's War.

Just for the record: Below, you see an excerpt from one of the "most read, discussed and shared posts from across NYTimes.com:"
VARIAN (11/15/19): A few nights later, at Ms. Ladensohn’s suggestion, they met for drinks at Palihouse in West Hollywood. Ms. Shepherd-Oppenheim, just 23 at the time, was impressed by the hotel’s stylish lounge and rooftop view of Hollywood Hills. Ms. Ladensohn took notice of Ms. Shepherd-Oppenheim’s drink order.

“I was ordering a vodka club soda, but Ariel was ordering all these really fun drinks off the cocktail menu,” Ms. Ladensohn said. “I remember thinking this is cool, she’s adventurous.”
For ourselves, we don't believe that actually was one of the most-discussed posts. Remarkably, someone within the New York Times doesn't see what a slander they're performing against the newspaper's readers.

Our upper-end culture is hopelessly daft. Future experts sometimes refer to this culture as "the dumbnification of everything."

A modern society can't function this way. At the Hamptons-based New York Times, people aren't able to see this.

FLINT AND FICTITION: Terrify the children well!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2019

Whole city poisoned, she said:
In July of 2018, their column appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Who wrote the column in question? According to the Times' identity line, "Dr. Gómez and Dr. Dietrich are experts in toxicology and environmental health." Indeed, where their column appears on line, the Times describes their credentials further:
Hernán Gómez, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, emergency medicine pediatrician and medical toxicologist at Hurley Medical Center, was the lead author of the study “Blood Lead Levels of Children in Flint, Michigan: 2006-2016.” Kim Dietrich, a professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the Cincinnati Lead Study.
None of this means that Gomez and Dietrich will automatically be right in every assessment they make. That said, their column appeared beneath a striking headline—a headline which sought to refute several years' worth of irresponsible, scary claims delivered on MSNBC:
The Children of Flint Were Not ‘Poisoned’
Outrageously, Gomez and Dietrich were stating an outrageous view. The children of Flint had not been poisoned, the pair of experts now said!

Are Gomez and Dietrich allowed to make such statements? Their thoroughly outrageous column outrageously started like this:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (7/23/18): Words are toxic, too. Labeling Flint’s children as “poisoned,” as many journalists and activists have done since the city’s water was found to be contaminated with lead in 2014, unjustly stigmatizes their generation.

Let’s be clear. It’s unacceptable that any child was exposed to drinking water with elevated lead concentrations. We know that lead is a powerful neurotoxicant, that there is no safe level, that the very young are particularly vulnerable and that long-term exposure to low to moderate levels of lead is associated with decreased I.Q.s and other cognitive and behavioral problems, including criminal behavior.

But there is no reason to expect that what happened for a year and a half in Flint will inevitably lead to such effects. The casual use of the word “poisoned,” which suggests that the affected children are irreparably brain-damaged, is grossly inaccurate. In a city that already battles high poverty and crime rates, this is particularly problematic.
"Words are toxic too," the pair of alleged experts said. In their most outrageous statement, they even said this:
With regard to the children of Flint, the casual use of the word “poisoned” is grossly inaccurate.
So the experts said. And as you can see from what we posted, they also said this, right at the start of their column:
There's no reason to expect that the Flint water problem will inevitably lead to "decreased I.Q.s and other cognitive and behavioral problems, including criminal behavior.
As President Trump himself might have asked, where do they get these jokers? But uh-oh! As Gomez and Dietrich continued, they began presenting some of the basic data which seem to be relevant here. If we care about the children of Flint, we need to consider these data:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (continuing directly): In the mid-1970s, the average American child under the age of 5 had a blood lead level of 14 micrograms per deciliter. The good news is that by 2014 it had fallen dramatically, to 0.84 micrograms per deciliter, largely because of the banning of lead in paint and the phaseout of lead in gasoline, among other measures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers a blood lead level in children of 5 micrograms per deciliter and higher to be a “reference level.” This measure is intended to identify children at higher risk and set off communitywide prevention activities.
Good grief! As recently as the mid-1970s, when many cable news watchers were young, the average American child had a blood lead level of 14 micrograms per deciliter. Today, though, thanks to improved environmental factors, the average reading, nationwide, is less than 1 microgram per deciliter.

Today, the experts seemed to say, kids are considered to be at higher risk if their reading goes above 5 micrograms per deciliter. That's way below the average reading for the average American child in the 1970s—and as they continued, Gomez and Dietrich reported what happened in Flint:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (continuing directly): After Flint’s water was switched from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River, the annual percentage of Flint children whose blood lead levels surpassed the reference level did increase—but only from 2.2 percent to 3.7 percent. One of us, Dr. Gómez, along with fellow researchers, reported these findings in a study in the June issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, which raised questions about how risks and statistics have been communicated regarding this issue.
Before Flint's water problem started, 2.2% of the city's kids had readings above the 5 micrograms per deciliter "reference level." As a result of the water crisis, that percentage did indeed increase—but only to 3.7 percent of the city's kids.

Ideally, you wouldn't want any kids to display such blood/lead levels. But might we repeat the basic point of comparison offered by Gomez and Dietrich? In the mid-1970s, the average reading, across the whole country, was almost three times that high!

Might these data help us put the Flint water problem in in some sort of perspective? As they continued, Gomez and Dietrich tried to make it so clear that even the modern "cable news star" would be able to puzzle it out:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: For comparison, consider the fact that just 20 years ago, nearly 45 percent of young children in Michigan had blood lead levels above the current reference level. If we are to be consistent in the labeling of Flint children as “poisoned,” what are we to make of the average American who was a child in the 1970s or earlier? Answer: He has been poisoned and is brain-damaged. And poisoned with lead levels far above, and for a greater period, than those observed in Flint.
Gomez and Dietrich were making a basic point. They were suggesting that people were overstating the actual situation when they kept saying that the children of Flint had been "poisoned." As they continued, they made their most outrageous statement of all—and they tried to inform the public about some basic facts:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (continuing directly): People were understandably dismayed by the government’s apparent failure to act quickly to switch back the water once concerns were raised in Flint. But based on this more comprehensive view of the data, we are forced to admit that the furor over this issue seems way out of proportion to the actual dangers to the children from lead exposure.

Furthermore, the focus on Flint seems to be distracting the public from a far more widespread problem.
Although blood lead levels have long been declining nationwide, there remain many trouble spots. Right now in Michigan, 8.8 percent of children in Detroit, 8.1 percent of children in Grand Rapids and an astounding 14 percent of children in Highland Park surpass the C.D.C. reference level. Flint is at 2.4 percent. A comprehensive analysis of blood lead levels across the United States reveals at least eight states with blood lead levels higher than Flint’s were during the water switch.
Are Gomez and Dietrich permitted to say such things? The experts claimed that "the furor" over the problem in Flint seemed to be "way out of proportion to the actual dangers to the children." And ohourgod, they even said this:
Blood lead levels are substantially higher in other cities, and are even higher across entire states.
Does anyone give a flying fig about the children who live in those places? The answer to that question is obvious, as has been for a long time. That said, this is the way our species functions, anthropologists have glumly said.

In their article from July 2018, Gomez and Dietrich were reporting remarkable data about lead exposure in the recent American past—in the decades before leaded gasoline was outlawed. They explained that the lead exposure in Flint had been dwarfed, across the country, by the exposure to lead of that recent past.

