The Times presents its methodology!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2019

Health spending, schools trumped by songs:
Dear God! We've just returned from attendance at an impossibly chic Wednesday luncheon.

At this event, an acquaintance called our attention to something we skipped in this morning's report. He read aloud the "methodology" employed by the New York Times.

The Times devised and employed this methodology in the course of its latest front-page report—the report which tells us about the songs being played at campaign rallies. And yes, the report appeared on the front page of this morning's Times, a fact we should have noted in our own award-winning report.

The New York Times has done it again! Here's how they gathered their info:
Methodology

The New York Times reached out to each candidate’s campaign team for his or her full playlist. For the ones who did not provide the playlist—President Trump, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Bernie Sanders—Times reporters went to each candidates’ rallies to obtain the list of songs using an online application that helps instantly identify music.

The Times then analyzed a total of 306 songs on the candidates’ playlists.
The pop music editor determined the genre of the songs. For race and gender of an artist or band, The Times took into account only the lead singer. For gender analysis, if there was no lead performer and the group features both male and female members, a separate category was created. For the word frequency chart, The Times analyzed the lyrics in each song, leaving out filler words like “the,” “yeah,” and “bam.”

Walk-up songs can change, and the order of the songs on each playlist doesn’t reflect the actual sequence played at rallies.

Correction

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of female-led acts on Bernie Sanders’s playlist. The band Against Me! has a female lead singer on the song “Unconditional Love,” not a male one.

Credits

Video research by Noor Gill. Photos by Tony Cenicola and Todd Heisler. Additional photo production by Jessica White. Additional development by Alastair Coote.
Filler words like "bam" weren't included!

Let's start with one very basic point—these people are out of their minds. Humans rarely get this dumb unless they're employed by the Times.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Candidates Biden, Sanders and Trump for their failure and/or refusal to respond to the Times' requests. They were willing to make the New York Times use that online app!

The New York Times spared no expense, avoided no effort, in keeping us readers fully informed about the top candidates' songs. By way of contrast, the Times has never reported these remarkable OECD data, let alone tried to explain them:
Per capita spending, health care, 2018
United States: $10,586
Germany: $5986
Canada: $4974
France: $4965
Japan: $4766
United Kingdom: $4070
(South) Korea: $3192
Where's all that "missing money" going? To a very large extent, that missing money explains our stagnant wages, our federal deficits, and our failure to achieve universal health coverage. But so what? The Times has never reported the missing money's existence, let alone tried to explain it.

The paper has also never reported the size of our "racial" achievement gaps on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep), the widely-praised gold standard of domestic educational testing. Instead, it sends a young reporter to NPR, where she makes the lunatic claim that the gaps are the result of test prep, full stop.

The Times has also never reported the size of the very large score gains all demographic groups have achieved on the Naep down through the years. Instead, Nikole Hannah-Jones hands us a grossly misleading account which suggests that these score gains haven't occurred. Since there are no scores from 1619, we can make no important comparisons!

Spending on heath care? Public school progress? The Times doesn't bother with piddle like that.

The silly newspaper does work hard to keep us abreast of the candidates' songs! This is a story of human incompetence. As experts keep telling us late at night, it's an anthropological problem.

Tomorrow: Campaign song gaffes from the past

TRIBAL DECLINE: The Times undertakes to "re-educate!"

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2019

But also, the candidates' songs:
Don Lemon tried to get there first. We stumbled upon the segment in question twice last night, groaning each time as we did.

That said, the project unfolds in fullest flower in today's New York Times. In print editions, it's thumb-nailed on the constantly fatuous page A3, with Astead Herndon and Patrick Healy "shar[ing] some background on the interactive article" in question.

Already, we were puzzled—and somewhat ashamed for our species. But then, we continued ahead in the paper, and we found three full pages—page A16 through page A18!—fully, completely and hopelessly devoted to this pitiful project:
What the Rally Playlists Say About the Candidates
Song playlists at campaign rallies tell you a lot about presidential candidates...
That's part of the way the sprawling project is headlined in hard copy. To see the way it's headlined on line, you can just click here.

Readers, is it true? Do "song playlists at campaign rallies tell you a lot about presidential candidates?" Well, actually, yes they do, especially if you're seven years old, or you have an I.Q. of 11.

We told our young analysts to avoid staring directly at the three full pages of this claptrap in today's hard-copy Times. They tell us that, for each of ten different candidates, the Times gives readers a lengthy list of the songs which are played at their campaign events; a capsule account of what each play-list secretly means; and a rambling, pointless analysis of each list from one of the Times' music critics.

Abundant learning results. For example, here's what Times readers are able to learn about Candidate Gillibrand:
OUR CRITIC SAYS

On the one hand, Ms. Gillibrand includes a track by Le Tigre, the underground feminist dance-punk band that Kathleen Hanna founded not long after the riot grrrl icons Bikini Kill split. On the other hand, a misstep: There are several hundred Lil Wayne songs that could have appeared on Ms. Gillibrand’s playlist to include contemporary hip-hop. But the selected song is from a “Spider-Man” movie soundtrack, and it features XXXTentacion, who, before he was killed last year, had been accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. (The campaign says it removed the song in the spring.)

—JON CARAMANICA—
With this newspaper's patented brilliance, music critic Caramanica caught Gillibrand is a misstep! Early on, they played a song from a Spider-Man film, and...

Well, you can read it for yourself. Try not to linger. Don't stare.

This morning, the Times devotes three full pages to this rather typical claptrap. For what it's worth, this type of diversion has long been with us, often used as an adjunct to the press corps' beloved "gaffe culture."

This afternoon, we'll revisit a memorable example from October 1999. But this very morning, on page A3, Times politics editor Patrick Healy explains how the brainstorm hit him in this current year of our lord:
HEALY (8/21/19): Six months ago, I had a thought: What could we learn about the 2020 candidates through their rally playlists? About audience and intended message? So we got them from nine Dems (and Trump). And this interactive was born.
By Healy's admission, he had a thought "six months ago." That said:

With respect to Donald J. Trump's playlist, we learn that the songs played at his rallies "includ[e], surprisingly, gay swagger."

Checking the markings on the playlist, we learn that this refers to the fact that the campaign sometimes plays Y.M.C.A., by the Village People. In such ways, the Times helps us learn what rally playlists say about the candidates.

This may seem like the great newspaper's most pointless enterprise yet. Obviously, it isn't. As evidence, we return to the page A3 "Here to Help" feature from last Tuesday, August 13. In hard copy only, it started off like this
Here to Help
HOW TO BE A BETTER READER: CHOOSE THE RIGHT BOOK

If you want to be a better reader, you first need something to read.
Start by asking yourself some questions:

Do you want to read for enjoyment or for knowledge? Do you want to stretch yourself in some way? Are you looking for escapism? (There’s nothing wrong with that!) Do you want to be part of the cultural conversation around the current “it” book? Are you curious about a book that has been atop the best-seller list for months?
"If you want to be a better reader, you first need something to read." Yes, that's what it said.

"You don’t need to buy one," the Times' Tina Jordan said as she continued, behaving as if the paper's subscribers were the dumbest known people on earth.

As she continued in hard copy, Jordan listed many ways Times readers might pick out a book. The hard-copy feature was drawn from this truly astonishing on-line post. In hard copy, the different strategies Jordan discussed included such approaches as these:
Here to Help, continued:
If you're still not sure what you want to read, here are some other ways to figure it out:

Ask a friend.

Head to the library.
...

Find a bookstore....

Look at a "best book" list....
Interesting! If you can't decide what book to read, you can ask a friend!

In such ways, the New York Times rarely ceases to amaze. Within the academy, the famous newspaper's repetitive dumbness is a fairly obvious matter of anthropological interest.

It is within this ever-expanding context that we recently stumbled upon the newspaper's "1619 Project." We first saw it mentioned by executive editor Sean Baquet in the purloined transcript of a recent, fairly lengthy meeting he held with the Times' staff.

The project debuted in the Times magazine last Sunday. It still isn't entirely clear what the project will entail, but at one point, some editor decided it made good sense to use the term "re-education" in connection with what may turn out to be a thoroughly worthwhile project.

"A re-education is necessary," the overview material boldly declares at one point. Some editor thought it made good sense to employ that old Maoist term as this project was launched.

The 1619 Project may turn out brilliantly well—and then again, it may not. For ourselves, we thought we stumbled upon an unhelpful perspective in Sunday's lead essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, who had nothing to do with that playlist piddle. We'll only suggest that you keep this provisional thought in mind:

This project is being brought to you by the people who think our public school achievement gaps are a matter of test prep, full stop; by the people who think it makes sense to burn three full pages on the various candidates' campaign song-lists; by the people who recently spent so much time telling readers how they might select a book, should they decide to read one.

By the people who ran with "Creeping Dowdism" in spite of Katherine Boo's warning; by the people who decided to partner with conservative hack Peter Schweizer in their coverage of the Trump/Clinton race (Uranium One!);

By the people who refused to challenge Trump on his birtherism garbage right on through their front-page report on the topic; by the people who resurrected and vouched for the ludicrous Gennifer Flowers late in the fall campaign.

