Why do people believe so many false claims?

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2019

What if they've heard nothing else?
Why do so many people believe so many things which aren't true? We're thinking of people within our own liberal tribe, not just of the nuts Over There.

What explains so much false belief? Today, in The Atlantic's Book Briefing, Rosa Inocencio Smith offers this, early on:
SMITH (12/13/19): [W]hile modern technology may have fostered the spread of misinformation, the social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson write that our tendency as humans to convince ourselves that we’re right no matter what the evidence shows has deep psychological roots; indeed, as the anthropologist Pascal Boyer writes, prioritizing beliefs over facts was part of human evolution.
"Prioritizing beliefs over facts was part of human evolution?" Why would an anthropologist be saying something like that?

Later tonight, we hope to check with the future anthropologists with whom we consult to see if they're familiar with Boyer's work. But in this "story" [sic] to which Smith links, Julie Beck offers a brief account of Boyer's thinking, as explained in his forthcoming book, Minds Make Societies: How Cognition Explains the World Humans Create.

You can check Beck's account of BoyerThink for yourself. For ourselves, the instinctive attraction to false belief doesn't seem especially hard to explain, at least on a theoretical "pop anthropology" basis.

(If our species evolved during the war of the all against all, agreement with the beliefs of the tribe, and the group membership thus conveyed, might have been a survival skill. But we'll check with our future experts.)

At any rate, we were struck by the highlighted claim in the passage below. We think the highlighted claim misunderstands the sweep of our current dilemma:
BECK (12/11/19): The sheer scale of the internet allows you to find evidence (if sometimes dubious evidence) for any claim you want to believe, and counterevidence against any claim you don’t want to have to believe. And because humans didn’t evolve to operate in such a large sea of people and information, Boyer says people can be fooled into thinking some ideas are more widespread than they really are.
"The sheer scale of the internet allows you to find evidence...for any claim you want to believe?" Even if we assume that's true, what if some false assertion is so ubiquitous that it never even occurs to a person that some alternative possibility could be true?

We're thinking of the ubiquity of the silly, propagandistic claim we discussed all this week:
"Nothing is working in our American public schools."
This has been a favorite claim of the right, the left and the mainstream for decades now. We'll take w wild guess—many people have heard this claim so many times, from such an array of sources, that it has never entered their heads that the claim might not be true, or might be highly misleading.

"The sheer scale of the internet" may allow you to find evidence for some claim you want to believe. But what if you've been propagandized in such a ubiquitous way that it never even enters your head that some possibility could be true?

We think today of the ubiquitous claim, "Nothing is working in our schools," and of the astounding way the Washington Post and the New York Times disappeared so many elementary facts in their "news reports" about last year's Pisa results.

We humans are widely propagandized, and that's even true of us brilliant liberals. Indeed, as our society continues to split into tribes, it seems to us that we see it happening pretty much every night of the week!

STANDARD REPORTS ABOUT STANDARDIZED TESTS: The Times erases the nation's black kids!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2019

The problem we all disappear:
"If you don't have anything gloomy to say, don't say anything at all."

For decades, that's been the mandated rule of the road for our nation's "education reporters." When the New York Times reported last year's Pisa scores, this mandate still obtained.

Reading was the main focus of last year's Pisa tests, and results on that test weren't real gloomy at all. In the aggregate, American kids were outscored by their peers in four or five nations, but they had outperformed their peers in 57 others.

Let's say that again:

U.S. students outperformed 57 nations, were outperformed by maybe five! Especially given some of the challenges our nation's brutal racial history has bestowed on our public schools, that could almost be regarded as a (surprisingly) good performance.

That could almost be seen as a remarkably strong performance. But Homey doesn't play it that way!

Below, you see the way the New York Times' front-page report began. We include the newspaper's gloomy headline, which adapts a key talking-point:
GOLDSTEIN (12/3/19): ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts

The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000,
according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.

And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.

The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers.

Over all, American 15-year-olds who took the PISA test scored slightly above students from peer nations in reading but below the middle of the pack in math.
The disappointing results on the Pisa had recorded a stagnant performance by American students. The headline brandished the time-honored slogan which has misled and deceived the public for lo these many decades

"It just isn't working," the familiar headline familiarly said.

Please note! In that fourth paragraph, Goldstein included a remarkably underwhelming account of how well the U.S. teens had performed on the reading test. She also disappeared the results of the science test, on which American teens had also outperformed the vast majority of the world's nations.

So it goes in the New York Times when the remarkably incompetent newspaper pretends to report on the schools.

To what extent are reporters like Goldstein expected to tilt toward the gloomy? In her second paragraph, Goldstein sifted through a wide array of supporting information, landing on a disappointing fact about the nation's lowest performers.

Her subsequent remark about the National Assessment of Educational Progress—two-thirds of our kids aren't proficient readers!—is built upon a highly subjective assessment of "what the meaning of 'proficient' is." It also hides decades of major score gains on that high-profile domestic test—major score gains the New York Times has never so much as reported.

(More on that topic next week.)

A few days ago, we posted excerpts from Charles Mann's acclaimed 2005 book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Some of those excerpts described a part of Inka culture in which the mummies of past emperors were believed to speak to the present day through an array of female mediums.

The mediums who spoke for the mummies were classic "unreliable narrators." Setting the matter of gender aside, it's hard to say that our modern-day practice of relying on "education reporters" like Goldstein is any more ridiculous than this ancient Inka practice, which enabled the Spanish conquest.

Back then, mediums crazily spoke for mummies. Today, newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times perform a strikingly similar service:

They pretend to report the news and we pretend to believe it! Rather, they pretend to report the news and we pretend to care.

(Hat tip to the old joke about the economy of the Soviet Union. In the joke, a Soviet worker said this: "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." AS future experts glumly report, the capacity to pretend was the most basic human skill.)

Even in the aggregate, American kids outscored the vast majority of the world in reading—but readers of the Post and the Times weren't permitted to know that. Meanwhile, Goldstein selected a detail from the statistical undercard which added to the gloom.

She was using one form of "disaggregation" provided by the National Center for Education Statistics—a form of disaggregation in which we can see how American kids performed at the higher and lower ends of the achievement scale.

This is one form of disaggregation, and what it records is important. But the New York Times and the Washington Post agreed to ignore another form of disaggregation, in which the student population is disaggregated according to ethnicity and race.

The Inkas at the New York Times love to posture, pose and preen on matters involving race. For whatever reason, they didn't choose to show you these disaggregated results from the Pisa reading test—results which help define the modern-day version of "the problem we all live with:"
Average scores, Reading Literacy
American students, 2018 Pisa

White students: 531
Black students: 448
Hispanic students: 481
Asian-American students: 556
Those average scores, and the giant achievement gaps they define, help define the modern-day version of "The Problem We All Live With." They also define the amazingly large problem the New York Times works to help readers ignore.

How large are the achievement gaps between those four different groups? Those achievement gaps are massive! To wit:

In the schools where "nothing is working," Asian-American kids outscored every "education system" in the world, even that of Singapore.

Within those same dysfunctional schools, America's white kids outscored every full-blown nation in the world, including tiny Estonia. We regard that as an astonishing fact, but it's an actual fact all the same—unless you read the Post and the Times, where such facts get disappeared.

Good lord! Our nation's white kids, such as they are, outscored every nation on earth on the Pisa reading test! They outscored tiny Estonia, this year's top-performing nation. They outscored Finland, the press corps darling to which many education reporters, Goldstein included, have taken free propaganda junkets in recent years.

They outscored the weary students of South Korea, who attend their regular schools by day and their workhouse academies by night. They even outscored Macau and Hong Kong, along with Japan and Taiwan!