They were also reporting that undesirable lead exposure exists in many communities. "It is clear that lead exposure is not one city’s problem, but the entire nation’s," they said.

For the record, none of this information was new when this column appeared. Kevin Drum had reported similar data, again and again, in his blog at Mother Jones. We'll link you to this one post again. You can google up many more such discussions by Drum.

All that said, so what? On MSNBC, the corporate channel's leading star kept saying that the entire city of Flint had been "poisoned" during the water crisis. Despite her status as Our Own Rhodes Scholar, she never told her misused viewers about the wider range of actual facts which Drum and others had bruited.

In our view, that cable star's judgment is so poor that she shouldn't be on the air. Her treatment of Flint was especially gruesome because it was so obvious that she was mainly interested in using the topic as a way to get the Republican governor of Michigan thrown into jail.

(In such ways, we liberals get pandered to, tribally pleasured, on this particular TV show.)

Along the way,
a reporter for the New Yorker had reported the way the children of Flint were being affected by all the exciting hyperbole. This is part of what happens people like Maddow sift facts in the way Maddow does:
STILLMAN (1/15/17): Key shared a personal story about the son of a family friend who had begun acting out in school. The boy’s mother had come to Key for help. When Key asked the boy what was going on, he replied, “Well, they said I’m not going to be smart anyway.”

“These kids are internalizing the messages about how the lead is affecting them,” Key said.


[...]

As their last day in Flint drew to a close, Shankar and Tucker-Ray hurried to a final meeting. They had arranged to talk with a disabled Gulf War veteran and community activist named Art Woodson, who didn’t think much of the federal government. At a local municipal building, where an enlarged photograph of corroded lead pipes adorned one wall, Woodson told Shankar about his worry that local kids would give up when lead’s symptoms surfaced, or even before. “What I see,” he said, “is hopelessness.”
Thanks to people like Maddow (and her corporate bosses), the public was being massively misinformed—and children were becoming convinced that they were irreparably damaged. Gomez and Dietrich finished their column by raising this basic point:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: In the case of Flint, even when taking into account the change in the water supply, the decrease in blood lead levels over the last 11 years has actually been a public health success. The Journal of Pediatrics study found that between 2006 and 2015, the percentage of Flint children testing above the reference level decreased substantially, to 3.7 percent from 11.8 percent.

It is therefore unfair and inaccurate to point a finger at Flint and repeatedly use the word “poisoned.” All it does is terrify the parents and community members here who truly believe there may be a “generation lost” in this city, when there is no scientific evidence to support this conclusion.
We should stop scaring the children well, the experts outrageously said.

That said, our upper-end journalism runs on fictitions; it has done so for many years. Our journalists love their simpleton story lines and their studied avoidance of information. At present, they especially seem to enjoy pretending that they care about black kids.

The New York Times is the leading proponent of this so-called "dullard journalism." And so, it came to pass, as the gods of fictition decreed that it must:

There's nothing but damaged kids in Flint! So this ridiculous newspaper said, atop its front page, on Thursday, November 7.

As we await the start of Mister Trump's war, information and data no longer exist. It's nothing but silly fictitions now, or so leading experts have said.

The Post explores the scarf and the brooch!

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2019

Embarrassed experts complain:
With apologies, it has happened again—and according to expert anthropologists, it tells "the ultimate story."

The article appears on the front page of this morning's Style section, the only part of the Washington Post anyone actually reads.

The article explores an important part of yesterday's impeachment hearing. Rather, it provides a novelized account of same, appearing beneath this headline:
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK
At hearing, former ambassador's scarf is draped with symbolism
By Robin Givhan
On Thursday morning, the New York Times had teased a vast amount of meaning from George Kent's bow tie. That ridiculous piece, by Vanessa Friedman, had been published as an actual news report in the Times' National section.

This morning, the Washington Post asked Givhan to fabulize in similar ways about the wardrobe selections of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The headline focused on her scarf, but after some introductory sputtering, Givhan started with the various things we could learn from her brooch:
GIVHAN (11/16/19): She entered the room with her American flag sparkling and sabers flying.

Former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch sat before the House Intelligence Committee already speaking the language of diplomacy with its peculiar mix of calm, bluntness and symbolism. Before she uttered a single word, she had already announced her patriotism, toughness, experience and individual humanity, all with her style.

[...]

Her clothes sketched out the broad strokes of her identity as a veteran of Washington. “The woman,” as President Trump referred to her in a July 25 phone call, had slipped off her red coat to reveal a sizable American flag brooch glittering from the lapel of her dark jacket. It was striking because of its size, but also because it was a classically feminine accessory with its sparkly stones and its swirling lines. It was notable in the room, because the lapels of the mostly male panel—which was separated by party—were adorned with their congressional pins. Those little round discs rooted them in politics, in the inescapable talking points, inevitable grandstanding and poisonous unctuousness.

Yovanovitch signaled that she was there for country, for elusive, nonpartisan facts. Her brooch was in the stylish tradition of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright who built an entire diplomatic vocabulary on the symbolism of her many and varied pins.
Before she'd uttered a single word, Yovanovitch had defined herself—had signaled her intentions—through the lines of her sizable brooch, which borrowed from Albright's diplomatic vocabulary. The tribalized conclusion was inevitable:

Through the magic of her brooch, Yovanovitch had somehow "signaled that she was there" to provide "nonpartisan facts." She wasn't there for grandstanding or even for poisonous unctuousness!

Given the messages conveyed by her brooch, it's odd to think that Yovanovitch had been required to take any questions at all! At any rate, Givhan now transferred her anthropologically meaningful mind-reading act to the former ambassador's scarf:
GIVHAN (continuing directly): In addition to her jewelry, Yovanovitch was also wearing an oversize scarf draped around her neck. It wasn’t tied. It wasn’t prim. The scarf was like a silken billboard. The eye was drawn to the gold, military references in its formal design. The scarf appeared to be a “grand uniforme” design by Joachim Metz for Hermès. In the center of a red border, there are eagles and crowns and references to sabers. It’s not a ghoulish or overtly violent pattern. It’s a stately declaration of military might, of a willingness to fight for one’s honor and the importance of respected traditions.
To those who would fabulize in these ways, that oversize scarf was no scarf at all. The oversize scarf was a billboard, and it wasn't ghoulish at all!

The Post has allowed Givhan to fabulize and dream in these ways since 1995, with a four-year "sanity break" starting in 2010. On this occasion, the fabulizing was so extreme that even the Princeton grad briefly took a step back, taking stock of her procedures:
GIVHAN (continuing directly): Is that reading too much into a few feet of silk? When committee chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Yovanovitch to assess her work abroad, she noted, “I actually think where I’ve served over the years, I and others, have made things demonstrably better.” And then, she quietly but firmly pointed out that credit for improvements in areas where she was stationed goes to “the work of the United States and to me as the ambassador.”

Yovanovitch did not come before Congress to deny, play down or shrug off her professional acumen and her experience. She was prepared to defend her reputation because it was a presidential assault on it that had brought her there in the first place. And as she stood up for herself, she also tried to protect the country she served. Her scarf was a billowing reminder of the value of the state—the beauty of it, even.
Even Givhan briefly wondered if she might be "reading too much into a few feet of silk." Quickly, though, we got her answer—Hell no!

Stating the obvious, "journalism" of this type lies just this side of madness. The same was true of the New York Times' bow tie exegesis, which it published as a news report in the paper's "National" section.