Hannah-Jones didn't do those things. But others around her did!

The woods are lovely, dark and deep—and despite the things you constantly hear, our species is deeply flawed. Tomorrow, we'll look at several things Baquet told his staff—and at something one Times staffer said.

Candidate Gillibrand made a misstep; Trump is involved in gay swagger. If you want to select a book, you can ask a friend.

This is the way our species works, even at its most "elite," Hamptons-based levels. Top anthropologists tell us that this is a large, ongoing problem.

Tomorrow: What's in a trio of words?

Meaningless D.C. test results!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2019

Meaningless promises made:
Annual test scores have been released for the D.C. public schools. This seems to mean all `D.C. public schools, traditional public and charter.

If you read the Washington Post's hard-copy report today, the headlines were mainly upbeat:

"District students improve on exam," the largest, boldest headline said. Perry Stein's news report topped the front page of the Metro section, beneath this triple headline:
District students improve on exams
PARCC SCORES SHOW GRADUAL GROWTH
Hurdles remain in efforts to close achievement gap
That third headline was the kicker. You had to read to paragraph 10 before you got any actual data. But when you finally got there, you encountered these passing rates:
Passing rates, DC public school students
PARCC tests, 2019

Math tests, all grades combined:

White kids: 78.8%
Black kids: 21.1%

Reading tests, all grades combined:
White kids: 85.0%
Black kids: 27.8%
District students may have "improved." But those gaps seem remarkably large.

That said, those giant gaps may not be massively meaningful. D.C.'s public schools tend to serve a standard population of urban black kids, offset by a smaller, vastly more advantaged population of upper-end white kids.

The black kids often come from low-income homes. The white kids typically come from wealthier homes, not uncommonly from double-PhD families.

For that reason, we may not have a lot to learn from those large achievement gaps. That said, the black kids' passing rates do seem extremely low.

With that in mind, we'll take a guess. These remarks from today's report may not be real meaningful either:
STEIN (8/20/19): D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said that after seeing the math scores, he plans to rethink math teaching strategies and will increase access to interventions for struggling students.

Ferebee said that fewer students scored a 1 or 2 on the exam—the lowest scores on the test—an encouraging development not captured in passing rates.
Taking nothing away from Ferebee, is he really going to "rethink math teaching strategies," given results of this year's math tests?

Last year, an even smaller percentage of D.C.'s black kids passed these same math tests. Ferebee is new to the D.C. schools, so he wasn't present to rethink strategies in the wake of those passing rates.

That said, what sorts of changes in strategy might he have in mind? The Washington Post doesn't seem to have asked. Nor can we say that we really expect much of a follow-up.

Then again, we have the way "city leaders" responded to these "improved" results. Starting right there in paragraph 1, Stein tells us this:
STEIN: The percentage of public school students passing a critical standardized exam in the District is gradually growing, according to results released Monday showing that students across all demographic groups improved on the English portion of the test. Progress in math proved more modest.

[...]

In announcing the results, city leaders celebrated the progress while acknowledging that further improvements are needed, particularly in the way the District approaches math. They stressed that achievement gaps are not closed overnight and that the goal is steady growth each year.

“For the fourth year, we are seeing continued, steady improvements, which means more students are performing at higher levels,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said at a news conference at Whittier Education Campus, which registered double-digit gains in the English and math portions of the exam.

“The achievement gap is still too wide,” Bowser said. “We can build a fairer and more equitable city when we know that our African American and Latino students are achieving at the same levels as their white peers.”
How "gradually" are those passing rates growing? Last year, 20.7% of D.C.'s black kids passed their grade's math test. This year, the rate climbed all the way to 21.1%!

That is extremely gradual "progress." With apologies, Mayor Bowser is speaking the way a person speaks about things which simply don't matter.

We'll say this for former chancellor Rhee. She said this sort of thing isn't good enough every single time. In our view, she never seemed to have real ideas about the way to make things better. But in her favor, she never pretended that "continued, steady improvement" like this was anything like good enough.

You won't hear about this on "cable news." Of one thing you can feel quite certain:

On "cable news," nobody cares. They don't waste your time with this. They talk about Donald J. Trump.

Growth on the reading tests: Last year, 24.7% of D.C.'s black kids passed their grade's reading test. This year, the passing rate rose to 27.8%.

"City leaders celebrated the progress." As recorded above, 85.0% percent of the system's white kids passed.

TRIBAL DECLINE: What should kids be taught in school?

TUESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2019

Our tribe gets out over its skis:
What should American public school kids learn about American history?

There is no perfect answer. When we were kids, the K-6 American history curriculum began and ended with this:
"In fourteen hundred and ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue."
We had to memorize that. And let's face it—we turned out fine!

In theory, it would be better if kids were given access to a wider view of the world. That said, the progressive wing of our liberal tribe may have a slight instinct for overreach, a matter which seems to have come to a head—where else?—in California.

Needless to say, we humans tend to show an instinct for overreach within all our tribes. It's certainly nothing unique to us liberals if we show this slight tendency too.

That said, our brothers and sisters in California have been fashioning a public school ethnic studies curriculum. The assistant, associate and adjunct professors have been deeply involved in the effort, and let's be completely frank at this time:

When the New York Times starts its front-page report on our project this way, our brothers and sisters in sunny Cal may have managed to get themselves out over their skies just a bit:
GOLDSTEIN (8/16/19): Discuss a recent instance of police brutality in your community. Read op-eds arguing for and against legal status for unauthorized immigrants. Compare and contrast border conditions in the Palestinian territories and Mexico.

Those are some of the lesson plans suggested in a draft of California’s newly proposed ethnic studies curriculum for K-12 public schools. The documents have led to bitter debate in recent weeks over whether they veer into left-wing propaganda, and whether they are inclusive enough of Jews and other ethnic groups. Now, amid a growing outcry, even progressive policymakers in the state are promising significant revisions.

The materials are unapologetically activist—and jargony. They ask students to “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression.” A goal, the draft states, is to “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice.”
Depending on the grade level in question, there's nothing obviously wrong with those basic assignments in paragraph 1. But by paragraph 3, Dana Goldstein was saying that the proposed curriculum was "unapologetically activist"—and even that it was "jargony."

When the heavily woke New York Times is saying such things in paragraph 3, Rancho Cucamonga, we may have a problem! Some of the curriculum's "jargony" instincts were on display in that third paragraph, and Goldstein soon came back for more:
GOLDSTEIN: It did not help that some of the terms used throughout the more than 300 pages of documents—“hxrstory, “cisheteropatriarchy,” “accompliceship”—were inscrutable to many in Sacramento and beyond.

[...]

According to a glossary included with the documents, “hxrstory,” pronounced “herstory,” is history written from a gender-inclusive perspective. “Cisheteropatriarchy” is a system of power based on the dominance of straight men who are not transgender. “Accompliceship” is the process of building relationships grounded in trust and accountability with marginalized people and groups.
According to oral tradition, you can't tell the players without a scorecard. Even at the fully woke Times, you won't know how to pronounce “hxrstory" without consulting that glossary!

Does this proposed curriculum make good sense overall? We can't tell you that. In her own eye-rolling critique for the Washington Post, liberal education writer Valerie Strauss reports that the state's new education director has sent the proposed vehicle back to the shop for "major," "substantial" repairs:
STRAUSS (8/19/19): Linda Darling-Hammond, who was appointed president of the state Board of Education by Brown’s successor, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), said in an interview that the draft would undergo major changes. The board has not officially been given the draft from the state’s Instructional Quality Commission, which received it a few months ago, made some changes and posted it on the state Education Department’s website for public comment through Aug. 15.

Darling-Hammond issued a statement with Ilene Straus, vice president of the Board of Education, and board member Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon, saying, “A model curriculum should be accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state, and align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all. The current draft model curriculum falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned.”
Strauss notes the problem with jargon too. Before we move on a larger complaint, let's note an irony in the proposed curriculum's use of so many new words.

In her report for the Times, Goldstein quotes a co-chair of the ethnic studies commission defending the proposed curriculum. We were struck by one phrase he repeatedly used:
GOLDSTEIN: Drafters of the proposed curriculum and their supporters say it is important for students to view the world in a way not promoted by the powerful.

The Cal Matters website quoted R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a member of the advisory committee that worked on the draft, as saying, “Sometimes people want to approach ethnic studies as just a superficial diversity class and that’s it. Ethnic studies is an academic field of over 50 years that has its own frameworks, its own academic language, its own understandings of how it approaches subjects and our world.”
As an academic field, does ethnic studies have "its own academic language?" For better or worse, we'll assume that it very much does. All in all, Cuauhtin seems to think that the new curriculum should proceed in a whole set of ways which are very much "its own."

We'll assume that may be a problem. As is true with people all over the world, our more progressive sisters and brothers have long displayed a powerful tendency to keep changing the language in ways which are ever more stunningly woke.

This tends to create and promote a type of tribal bond among those who speak the new language. For better or worse, it tends to make everyone else feel that a revolution is happening of which they may not be a part.