We have no idea why our nation's ragtag collection of white kids are able to perform on such a high level. But that's the way those kids did score, unless you read the New York Times, where you're told, in a wonderfully pointless aside, that the kids of Peru improved their score last year.

Those disaggregated American scores contain some news which is amazingly good and some news which is horrifically bad. Just so you can see the shape of the world you won't be told about in the Times, here's a fuller list of selected scores. No high scores have been omitted:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2018 Pisa:

United States, Asian-American students: 556
Singapore: 549
United States, white students: 531
Macau: 525
Hong Kong: 524
Estonia: 523 (highest OECD nation)
Canada: 520
Finland: 520
(South) Korea: 514
United States, all students: 505
United Kingdom: 504
Japan: 504
Australia: 503
Taiwan: 503
Germany: 498
France: 493

All OECD nations: 487

Switzerland: 484
United States, Hispanic students: 481
Russia: 479
Italy: 476
Chile: 452
United States, black students: 448
Malta: 448
Serbia: 439
For all Pisa data, start here.

Those data describe the problem we're all living with. They also describe the problem the New York Times works extremely hard to disappear, hide and ignore.

"Nothing is working in our schools!" Over the past several decades, largely in deference to powerful interests advocating a type of "education reform," this has been the mandated cry of our Inka-reminiscent "education reporters" (and pundits) at newspapers like the Post and the Times.

That said, it's hard to claim that nothing is working when you see two of those four disaggregated scores. As to why our black kids produced that very low average score, that's the problem the New York Times refuses to report and discuss, except in the largely fantastical ways its mediums prefer.

Within the schools where nothing is working, Asian kids are performing at a higher level than any nation or education system in the world. White kids are performing at a higher level than any actual nation.

If we credit the Pisa results, black kids are performing at a level which puts them between Chile and Serbia. But you aren't allowed to know such things if you read the Post and the Times.

What explains the brutal achievement gaps defined by those disappeared data? There are many different possible explanations. Almost none of them will ever be discussed.

The truth is, there is no sign that anyone actually cares about the lives and the interests of the nation's black kids. Most specifically, we'll never see these questions discussed on our favorite TV programs.

Rachel will never report or discuss this problem; neither will Lawrence or Chris. The Times will reinforce this code of silence by refusing to report the most basic types of data from our high-profile standardized tests.

They refuse to report the gaps, but they also refuse to discuss the gains, a point we'll examine next week.

Nothing is working in our schools? In fact, two large groups of American students would, if viewed as separate nation, be the highest performing nations in the world on the Pisa reading test!

Something seems to be working for them, but you aren't encouraged to know that. So it goes as our fantasy-ridden nation, not unlike the Inka empire, moves toward external conquest.

Next week: The Times encounters the Naep

What the heck happened to Carter Page?

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2019

Information about the real world:
As Kevin Drum noted three days ago, Carter Page likely played zero role within the Trump campaign.

As such, when Page was surveilled through the use of four FISA warrants, that surveillance wasn't being directed at an active part of the Trump campaign.

In Drum's formulation, "The FBI could have ordered a mob hit on Page and it would have had zero effect on Trump and his presidential campaign." If you want to think of that surveillance of Page as "spying," the FBI was likely spying on someone who was playing no role in the game.

Page was not a big deal. That said, the inspector general's damning report about the way those FISA warrants were obtained helps us learn about the way the real world really works.

Yesterday, Julian Sanchez summarized the way those FISA warrants were obtained in a report at Slate. The basic facts are ugly, as you can see by reviewing his piece. We were especially struck by this overview passage:
SANCHEZ (12/11/19): The heart of the Horowitz report deals with the Carter Page FISA application, and documents a progression that ought to sound familiar to anyone who’s studied the history of the intelligence community: An investigation begins with a kernel of reasonable suspicion, and facts are marshaled to support a theory. As it gathers momentum, those initial suspicions congeal into assumptions. New information that fits the original theory is added to pile of evidence—while a growing body of contradictory of information is overlooked. It’s possible to read the Horowitz report and think that the initial 90-day wiretap of Page was justified, but far harder to rationalize intrusive surveillance that carried on for nearly a year, through three separate renewals, even as evidence mounted that should have undermined the basis for the warrant.
In this formulation, we start with a kernel of a suspicion. Over time, the suspicion generates a theory, then turns into an assumption.

As the assumption is taken to heart, information is selected and discarded in order to sustain the prevailing theory. This is a description of so-called "motivated thinking." This is a description of the way true believers "think."

The inspector general's report lets us review our assumptions about certain figures in this long-running story. In one example, Christopher Steele seems a bit shakier than our tribe was led to believe. Then too, we seem to have learned that Carter Page, among other things, had apparently worked with the CIA in some way over the years:
SANCHEZ: [The initial FISA] application failed to mention Page’s relationship with the CIA (“another government agency” in the report), which had designated him an “operational contact,” and the fact that Page had provided the Agency with information about his previous contacts with Russian intelligence officers—contacts that were part of the basis for suspecting Page had been recruited to act as an “agent of a foreign power.”
Say what? Page "had provided the Agency with information about his previous contacts with Russian intelligence officers?" Sometimes the things you want to believe, and have perhaps been urged to believe, may turn out in ways you hadn't suspected.

For ourselves, we still don't understand the facts behind this unfortunate if inconsequential side trip, nor are we going to try to puzzle them out. That said, the inspector general's portrait of the way the FBI obtained those warrants reminds us that we humans are strongly inclined to cut corners, and play fast and loose with the truth, in almost all our activities.

We've been thinking back to the hundred ways Rachel Maddow tried to hang Page high during these exciting few years. We've tried to search back through the transcripts, but here is one example of her work, marinated in true belief:
MADDOW (2/1/18): FISA warrants have to be renewed every 90 days. In order to renew them, U.S. investigators, law enforcement—they have to show a judge that there has been continued production of useful intelligence from the existing warrant. They have to show that there's been continuing or even fresh indications that the target of the warrant is, in fact, acting as a knowing agent of a foreign power.

So that FISA warrant for Carter Page was initially granted in either the summer or the fall [of 2016]. It's hard for us to tell. We know that it was renewed multiple times. We think probably one of the times it was renewed was in January, right after Carter Page took his post-election trip to Moscow and Sean Spicer walked up to that podium and said Donald Trump definitely doesn't know him.

And we now know that in the spring of 2017, after the inauguration, once the Trump administration was sworn in, the FBI went back to the judge, went back to the FISA court judge again, with whatever evidence they had, that this warrant was continuing to be productive, there was reason to renew it again. And the judge okayed it. The judge signed off on that warrant in the spring. It was either the third time or the fourth time that a judge had looked at the evidence about Carter Page and signed off on continuing surveillance of him as a potential foreign agent.
On that occasion, Maddow viewers were being urged to believe that there had to be some very good reasons for that continuing surveillance. The inspector general's report tells a quite different tale.

On that occasion, Maddow went on to ridicule the notion that there could be anything wrong with those FISA warrants. In part, she ranted like this:
MADDOW (ironically): [Only] Clinton stooges would support a third or fourth renewal of a foreign agent surveillance warrant on the guy who's been on the FBI's counter intelligence radar since at least 2013 when he played a starring role as the enthusiastic idiot in a convicted Russian spy ring in New York who then later turned up multiple times in Moscow denouncing the United States, praising Vladimir Putin and trying to get Russian business deals for himself with Russian state-run companies, while meeting with Russian government officials.
Rachel was trying to hang the other high, as she frequently does.

For the record, Page never "turned up multiple times in Moscow denouncing the United States." But Maddow tried to get him locked up for years.

In our view, Maddow has an unbalanced desire to get the others locked up. In this case, it led her to relentlessly pimp for the obvious reliability of the FISA process.