Anthropologists pulled us aside, then glumly denounced the foolishness. "They might as well be running news reports about the witnesses' horoscopes," these despondent future exoerts exclaimed.

The disconsolate scholars despondently told us what this sort of thing means. "Our species was never the 'rational animal,' " these future credentialed experts said, exhibiting a slightly embarrassed tone.

"The impulse toward building tribalized fictitions was in fact always bred in the bone," these scholars despondently told us. Any impulse toward "rational" conduct was especially likely to disappear at times of major tribal warfare, these experts despairingly said.

Indeed, novelized stories are everywhere as impeachment looms. Next week, we'll be covering "The Impeachment Monologues" at this site, with some emphasis on the excited, self-involved presentations of Our Own Rhodes Scholar.

That said, the stone-cold flight from "Enlightenment values" is now on display wherever you look. Or so these experts have told us.

For ourselves, we almost "got Schwedeled" today when Slate offered a link to the latest exploration by its most puzzling journalist. ("A Viewer’s Guide to the Conspicuously Hot Guy Who Comes Out of Nowhere in Charlie’s Angels.")

For our anthropologists, though, the note of sadness was brought in when Andrew Sullivan discussed Ibram X. Kendi's current best-seller, which apparently includes this proposal for an antiracist constitutional amendment:
KENDI: It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.
To those who thought the DMV was occasionally poorly run, this proposal may seem unwieldy.

Wryly, Sullivan notes that these “formally trained experts on racism” would "presumably all [be] from critical race-theory departments." He also notes that these formally trained experts would be "unelected"—and according to our future experts, therein lies the ultimate illogic of Kendi's proposal:

Who would choose these "formally trained experts on racism?" Who would decide that these formally trained experts were actually "experts" at all? Such questions take us back to the dawn of the west, to the western world's first halting attempts at logic, when Plato suggested rule by philosopher kings.

"There's no escaping this hard-wired mess," embarrassed anthropologists have told us. Persistently, these scholars lament their failure to speak in real time.

Coming next week: Next Monday, we'll finish our series on the fictitions which have flowed out of Flint. At that point, it will be on to impeachment.

That said, we plan to transfer soon to "The Rational Animal Files." One thinks of Plato's despair in the Seventh Letter. We still think that Professor Lee has it just about right:
PLATO: The existing constitution, which was subject to widespread criticism, was overthrown...and a committee of Thirty given supreme power. As it happened some of them were friends and relations of mine and they at once invited me to join them, as if it were the natural thing for me to do. My feelings were what were to be expected in a young man: I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a golden age. Among other things they tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright man then living, by sending him, with others, to arrest a fellow-citizen, and bring him forcibly to execution; Socrates refused, and risked everything rather than make himself a party to their wickedness. When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times.
Is it all anthropology now? Yes, but this opens the door to the humor of despair.

Bring on Lord Russell's wonderfully comical "set of all sets not members of themselves!" Or so we jauntily cry, in these last few final days before we meet Mister Trump's War.

The latest stupidity from Donald J. Trump!

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2019

It didn't begin with him:
We spent the bulk of the day watching the impeachment hearings. Tomorrow, we'll finish our current report, Flint and Fictition.

For today, we thought we'd insert a word about Donald J. Trump's tweet this morning. It started off like this:
"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?"
For the record:

Yovanovitch was posted to Somalia in 1986. It was one of her first postings with the foreign service. She was 28 or 29 at the time. Needless to say, she wasn't in charge of the American mission.

For a list of American ambassadors to Somalia during that period, you can just click here. Stating the obvious, disasters which happened in Somalia weren't their fault or doing either.

In his tweet, Trump presented the latest example of the blinding stupidity which dominates so much of the American discourse. In fairness to Donald J. Trump, the blinding stupidity of our American discourse didn't begin with him. He's just made it more extreme, more constant.

The modern era of public stupidity involves some of our own liberal team's biggest stars. At the start of the MSNBC era, these stars served under an American oligarch, GE chairman Jack Welch, to whose wishes they deferred and under whom they became very wealthy.

How much money have they been paid? Under our own tribe's oligarchic arrangements, we aren't allowed to know such things, and they'd prefer that we didn't ask.

Hillary Clinton was like Nurse Ratched! When our own stars would say such things, we liberals kept forgetting to complain. Soon, Jack Welch's Lost Boys moved ahead to their next task, electing George W. Bush, and Nicolle got busy helping him set up all those anti-gay marriage ballot measures.

Eventually, this headlong public stupidity gave us Donald J. Trump. The stars who called Hillary Clinton "Nurse Ratched" were very, very upset with his bad conduct today.

We assume that Trump is mentally ill. What's our tribe's excuse?

Kent praises all the other George Kents!

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2019

His bow tie sets him apart:
For the record, we assume that everything Donald Trump does is likely to be disordered, deranged and corrupt.

Unfortunately, we don't think that's the main issue at this point. The issue is the dangerous tribalization within which we all now live, along with the tribal propaganda which flowed so freely last night.

Throw in the sheer inanity routinely displayed by our upper-end elites and you may have a bit of a dying culture.

If only for entertainment's sake, let's start with that upper-class dumbness. For that, we direct you to Vanessa Friedman's analysis of George Kent's bow tie in today's New York Times.

Friedman is fashion director and chief fashion critic for the Times. "No one was saying [that Kent's bow tie] was the most important detail of a historic day—of course it wasn’t," she wrote in this morning's Times. But then, she went on to say this:
FRIEDMAN (11/14/19): But it was impossible for many to ignore because, like the moment itself, it was singular; an anomaly in an anomalous time. And in that sense, it almost seemed to symbolize not just Mr. Kent himself, but also the whole experience.
There you see the silly, novelistic dreamscape within which this upper-class guild has long dwelled.

Within this silly upper-class dreamscape, any chosen item or incident can come to symbolize—no, to seem to symbolize—anything the daft insider wants.
What did Kent's bow tie seem to symbolize—no, almost seem to symbolize—to this ridiculous newspaper's barmy fashion director? We'll let Friedman tell you herself, although it's a very old tale:
FRIEDMAN (continuing directly): The bow tie, at least onscreen, appeared to be blue and yellow (some said orange, others ocher and turquoise), in a sort of chain/paramecium pattern. It was paired with a matching pocket square and was worn with a light blue shirt and gray plaid three-piece suit, complete with neatly buttoned-up vest.

It also looked hand-tied, listing slightly as if to underscore its own authenticity—and, maybe, that of the man who wore it. It was the same bow tie that Mr. Kent wore for his portrait currently on view on the State Department website, a nod to both continuity and the fact that he was appearing in his professional capacity.
Of course! As with Saints McCain and Bradley in 1999 and 2000, Kent's hand-tied tie almost seemed to maybe symbolize the "authenticity" of Kent himself!

Our upper-class scribes are constantly spotting "authenticity" in those with whom they're aligned. As this dreamer allowed herself to dream, the possibly blue and yellow bow tie seemed to say something else:
FRIEDMAN (continuing directly): Some speculation had it that it was his good-luck bow tie. Or his power bow tie, depending. Either way, it was definitely a signature tie. Mr. Kent adopted a similar look—a paisley bow tie and matching pocket square—during his closed-door testimony on Oct. 15.

And, in its truncated shape, the opposite of the Trump tie, which is famously worn extending below the belt.
Of course! The bow tie seemed to symbolize Kent's obvious authenticity. Not coincidentally, it also struck Friedman as "the opposite of the Trump tie." Thanks to the tie, she could see that Kent is highly authentic, and the opposite of Trump!