Having said that, alas! According to Darling-Hammond, this curriculum is meant to "align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all" (our emphasis). It's meant to be "appropriate [and presumably welcoming] for all learners in our diverse state" (our emphasis).

All that jargony folderol may fly in the face of those ideals. And according to both Goldstein and Strauss, the proposed curriculum is being widely challenged for its alleged lack of inclusion in ways which are even more basic.

Alas! We liberals today are strongly inclined to slice and dice the population into identity groups. At our least sensitive, we believe your "identity" is your race and your gender, full stop, and that we are the ones empowered to tell you what your "identity" is.

A certain Maoist feeling may seem to intrude at such junctures. And in the current case in Cali, our tribe may be learning a tragic fact—once you start slicing and dicing the world, it's hard to know how to stop:
GOLDSTEIN: The California course materials focus on people of color, such as African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Central American immigrants and Pacific Islanders. Much of the material is uncontroversial...

But after California released the draft of the materials for public comment in June, some Jewish legislators and organizations complained that anti-Semitism was not an area of emphasis, while the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel came up repeatedly. Armenian, Greek, Hindu and Korean organizations later joined the Jewish groups in calling for revisions.

Shereen Bhalla
, director of education for the Hindu American Foundation, said the curriculum should include information on the contributions Indian-Americans have made to the United States, and on the discrimination they have faced through immigration restrictions and hate crimes.
Uh-oh! We need to add units dealing with mistreatment of Armenians, Greeks, Hindus, Koreans and Indian-Americans. Cali's kids may be sitting in school all summer long trying to finish their work!

What should American public school kids be taught about all these matters? That question isn't easy to answer, as this current episode shows.

Arguably, the episode also teaches the occasional tendency of our vastly self-assured tribe to lapse into forms of self-parody. At one point, Goldstein quotes a Republican legislator making that claim with respect to this curriculum, and that claim will strike many as accurate. Here again, Tucker Carlson is being provided with segments in which he won't clearly be wrong.

In our view, it's important to help kids learn about the real ways our history works. That said, it's also important to remember that California's kids are just kids; that their parents are actual people who may not agree with our deeply woke views; and that all residents of the state count, not just those who have achieved a state of accompliceship with our deeply woke version of hxrstory. Those on the verge of abandoning Trump may decide to hang on after all.

Might we close with two thoughts which popped into our heads as we read Goldstein's report? We'll start with the first of these thoughts:

Might a California curriculum include the historical experience of the so-called Okies? One of California's greatest writers wrote a very great book about the way they were treated in California during the Dust Bowl years.

It was made into a beautiful film in 1940. Mightn't the (fictional) experiences of Ma Joad's boy add to the ability of Cali kids to empathize with the mistreated? In some cases, to empathize with someone who (allegedly and supposedy) doesn't "look like them?"

Here's our second suggestion. Might someone tell California kids than this isn't just an American thing?

When our brothers and sisters get out over their skis, they tend to say or suggest that persecution was invented by the Amerikan people. But this isn't an exclusively Amerikkan phenomenon. It's part of our deeply flawed human inheritance. It exists, and has always existed, all around the world.

In that very famous California-based book. Tom Joad speaks it like this:
"Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there... I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there."
Presumably, Cesar Chavez will be there too, and so will Dr. King. Mandela will also be present, saying that he and his imprisoned comrades "identified with" a frail Euro girl, Anne Frank.

Kids need to be told that things of the type under review haven't just happened here in Amerikkka. They happened where Hitler went after the Jews; where the Khmer Rouge cleansed the countryside; where Mao sent folk off for re-education; where the Hutus decided to take out the Tutsis—or was it the other way around?—and the world largely stood by and watched.

Lincoln said we all did this; children deserve the chance to think about that statement too. Over here, in our floundering tribe, our jargon, and our sense of certainty, may sometimes suggest that we are almost capable of loathing The Others too.

Children should get the chance to think widely. Also, in a system like ours, the views of their parents must count!

Tomorrow: What's in a couple of words?

Kilgore explores a counterfactual!

MONDAY, AUGUST 19, 2019

Just imagine if Clinton had won:
As a general matter, we never discuss past booking discussions with representatives of Bryant Gumbel.

In this case, we'll make an exception. On Tuesday, November 7, 2000, we accepted a provisional booking to appear the next day, as a very-special guest star, on the CBS Early Show, co-hosted at that time by Gumbel and Jane Clayson.

The provision in question was this—we'd only appear if Candidate Gore won that day's election. If he won, we'd appear with a few friends from the good old days to describe the youthful Gore.

By Wednesday morning, the election was tied; the appearance never occurred. On Tuesday afternoon, it had been our sense that Gore was likely to win (as he probably actually did), and our thought about that went like this:

We were prepared to laugh our keisters off for maybe twenty-four hours. After that, we expected to settle in for a long-haul nightmare as the press corps' backlash occurred.

That backlash never would have stopped. It would have been full-blown AL GORE, LIAR until Gore lost re-election. Surely, everyone understands that, though everyone knows not to tell.

Within that context, we authored the deathless joke which Bill Clinton quoted in My Life—the joke Roger Simon quotes Clinton repeating on the very night it was authored, on the night in December 2000 when Candidate Gore finally conceded. The deathless joke, performed that evening at the D.C. Improv, went almost exactly like this:

"I think Gore really got the best of both worlds. Everyone knows he won the election, plus he doesn't have to serve!"

We believe you can see that evening's performance on-line, but we won't tell you where.

We were surprised, but also pleased, when the joke got a laugh that night. We repeated it later that night to the candidate who had conceded. Called from the room to take a phone call, the candidate repeated it by trans-Atlantic phone to Bill Clinton. At the end of his book about the 2000 campaign, Simon quotes Clinton repeating the joke that same night as he emerges from his private quarters on Air Force One, heading home from Europe.

"There's a great deal of truth to that joke," Gore said that evening in December 2000. A week or so later, Clinton said the exact same thing as we crawled through the reception line at a cattle-call White House Christmas party.

He repeated the joke word for word. It seemed to have rung a bell—and there it is in his book!

If Gore had been the winner in November 2000, four nightmare years would have followed. The same can be said about where we'd be if Candidate Clinton had beaten Trump by more than just the popular vote in November 2016.

In large part, these nightmares would have resulted from the screaming incompetence of our deeply self-impressed pseudo-liberal tribe. To wit:

Today, on Bill Clinton's 73rd birthday, Ed Kilgore asks how the world would be treating "first gentleman" Clinton if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016. In the relevant part of his essay, Kilgore quotes Todd Purdum writing this:
PURDUM (8/19/19): By the end of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign—in which Donald Trump went so far as to bring three women who’d accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to a debate—the bloom was well off the rose. The following year’s revelations about sexual allegations against powerful men from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer cast Clinton’s history with Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, and, above all, Monica Lewinsky in a stark new light. It is a perverse reality that Trump is given a ho-hum pass by the public for repeated allegations of sexual misconduct and comments that would have convulsed the country in Clinton’s day—and that indeed did so—while Clinton’s reputation has been retroactively punished further.
Thus spake Purdum—and Kilgore. In the (important) light of the #MeToo movement, Bill Clinton's "history with" those women looks quite different now.

In truth, we'd have been involved in a rolling nightmare from election day forward had Hillary Clinton won. It would have been all Benghazi, all-Emailgate all the freaking time.

Surely everyone knows this. Everybody would have played, with the GOP in the lead role. Impeachment might have happened already; there might not have been enough hours in the day to get to Bill Clinton's history, #MeToo movement or not.

That said, riddle us this—what exactly is Bill Clinton's "history with Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, and, above all, Monica Lewinsky?" The history with Lewinsky is well known, thanks to the labors of Independent Counsel Javert. It involves ten acts of oral sex, plus late-night phone calls, spread out over several years.

That said, the history with the other three women is, in fact, largely unknown—and almost surely unknowable. Meanwhile, you'll note that Purdum and Kilgore have disappeared Gennifer Flowers, by whom the silly bills of the press corps swore when it helped keep tumescence alive.

Robert Ray was Kenneth Starr's successor as independent counsel. When he wrote the final report on the "Whitewater probe," he said his team had considered charging Willey with perjury, she'd lied to them much.

Such facts were aggressively kept from public view during the endless chase after Clinton and Clinton. Flowers has been disappeared several times, with no one explaining to the public why this had to be done.

(Amazingly, the New York Times brought Flowers back to life in this front-page gong-show report in October 2016. They even went with Connie Hamzy! No one in our hapless tribe stood up to say boo.)

What was Bill Clinton's actual history with Jones, Broaddrick and Willey? Did he have any history worth talking about with the ridiculous Flowers at all?

Regarding Flowers, the answer is almost surely no; she posited a torrid twelve-year love affair, but never claimed that her torrid affair with "my Bill" had been anything but consensual. (Bill Clinton copped to one brief interaction way back when, not involving intercourse.)