The inspector general's report starts to remind us about the way human institutions actually tend to work. Dissembling and extremely bad judgment may exist wherever we humans go, even on cable news.

What was the full story with Page? We'll leave that to the historians. The actual story with the FISA process seems to differ from the reassuring story we were told.

So too with Comey and Mueller and Steele and all those in whom we were instructed to place our true belief. Viewers get propagandized on Fox, but we liberals have been getting propagandized on our own cable channels too.

STANDARD REPORTS ABOUT STANDARDIZED TESTS: American kids are the best in the world!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2019

The problem we choose to ignore:
It would be hard to do!

It would be hard to overstate the amount of nonsense which appears when newspapers like the Post and the Times attempt to report, or pretend to report, on the state of our public schools.

Consider a bit more of what happened in last Tuesday's Washington Post. Results from the 2018 Pisa had just been released. In reading, American kids had outperformed their counterparts from such major "peer nations" as these:
Major nations the U.S. outperformed:
The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Russia; Japan, Taiwan; Australia
American kids had outperformed some very major nations! That said, they'd also outperformed their counterparts from a wide array of smaller boutique nations, including these:
Smaller nations the U.S. outperformed:
Denmark, Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, many others
With statistical significance thrown into the mix, U.S. performance was indistinguishable from that of the Asian educational tiger South Korea. The American score was substantially higher than the average score for the 35 OECD nations.

American kids had outperformed the vast majority of the world's nations. But because the American kids had been outperformed by their counterparts in Macau and Estonia (combined population, less than 2 million), the Washington Post headlined, and led its news report, with this fantastical claim:

"Teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading..."

So it said in the Washington Post! This claim was reproduced in a banner headline which ran across the top of last Tuesday's page A3.

Truly, that was a remarkable claim, but the absurdity was just getting started. Roughly fifty percent of the Post's report (ten paragraphs out of twenty) were devoted to an absurdly speculative "explanation" for the American kids' embarrassing failure on the Pisa.

What was wrong with these teens today? Balingit and Van Dam, and their unnamed editor, introduced this ridiculous theme right in their fourth paragraph:
BALINGIT AND VAN DAM (12/3/19): [T]he exam has faced a chorus of skeptics who caution reading too deeply in to the results. Students are not penalized for performing poorly and never see their results, and students in the United States tend to be less motivated to perform well on it compared with teens in other countries, according to recent studies.
Roughly half the Post report was devoted to "mounting evidence that the gap in scores between countries reflects a gap in effort as much as it does a gap in achievement. By both measures," Balingit and Van Dam reported, "the United States lags behind."

Paragraphs 4-5 and 13-20 were devoted to this new speculation, a speculation the Post attributed to "economists." In support of this idea, the Post included a large graphic designed to show that U.S. kids respond more favorably to financial incentives—to being paid to do well on a test—than their counterparts in Shanghai.

This was all designed to explain why U.S. teens had lagged behind their peers in reading—on a reading test where U.S. teens had outperformed the substantial bulk of the world.

This is how crazy the discourse can get when newspapers like the Washington Post attempt or pretend to report on American schools. On the front page of last Tuesday's New York Times, the reporting on these Pisa results was little better.

Tomorrow, we'll return to that Times report, noting a few of its oddities. For today, let's discuss the very large canine which didn't bark in either of these scripted "news reports."

For our money, American kids did amazingly well in both reading and science on these latest Pisa tests. We discussed our reasons for saying that in yesterday's report.

In both the Post and the Times, reporters noted an undesirable fact, if only in passing. In the Post's formulation, the new results from last year's tests "show widening disparities between high- and low-performing students in the United States, adding to a growing body of evidence showing worsening inequity in public schools."

This undesirable fact was mentioned by both the Post and the Times. Neither paper attempted to say how much wider the disparity was—how much the disparity had grown since the 2015 Pisa.

Still and all, the papers were displaying a minor ability to "disaggregate" the Pisa results—to compare the average scores attained by different groups of American kids.

For whatever reason, neither newspaper managed to perform a different, highly familiar form of "disaggregation." Neither newspaper reported what the Pisa scores look like when American results are disaggregated by ethnicity and race.

Dear friends, would it surprise you if you were told that two large groups of American kids would, if viewed as nations unto themselves, actually be the highest scoring nations in the world? Especially given what you read in the Post and the Times, would such information surprise you?

Would it surprise you if you were shown something like that? Because that's what happens when you disaggregate American scores by ethnicity and race on the Pisa reading test.

Below, you see some extremely basic data. We're including two basic parts of the data which weren't permitted to bark:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2018 Pisa:

Singapore: 549
Estonia: 523 (highest OECD nation)
Canada: 520
Finland: 520
(South) Korea: 514
United States: 505
United Kingdom: 504
Japan: 504
Australia: 503
Taiwan: 503
Germany: 498
France: 493

All OECD nations: 487

United States, white students: 531
United States, Asian-American students: 556
For all Pisa data, start here. More information below.

Should we count Singapore as an actual nation? Technically, we probably should.

That said, no other nation in the world outperformed tiny Estonia on the Pisa reading test. But white kids in the United States outscored the brainiac Estonians—and Asian-American kids blew their Estonian counterparts away.

Does it surprise you to know that our nation's ragtag collection of white kids would, if viewed as a separate nation, be the highest-scoring nation in the OECD, perhaps in the entire world? Please understand:

These aren't white kids from private schools, or white kids from high-income families.

These are American white kids across the board, including kids in Appalachia and the Rust Belt whose families are devastated by Oxycontin. That average score even includes the fumbling efforts of white kids in Mississippi and Alabama, on whom we all know to look down.

Even including all those kids, American white kids, viewed as a group, would be the highest-scoring nation in the world! And then, along come our Asian-American kids! They blow everyone out of the water, even their peers in Singapore.

These Asian-American kids today! They massively outperformed the ballyhooed kids of South Korea. They even outperformed the kids of Finland, darlings of the American press corps for the bulk of this century.

On the Pisa reading test, our Asian-American 15-year-olds blew the whole world away! That said, let's return to our white kids for a moment—the kids whose lack of effort allegedly matches their pitiful lack of smarts:

We all can see what those basic data show once they've been un-disappeared. Our white kids outscored brainiac Finland. They outscored the Asian tigers Korea and Japan by substantially more.

If they were viewed as a separate nation, they'd be the highest scoring full-blown nation on the face of the earth! Meanwhile, the data from the Pisa science test follow this general pattern:
Average scores, Science Literacy, 2018 Pisa:

Singapore: 551
Estonia: 530 (highest OECD nation)
Japan: 529
Finland: 522
(South) Korea: 519
Canada: 518
Taiwan: 516
United Kingdom: 505
Germany: 503
Australia: 503
United States: 502
France: 493

All OECD nations: 489

United States, white students: 529
United States, Asian-American students: 551
In terms of international ranking, the United States did slightly less well in science than in reading. But even here, American white kids scored one point behind highest-performing nation Estonia, while matching Japan and outscoring Korea. Meanwhile, Asian-American kids matched Singapore and obliterated the rest of the world.

Readers of the Post and the Times aren't allowed to know such things. Instead, they're told that U.S. kids are lagging the world, possibly due to lack of effort along with a lack of smarts.

Presumably, somebody in these major newsrooms knows how to "disaggregate" test scores. Everyone has seen it done, and everyone has heard about our punishing achievement gaps. There's nothing "new" about any of this. They just don't choose to do it.

That said, two large groups of American kids are the highest-performing in the world! Each group outperforms the ballyhooed kids of Finland, kids our "press corps" has long loved.