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche describes the dreamer calling out to himself, "This is a dream! And I want to continue dreaming!" This is the way our political discourse has worked at least since the determined stereotyping of the four major candidates in Campaign 2000, with Candidates McCain and Bradley cast as straight-shooting truth-telling straight-talkers and the heinous Candidate gore cast as the man who had "a problem with the truth."

(Just for the record, the pundits could tell that Gore lacked authenticity because he was wearing earth tones! People are dead all over Iraq because they behaved that way.)

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly and scribblers like this have to novelize. And sure enough! All over cable last night, our own tribe's hirelings were telling us stories designed to set hearts at ease.

One such story involved the moral purity of Kent and his fellow witness, William Taylor. To our eye and ear, the two men came across quite differently in yesterday's hearing, but no such thought was allowed to intrude on our tribe's cable reverie.

Nicholas Kristof even bought the package this morning, midway through a column containing some very constructive work:
KRISTOF (11/14/19): The first witnesses before the impeachment hearings were two distinguished foreign policy experts with a long commitment to public service and no history of partisanship. One, George Kent, noted that “there has been a George Kent sworn to defend the Constitution continuously for nearly 60 years.” And Ambassador William Taylor, a Vietnam veteran who was appointed acting ambassador to Ukraine by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, emphasized, “I am not here to take one side or the other, or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings.”
To Kristof, they were two of a kind. After the mandatory citation of Taylor's service in Vietnam, Kristof seemed to praise that statement by Kent—Kent's peculiar statement in praise of all the other George Kents.

As we pondered the nation's deadly tribal divide, Kent's statement struck us quite differently. As he began his opening statement, these were his more extensive remarks in praise of his excellent breeding:
KENT (11/13/19): Good morning. My name is George Kent, and I am the deputy assistant secretary of state for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. I have served proudly as a nonpartisan career foreign service officer for more than 27 years under five presidents, three Republican and two Democrat.

As I mentioned in my opening comments last month in the closed-door deposition, I represent the third generation of my family to have chosen a career in public service and sworn the Oath of Office that all U.S. public servants do in defense of our Constitution. Indeed, there has been a George Kent sworn to defend the Constitution continuously for nearly 60 years, ever since my father reported to Annapolis for his plebe summer.

After graduating first in his Naval Academy class in 1965, the year best known for his Heisman-winning classmate, Roger Staubach, my father served a full, honorable 30 years, including as a captain of a nuclear ballistic missile submarine during the height of the Cold War.

Five great-uncles served honorably in the Navy and the Army in World War II. In particular, Tom Taggart was stationed in the Philippines at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He survived the brutal Bataan Death March, and three and a half years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, unbroken. He returned to service as an Air Force judge advocate, upholding the rule of law until his death in 1965.
That was the speech of a Harvard graduate (class of 1989)—and, in its tone, of an old-school Eastern elite. In completely irrelevant manner, he praised the several generations of Taggarts and Kents, not failing to mention five great-uncles, his father's academic standing, and no aunts or mothers at all.

Like his bow tie, his genealogy served to identify Kent to many Americans, we'll guess in divergent ways. In our view, his speech in praise of his excellent breeding was completely unnecessary. In our view, so was the attitude and the manner we detected through the course of the day.

We'll guarantee you that many Trump supporters were quickly turned off by this guy. To us, he seemed the very embodiment of crusty old world upper-class self-admiration, in a way Ambassador Turner very much did not.

Kent and Taylor seemed very different to us. On liberal cable, they were two peas in a pod. To the Times fashion director, Kent's bow tie seemed to suggest his authenticity, and of course his difference from Trump.

By way of contrast, we'll guess that many Trump voters saw Kent as the essence of everything they don't trust about our eastern elites, sometimes called the deep state.

We thought his opening speech was strange, and a bit of a class offense. The fact that our cable helpers saw none of this is part of the era we live in.

We live in a deeply dangerous tribalized time. Our tribe is perhaps just a tiny bit blind, as of course is theirs.

For the record: They sold us this same silly twaddle at Vox. Just as a simple matter of fact, our tribe just isn't real sharp.

FLINT AND FICTITION: To what extent were Flint's kids harmed?

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2019

Or should we just type up a novel?:
To what extent were Flint's children harmed by the Flint water crisis, or perhaps by the Flint water problem?

We'd like to see a serious discussion of that important question. But then, there are other discussions we'd like to see. A few would go something like this:

Health care spending: As you may know, we'd like to see a serious discussion of the source of these astounding statistics:
Per capita spending, health care, 2018
United States: $10,586
Canada: $4974
France: $4965
Japan: $4766
United Kingdom: $4070
What explains all the "missing money" within our stumblebum "health care system?" Where does all that extra money go?

We'd love to see a discussion of that extremely important question, but no such discussion is allowed within our stumblebum "press corps."

Presumably, Ukrainian-style "corruption" is involved in this systemwide code of silence. We hate corruption over there, practice it widely at home.

Generational rise in Naep scores: We'd like to see a serious discussion of the rise in public school test scores over the past fifty years. For today, we'll restrict ourselves to the past few decades and to the performance of black kids on the so-called "Main Naep," as opposed to the Long-Term Trend Assessment:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, Naep
Black students, U.S. public schools

2019: 259.21
1993: 239.28
According to a very rough but widely-used rule of thumb, today's black eighth-graders are outperforming their counterparts from 1993 by roughly two academic years, even after a drop-off of several points from the high point of their performance in 2013.

We'd like to see a serious discussion of this (apparently) very large score gain. That said, by common agreement, the very fact of this score gain is almost never reported in "newspapers" like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Readers aren't told that these gains have occurred, let alone offered a discussion of their possible cause.

Over the bulk of the past twenty years, entities like the Post and the Times have been steeped in an "education reform" fictitions according to which "nothing has worked in our public schools." Possibly for that reason, but also of course because "statistics are boring and hard," readers haven't even been told about these, and other, large gains.

Generational drop in homicide rates: We'd like to see a serious discussion of the large drop, across the nation, in violent crime, including homicides. Sticking with 1993 as an arbitrary point of comparison, the violent crime rate had essentially been cut in half by 2016.

Just a guess: Most people have never seen a report of any such fact, let alone seen a serious discussion of the reasons for this major decline. For data from the leading authority on the subject, you can just click here, scroll to "Crime over time."

Public school achievement gaps: We'd like to see a serious discussion of our (apparently very large) public school "achievement gaps." Below, you see one such set of gaps:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, Naep
U.S. public schools, 2019

White students: 291.46
Black students: 259.21
Hispanic students: 267.96
Asian-American students: 309.39
Based on that very rough rule of thumb which we mentioned above, those are enormous gaps. Based on that rule of thumb, white kids outperformed their black counterparts by something resembling three academic years!

We'd like to see a serious discussion of the actual size of those gaps; of the possible causes of those gaps; and of the implications for classroom instruction. Instead, the New York Times hires legacy children to hand you the silly novelized treatments of which Hamptons-based swells are currently very fond.

(The thinking: Mommy was our gender editor. So "Sally"—not real name—surely knows all about schools!)

The data which detail those very large gaps never appear in our major "newspapers." Presumably, the size of the gaps is too embarrassing to permit disclosure or discussion. Instead, we're offered silly, childish attempts to pretend that the gaps are more illusory than real.