Regarding the three other women, we have no idea what did or didn't occur, though it seems fairly clear that nothing of any consequence happened with the truth-challenged Willey. (She too became a major hero of the lovesick boys of the mainstream press, right through the astonishing evening when a false accusation she made on Hardball almost got a journalist killed. You've never heard about that astonishing incident because the Kilgores and Purdums of the world have never wanted to break ranks with the guild. At that time, Hardball's Chris Matthews was a much more powerful player.)

At any rate, the children kept refusing to tell you such things, and our self-impressed liberal tribe is so deeply incompetent that we let their behavior go unchecked. Starting in March 1999, we even let their anger be redirected against Candidate Gore. For that treason, Candidate Bush squeaked into the White House, and was soon engaged in war against the children of Iraq. At one time, our pitiful tribe was even willing to pretend that we deeply cared about that!

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our liberal tribe is deeply pathetic—self-impressed, hapless, empty, sepulchral, wholly inept. Our joke appears on the last page of Simon's deathless book, "Divided We Stand: How Al Gore Beat George Bush and Lost the Presidency." It traveled from our lips to Gore's ears, and then, moments later, to Clinton's.

From there, it went to the boys and girls, doin' hard travelin' on Air Force One. If Hillary Clinton had reached the Oval, she would have been eaten alive by now.

TRIBAL DECLINE: "Wild speculation is warranted!"

MONDAY, AUGUST 19, 2019

The New York Times signs on:
The first reports of Jeffrey Epstein's death appeared on Saturday, August 10.

Instantly, the nation was confronted with the idiocy of Donald J. Trump.

In the absence of any evidence, Donald J. Trump encouraged the rubes to believe that certain events had occurred. That was typical, destructive conduct by Trump.

That was a typical gong-show coming from Trump. That said, Walter Kirn had actually beaten him to it!

According to the leading authority on his life, Kirn is a 57-year-old Princeton grad. Beyond that, he's "an American novelist, literary critic, and essayist.

"He is the author of eight books, most notably Up in the Air, which was made into a film of the same name starring George Clooney."

Kirn is also a bit of go-to guy at the New York Times. Next Sunday (August 25), this double review by Kirn is scheduled to appear on the front page of the high-profile Book Review section.

Yesterday (August 18), this intriguing essay by Kirn appeared in the high-profile Sunday Review.

The essay is intriguing because of what it says about the Times, our liberal tribe's paper of record. In Kirn's essay, he rants and raves about Epstein's death. The Times ran the unintelligent and thus illustrative piece beneath this unusual headline:
Why I Dabble in Jeffrey Epstein Conspiracy Theories
A person could imagine an intelligent essay appearing beneath a headline like that. That didn't happen in this case—but then, Kirn had beaten Trump to the punch in the matter of Epstein blather.

In yesterday's essay, Kirn says he does believe that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Beyond that, he describes himself as "a lifelong journalist who believes in waiting for the facts before reaching grand conclusions."

We're not sure why he describes himself that way. Way back on Friday, August 9, one day before we were told that Epstein had died, Kirn had managed to tweet this out, offering no source for his statement:
KIRN (8/9/19): So Jeffrey Epstein, among his many lucky breaks, “won” a 29 million dollar Powerball lottery. Nice. Someone has to, I guess. May as well be the billionaire providing you the politician/CEO with children to have have sex with. I mean, favors cut both ways.
As we said, Kirn provided no source for this exciting factual claim. By the next day, the world had been told that Epstein was dead. Apparently in response to this report, Kirn thrill-tweeted this:
KIRN (8/10/19): My only problem with ‘conspiracy theories’ is that they don’t go far enough.
The next day, Kirn retweeted his wife, Amanda Fortini. As retweeted by Kirn, Fortini had offered this:
FORTINI (8/11/19): Today is maybe a good day to remind people that the first officer who breached Paddock’s room after the Las Vegas shooting neglected to activate his body camera. We are always missing the key footage.
The key word there is "always." In reality, we're always missing the key footage, except in the million and one cases where, alas, we aren't.

As Trump began to toy with the gullible, Kirn complained that conspiracy theories don't go far enough. In some cases, this will turn out to be true.

In other cases, though, it won't. Consider that Powerball haul by Epstein, the score you'd never heard about right to this very day.

Did Epstein win a Powerball lottery, as Kirn excitedly tweeted? If so, what might it all mean?

As noted, Kirn gave no source for the thrilling claim—so yesterday, we turned to the Google machine. The few links for "JEFFREY EPSTEIN POWERBALL" tended to go to sites like Free Republic and The Daily Stormer, but one link went to Bloomberg News, where we found Joe Nocera, back in July, chuckling and rolling his eyes in the manner shown below.

In a lengthy report, Nocera had tried to determine where Epstein got all his money. He wrote his piece in a Q-and-A format. Chuckling, he ended with this:
NOCERA (7/17/19): Did Epstein win the Powerball lottery while he was in prison?

It’s not a completely crazy question. In August 2008, shortly after Epstein began his 13-month prison sentence in Florida, an entity called the Zorro Trust submitted the winning ticket for an $85 million jackpot. The ticket had been bought at a convenience store in Altus, Oklahoma. (The trust took the money as a lump sum, which came to $29.3 million after taxes.)

As it happens, Epstein had an entity called the Zorro Trust; he used it to make donations to politicians in New Mexico, where he had a ranch called—yep—the Zorro Ranch...

A few years ago, a lawyer representing some alleged victims took the prospect of Epstein winning the lottery seriously enough that he brought it up during a deposition with Epstein’s former pilot. But the Oklahoma City newspaper, the Oklahoman, did a little more digging and discovered that the anonymous winner worked in a grocery store across the street from the convenience store where the winning ticket was sold. Apparently, she decided to use the same name for her trust as Epstein did for his.

Not everything’s a mystery. Sometimes, it’s just a coincidence.
Nocera said the claim was bunk. Did Epstein suspiciously score all that lottery dough? Nocera says he did not.

That doesn't mean that Nocera is right, of course; he could always turn out to be wrong. It could even turn out that Nocera is part of a widespread plot to keep us from knowing the truth of these matters. It's possible that Ivanka Trump was holding a gun to Nocera's head as he typed that passage out!

Alternately, Joe Nocera could turn out to be in charge of the world! As Descartes showed us long ago, everything you've always thought about the world could turn out to be totally wrong, except for the undeniable fact that you're thinking about it.

Walter Kirn's essay in yesterday's Times is highly unintelligent. Perhaps for that reason, the essay carried high appeal for the people who select the articles for the Sunday Review.

This doesn't mean that we know the truth about what happened to Epstein. As Descartes tells us, it could be that Hillary Clinton navigated various drainage pipes to enter Epstein's cell and strangle him as he slept. Then too, he could be somewhere in Argentina, living with Hitler's great-grandkids, or even with Hitler himself!

If you can dream it, it could be true, as with that Powerball score. That doesn't mean that intelligent people are supposed to flip out and start typing confessions like this:
KIRN (8/18/19): I should say here, for the record, that I believe that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I believe that Qaeda terrorists carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. And yet I count myself as the next thing to a conspiracy theorist on Mr. Epstein, who himself appears to have been mixed up in mind-bending perversions that even I have trouble fathoming, including one to seed the world with many thousands of his genetic progeny. It seems I’ve been mugged by unreality.

[...]

On the internet, where this story is being arbitrated in lieu of our court system, which lost control of it, I’ve ventured a few distrusting comments recently about Mr. Epstein’s befuddling demise. Under the circumstances—someday I hope we’ll know what, exactly, they are—I feel that some wild speculation is warranted, if only to preserve one’s mental health by releasing built-up intellectual pressure.
In that second passage, "mental health" enters our story again, just as it ever was. This time, it's the mental health of Kirn himself, who says he's engaging in "wild speculation" to release the "intellectual pressure" he's been feeling of late.

Simply put, this isn't intelligent stuff. We don't say that as a way to prejudge what may turn out to be true in this case. We say that because it doesn't make sense to engage in wild speculation, in a high-profile public forum no less, every time a person like Kirn finds himself under stress.

Kirn was tweeting the idiocy even before Trump got started! But this isn't a story about Walter Kirn. It's a story about the Times.

The New York Times is aggressively marketed to our tribe as our nation's most intelligent newspaper. But how typical! When it found Kirn "dabbling in conspiracy theories," the Times decided to rush his thoughts into print, on one of its highest platforms.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal," Aristotle is said to have said. The tribal decline found all around us helps us see that, at least in this case, the gentleman got it quite wrong.

We'll examine that tribal decline all week. If you're willing to let yourself see, the examples are all around.

Tomorrow: "Jargony" chaos in Cali!

Beto O'Rourke joins the Widow Steavens!

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17, 2019

Those People are all just alike:
In our view, the current field of Democratic candidates is extremely weak.

Consider the current top five. Two are so old that, by any traditional norm, they shouldn't be in the mix for so demanding a (four-year) job. A third is way too young.

Of the two top contenders who remain, one inaccurately "list[ed] herself on various forms as Native American over two decades as a law professor"—and this is a point which Donald J. Trump says he would revisit, early and often, during a White House campaign.