They outperform the exhausted kids of South Korea, who go to regular schools all day, then attend their workhouse-like academies every night. At the Washington Post and the New York Times, you not only aren't permitted to know this. You are instead deliberately given a vastly different impression.

The data we're showing you are remarkable, but you aren't encouraged to see them. The reason is fairly clear:

Those data define the modern-day version of "the problem we all live with"—and the horrible folk at the Post and the Times quite simply aren't willing to go there.

Tomorrow: The problem we all disappear

Regarding Pisa data: For all Pisa data, start here. In each subject area, U.S. scores are disaggregated by ethnicity and race under "Achievement by Student Groups."

The NCES makes a point of providing these important data. The Washington Post and the New York Times simply don't want to discuss them.

Invasion of the mental capability snatchers!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2019

Science fiction, and the Inka, again:
It's been quite a while since observations of cable news made us think of the science fiction film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The leading authority on the famous film describes the film as follows:
The film's storyline concerns an extraterrestrial invasion that begins in the fictional California town of Santa Mira. Alien plant spores have fallen from space and grown into large seed pods, each one capable of reproducing a duplicate replacement copy of each human. As each pod reaches full development, it assimilates the physical characteristics, memories, and personalities of each sleeping person placed near it; these duplicates, however, are devoid of all human emotion...

The slang expression "pod people" that arose in late 20th century American culture references the emotionless duplicates seen in the film.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected in 1994 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The pod people look like actual people, but they actually aren't. They're quasi-duplicates, "devoid of all human emotion."

In the last few days, we've thought of those famous pod people as we've watched our own liberal team performing on cable TV. In this case, the participants seem to be quasi-duplicates devoid of all capacity for human intelligence. Their inability to function in a rational way is revealed as they create conflations and confusions concerning questions of who may have meddled, intervened or interfered in the 2016 election.

These duplicates seem incapable of exercising the simplest kinds of human rationality. In particular, they seem to be incapable of grasping such basic facts as these:
Elementary facts which can no longer be grasped:
More than one country could meddle, intervene or interfere in some particular election.

One country could meddle, intervene or interfere in an election to a highly significant degree while another country meddled, intervened of interfered in a less extensive way.

Hacking emails could be one way to intervene in an election. But there could imaginably be other ways to meddle, interfere, intervene.

The question of what constitutes "meddling" is a subjective matter on which people might disagree.
It's especially jarring to see the duplicates playing tape in which people explicitly say that the Russians hacked the DNC emails even as the duplicates seem to think that something different is being said. At any rate, it's impossible to stage a sane discussion if people, or their duplicates, have lost the ability to display the simplest forms of reason or observe the simplest distinctions.

Regarding some possible duplicates:

Yesterday afternoon, was that Nicolle Wallace on our TV machine, or was that a duplicate incapable of basic rationality? This morning, was that Joe Scarborough or a replacement? How about Brian Williams, as seen on TV last night? As always, "his hair was perfect!"

They've made us think of the body snatchers, but also of the Inka.

Let's return to Charles Mann's description of the way the Inka empire fell to a small Spanish force led by Juan Pizarro in the 16th century. We're quoting from Mann's widely acclaimed 2005 book, 1491: New Revelations of The Americas Before Columbus.

This empire fell to a small Spanish force? How did that happen, and why? As with other "first contact" disasters, Mann describes the powerful role of epidemic disease in the fall of the Inka empire.

Smallpox enabled the Spanish conquest. Along the way, though, Mann sets the scene as he describes the empire's massive extent:
MANN (page 71): In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth. Bigger than Ming Dynasty China, bigger than Ivan the Great’s expanding Russia, bigger than Songhay in the Sahel or powerful Great Zimbabwe in the West Africa tablelands, bigger than the cresting Ottoman Empire, bigger than the Triple Alliance (as the Aztec empire is more precisely known), bigger by far than any European state, the Inka dominion extended over a staggering thirty-two degrees of latitude—as if a single power held sway from St. Petersburg to Cairo. The empire encompassed every imaginable type of terrain, from the rainforest of upper Amazonia to the deserts of the Peruvian coast and the twenty-thousand-foot peaks of the Andes in between.
This spectacularly competent empire was "bigger by far than any European state."

That said, it wasn't all sweetness and light in the empire's administrative behavior. In this passage, Mann describes types of behavior with obvious echoes today:
MANN (page 71): The Inka goal was to knit the scores of different groups in western South America—some as rich as the Inka themselves, some poor and disorganized, all speaking different languages—into a single bureaucratic framework under the direct rule of the emperor. The unity was not merely political: the Inka wanted to meld together the area's religions, economics and arts. Their methods were audacious, brutal, and efficient; they removed entire populations from their homelands; shuttled them around the biggest road system on the planet, a mesh of stone-paved thoroughfares totaling 25,000 miles, and forced them to work with other hroups, using only Runa Sumi, the Inka language, on massive, faraway state farms and construction projects...So successful were the Inka at remolding their domain, according to the late John H. Rowe, an eminent archaeologist at the University of California at Berkeley, that Andean history "begins, not with the Wars of [South American] Independence or with the Spanish Conquest, but with the organizing genius of [empire founder] Pachakuti in the 15th century.
Forced removal of ethnic groups, with forced elimination of native languages? Similar practices occurred in the development of this very country. Similar practices are occurring in the world today.

This helps remind us of an important point—especially as judged by present-day standards, human behavior has been heartless and cruel all over the world, down through the annals of time. This isn't a terrible thing to remember when childish professors and hapless journalists are scolding the nation's second graders, and their parents, about the beliefs and behaviors of English settlers in New England in 1621.

Especially as judged by present-day norms, people have been heartless and cruel down through the annals of time. People have also exhibited crazy ideation. This brings us back to the question of how this powerful empire fell.

Mann stresses the role of one of the epidemics which arrived in the Americas with microbes brought by the first Europeans (and their pigs), devastating indigenous populations who lacked resistance to these European diseases.

Among the Inka, the epidemic helped create a war for power as the empire's elites took ill and died in great numbers. In describing the way this civil war unfolded, Mann describes the role of royal mummies in the empire's culture:
MANN (page 98): The ferocity of the civil war was exacerbated by the epidemic's impact on a peculiarly Andean institution: royal mummies. People in Andean societies viewed themselves as belonging to family lineages...Royal lineages, called panaqa, were special. Each new emperor was born in one panaqa but created a new one when he [ascended to power]. To the new panaqa belonged the Inka [the emperor] and his wives and children, along with his retainers and advisers. When the Inka died his panaqa mummified his body. Because the Inka was believed to be an immortal deity, his mummy was treated, logically enough, as if it were still living. Soon after arriving in Qosqo, Pizarro's companion Miguel de Estete saw a parade of defunct emperors. They were brought out on litters, "seated on their thrones and surrounded by pages and women with flywhisks in their hands, who ministered to them with as much respect as if they had been alive."
Crazy ideation has flourished wherever we humans have ventured. In a way which struck us as extremely ahistorical, Professor Silverman, an actual history professor, rolled his eyes at some of the religious ideation of English settlers in what is now New England in 1621. The childishness of these observations made his Thanksgiving Day column a natural for the New York Times.

The Europe of 1621 was possessed of crazy ideation (and barbaric conventional practices) as was the world of the Inka. As noted, crazy ideation has flourished wherever we humans have been.