Those are just a few of the serious discussions we'd like to see. Unfortunately, as Flint's own Michael Moore once said, "We live in fictitious times."

Our "news reporting" is constantly built around silly, novelized story lines. These story lines satisfy an array of tribal longings and/or industry or interest group imperatives.

All too often, our "news" is fiction all the way down. In his best-selling book, Sapiens, Professor Harari has glumly suggested that this is the best our stumblebum species can sensibly hope to achieve!

It was against this background that we encountered last Thursday's front-page report in the New York Times. It tickled our longing for a serious discussion of the following questions:
To what extent were the children of Flint harmed by the Flint water crisis? Was the typical child actually harmed at all?

If the typical child in Flint was harmed, was he or she harmed to an extent that anyone would be likely to notice? To what extent have the kids of Flint had their life prospects affected?
These questions popped into our head because we'd already spent six years reading Kevin Drum's work on the effects of exposure to lead.

Drum's reporting started with this "cover story" in the January 2013 Mother Jones. That detailed cover report preceded the Flint water problem by several years.

As the Flint water crisis went center stage, Drum discussed it again and again at his Mother Jones blog. He offered fascinating data about the levels of exposure to lead which prevailed, across the nation and in Flint, before leaded gasoline was removed from the market.

In yesterday's report, we linked you to the post Drum authored after The New Yorker reported that children in Flint had begun to believe that they'd been deeply, irreparably damaged.

This belief, in itself, was a tragedy, Drum wrote. He offered this general assessment that day, as he had done before:
DRUM (1/26/17): Children in Flint had mildly elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream for about a year or two. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but the effects of this are fairly modest. To put it in terms most people will recognize, it means that some children in Flint will lose about one IQ point. Maybe two. That’s a tragedy, but it’s an even bigger tragedy if kids and their parents respond to this by thinking their lives are permanently ruined. The truth is that in nearly all children, the effects will be only barely noticeable.
Drum is not the lord god Zeus, nor has he claimed to be. We'd like to see a serious discussion of the various data-driven assessments he has offered over the years, starting with that detailed cover report in January 2013.

Drum is not the oracle at Delphi. As with any writer on any topic, his assessments could be wrong in some manner or to some extent—or not.

That said, he also isn't some local observer being quoted by the New York Times on a subject where she presumably has no expertise at all, with her sweeping statement being culled for use in a damaging front-page headline.

Tomorrow, we'll link you to some of Drum's reports about lead exposure and its historical discontents. This will include his reports about what blood lead levels were like, around the country and in Flint, in the decades before the 2015 crisis.

Why have national crime rates dropped? Why have national test scores risen? The legacy children at the Times won't even report that such things have occurred, but both effects may be connected to lead exposure and lead abatement.

We'd like to see a serious discussion of that possibility. But especially at the New York Times, our national discourse is largely fictitious. Our news is children's fairy tales, pretty much all the way down.

Tomorrow: Links and a scary word—"poisoned"

First day of the hearings proceeds!

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2019

The other Conway speaks:
We spent the bulk of the day watching the bulk of the hearings. We still haven't seen the whole thing or had a chance to review certain things which were said.

Adding to the excitement, George Conway appeared today as part of MSNBC's standard Panel of The Like-Minded. At New York magazine, this early comment by Conway was being featured as of 9:37 A.M.:
“I don’t frankly want to be on television, I just don’t get why people can’t see this and why people are refusing to see this. It’s appalling to me."
We're always struck by commentators who make this type of comment.

The ability to "get why people see things" the way they do is the essence of social and political intelligence. We're always amused when people treat their inability to understand the viewpoints of others as a mark of their ultimate wisdom.

We're in favor of "getting" the viewpoints of others. It's the way large societies work!

You can't understand the way people think? Citizen, fair enough! But if you can't understand such things, what are you doing on television?

FLINT AND FICTITION: The bad judgment never ends!

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2019

A truly astounding quotation:
Long ago and far away—actually, it was January 2017, the month in which Donald J. Trump ascended to power—a lengthy report in The New Yorker painted a deeply unfortunate portrait.

The report was written by Sarah Stillman.
She was reporting on the efforts of Maya Shankar, "an Obama staffer who was looking at ways that behavioral science might be put to work in Flint" in the wake of that city's high-profile water problem.

We're quoting from Kevin Drum's post
concerning this unfortunate matter. And alas—below, you see the unfortunate state of affairs which emerged when Shankar discussed the children of Flint with Michigan State's Kent Key.

The children of Flint had begun to believe that they had been damaged beyond repair by their city's water crisis:
STILLMAN (1/15/17): Key shared a personal story about the son of a family friend who had begun acting out in school. The boy’s mother had come to Key for help. When Key asked the boy what was going on, he replied, “Well, they said I’m not going to be smart anyway.”

“These kids are internalizing the messages about how the lead is affecting them,”
Key said.
The children of Flint were beginning to believe that they would never be smart.

Flint's children had heard, again and again, that they'd been "poisoned" by what had occurred. According to Key, they were now "internalizing the messages" about the damage which had been done.

As Stillman continued, so did her portrait of this unfortunate state of affairs:
STILLMAN: Shankar began contemplating aloud the possibilities. She said to Tucker-Ray, “Did you see how my eyes widened when he said that thing about the kids giving up because they think they’re going to be dumb?”

….As their last day in Flint drew to a close, Shankar and Tucker-Ray hurried to a final meeting. They had arranged to talk with a disabled Gulf War veteran and community activist named Art Woodson, who didn’t think much of the federal government. At a local municipal building, where an enlarged photograph of corroded lead pipes adorned one wall, Woodson told Shankar about his worry that local kids would give up when lead’s symptoms surfaced, or even before. “What I see,” he said, “is hopelessness.”
These were anecdotal reports, accompanied by subjective assessments, but they point to an obvious problem. When kids are told that they've been badly damaged, perhaps in ways which can't be repaired, those kids will often believe what they're told.

Hopelessness and despair may set in. As of late 2016, Shankar seemed to believe that this was occurring in Flint.

Question! To what extent have the children of Flint been harmed by the water crisis? We'll consider that question tomorrow. To see one of Drum's many assessments, you can read his post about that New Yorker report, atop which his headline said this:
In Flint, We Are Laying Tragedy on Top of Tragedy on Top of Tragedy
According to Drum, the harm caused by the water crisis was nowhere near as large as was being described and imagined. Kids were being led to a state of "hopelessness" by loud, unintelligent shouting by various adults.

How badly have Flint's kids been harmed? Have the bulk of children in Flint likely been harmed in any significant or measurable way at all?

We'll examine those questions tomorrow. But we recalled that New Yorker report when we read last Friday's New York Times—when we read an astounding above-the-fold, front-page report built around this deeply unfortunate statement by a veteran teacher:
GREEN (11/7/19): “We have a school district where all that’s left are damaged kids who are being exposed to other damaged kids, and it’s causing more damage,” said Stephanie Pascal, who has taught in Flint for 23 years.
"All that’s left are damaged kids who are being exposed to other damaged kids?" Incredibly, the New York Times built a major front-page report around that astonishing statement.

Might we speak frankly just once? Despite the relentless branding to which we're all exposed, the sheer stupidity never ends at the New York Times—and the paper's decision to run with that statement is one of the all-time examples.

Of one thing you can be sure—that remarkable statement will be repeated on every playground in Flint. Every child is going to hear that he or she is "a damaged kid"—a damaged kid who's being exposed to other such kids, thereby creating more damage.