(We're quoting from today's Washington Post. The New York Times seems to avoid producing such specific accounts of this hopeful's peculiar past claims.)

We're so underwhelmed by the fifth top contender that, at this point, we'll move on. But below the top five, a person could claim that matters get even worse. One candidate, a senator, recently made this ridiculous claim:

“We have Democratic candidates running for president right now who do not believe necessarily that it’s a good idea that women work outside the home. No joke.”

This candidate seems to have based that ludicrous claim upon an antique op-ed column written by one of the aged contenders—a decades-old column she had rather plainly misconstrued.

So it goes as the more liberal party tries to unseat Mister Trump. Then too, we have Beto O'Rourke, who strikes us as under-qualified, but who recently made a good statement.

O'Rourke guested with Lawrence on Thursday night's The Last Word. He was speaking from Jackson, Mississippi, where he'd gone in the aftermath of the arrests of unauthorized residents in several meat-packing plants, with their children left in tears.

Lawrence slimed the bad people found Over There, the very bad Trump voters. O'Rourke responded as shown:
O'ROURKE (8/15/19): You know what, I was just talking to somebody here in Jackson, and they were telling me about going to church in a conservative community, yes, that most of the congregation are Republicans, and the pastor there pointed out what you just did, and said, "This is not right, this cannot be us, this is not America. And instead of hating on these people or judging those parents or leaving these kids to their own devices, defenseless in the wealthiest, the most powerful country on the face of the planet, what if we came together and provided for these kids?"

And this person told me, almost to a person, that congregation erupted in applause and then gave of themselves and of their wealth to make sure that those kids and those families are OK.

I believe in America. I believe in Republicans and Democrats and independents alike. Yes, there are some hateful people in this country, and yes, we've seen a rise in white supremacy, in white nationalism and white nationalist terrorism brought home to El Paso, Texas, on August 3rd.

But I'm confident that, if we tell that full story of that child and their parents, we're going to call on the hearts of our fellow Americans, we're going to galvanize the conscience of a country that needs to act.

And if we don't, we're going to see more attacks like those in El Paso, more raids like we saw just outside of Jackson, Mississippi. We will lose the genius of America, this foundational idea that we are all created equal and that the people of the planet can find a home here in the United States of America and make us better and make us great for the fact that they chose us and are here.

I said today in this speech, if we do not wake up to this challenge, to this threat, then we as Americans, as this idea of America, will die in our sleep. And we cannot allow that to happen.
So said Candidate O'Rourke. To watch the exchange, click here.

"I believe in America," the candidate said, repeating the opening words of The Godfather. But then, he made a very unusual statement:

"I believe in Republicans and Democrats and independents alike." So said this relatively under-qualified candidate, making the type of statement you won't often hear these days.

We live in highly partisan times—and, in highly partisan or tribal times, we humans are hard-wired to loathe The Others en masse.

We're hard-wired to loathe such bad people tens of millions at a time. We're wired to lump them all together as we offer the least attractive possible account of their action, beliefs and motives.

We're hard-wired to believe that They're All Just Alike! Our species is wired to see things that way, or so say the top leading experts.

O'Rourke took a different approach. Some of the others are "hateful," he said. But he almost seemed to be saying that some of the others are not!

According to major professional experts, our species ain't wired to see things that way. We're hard-wired to think, and say, that Those People are all just alike.

Some will say such things about members of "racial" or ethnic groups. Some, like the Washington Post's Colbert King, will aggressively make such claims about large political groups.

In this morning's Post, King denounces Those People, The Others. He does so in the sweeping, time-honored way.

King lists an array of bad acts by Trump, then wonders why his supporters refuse to disown him. As he tries to puzzle this out, he moves directly from an imperial wizard of the Klan to Trump's "loyal base of supporters."

This is the way it's always been done. It's always been done this way:
KING (8/17/19): What about those acts, you might ask? Shouldn’t they prompt folks in Trump’s camp to start striking their tents?

The answer might be found in an interview that NBC affiliate WWBT in Richmond conducted during the 2016 presidential campaign with a man identified only as the “Imperial Wizard of the Rebel Brigade of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” Declaring his support for Republican candidate Trump, the imperial wizard said: “The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes, we believe in.”

What he believes in, they believe in. Trump’s loyal base of supporters rejects or ignores any charge of bias.
They stay locked in, because they see things his way; he is speaking for them.

So, don’t waste time trying to convince them that Trump has a dark side.

They have heard what you heard; have seen what you’ve seen. The difference: They delight in the Trump thoughts, words and deeds that you denounce.
Don't waste your time speaking with Others. Those People are all just alike!

Those 63 million are all just alike—and they're like that Imperial Wizard! All around the world, since the dawn of time, our wars have been scripted this way.

The more hopeful O'Rourke seems to reject this ugly, hard-wired approach. So did "that good woman, the Widow Steavens," a memorable character from Willa Cather's My Antonia, an homage to immigrant families in the Nebraska of the 1880s.

"That good woman, the Widow Steavens" buys the farm of the narrator's grandparents when they decide that advancing age means they should start living in town. The narrator, who's 13 at this time, seems to have heard the description he quotes within his grandparents' home.

This purchase means that the Widow Steavens is now the nearest neighbor to the Shimerdas, a Bohemian immigrant family. Because she doesn't reflexively hate, she comes to admire the moral goodness of the book's title character.

Within the town, many native-born Nebraskans look down on the immigrant families. Out in the country, the Widow Steavens achieves a more nuanced outlook.

When Antonia Shimerda, then perhaps 24, returns to her family's farm after going away to be married, the Widow Steavens goes to ask her why she has returned. It turns out that she has been abandoned by the man who promised to marry her. She's returned home unmarried and pregnant.

Some time later, the Widow Steavens tells this story to the narrator, who's now 21. She describes the way she reacted when she heard Antonia's story. As she does, we see why she was called "that good woman" earlier in the book:
‘I asked her, of course, why she didn’t insist on a civil marriage at once—that would have given her some hold on him. She leaned her head on her hands, poor child, and said, “I just don’t know, Mrs. Steavens. I guess my patience was wore out, waiting so long. I thought if he saw how well I could do for him, he’d want to stay with me.”

‘Jimmy, I sat right down on that bank beside her and made lament. I cried like a young thing. I couldn’t help it. I was just about heart-broke. It was one of them lovely warm May days, and the wind was blowing and the colts jumping around in the pastures; but I felt bowed with despair. My Antonia, that had so much good in her, had come home disgraced...
"I was poor comfort to her," this good woman says. "I marveled at her calm." (We'll pause while the tragically woke explain that Antonia shouldn't have felt disgraced.)

In this passage, we see that a range of reactions obtained among the book's native-born Nebraskans. Some simply couldn't see the virtues of the immigrant families. Others very much could.

The Widow Steavens wasn't alone in this capacity. During Antonia's first year in this new, very difficult country, her despairing father takes his own life.

At the modest funeral, Mrs. Shimerda conveys, through a fellow Bohemian, that she would like a prayer to be spoken in English so the native-born could understand. The narrator's grandfather accedes to this request:
Grandmother looked anxiously at grandfather. He took off his hat, and the other men did likewise. I thought his prayer remarkable. I still remember it. He began, ‘Oh, great and just God, no man among us knows what the sleeper knows, nor is it for us to judge what lies between him and Thee.’ He prayed that if any man there had been remiss toward the stranger come to a far country, God would forgive him and soften his heart.
Top philosophers tell us that we're all "strangers come to a far country" in the most elementary sense. Beyond that, they say that we have all been remiss toward others at some point in time.

Within that context, like Lincoln before him, the narrator's grandfather urged his neighbors not to be quick to judge.

In his remarks to Lawrence, O'Rourke urged cable viewers to seek a constructive way forward. He said he's confident that people of all persuasions will be able to see the moral beauty of that crying child, and of that crying child's parents, if we tell their story in an appropriate way.

This morning, King takes a different approach. Briefly being remiss, he helps us learn to loathe en masse. This raises a basic question:

When we liberals loathe The Others en masse, does our tribe's high-minded loathing differ from the types of loathing we like to say we hate?

We're hard-wired to believe such tales, several top experts have said.

Does anyone care about "segregation?"

FRIDAY, AUGUST 16, 2019

Consider the last Dem debate:
For ourselves, we aren't real high on Candidate Harris at this point.

As we noted in real time, we thought her kick-off rally was extremely good. We liked the content of the speech. We thought her performance was excellent.

That said, we thought her initial attack on Candidate Biden seemed like bad faith in a can. Meanwhile, she keeps repeating her bogus claim about the gender wage gap, even after her staff told Politifact that she merely "misspoke" the first time she made the false statement.

That said, whatever! And by the way, does anybody actually care about "segregation" in public schools? Based on the second night of the last Democratic debate, the answer would seem to be no.

Good lord! Jake Tapper kicked a long discussion off with an excellent question. It referred to Harris' attack on Biden from the first Democratic debates, the ones which were held back in June.

Tapper recalled that high-profile attack. His question went exactly like this:
TAPPER (7/31/19): I want to bring in Senator Harris now.