Back to Mann! In this passage, he continues to describe this peculiar aspect of Inka ideation and conduct:
MANN (continuing directly): Because the royal mummies were not considered dead, their successors obviously could not inherit their wealth. Each Inka’s panaqa retained all of his possessions forever, including his palaces, residences and shrines, all of his remaining clothes, eating utensils, fingernail parings, and hair clippings, and the tribute from the land he had conquered. In consequence, as Pedro Pizarro realized, "the greater part of the people, treasure, expenses, and vices [in the empire] were under the control of the dead." The mummies spoke through female mediums who represented the panaqa’s surviving courtiers or their descendants. With almost a dozen immortal emperors jostling for position, high-level Inka society was characterized by ramose political intrigue of a scale which would have delighted the Medici...
"The mummies spoke through female mediums who represented the panaqa’s surviving courtiers or their descendants." So it went as smallpox devastated the Inka ruling class, precipitating a debilitating civil war which helped bring down the world's largest empire.

The mummies spoke through female mediums! We first compared this crackpot human culture to that of the mainstream pundit corps in 2006. The comparison has come to mind again in recent days we we've watched the established oracles of our own liberal tribe unsuccessfully attempting to function in the face of the massive disorder into which our own society has been thrown.

Their earlier conduct helped give us our Trump. In the past dew days, they've seemed a great deal like duplicates. This is where the corporate mouthpieces of our floundering tribe seem to stand today.

Sadly, it's all anthropology now. According to leading future experts who speak to us through nocturnal submissions the haters like to deride as mere dreams, this was pretty much the best our limited species could do.

We've checked with Cassandra; she's embarrassed for our tribe. In an obvious brush with greatness, the oracle of Delphi was there. Distraught, she refused to opine.

STANDARD REPORTS ABOUT STANDARDIZED TESTS: American kids outperformed by Macau!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2019

With other deceptions and points of major trivia:
Last Tuesday morning, our analysts encountered a gloomy headline. It was bannered across the top of the Washington Post's page A3.

The headline filled our workers with despair. We heard them keening and wailing, then found them tearing their hair. Starting with that gloomy headline, this is what they'd read:
BALINGIT AND VAN DAM (12/3/19): U.S. teens behind global peers in reading, math, science

Teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science,
according to results of an international exam that suggest U.S. schools are not doing enough to prepare young people for the competitive global economy.
That's what our analysts read in last Tuesday's Washington Post. Our teens continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science!

The Post was reporting the latest results from the Program for International Student Assessment, known to its friends as the Pisa. Early on, the Post described the basics of this high-profile international program:
"The exam was first administered in 2000 to measure the performance of 15-year-olds in the 35 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and has been administered every three years since. It has expanded beyond the 35 member countries. In 2018, 600,000 students from 79 countries took the exam."
There you have it! Kids from 79 nations took part—and U.S. kids took a dive.

Over the course of the past several decades, such gloomy assessments have virtually been mandated within the mainstream press.

In the past few decades, such assessments have been put to use in service to a type of "education reform" favored by billionaire donors. Major news orgs like the Post and the Times agreed to adopt a standard script when discussing our public schools:

Nothing has worked in our public schools, these obedient performers all said.

Last Tuesday morning's gloomy headline advanced that familiar script. Still, we decided to read the Post's report—and about a third of the way through the gloom-ridden piece, we found ourselves reading this:
BALINGIT AND VAN DAM: Reading and math scores for U.S. students have not changed significantly since the exam debuted, while there have been some improvements in science. That trend continued in 2018, when student scores across all three subjects were virtually unchanged from 2015.

Several countries lost ground, boosting the ranking of the United States, which ranked eighth in reading and 11th in science. Its math score—below the average for other countries in the OECD—put it at 30th in the world, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Say what? U.S. kids finished eighth in the world in reading? Is that what the Post now said?

As you can see, the writing in that passage was a bit unclear. Had U.S. kids finished eighth "in the world"—eighth out of the 79 countries who took the reading test? Or had they simply finished eighth out of the 35 OECD nations?

It sounded like they were eighth in the world, eighth out of 79! And sure enough! When we scanned the corresponding gloomy report in the New York Times, we were eventually permitted to read this:
GOLDSTEIN (12/3/19): The most recent PISA test was given in 2018 to 600,000 15-year-olds in 79 education systems around the world, and included both public and private school students...

Although math and science were also tested, about half of the questions were devoted to reading, the focus of the 2018 exam. Students were asked to determine when written evidence supported a particular claim and to distinguish between fact and opinion, among other tasks.

The top performers in reading were four provinces of China—Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Also outperforming the United States were Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland. The United Kingdom, Japan and Australia performed similarly to the United States.
Ignore the part about those four provinces, which are famously unrepresentative of Chinese public education as a whole. When it comes to actual countries, or to near approximations of same, the U.S was only outscored on the Pisa reading test by this selection of international power-lifters, or so the Times now said:
Outperformed the U.S. on the reading test:
Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland
According to the New York Times, that was the whole list! Those were the seven (7) "education systems" which outperformed U.S. teens on the Pisa reading test!

U.S. teens were outscored by those seven. Might we offer a few remarks about this list of education systems?

For better or worse, Hong Kong isn't an actual country. Neither of course is Macau—and its total population is less than 700,000.

(That's total population, not just kids.)

Estonia was the highest scoring OECD nation on the reading test.
Its total population is roughly 1.3 million. That makes it smaller than Finland, a middle-class boutique nation which has permitted little immigration and boasts a total population of less than 6 million.

Taking nothing away from the performances of these nations and near-nations, are these supposed to be the "peer nations" with which the U.S. had struggled to compete? Can this list possibly explain that Post report, in which readers were told that U.S. teens "continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading?"

The gloomy headline in the Post said that U.S. teens performed behind their global peers in reading. Now, the Times was reporting that U.S. kids were indeed outperformed by the teens of Macau, but had actually matched the performance of their peers in such major nations as the United Kingdom and Japan.

Did American teens really lag behind their global peers in reading, science and math? That's what the Post headline said—and, on balance, we'd have to say that the headline was simply wrong.

As we noted yesterday, the New York Times also adopted a gloomy approach to the "stagnant performance" and "disappointing results" recorded by U.S. teens. That said, Dana Goldstein did manage to add this fourth paragraph to her gloomy opening framework, although she instantly disappeared one of the three Pisa tests:
GOLDSTEIN: Over all, American 15-year-olds who took the PISA test scored slightly above students from peer nations in reading but below the middle of the pack in math.
We're not quite sure who those "peer nations" are, but Goldstein at least reported that American kids had outscored them in reading.

That said, those same American 15-year-olds also "scored above students from peer nations" in science. Ridiculously, the Times couldn't find space to include that basic fact, even as it filled its lengthy report with oodles of silly speculations and pointless pieces of trivia.

How did U.S. teens actually do on these Pisa tests? As Goldstein noted in the Times, reading was the Pisa's principal focus last year. The National Center for Education Statistics offers these accurate bullet points about the U.S. performance:
NCES: Compared to the 76 other education systems in PISA 2018, the U.S. average reading literacy score was lower than the average in 8 education systems, higher than the average in 57 education systems, and not measurably different from the average in 11 education systems.

The U.S. average score (505) was higher than the OECD average score (487).

Compared to the 35 other OECD members, the U.S. average in reading literacy was lower than the average in 4 education systems, higher than in 21, and not measurably different than in 10.
At the Washington Post, that somehow meant that U.S. kids were lagging behind their global peers in reading. But let's not leave things there:

Ever so briefly, let's set "statistical significance" to the side. On this global reading test, U.S. teens did in fact outscore their peers in such major peer nations as the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Germany, Taiwan, France, Italy, Spain and Russia.

(For the full list of nations, click here.)

As you can see at that link, they also outscored their peers in such smaller European nations as Denmark, Norway, Belgium Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland. From this, the Washington Post somehow derived the idea that they "continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading."

With statistical significance thrown in, U.S. teens were outperfomed by virtually no one, not even Korea—until you read the gloomy headline (and report) in the Washington Post, with the gloomy framework of the New York Times lagging not far behind.