Flint's children will believe what they hear, as will many of their parents. Only a newspaper like the Times is too brain-dead, too clueless to understand this and exercise caution about the wild statements it prints.

Every child in the city of Flint is going to hear that he, and every kid he knows, is damaged and causing more damage. Many kids will believe that crazy remark—and yes, that statement is crazy.

How crazy is that high-profile statement? How crazy was the New York Times to publish such a wild statement, then use it as the basis for a front-page headline?

How crazy was the Times? Let's consider the type of "evidence" which surrounded that crazy statement in the Times report:
GREEN (11/7/19): The contamination of this long-struggling city’s water exposed nearly 30,000 schoolchildren to a neurotoxin known to have detrimental effects on children’s developing brains and nervous systems. Requests for special education or behavioral interventions began rising four years ago, when the water contamination became public, bolstering a class-action lawsuit that demanded more resources for Flint’s children.

That lawsuit forced the state to establish the $3 million Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence, which began screening students. The screenings then confirmed a range of disabilities, which have prompted still more requests for intervention.

The percentage of the city’s students who qualify for special education services has nearly doubled, to 28 percent, from 15 percent the year the lead crisis began, and the city’s screening center has received more than 1,300 referrals since December 2018. The results: About 70 percent of the students evaluated have required school accommodations for issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as A.D.H.D.; dyslexia; or mild intellectual impairment, said Katherine Burrell, the associate director of the center.

“We have a school district where all that’s left are damaged kids who are being exposed to other damaged kids, and it’s causing more damage,” said Stephanie Pascal, who has taught in Flint for 23 years.
"All that's left are damaged kids?"

To the extent that the Times' Erica Green thought she should provide support for such a sweeping claim, she cited the fact that 28 percent of the city's kids have now been assigned to special ed, up from 15 percent before the crisis began.

Is 28 percent a lot or a little? Green made no attempt to answer this obvious question. But 28 percent isn't everyone—it's actually well less than half—and as she continued, Green seemed to say that this and other diagnostic increases may be more illusory than real:
GREEN (continuing directly): Medical experts say there is no way to prove that the lead has caused new disabilities. Pediatricians here caution against overdiagnosing children as irreparably brain damaged, if only to avoid stigmatizing an entire city. The State Department of Education, in battling the class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the New Jersey-based Education Law Center, enlisted an expert who testified that the real public health crisis was not the lead-contaminated water but the paranoia of parents, students and teachers exposed to it.

But Dr. Burrell said that proving the cause of the students’ problems was not the point. Many of the problems uncovered by the lead testing could certainly have existed before.
Say what? "Medical experts say there is no way to prove that the lead has caused new disabilities?"

It's possible that the increase in testing and diagnosis has been caused, in part or in whole, by the post-crisis increase in screenings? By something resembling "paranoia?" It's possible that this heightened state of concern has led to something like "overdiagnosing?" It's possible that this is the cause, in part or in whole, for the jump in special ed diagnoses—a jump of some thirteen points?

How much have the children of Flint been harmed by the water problem? We'll discuss that problem tomorrow—and you may be surprised by Drum's estimates, offered in many reports.

For Drum's original Mother Jones cover report about the problems caused by exposure to lead, you can just click here. That lengthy report predated the problem in Flint. For today, we'll only say this:

The bad judgment never ends at the New York Times. That said, we've never seen a worse decision than the decision to build a lengthy front-page report around a sweeping, deeply unfortunate claim by someone who isn't an expert on the topic at hand.

That said, we'll guess that the irresponsible statement is being repeated on every Flint playground. On the brighter side, the Times has once again taken the chance to show how deeply it cares.

Tomorrow: Remarkable statistics, past and present

Candidate Biden calls Warren a schoolmarm!

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2019

"Whiff of sexism" found:
Yesterday morning, the New York Times was concerned about Joe Biden's sexism.

Or was it? Frankly, we weren't sure.

Below, you see the way the Times report began. We're including the hard-copy headline, because that's where the piece got its "juice:"
GLUECK AND KAPLAN (11/11/19): In Attacks by Biden, Some Warren Allies Detect a Whiff of Sexism

Senator Elizabeth Warren is “instructing” voters on what to believe. Her policy vision smacks of an “academic exercise.”
Her advocacy style is “my way or the highway,” and she has displayed an “elitist attitude.”

In ways overt and subtle, Joseph R. Biden Jr., his campaign and his allies have begun mounting personal attacks on his most formidable rival in the 2020 primary race, portraying her as embracing a rigid, condescending approach that befits a former Harvard professor with an ambitious policy agenda.

It is a politically risky case to make against a leading female candidate, especially to a Democratic primary electorate that has so far signaled little appetite for intraparty warfare. Women historically make up a majority of Democratic primary voters, and for many, memories of attacks against Hillary Clinton in 2016 are still fresh.
So the report began. According to the headline, it wasn't that Candidate Biden was necessarily displaying sexism.

The problem was that some supporters of Candidate Warren had detected "a whiff" of the attitude, which upper-end journalists finally turned against within the past few years.

Meanwhile, we were puzzled. What was it about the specific "attacks" Biden had made which had produced this whiff? Based upon those first few paragraphs, we had little idea.

According to Glueck and Kaplan, it was "politically risky" to say such things about "a leading female candidate." Did that mean it would be OK to say that a man had displayed "an elitist attitude" or a "rigid approach?"

Apparently, yes—that would be OK! But what was supposed to turn those claims into "sexist" attacks?

As they started, Glueck and Kaplan had us puzzled. As they continued, though, they semi-quoted Warren herself. They said she'd been "denouncing criticism from 'powerful men' who try to tell women how to behave."

It sounded like Warren was saying that she had detected a whiff of sexism herself! But then the rubber hit the road! The scribes had come up with this:
GLUECK AND KAPLAN: [Biden's] criticism of Ms. Warren troubled some voters who came to see her on the campaign trail over the weekend.

“I think it’s sexist,” Savannah Johnson, 49, a social worker who supports Ms. Warren and who attended a town hall she held in Goose Creek, S.C., on Saturday, said of Mr. Biden’s criticism.

“I just don’t think that he’d be saying the same thing about a male candidate,” she added. “I think that all strong women kind of get labeled that unfairly.”

Niamh Cahill, 21, a college student who also came to the town hall, said Ms. Warren would not be getting as much grief if she were a male candidate. “Yeah, she’s fired up, she’s angry, but for a good reason,” she said. “There are a lot of things that are wrong in this country.”
So telling! The Times reporters had found two Warren supporters who thought Biden was being sexist! A 21-year-old college student seemed to suggest that Warren wouldn't be criticized for being angry if she were a man.

Citizens, can we talk? Reporters can run with any theme they want if that's all it takes to trigger journalistic pushback. Only after quoting the two supporters did Glueck and Kaplan begin to explain the nature of Biden's criticism, which he said was triggered in part by Warren's courteous suggestion that Biden should be running for president in the Republican Party.

Out of all this cock and bull emerged the scripted complaint. Continuing, Glueck and Kaplan reported that Biden had continued to criticize Warren’s “attitude” in a way "that struck some voters and political operatives as sexist."

Please don't talk about a female candidate in such an unpleasant way! That said, has any male candidate ever been criticized for being too angry or for having the wrong attitude?