Senator Harris, you have also been quite critical of Vice President Biden's policies on race, specifically on the issues of busing in the 1970s, having benefited from busing when you were a young child. Vice President Biden says that your current position on busing, you're opposed to federally mandated busing, that that position is the same as his position. Is he right?
That was an excellent, even obvious question. In the first Democratic debates, Harris pole-axed Biden for opposing mandated busing back in 1974. But does she support the practice today?

Harris says our current public schools are even more segregated than they were back then! So does she support mandated busing today? This is what she said:
HARRIS (continuing directly): That is simply false. And let's be very clear about this. When Vice President Biden was in the United States Senate, working with segregationists to oppose busing, which was the vehicle by which we would integrate America's public schools, had I been in the United States Senate at that time, I would have been completely on the other side of the aisle.

And let's be clear about this. Had those segregationists their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate, Cory Booker would not be a member of the United States Senate, and Barack Obama would not have been in the position to nominate him to the title he now holds.

(APPLAUSE)

And so, on that issue, we could not be more apart, which is that the vice president has still failed to acknowledge that it was wrong to take the position that he took at that time.

Now, I would like to also talk about this conversation about Eric Garner, because I, too, met with his mother. And one of the things that we've got to be clear about is that this president of the United States, Donald Trump, while he has been in office, has quietly been allowing the United States Department of Justice to shut down consent decrees, to stop pattern and practice investigations.

On that case, we also know that the Civil Rights Division—

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: —This is important. The Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice said charges should have been filed, but this United States Department of Justice usurpedCivil Rights Division and I believe it is because that president did not want those charges to go forward. And they overrode a decision by the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: Under my administration, the Civil Rights Division—

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: —will rein and there will be independent investigations.
In the parlance of the modern debate, it was a "three 'Thank you, Senator' night!" You'll also note that Harris' lengthy ramble had nothing to do with the question she was asked:

Does she support large-scale mandated busing to attack "segregation" today?

Harris killed a lot of time, but she didn't answer that question. Tapper gave Biden a chance to respond. The first short part what Biden said almost took us back to the original topic:
TAPPER (continuing directly): Vice President Biden, Vice President Biden, I want to give you a chance to respond to what Senator Harris just said.

BIDEN: When Senator Harris was attorney general for eight years in the state of California, there were two of the most segregated school districts in the country, in Los Angeles and in San Francisco. And she did not—I didn't see a single solitary time she brought a case against them to desegregate them.

Secondly, she also was in a situation where she had a police department when she was there that in fact was abusing people's rights. And the fact was that she in fact was told by her own people that her own staff that she should do something about and disclose to defense attorney's like me that you in fact have been—the police officer did something that did not give you information of what (inaudible) your—your client. She didn't do that. She never did it. And so what happened?

Along came a federal judge and said "Enough, enough." And he freed 1,000 of these people. If you doubt me, google "1000 prisoners freed, Kamala Harris."
We'd now wandered far afield from the original question. When Tapper gave Harris a second chance to speak, he didn't seem to remember or care how this whole thing started:
TAPPER (continuing directly): Thank you, Vice President Biden. Senator Harris, your response.

HARRIS: That is—is simply not true. And as attorney general of California, where I ran the second largest Department of Justice in the United States, second only to the United States Department of Justice, I am proud of the work we did. Work that has received national recognition for what has been the important work of reforming a criminal justice system and cleaning up the consequences of the bills that you passed when you were in the United States Senate for decades.

It was the work of creating the—one of the first in the nation initiatives around reentering former offenders and getting them jobs and counseling.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: I did the work as attorney general of putting body cameras on special agents in the state of California—

TAPPER: I want to bring in Congresswoman—

HARRIS: —and I'm proud of that work.
Tapper now threw to Candidate Gabbard, who hammered Harris hard. That said, Gabbard didn't mention busing either. The topic had disappeared.

This lengthy exchange had begun with a perfectly sensible question: Does Candidate Harris actually support large-scale, mandated busing to create racial balance today? If Biden was wrong to oppose it back then, does she support it today?

Harris quickly changed the subject, and the question was never raised again. In truth, no one actually seems to care about this, politicians and pundits alike. Or maybe we just live at a time when attention spans are quite limited.

Does anyone in the Democratic field support large-scale, mandated busing to address racial imbalance in our public schools? We would assume the answer is no. That's why we thought Harris's original complaint about Biden's stance back in '74 carried an air of bad faith.

Does anyone, including Tapper, care about, or support, mandated busing today? For whatever reason, it was the most high-profile moment from the first Dem debates. At that point it—Poof—disappeared!

MENTAL STATES: Achilles sang his tribal songs!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 16, 2019

As do we modern liberals:
We humans! Our tribal groups have always been inclined to repeat their compelling group "fictions."

So it was, decades ago, on the plains outside Troy.

Swift-running Achilles sulked in his tents, angered by the misbehavior of Agamemnon the lord of men. Odysseus and Ajax were sent to urge him to cast aside his great anger and return to the field of war.

As reported by Homer, "Ajax and Odysseus made their way at once where the battle lines of breakers crash and drag, praying hard to the god who moves and shakes the earth that they might bring the proud heart of Achilles round with speed and ease."

And sure enough! When they arrived at Achilles' tents, they found him pleasuring himself with favorite tribal songs:
Reaching the Myrmidon shelters and their ships,
they found him there, delighting his heart now,
plucking strong and clear on his fine lyre—

beautifully carved, its silver bridge set firm—
he won from the spoils when he razed Eetion's city.
Achilles was lifting his spirits with it now,
singing the famous deeds of fighting heroes.
According to Homer's uncontradicted account, "Across from him Patroclus sat alone, in silence, waiting for Aeacus' son to finish with his song."

Lost in anger, the famous runner was delighting himself with the glories recounted in his tribe's favorite songs! In a similar way, Donald J. Trump talked trash to El Paso's mayor last week when he was told that his previous treasured claims had, alas, been wrong.

As usual, Trump's silly claims had been wrong. The Washington Post describes the subsequent fall-out:
ITKOWITZ (8/15/19): The mayor of El Paso said after he corrected President Trump about crime statistics in his city, the president called him a “RINO,” a pejorative nickname that means “Republican in Name Only.”

Mayor Dee Margo told PBS’s “Frontline” in an interview published Wednesday that Trump made those comments in a private conversation they had while the president was in El Paso last week to pay respects after a mass shooting that killed 22 people and injured dozens more.

“He said, ‘You’re a RINO,’ and I said, ‘No sir, I’m not a RINO, I simply corrected the misinformation you were given by our attorney general, and that’s all I did’,” Margo recounted.
Trump never stops singing his stupid songs, which are built out of misinformation.

Still and all, we humans! Especially at times of tribal conflict, we seem able to believe any fool thing, as long as the bogus claim in question has come from tribal leaders.

Thanks to the efforts of Trump and others, a large percentage of those in the other tribe apparently came to believe that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya, or possibly on Mars. That said, our tribe has its own treasured false beliefs, and their number does seem to be growing.

Some of these tribal beliefs are significant; some are just silly and small. That said, we love to recite these tribal tales. Consider the letter which appeared in the New York Times after the most recent Democratic debates:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (8/2/19): It is time to give up on Joe Biden. He sounded weak, can’t remember the difference between a URL and a text in trying to tell people to go to his website (I can, and I am even older). Worse, I can imagine Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris besting President Trump in a debate; not so Mr. Biden.

I would love to see what Senator Warren would do if Mr. Trump stalked her as he did Hillary Clinton!

M— M—, ATLANTA
We liberals! We love the idea that Candidate Trump "stalked" Candidate Clinton at their October 10, 2016 town hall-style debate.

For a previous letter making this claim, you can just click here. Indeed, Candidate Clinton made this claim in her own recent book!

Tribal members understand the outrage we're discussing when we advance this tale. That said, you can see what actually happened starting at the 29:45 minute mark of this, the full videotape of that town hall-style debate.

(You'll see Trump standing at his appointed station as Clinton speaks to the audience member who posed the question being discussed. To do so, she moves, completely appropriately, in front of Trump, and therefore "into his space." This produced the doctored clips and the photographs which produced our fevered cries. Like Achilles in his tents, we still sing this song today.)

That tribal song is silly and small. That said, on the very day that letter appeared, we saw Al Sharpton allude to another treasured tale.

Sharpton appeared on Deadline: White House. At one point, he sang the song about voter turnout in Alabama when Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in their 2017 Senate race.

Sharpton was discussing the likely effects of Trump's attacks on Elijah Cummings, our own congressional rep. Sharpton said that such disordered attacks by Trump would energize the liberal base:
SHARPTON (8/2/19): The example that I would embrace is Alabama. When you saw the Democrat in Alabama get a bigger turnout than Barack Obama did, it was in reaction, and I think the same effect is going to have, is going to have on Donald Trump if he continues it. He's declared war. He comes after Elijah Cummings, he comes after everybody. And he really is going to energize the vote.
Stating the obvious, "the Democrat in Alabama" did not "get a bigger turnout than Barack Obama did." Nothing resembling that actually happened.