With regard to the Times, understand this:

As early as paragraph 4 of its gloomy report about the "stagnant/disappointing" results, the Times had disappeared the Pisa science test altogether. That's too bad, because U.S. kids outperformed their peers on that test as well, by a slightly lesser margin than on the reading test:
NCES: Compared to the 77 other education systems in PISA 2018, the U.S. average science literacy score was lower than the average in 11 education systems, higher than the average in 55 education systems, and not measurably different from the average in 11 education systems.

The U.S. average score (502) was higher than the OECD average score (489).

Compared to the 36 other OECD members, the U.S. average in science literacy was lower than the average in 6 education systems, higher than in 19, and not measurably different than in 11.
In our view, U.S. teens did amazingly well, in the aggregate, in reading and science on the 2018 Pisa. We say that for these reasons:

As part of our brutal racial history, the United States spent several centuries attempting to eliminate literacy from one major part of its population. We continue to suffer from the effects of that profoundly unfortunate behavior.

Also, the United States has experienced a large amount of immigration, authorized and unauthorized, involving good, deserving kids from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds. This does in fact produce a challenge within our public schools.

To their credit, most nations didn't spend centuries trying to eliminate literacy from large chunks of their populations. Also, some countries (Finland) allow very little immigration, while other countries (Canada) mainly allow immigration from high-education Asian populations, whose kids actually outperform native-born Canadian kids on international tests.

Due to our brutal racial history; due to our immigration realities; the public schools of our large continental nation face certain types of challenges not found everywhere else. With that in mind, it strikes us as amazing to think that U.S. teens, in the aggregate, perform as well as they do on Pisa reading and science tests, even with journalists constantly standing in line to misreport their performance.

U.S. teens have performed less well on the rather unusual Pisa math test. As we noted yesterday, they have performed much better on the more conventional Timss math tests, with the inevitable result that their performance on those tests tend to be unreported, even aggressively disappeared.

Might we speak frankly for once? People who read the Post and the Times last week were misled and misinformed regarding these high-profile tests. We'd say the Times report was highly misleading while the Post was simply wrong.

As is required by Press Corp Law, the papers pimped a lot of gloom concerning these high-profile tests. The Post's banner headline was just flatly wrong. The Times report wasn't a whole lot better.

Here's a guess. We'll guess that most people would be surprised to learn how well U.S. students actually did on the reading and science tests. Tomorrow, we'll show you basic data from those tests which are many times more surprising.

These basic data will help us see where our society's moral burden actually lies. But these basic data will also rock your world, and for that reason the Washington Post and the New York Times didn't, and won't, share them with you.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our upper-end press corps frequently generates cult-like scams.

Tomorrow's data are shocking, even to us. But they tell us the actual shape of the world, and so these data are being withheld from the public's view.

Tomorrow: Would it surprise you if you were told...

For full NCES reporting: The NCES produces mountains of highly useful data about domestic and international testing programs. These data are then aggressively ignored by our slumbering "education reporters."

You can lead the reporters to the links, but you can't make them click!

We've linked you to different parts of the NCES report on the 2018 Pisa. For access to all parts of the NCES reporting, you should just click here.


Maddow and Williams and MoJoe oh my!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2019

The Inka empire and us:
How extensive, how extreme, is human mental dysfunction?

Human dysfunction runs quite deep, especially at times like these. Consider the first fourteen minutes of last night's Maddow Show.

Before she got to the impending impeachment of Donald J. Trump; before she discussed the inspector's general's report about the Russia probe; before she discussed the new report which said that the public has been systematically deceived about the war in Afghanistan—

Before Maddow touched on any such matters, she devoted her first fourteen minutes to the topic she loves above all others. She devoted her first fourteen minutes to questions concerning the impending sentencing hearings for Rick Gates and Michel Flynn—hearings to help determine the length of their possible prison sentences.

Under the circumstances, this topic was amazingly tangential—but so what? Maddow began her program with this topic, and she was still discussing this topic as of 9:14. To watch the closing chunk of this absurdly tangential fourteen minutes of bafflegab, you can just click here.

(Needless to say, she will never discuss the public school issues we'll be discussing this week and next. Maddow never stoops to the level of discussing the lives and interests of the nation's low-income kids. In fairness, neither does anyone else on her corporate channel.)

We've told you this many times. As others loved the smell of napalm in the morning, Maddow loves to think about people from the other tribe being frogmarched off to jail.

She is so in love with this topic that we're inclined to regard it as a borderline sickness. Last night, this impulse took her to a place which seemed a bit amazing even to us.

That said, the craziness was all over cable last night and this morning. Brian Williams, Chuck Todd, Joe Scarborough? At this point, their devotion to conflation and confusion about allegations of Ukrainian "meddling" have reached the point of total intellectual breakdown. This is especially true in the case of Williams, though Scarborough was shouting and screaming this morning from 5:59:30 on.

In our view, it's unlikely that this unfolding tribal breakdown will ever turn out well. It makes us think of Charles Mann's portrait of the Inka empire at the point of first contact with Europe.

What the heck was the Inka empire? We'll let the leading authority on the subject give you a quick overview:
The Inca Empire...was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. Its political and administrative structure is considered by most scholars to have been the most developed in the Americas before Columbus' arrival. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in the city of Cusco. The Inca civilization arose from the Peruvian highlands sometime in the early 13th century. Its last stronghold was conquered by the Spanish in 1572.
This powerful empire fell to the Spanish, but how did that happen, and why? As with other "first contact" disasters, Mann describes the powerful role of epidemic disease in the fall of this empire, "bigger by far than any European state" at that time.

Beyond that, though, there lies a story of human cruelty, and of crazy ideation.

Pompous professors like to scold the electorate about those idiot Pilgrim settlers with their crazy ideas about being God's chosen people. In this small way, these spectacularly pompous professors work to re-elect Trump.

That said, we humans have always had crazy ideas. And especially as judged by present-day standards, we humans have always been immoral and cruel.

Around the era of first encounter, this was true of humans in Europe, and of humans in the Americas. We'll excerpt Mann's portrait of the Inka tomorrow, but we are currently watching two political tribes break down as our own failing society stages a very large fight.

Williams was out of his mind last night; Maddow spent a large chunk of her program on an amazingly tangential matter. To her credit, she didn't play the audiotape in which Governor Bentley tells his girl friend that he loves touching her body.

This is the way societies come to an end. Tomorrow, a walk with the Inka.

STANDARD REPORTS ABOUT STANDARDIZED TESTS: You get to choose between gloomy and wrong!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2019

Times, Post toy with the PISA:
Last Monday, the latest international test scores were released.

The next day, the New York Times and the Washington Post presented standardized news reports about the way American kids had performed on the high-profile standardized tests.

In the Times, as if by law, the headline—and the report itself—offered a highly familiar, standardized form of gloom and despair.

Dana Goldstein's report appeared on the Times' front page. Hard-copy headline included, her report started like this:
GOLDSTEIN (12/3/19): School Reforms Fail to Lift U.S. On Global Test

The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000
, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.

And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.

The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers.
If we might briefly borrow from Joyce, gloom was general all over Goldstein's report. As has long been required by law!

According to Goldstein's front-page report, school reforms had failed to lift American students. Also, the performance of American teens has been stagnant since 2000.

The achievement gap between high and low performers is widening. And not only that! These disappointing new results follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Naep), which recently showed that two-thirds of American children are not proficient readers.

For the record, each of those statements can be defended as "technically accurate." We'd call the overall package grossly misleading, but the individual claims can be defended, sometimes just barely, as being technically accurate.