Candidate Howard Dean, come on down! Back in 2004, Howard Dean was the angry candidate—and in a Warren-like manner, he kept saying that he represented "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

Rightly or wrongly, Candidate Dean was widely assailed for his attitude and for his anger. Here, for example, was Tim Jones, in the Chicago Tribune. Anger-based headline included:
JONES (2/18/04): Howard Dean: Tapping into party's anger

Howard Dean is seldom more than a few finger wags short of a scold.


Repeal the tax cut, we can't afford it, he argues. Bash China for American job losses if you will, he says, but admit your own complicity. Get angry about health- care costs, but cut down on the fast-food meals and start exercising.

"We go to Wal-Mart and buy all that stuff that's made in China, and then we wonder why our jobs are going someplace else. Think about that," Dean tells supporters in Iowa recently. Then he later adds: " . . . You can't expect to be well and eat 27 gallons of french fries."

Such an odd way to run for president, shunning the cherished campaign tradition that Americans are blameless and embracing the medicinal logic—and the political illogic—that some popular things simply aren't good for you.

That's part of the unorthodox campaign liturgy of Howard Dean, M.D., the former Democratic governor of Vermont, the self-styled populist Rottweiler.
Candidate Dean was a male candidate, and he was assailed for his anger. Jones didn't seem to like the anger, or the certitude, much at all:
JONES: The fist-waving, finger-jabbing certitude of Howard Brush Dean II—opposing the war in Iraq, urging repeal of the federal tax cut, taking on a then-very popular President Bush—is the signature trait of a man who has tapped into Democratic voter anger and shocked his competition with early success. He is leading his rivals in polls and fundraising, and last week turned down public financing, enabling him to raise and spend as much as he can.

Dean is on a mission to "take back America." Just ask him. Or just wait a few moments and he'll tell you.

[..]

Emerging from the scenic obscurity of Vermont to win the hearts and dollars of Democrats who like their politics served hot, with a couple of sides of outrage, Dean runs on high-octane anger. He rails against "Ken Lay and the boys" at Enron, the "petulance" of Bush, the fossilized Washington retainers and Democrats who are afraid to stand up and be Democrats.

"Give him credit. He really understood that the real Democrats are pissed off at Bush," said Frank Bryan, a University of Vermont political scientist who has known Dean for 20 years.
This is the picture of Candidate Warren fifteen years later. But just as a matter of simple fact, Dean was widely assailed for his anger and his attitude, even though he was a male!

Eventually, he was said to have shouted too loud at an Iowa rally. Famously, the mainstream press corps landed on him like a ton of bricks.

In our view, Candidate Biden is a terrible candidate; Candidate Warren is too. They're terrible in different ways, but they're terrible candidates both.

Also terrible is the gossipy way the New York Times covers politics. We won't even attempt to discuss this report about the ways other candidates don't like Candidate Buttigieg, the latest offering from the Times' trademarked "mean girls (and mean boys)" school of pseudo-reporting.

The "whiff of sexism" monologues concern a serious topic. As usual, the Times is sidling up to it in the dumbest possible way.

They found a 21-year-old voter who didn't remember the way the allegedly angry male candidate got hammered for his perceived anger when she was only 6. Her complaint let Times reporters run with their preferred "story." Eventually, you pretty much knew that they would succumb to this:
GLUECK AND KAPLAN: Mr. Biden’s attacks, in effect if not intent, include descriptions that some voters and researchers on women and politics see as sexist tropes about female politicians: portraying them as overbearing, schoolmarmish or different from the norm.
Biden's "attacks" have that effect if not that intent! Meanwhile, did Biden call Warren a schoolmarm?

Actually no, that was the Times, employing the power of paraphrase—the power to put words the target didn't say into the target's mouth. This practice gives a report more color, and it sticks in the reader's head.

In upper-end press corps circles, it's suddenly cool to pretend to care about this topic. The Times is going to dumb the topic down in the laziest possible way.

FLINT AND FICTITION: New York Times to Flint: Drop dead!

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2019

Paper discards city's children:
You're right! It's pointless to criticize the New York Times for this kind of "reporting."

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly—and the life-forms at the New York Times are hard-wired to produce this kind of "reporting." According to future experts with whom we consult, this kind of reporting will continue through the first few days of the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.

We refer to the pseudo-report which sat top the Times front page last Thursday morning. The hysteria was general within that report. In print editions, its four-column headline said this:
A Legacy of Poisoned Water: 'Damaged Kids' Fill Flint's Schools
Flint, of course, is the city in Michigan which experienced a widely-publicized major water problem starting in 2015. That headline seemed to describe the outcome of this breakdown—and it seemed to describe a major disaster.

Do "damaged kids" now fill Flint's schools? And why do those two key words appear inside quotations marks?

We'll answer your second question below. For now, let's describe the large photograph which ran across four columns at the top of the Times' front page, right above that four-column headline.

Readers, prepare for a good horror story! The kind of story we very much love, especially at this time of year!

The photograph atop the front page showed an adult woman standing arm in arm with a boy who seemed to be ten years old.
The caption ran across four columns. The photo's caption said this:
Nakiya Wakes's son, Jaylon, has had 30 suspensions. "Soon, you're going to have to suspend the whole school system," she said.
They're going to have to suspend the whole school system! Whatever has happened inside Flint's schools, it sounds like it was extremely dramatic—extremely dramatic, amazingly so, and very, very bad.

The front-page report, by Erica Green, started, as all such reports apparently must, with an anecdotal account of one particular problem. Quoting a fuller statement by Wakes, Green described the problems Wakes's son has faced in school in the past few years.

That said, one struggling child isn't a whole school system! Meanwhile, Green's lengthy report would do very little to let readers know what's actually happening across the sweep of the Flint public schools.

Green's report is wonderfully scary, but as an attempt at analysis, it's spectacularly incompetent. That said, the report was based on a second wonderfully scary quotation—a scary quotation which was sampled in the headline we've already posted.

The quotation appeared in paragraph 6 of Green's lengthy report. It's very, very, very hard to produce "journalism" which is worse than this:
GREEN (11/7/19): “We have a school district where all that’s left are damaged kids who are being exposed to other damaged kids, and it’s causing more damage,” said Stephanie Pascal, who has taught in Flint for 23 years.
Yes, that's what we read that morning in our hard-copy New York Times. We read an astounding quotation from a veteran teacher in the Flint public schools—and this is what she said:
We have a school district where all that’s left are damaged kids who are being exposed to other damaged kids!
What a remarkable thing to say! But also, for present purposes, what a heinous statement to put into print!

The veteran teacher the Times chose to quote may be the world's finest person. That said, the Times committed a heinous act when it put that statement in print.

Surely, everybody understands what will happen because of the Times' exciting decision. That sweeping, irresponsible statement will be repeated again and again, on every playground in Flint.

It will be repeated in every home. It will be repeated until every child in the city of Flint had heard that he or she is damaged goods—damaged goods who's just producing more damage.

Every 10-year-old child is going to hear that. So is every parent.

To the extent that the statement can even be parsed, there is nothing in Green's report which suggests, in any way, that this sweeping statement is actually accurate. But every child who lives in Flint is going to hear it.

Who knows? Perhaps that teacher was having a very bad day when she delivered that deeply destructive statement. Perhaps she doesn't understand the extent of the harm such sweeping statements can cause when they're quoted by a nation's most famous newspaper and sent out into the ether.

That said, what can you say for the New York Times—for the paper which decided to publish that statement? For the paper which decided to insert that statement into a four-column front-page headline, atop a report which should have been written in crayon, given the level of analytical skill it put on display?