Nothing like that actually happened. In real time, Salon's Amanda Marcotte (along with everyone else) recited one of the more popular versions of this silly but beloved tribal tale:
MARCOTTE (12/13/17): [T]he lesson of Alabama, which Democrats should carry with them into the 2018 elections, is to focus on motivating the base. This was true in 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost largely because black turnout was down in several key states. It proved true in Alabama, where Jones was able to win the reddest of red states because black voter turnout was incredibly high, despite extensive Republican attempts at voter suppression in the state. Some of this was due to the high profile of the race, but a lot of it was due to aggressive efforts to get out the black vote in the state.
Our tribe loves this tale. In fact, black turnout was not "incredibly high," or anything like it, in that special election.

Because our tribe especially likes creating invidious stories which turn different groups against one another, the version of this tale we most adore involves the claim that turnout was especially high among black women. No black men need apply!

That isn't true either. But if sacred Achilles belonged to our tribe, he'd be sitting on his keister, as Patroclus looked on, singing a song about that.

These treasured tribal tales are bogus, but they're relatively minor. We were struck by the way we heard each of these familiar songs on the very day we returned from our sojourn in Maine.

While in Maine, we had of course seen Candidate Harris offer her latest statement of the bogus claim about the "eighty cents on the dollar" gender wage gap.

Everyone knows that claim is wrong, but no one complains when Warren sings the treasured tribal song we've composed about it. It's one of the many songs about significant matters our silly, sad tribe likes to sing.

In fairness, the tribe which gathers around the campfires on Fox sings many ridiculous songs affirming all sorts of false claims. That said, we think our tribe would be better off if we were better able to see the ways our conduct resembles theirs.

How many false claims does our tribe like to sing? It isn't just the wage gap and various embroidered claims about Trump. Borrowing from sacred Wittgenstein, there are countless such tribal songs!

As a tribe, we enjoy the most extreme claims about what happened in Flint. After all, we heard those claims from Rachel, and we believe she always corrects herself when she makes a mistake.

We enjoy the claim that Michael Brown was "murdered." In fact, we enjoy that claim so much that Candidates Warren and Harris repeated it just last week, completely ignoring what Attorney General Holder's official investigation found.

We're being told that we should believe that "test prep" explains the achievement gaps in our public schools. In a word, that claim is insane. We're also being told that we should believe that the New York City Public Schools are "segregated" in some meaningful sense of that term, and that some form of "desegregation" will somehow address those achievement gaps, which are of course an illusion.

Today's New York Times contains this embarrassing, front-page report about the various things our tribal groups want to tell children in California's public schools. We were also struck by this inevitable claim in a New York Times column last weekend:
RENKL (8/12/19): I once believed that Jim Crow was safely buried in the past, but I know better now. White supremacists march proudly in parades and speak openly to the media. The time of the dog whistle is over: President Trump himself believes there are some “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis.
We don't know what Trump "believes," but we can tell you what he has said. Has he said there are some very fine people among the neo-Nazis?

In that column, Margaret Renkl was quoting Trump from his August 15, 2017 press conference at Trump Tower. During that event, the gentleman said this:

"I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally."

Thus spake our disordered and dangerous president. That said, we liberals love our tribal songs, like sulking Achilles before us.

Margaret Renkl seems like a very good person with very good values. We'll bet the farm that she's never reviewed the transcript or tape of the rather jumbled press event she cited.

Instead, Renkl was singing one of our songs, the songs we sing to lift our spirits. We human beings have always tended to exhibit such unhelpful mental states.

But wait! Aren't The Others much worse than we are?

That too is one of the favorite songs of our unimpressive tribe! In our view, we'd be better off, and more successful, if we learned to suppress such thoughts.

Coming this afternoon: This actually counted as an "answer" at those most recent debates

Attempts to explain what Weisman said!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15, 2019

When paraphrase doesn't make sense:
Rightly or wrong, Jonathan Weisman has been demoted from his position at the New York Times. Basically, he's been demoted on a morals charge—on a charge of repeated racist tweeting.

In yesterday's Washington Post, Paul Farhi tried to explain what happened. In our view, Farhi is routinely sensible and competent. That makes his attempt to explain Weisman's misconduct intriguing.

What exactly did Weisman say that got him in such hot water? This is the way Farhi began—and this doesn't exactly make sense:
FARHI (8/14/19): The New York Times demoted one of its Washington editors on Tuesday as punishment for sparking controversy last week with tweets about Democratic members of Congress and for a related run-in with an author.

The editor, Jonathan Weisman, came under fire for tweets questioning whether Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) actually represented the Midwest and whether Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) represented the Deep South, given that their districts are primarily urban and heavily minority.
Just for the record, Rep. Tlaib doesn't "actually represent the Midwest." Neither does Rep. Omar.

Tlaib represents Michigan's 13th congressional district. In a similar sense. Rep. Lewis doesn't "represent the Deep South." According to the Constitution, he doesn't represent a region; he represents one particular congressional district.

It may sound like we're splitting hairs; in a way, that's exactly the point. You see, Farhi is an experienced, competent professional writer. As a general matter, he knows how to compose clear, concise, accurate statements—statements which are neither slightly puzzling nor slightly off-key and off-kilter.

In yesterday's report, the account of this matter with which he began didn't exactly make clear, concise sense. As he continued, we began to hear Weisman's words of defense, and we learned of the overall charge:
FARHI (continuing directly): Weisman said he was questioning whether the districts truly reflected the broader politics of their regions, which are predominantly white and more rural. He deleted the tweets after they were roundly criticized as racist.
Hmm. According to Weisman, he had been tryin to make what sounds like a fairly obvious point—the districts those four people represent aren't typical of the wider regions in which the districts are located.

All in all, that would be a fairly obvious point. For the record, Doggett represents a district in Austin, which is often said to be unlike the rest of Texas. Again for the record, Weinstein referred to Doggett's district within the broader context of the state of Texas. He didn't make any comment about Doggett's connection to "the deep South."

At any rate, the larger charge against Weisman turns out to have been "racism." The problem for Weisman began with those tweets about Tlaib, Omar, Lewis and Doggett.

That said, it's amusing to see the difficulty various journalists have had explaining just what Weisman said which was so offensive. Here's Rebecca Fishbein's paraphrase in Jezebel:

"Weisman’s (rather small) fall began late last month, when he tweeted out a wild thread suggesting that people of color from cities don’t represent the areas they’re from."

According to Fishbein's snarky account, Weisman suggested that Tlaib, Omar and Lewis "don't represent the areas they're from." Once again, we're not entirely sure what that's supposed to mean, and we might as well note that Rep. Doggett, who rounded out The Weisman Four, isn't a "person of color." The fellow is old and he's "white."

What in the world did Weisman say which started all the trouble? In what way did his original tweet call up a "racism" charge?

We have no view on Weisman's overall work, but it seems to us that his initial offense was no real offense at all. In that sense, this intriguing hubbub may shine some light on the way our progressive politics (and journalism) often work at this time.

We'll return to this topic in the coming days. But did Jonathan Weisman really question whether Tlaib and Omar "actually represent the Midwest?"

Did he really suggest that "people of color from cities" (plus one white guy) "don’t represent the areas they’re from," whatever that might mean? And if he did make some such suggestion, what would be wrong with that? Is Tlaib supposed to represents the views of militia groups on the Upper Peninsula?

A final question: Since these people don't represent entire regions—since they don't even exactly represent the (vaguer) "areas they're from"—is it possible that a person could say some such thing without requiring a bristling response in the form of an R-bomb?

Farhi is a cool, clear, competent writer; Fishbein writes for a publication which stresses snark and excitement. But what exactly did Weisman tweet, and was it really racist?

These writers' attempts at paraphrase don't exactly seem to make sense. Were they struggling to stay in line with a murky charge—a charge we all agree to affirm on a tribal basis?

This episode is intriguing. We'll stumble forward from here.

MENTAL STATES: The American people are pretty sharp!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15, 2019

According to pundits and pols:
"The American people are pretty sharp!"

It's a standardized, deeply treasured portrait of us—of our one impressive national group among all the "rational animals." Pols and pundits understand that they must state this view if they hope to be respected, even well liked, by the very sharp people in question.

For one example among several, let's return to the fall of 2009—to the time of an earlier potential trade war with China.

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero was then, and remains today, a well-regarded progressive. He appeared on CNN to discuss the "Cash for Clunkers" program, which was first proposed under President Bush but enacted by President Obama.

Bernero spoke with CNN anchor John Roberts.
In short order, he executed the "pretty sharp" hat trick:
ROBERTS (9/16/09): Mayor, a lot of people are concerned that we may also be looking into trade war with China. Mr. Mayor, between this time and the last time we talked to you, the whole "Cash for Clunkers" program took place.

A real boom for dealers. General Motors sales were up some 30 percent. I know that some people have come back to work there in Lansing as a result of that.

Are you seeing any further ripple effects? Is that something you can build on? Or is that just going to be a temporary bump in the economy?