Can the same be said for the corresponding report in the Washington Post? On balance, we'd have to say no:
BALINGIT AND VAN DAM (12/3/19): U.S. teens behind global peers in reading, math, science

Teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science,
according to results of an international exam that suggest U.S. schools are not doing enough to prepare young people for the competitive global economy.

The results of the Program for International Student Assessment—widely known as PISA—were released Tuesday and show widening disparities between high- and low-performing students in the United States, adding to a growing body of evidence showing worsening inequity in public schools.

The exam was first administered in 2000 to measure the performance of 15-year-olds in the 35 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
and has been administered every three years since. It has expanded beyond the 35 member countries. In 2018, 600,000 students from 79 countries took the exam.
Was the basic claim there true? Is it true that teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science, according to the Pisa results?

Is it true, as the headline announced, that U.S. teens are behind their global peers in reading, math and science?

On balance, we'd have to say no. In our view, those statements are so absurdly misleading that, on balance, it makes most sense to regard them as simply false.

That said, let's be fair!

In fairness to the three journalists who prepared these gloomy, misleading and false reports, they were skillfully working from well-established upper-end journalistic script. Over the past decade or so, it has been a virtual requirement—all reporting about American schools must push one basic idea:
Nothing has worked in our public schools.
This standard script has shaped education reporting over the past several decades. For the most part, this gloomy story-line was peddled in support of the very type of "education reform" which has itself now failed to work, according to the gloomy headline on the front page of last Tuesday's Times.

If we might once again borrow from Joyce, this script has been general all over our flailing, benighted nation's attempts at education reporting. Consider:

We've been told that "nothing has worked" even as math and reading scores on the Naep rose and rose and rose, by what seem to be large amounts.

We've been told that "nothing has worked" even as American kids scored surprisingly well in reading and science on the international stage, as they did, once again, on the Pisa scores which were released last week.

Did American teens really "lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science" in the Pisa data which were released last week?

On balance, we'd say that claim is just wrong. And when you "disaggregate" American scores by ethnicity and race, you're confronted with results which fly in the face of conventional public understanding—results the Post and the Times omitted from their carefully culled, misleading and false reports.

Even in the aggregate, American teens scored surprisingly well in reading and science on the Pisa. As always, they scored less well on the Pisa'a somewhat unusual math test, but as everyone knows except newspaper readers, American kids score substantially better in math on the other international standardized test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (the Timss), which takes a more traditional approach.

Reading the Times and the Post last week, American citizens got to choose between gloomy, misleading and false. Points of truly amazing trivia were thrown in for good measure, producing the standardized brew of gloom and despair about the state of American schools.

Over the next few days, we're going to give you a fuller picture of what those Pisa scores seem to show. Would it surprise you to learn that two large segments of the American student population would, if viewed as separate nations, be the two highest-scoring nations in the world in both reading and science?

We know, we know—that can't be true! We all know that isn't possible. Everyone knows that can't be true because we all know that nothing has worked!

More accurately, very little has worked at the Times and the Post over the course of the decades in question. For most of those newspapers' education reporters, the only discernible skill involves recitation of standardized script, a product which has been served to the public down through these many dumb years.

Tomorrow: Where we stood among all those nations

Thursday: Now, let's disaggregate!

STARTING TOMORROW: Standard reporting on standardized testing!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2019

Fictitions all the way down:
Last week, the latest international test results were released by the Program for International Student Assessment, which is known to its friends as the PISA.

The PISA is administered every three years to 15-year-old students in roughly six dozen nations. These new results come from the 2018 testing.

Here's the great thing about all such standardized testing. You know, in advance, what you'll be told in newspapers like the Post and the Times. It doesn't matter what actually happens. The reporting is preordained.

The gloomy headlines you may have seen were required by Hard Insider Upper End Mainstream Press Corps Law. In the process, some very basic information was withheld from public view.

In the area of standardized testing, there are certain basic things which, by law, you must be told. There are other extremely basic facts you aren't encouraged to think about and aren't even permitted to know.

At the Washington Post and the New York Times, it was standard reporting on standardized testing! And yes—

This is the world we all live in. We can choose to believe it or not.

SCOLD THE ELECTORATE WELL: "A boundless sea of novel ideas!"

MONDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2019

Charles Mann versus The Scolds:
Thanksgiving Day arrives in this country virtually every year.

Along with the four-day weekend and the football games, we now get the work of the scolds.

Quite a few of the scolds haven't been overwhelmingly bright in recent years, at least in their performance of this Turkey Day assignment. They complain that Mommy and Daddy didn't tell them the truth about the so-called first Thanksgiving when they were in first grade.

In response, they construct long lists of "legends and lies," not missing such turkeys as these:

The Pilgrims didn't even refer to themselves as Pilgrims! And the first Thanksgiving wasn't a true "thanksgiving" at all—it was just a harvest celebration!

The Pilgrims—and remember, they didn't call themselves Pilgrims—(allegedly) didn't even bring the bulk of the food!

These scolds today! They compose nonsensical work for Fortune magazine—and two years later, the New York Times reprints the passage, failing to notice the awkward fact that it makes no sense on its face:
BLOW (11/28/19: As Grace Donnelly wrote in a 2017 piece for Fortune:

The celebration in 1621 did not mark a friendly turning point and did not become an annual event. Relations between the Wampanoag and the settlers deteriorated, leading to the Pequot War. In 1637, in retaliation for the murder of a man the settlers believed the Wampanoags killed, they burned a nearby village, killing as many as 500 men, women, and children. Following the massacre, William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth, wrote that for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Just 16 years after the Wampanoag shared that meal, they were massacred.
We're sorry, but no. Sensibly enough, the Pequot War was waged against the Pequots, not against the Wampanoags. And obviously, Governor Bradford, one of the original Plymouth settlers, never made a statement describing what occurred "for the next hundred years" after the Pequot War, a period extending through 1757.

That passage made no sense, on its face, when it appeared in Fortune. But given the way modern "journalism" works, it was close enough for inclusion in a Turkey Day takedown there—and two years later, it was close enough for the Times' Charles Blow to republish.

At even less accomplished sites, journalists have been capable of seeming to think that the Wampanoags had once built a settlement right on Plymouth Rock! In this and a hundred other ways, the spectacular dumbnification of American culture proceeds apace in this, the age of Trump.

Into this wilderness, two Thursday ago, wandered Professor Silverman. He too was concerned about "Americans’ grade school Thanksgiving pageants." But to our ear, he highlighted dogmatic ideological scolding over the simpler pleasures of dumbness alone. Headline included, his column started like this:
SILVERMAN (11/28/19): The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth

Generations of Americans have told themselves a patriotic story of the supposed first Thanksgiving
that misrepresents colonization as consensual and bloodless.

The story goes like this: English Pilgrims cram aboard the Mayflower and brave the stormy Atlantic to seek religious freedom in America. They disembark at Plymouth Rock and enter the howling wilderness equipped with their proto-Constitution, the Mayflower Compact, and the confidence that they are God’s chosen people. Yet sickness and starvation halve their population during the first winter and challenges their faith.

Meanwhile, the neighboring Indians (rarely identified by tribe), with whom the English desperately wish to trade for food, keep a wary distance. Just when Plymouth seems destined to become another lost colony, miraculously, the Natives make contact through the interpreters Samoset and Squanto (the story sidesteps how these figures learned English, nor does it explain why the Indians suddenly became so friendly). The sachem (or chief), Ousamequin (whom the English know, from his title, as “Massasoit”), even agrees to a treaty of alliance with Plymouth.

Over the spring and summer, the Indians feed the Pilgrims and teach them how to plant corn; the colony begins to thrive. In the fall, the two parties seal their friendship with the first Thanksgiving. The subsequent 50-year peace allows colonial New England and, by extension, the United States to become a citadel of freedom, democracy, Christianity and plenty.