Are Flint's schools filled with "damaged kids?" Transitioning away from the type of language more suitable to tales of goblins and ghosts, how much harm may have been caused by the extensive water problem which took place in Flint?

How much damage took place among the city's children? You can search all through the Times report to find a serious attempt to answer that question. You see, that would require competent analysis, and at the Times they have a saying:

Work like that is hard!

How much actual harm may have been done to the children of Flint? In the next few days, we'll try to offer a few of the basic facts which might help a serious person try to answer that question.

We'll be citing past work by Kevin Drum, starting with this cover report in Mother Jones about the effects of exposure to lead.

That report appeared in January 2013, long before the problem in Flint got started. But at his blog for Mother Jones, Drum has offered many posts about the problems in Flint. We'll link to some of those posts too.

To what extent have Flint's kids been harmed? Given the way our upper-end press corps tends to function, the information published by Drum might come as a bit of a surprise.

But at the eternally hapless times, an unnamed editor knew what to do. He or she gave us the kind of scary story we very much seem to enjoy, especially at this time of the year.

The Times used a couple of scary quotes to move the excitement along. In the process, Times readers received the greatest gift—we were gifted with the ability to feel that we actually care.

In the process, we were deceived, as is the lot of this newspaper's readers. On the brighter side, we were almost able to feel that it's still 1619! At the present unsettled time, this is a great tribal joy.

Meanwhile, a statement is being widely repeated by the children of Flint. We're damaged goods, those children are saying.

Times to Flint children: Drop dead!

Tomorrow: Just amazingly dumb, as anybody can see

Candidate's mouth washed out with soap!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2019

Paraphrase conquers again:
We're treating today as a holiday, in part because it is.

Tomorrow, we'll consider this New York Times campaign report. One of our takeaways goes like this:

Paraphrase conquers again!

STARTING TOMORROW: Flint and fictition!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2019

All the world's a novel:
"All the world's a stage," William Shakespeare famously said, "And all the men and women merely players."

At the 2003 Oscars, Michael Moore went the bard one better. "We live in fictitious times," the documentary filmmaker said.

Moore was accepting the "best documentary" prize for his 2002 film, Bowling for Columbine. It was generally believed that he was referring to the presidency of George W. Bush. This interpretation was based on his fuller remarks:
MOORE (3/23/03): I’ve invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us. They are here because they are in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction, and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president.

We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it’s the fictition of duct tape or the fictitious [sic] of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush!
Moore continued briefly from there.

We've been told that Shakespeare has recently amended his famous remarks. We've heard it said that he's recently been saying this:
All our journalism's a novel. And all the men and women who form it are merely typists of same.
If Shakespeare has been saying that, he's guilty of mild overstatement. But it isn't hard to see where he may be getting these new ideas.

As we've noted in recent weeks, press coverage of the "Stanford rape case" has been heavily novelized. Basic facts and basic logic have been rearranged and sanded down to produce a simplified version of events—to produce a simplified story which comes fairly close to the status of fable, or even fairy tale.

That said, our journalism has worked this way for a very long time now. Or do you really believe that Candidate Gore "had a problem with the truth" in 1999 and 2000—a problem which emerged in all the weird statements journalists put in the candidate's mouth?

Is Shakespeare's reported rethinking on target? Is it true that the people we think of as journalists are mainly involved in constructing novelized versions of our most important affairs?

Starting tomorrow, we'll apply this revolutionary theory to this front-page report from last Thursday's New York Times. The report took us back to the water crisis which occurred in Flint, Michigan starting in 2014.

We thought the Times showed very poor judgment with that front-page report—and a major disinterest in facts. Meanwhile, Michael Moore grew up in Flint! Is all the world a novel?

We live in fictitious times, Moore said. Does that hold true, even now, as the Times says we'll always have Flint?

Democrats think the darnedest things!

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2019

Four items from that Times survey:
What the heck do Trump voters think? When the occasional journalist decides to ask, we liberals tend to get mad. We tend to tell these journalists to stop.

As part of a recent survey in the six states Trump won by the narrowest margins, the New York Times took a different approach. The Times asked Democratic voters in those states to state their view about several topics.

We thought the answers those Dem voters gave were very much worth considering.

In this report from yesterday's Times, Nate Cohn reports what those Democratic voters said they think about a series of topics. He also reported the views of registered voters who lean Democratic but didn't vote in 2016. By staying home in 2016, these Dem-leaners helped Trump win.

What do Democratic voters in those swing states think? We'll consider four different topics:

So-called political correctness: In what struck us as a startling rate of response, 61 percent of Democratic voters said they agree with this statement: "Political correctness has gone too far."

Additionally, 68 percent of Democratic leaners who didn't vote stated the same view.

What do these people have in mind when they state this view? We can't answer that question. But claims about "political correctness" largely originated, decades ago, as a fusillade from the right.

When 61 percent of Democrats who voted for Clinton express that view about "political correctness," we can only imagine how many votes may have been lost among others who hold such views.

Media condescension: According to Cohn, 28 percent of Democratic voters said they think "the media looks down on people like them." A walloping 39 percent of Dem-leaners who didn't vote stated the same view.

We don't know what these people would say if they were asked to explain this view. For ourselves, we wouldn't be inclined to respond to such a broad question.

Racial discrimination: Citizens, get ready to howl! According to Cohn, 24 percent of Democrats who voted for Clinton in these states believe that "discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks." 33 percent of Dem-leaning non-voters stated the same view.

We don't know what these people would say if asked to explain this view. But over here in our liberal tribe, we like to associate this view with the snarling racists widely found in the other tribe. For whatever reason, a large contingent of people who voted for Clinton say that they hold the same view.

Likable hopefuls: The fourth question is one of those survey questions which seem to have been designed to separate us by tribe. On its face, the question is worded in such a convoluted way that you'd think it would mainly serve to separate thoughtful people like Us from horrible people like Them.

In this case, that didn't quite happen. According to Cohn, 25 percent of Democrats who voted for Clinton said they agree with this statement: "Sometimes, it feels like most women who run for President just aren't that likable." 37 percent of Democratic non-voters agreed.

The statement these people were asked to assess includes a remarkable string of qualifiers. In theory, though, well-trained people will know that they shouldn't agree with the statement. The Others would blunder ahead.

In this case, one-fourth of Democrats who voted for Clinton said they agreed with the statement. Cohn doesn't tell us how many Republican voters agreed with the statement, and no one was asked to respond to a similar question about candidates who are men.

So how about it? What do we the Democrats think?

In our view, the size of the response about "political correctness" is extremely striking. But all these matters should be examined further, unless our progressive thought leaders just don't care what our "Joe and Jane Lunchbuckets" think.

By the way, how many black and female Democrats agreed with the statements about discrimination and likability? It's our impression that pollsters generally don't publish such data.

We Democrats think the darnedest things. But so do we people in general!

Concerning some basic confusion: As we read Cohn's report, we found its basic lack of clarity maddening. We're especially thinking of the way he jumbled two separate questions together:

How would Candidate Clinton have fared with a larger Democratic turnout? Versus, How would Candidate Clinton have fared with a larger overall turnout?

Many people have said that Clinton failed to inspire a large turnout among Democratic constituencies. It seemed to us that Cohn created a lot of confusion when he seemed to run those two questions together.

We struggled to make out what he was saying. Valuable minutes ticked away as we tried to figure things out!