BERNERO: John, I got to share with you—a woman from south Lansing just told me last night, she said she walked by the dealerships. She walked by a Hyundai dealership and she walked by a Chevy dealership and she saw a lot more clunkers sitting in the back of the Hyundai dealership.

And she is right on. Because middle American—the American citizens are smart. They want to know, why are we subsidizing the purchase of foreign vehicles? They said, why wasn't it just American vehicles that were subsidized with this?

Why would we promote people buying foreign vehicles? See, they get it. The American people are pretty sharp.
Former mayor Bernero is highly regarded. As far as we know, he should be. (In 2010, he was the Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan.)

That said, Bernero went for the hat trick that day. He said "the American people are pretty sharp"—and he also specifically said that "the American people are smart."

Completing the hat trick, he tied these claims to a single, anecdotal survey of the relative prevalence of clunkers—to a single, utterly useless survey he, or his source, imaginably could have made up.

There you see the perfect execution of the prevailing "pretty sharp" dogma. In a variant of this play, Nicolle Wallace tells us rubes, every day, that her copy-cat panel of professional pundits are "some of our favorite reporters and friends."

At the end of her hour, she sometimes says that she could talk to "these friends" all day. In signing off, she often throws to "my friend, Chuck Todd," thus completing the marketing ploy.

We Americans never seem to tire of being talked down to in such ways. The fact that we swallow such Grade A guff suggests the possibility that we aren't quite as smart, or even as sharp, as we constantly hear.

How might we describe the mental states of us, the American people? Our president seems to be a sociopath, two major analysts told us last Friday. If that helps describe his mental state, what can we say about ours?

Is it true that we, the American people, are actually "pretty sharp?" Every so often, surveys and polls suggest that this may be a tiny overstatement of sorts.

Uh-oh! However sharp we the people may be, surveys constantly show that a significant percentage of us don't know our American constitution from our apocryphal keisters.

In other arenas, disputes break out as to whether the earth is flat. Meanwhile, who's the sitting vice president? Many people can't answer the question, even when the answer is "Quayle."

(In 1989, only 74% were able to name Vice President Quayle, who was then the a leading figure in news and comedy programming. In 2007, even fewer were able to name Vice President Cheney, who was then in his seventh year.)

We the people aren't always quite as sharp as we're told. In fairness, it can't always be said that our professional pundit corps is all that much sharper.

Sometimes, our lack of maximum sharpness seems remarkably hard to ignore. As late as August 2016, NBC News was reporting these survey results concerning the place of Barack Obama's birth:
CLINTON AND ROUSH (8/10/16): Seventy-two percent of registered Republican voters still doubt President Obama’s citizenship, according to a recent NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll conducted in late June and early July of more than 1,700 registered voters. And this skepticism even exists among Republicans high in political knowledge.

To see whether voters believe that Obama was not born in the United States, we asked them about their agreement with this statement: “Barack Obama was born in the United States.”

[...]

While more than eight in 10 Democrats agreed with the claim, far more Republicans disagreed with the statement (41 percent) than agreed with it (27 percent). An additional 31 percent of Republicans expressed some doubts about whether Obama is a native U.S. citizen (i.e. indicating that they neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement). Only slightly more than one in four Republican voters agreed that the president was born in the United States.
In the final year of his presidency, only 27 percent of Republicans responded to that survey question by saying that Obama had been born in this country.

This remarkable survey result had been recurring for years at that point. But we never saw a major news org make any kind of attempt to interview Republican voters to explore their belief about this matter in more detail.

Obama wasn't born here! This has been one of the most remarkable stated beliefs in American political history. That said, it triggered a remarkable lack of curiosity among our press corps elite—among the people who are constantly telling us how amazingly sharp we are.

These amazing, persistent survey results raised the most obvious questions about the overall mental state of us the very sharp American people—indeed, about our species, Homo sapiens, an allegedly "rational" group.

That said, this particular apparent lack of sharpness mainly occurred among the very sharp Republican people. In fairness, there are also occasional lapses which occur within our own liberal tribe.

To wit:

On July 31, we sat in an undisclosed location in an undisclosed part of Maine. We were watching the second night of the second Democratic debate through a purloined cable hookup from across the state line in New Hampshire.

At one point,
CNN's Dana Bash offered the question shown below. After Candidate Yang gave his reply, we were surprised, but not surprised, by the answer from Candidate Harris:
BASH (7/31/19): Mr. Yang, women on average earn 80 cents, about 80 cents, for every dollar earned by men.

Senator Harris wants to fine companies that don't close their gender pay gaps. As an entrepreneur, do you think a stiff fine will change how companies pay their female employees?
Yang said the government should give everyone $1000 per month. After he'd finished this standard reply, Candidate Harris said this:
HARRIS: I think that's support of my proposal, which is this:

Since 1963, when we passed the Equal Pay Act, we have been talking about the fact women are not paid equally for equal work. Fast forward to the year of our lord 2019, and women are paid 80 cents on the dollar. Black women 61 cents, Native American woman 58 cents, Latinas 53 cents.

I'm done with the conversation.
So yes, I am proposing in order to deal with this, one, I'm going to require corporations to post on their website whether they are paying women equally for equal work. Two, they will be fined for every 1 percent differential between what they're paying men and women, they will be fined 1 percent of their previous year's profit. That will get everybody's attention.

BASH: Thank you, Senator.
Rather plainly, Candidate Harris seemed to say that women are paid 80 cents on the dollar, as compared to men, for doing equal work.

Everyone knows that this familiar claim is bogus. Not too long ago, Harris' campaign apparently said as much, saying that she had "misspoken" when she made a similar claim.

Everyone knows it isn't true, but Candidate Harris continues to say it, and journalists like Bash don't object. In fact, our liberal and mainstream tribes loves that familiar statement. We make it all the time.

The American people are pretty sharp! It isn't always entirely clear that this familiar claim is true, especially in such tribalized times as these. That said, it's always easier to spot the problems when the problems are found Over There—when the very sharp American people are saying that Obama was born on the moon.

Barack Obama was born in Kenya? The fact that so many people apparently came to believe this claim is one of the most remarkable facts about the mental states which help define our time.

That said, we liberals also adopt all sorts of bogus beliefs. Tomorrow, we'll briefly revisit that treasured wage gap, then move on from there.

Tomorrow: Candidate Trump stalked Candidate Clinton and other treasured beliefs

No effect on public health in Flint?

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 14, 2019

The things our tribe isn't told:
Is Kevin Drum allowed to say that?

Drum has been the reporter of record concerning exposure to lead. For his 2013 cover report go Mother Jones about the effects of lead, you can just click here.

Drum has been the go-to guy on the effects of lead. But in his latest post about Flint, the gentleman tells us this:
DRUM (8/13/19): What happened in Flint was horrible. That said, Flint is now one of the most heavily studied cities in America, and virtually every credible study suggests the same thing: not only did the switch to Flint River water have no effect on public health, it never significantly increased blood lead levels in the first place. This might be because Flint water was never heavily lead poisoned to begin with, or it might be because Flint residents started using bottled water and tap filters fairly quickly after the alarms were sounded.

Either way, both parents and children in Flint should by now feel confident that their water debacle, as outrageous as it was, is vanishingly unlikely to have had any noticeable health effects. That’s a good thing.
Say what? Virtually every credible study says the switch to Flint River water "had no effect on public health?"

If you've read Drum's many posts and reports down through the years, you might not be surprised by that assertion. If you watch Rachel Maddow and read the New York Times, you'll think that claim has to be nuts.

Watching Maddow, we were told, again and again, about the way everyone in the whole city had been "poisoned." Needless to say, Maddow's main focus seemed to involve the desire to see people get thrown into jail.

Is it possible that what Drum says in this post is true? Is it possible that, even though the bungling was "horrible," the credible studies say there was no harm—and certainly, no major harm—done to public health?

We aren't specialists in this area, but based on our reading of Drum, we'd assume that this may well be true. As Drum later says, "that's a good thing"—except for the insult to the dignity of the tribe, of course.

Our liberal tribe loved the story about the way the Republican governor had "poisoned" the children of Flint. Maddow broadcast this pleasing story night after night after night.

As with Michael Brown, so too here—reliable sources aren't going to tell you what Drum's reporting has shown. This raises an anthropological question, one we've raised before:

Is man [sic] really "the rational animal," as we've long been told? Or are we instead inclined to divide ourselves into tribes, then run on "gossip" and on compelling group "fictions," with a healthy dose of our species' lack of tolerance thrown in the stew?

That's what Professor Harari has said.
And his book, a giant ongoing best-seller, is blurbed on the front by Bill Gates!

Barack Obama blurbed it too. Could Professor Harari be right?

One way harm may have done done: Flint's children were told, again and again, that they had been "poisoned."

Can such reports cause harm all by themselves, even in the absence of fact? We confess that we sent Drum the New Yorker report upon which he based this post.

As part of that post, Drum graphed the (vastly declining) blood lead levels among children in Flint from 1998 through 2016. If this matter is new to you, it's very much worth a look.

You heard nothing about this from Maddow. Is this just the nature of tribe?