As for what happens to the Indians next, this story has nothing to say. The Indians’ legacy is to present America as a gift to white people—or in other words, to concede to colonialism...
According to the professor, what was wrong with that "patriotic story" about the supposed first Thanksgiving? It didn't include an account of what happened fifty years later!

The professor's sarcastic tone is evident from the start. In his rendering, the dumbness belongs to those "generations of Americans" who told themselves that "patriotic story" of the supposed first Thanksgiving without even identifying the Indians at the first Thanksgiving by the name of their tribe!

The professor performs side-eye with respect to traditional themes of the search for religious freedom, even at the traditional idea that these settlers could be seen as "brave" in some possible way. And their peace treaty only lasted fifty years! For the record, that's how long wars were running in the Europe they abandoned at that benighted point in time.(According to the leading authority, the Pilgrims decided to leave Holland, in part, because "the truce was faltering in the Eighty Years' War, and there was fear over what the attitudes of Spain might be toward them.")

In Silverman's column, we get to roll our eyes at the Pilgrims' laughable 17th century religious understandings which we, in our astonishing brightness, have moved so far beyond. Good liberals will also know that we're rolling our eyes at the idea that the subsequent nation, the United States, emerged as "a citadel of freedom, democracy, Christianity and plenty," a silly set of popular understandings our tribe has moved far past.

These elements of the column involve the professor's capacity for tedious, tired old snark. The dogma emerges with his scolding remarks about colonialism.

Just to be perfectly honest, colonialism wasn't fully explained in most second grade pageants. As part of his amazing erudition, Professor Silverman knows more about this unfortunate topic than generations of Americans were willing to tell second-graders.

That said, no one advocates colonialism today. Everyone understands the fact that, to borrow from Frost, "the deed of gift was many deeds of war" as English settlement of this "new world" proceeded.

Everybody understands the problems with the conduct which followed that first Thanksgiving, both in New England and elsewhere. But uh-oh! Thanks to the tiresome scolding of higher-fallutin' people like Silverman, voters decide that the liberal world really is too dogmatic in its "political correctness." They stand in line to vote for Trump, who recently declared his brave opposition to the unfolding war of Thanksgiving which he finds so vile.

Silverman's column is almost as childish as the story which was told at those second-grade pageants. This is a shame, because the history of the Americas before and after contact with Europe is a deeply fascinating story, featuring a mountain of material everyone doesn't already know.

Silverman scolds, but Charles Mann dreams, imagines, admires, ruminates, instructs. His rumination on these topics received its first full airing in his widely acclaimed 2005 book, 1491: New Revelations of The Americas Before Columbus.

Mass was a journalist at that time, not a professor. He was a bit of a "Katherine Boo type;" he was working on the most intelligent levels of American journalism before his acclaimed book appeared.

His cover report from the March 2002 Atlantic gave an inkling of the book to come. The report appeared beneath this partial synopsis:
1491
Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe...
Unfortunately, that sub-headline suggests that Mann will be engaging in invidious comparisons designed to tilt our sentiments against the Europe, and the Europeans, of those thankfully distant years.

Such childish comparisons are the stuff of our modern, flamboyantly flailing pseudo-progressive project. Mann's book takes us to a more remarkable, more intelligent place.

What was the nature of Mann's book? It placed a vast amount of erudition at the service of admiration and regret. In his review of the book for Salon, Steve Kettman lapsed fairly quickly into the inviting culture of invidious comparison. But before he did, Kettmann described the volume's vast sweep, and its power:
KETTMAN (9/29/05): As he explains in a useful preface to "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," Mann had been waiting, at least since the early 1990s, for someone to publish a book pulling together the wealth of research conducted in recent years to redefine radically how we think of our continent's history. But no one did. He finally decided that he was going to have to write the book himself. "1491" is less a self-contained work per se and more an induction ceremony into what, for many readers, promises to be a lifelong obsession with the startling new perspective slowly opening up on this prehistory.

What's most shocking about "1491" is the feeling it induces of waking up from a long dream and slowly realizing just how thoroughly one has been duped.
We all knew there were problems with the old narrative of brave European settlers crossing the Atlantic to find an empty continent, but it's jarring to discover, as Mann tells us, that in 1491 there were almost certainly more people living in the Americas than in Europe—and that, in many ways, American civilizations of the time were as advanced as anything across the ocean.
With his complaint that we've all been "duped," Kettmann starts buying in to the realm of complaints about Mommy and Daddy, and those past second-graders, who just wouldn't tell us the truth. That really isn't Mann's game.

Mann's book is the most remarkable volume we've read in the years we've been at this site. If we were to pull one passage from his remarkable tome, it would be this one, in which Mann describes the vast cultural wealth which was lost after encounter with Europe—lost, in large part, to the savage sweep of epidemics which no one understood at the time:
MANN (page 137-138): Having grown separately for millennia, the Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries, and all the other products of the mind. Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures. The simple discovery by Europe of the existence of the Americas caused an intellectual ferment. How much grander would have been the tumult if Indian societies had survived in full splendor!

Here and there we see clues to what might have been... [Examples follow]

Think of the fruitful impact on Europe and its descendants from contacting Asia. Imagine the effect on these places and people from a second Asia. Along with the unparalleled loss of life, that is what vanished when smallpox came ashore.
As noted above, Mann's book describes a Western Hemisphere which "was vastly more populous and sophisticated," at the time of first encounter, "than has been thought." Even now, we'd guess that this would qualify as (potentially inspiring) new information for almost everyone. Also new would be the astonishing role played by epidemic disease in what happened next.

Yes, there was "colonialism," and there were murderous "deeds of war." Impressively, Professor Silverman has seen through this way of life, along with virtually everyone else over the age of three.

But there also was the repetitive wave of epidemics which decimated native populations all through the Americas, North and South. These epidemics took whole populations and whole advanced civilizations down even before European soldiers could hope to accomplish such tasks.

The story is astonishing in a wide array of ways. In his column for the Times, Professor Silverman briefly mentions the epidemic which "took a staggering toll on [the Wampanoags'] population" from 1616 through 1619, just before the Pilgrims arrived.

To our ear, the professor floats the suggestion that this may have been deliberate on Europeans' part. Our childish tribe likes to play it in such waya. Mann describes the astonishing history of that particular epidemic in devastating detail:
MANN (page 60): Based on accounts of the symptoms, the epidemic was probably of viral hepatitis, according to a study by Arthur E. Spiess, of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and Bruce D. Spiess, of the Medical College of Virginia. (In their view, the strain was, like hepatitis A, probably spread by contaminated food, rather than by sexual contact, like hepatitis B or C.) Whatever the cause, the results were ruinous. The Indians “died in heapes as they lay in their houses,” the merchant Thomas Morton observed. In their panic, the healthy fled from the sick, carrying the disease with them to neighboring communities. Behind them remained the dying, “left for crows, kites, and vermin to prey upon.” Beginning in 1616, the pestilence took at least three years to exhaust itself and killed as much as 90 percent of the people in coastal New England.
Theories about the specific nature of that epidemic may have advanced since Mann's book appeared. At any rate, this devastation preceded the Pilgrims' arrival on the scene.

According to Mann, Ousamequin/Massasoit's immediate community was reduced from several thousand people to just sixty during this three-year plague. The larger confederation he ruled dropped from twenty thousand to fewer than one. Such stories played out all through the Americas, North and South, as European microbes actually moved ahead faster than explorers or soldiers could march.

Part of the unending surprise of Mann's book—of those "new revelations of the Americas before Columbus" which he reported as an extremely high-end journalist—involve what Europeans found as they encountered existing American civilizations. Tenochtitl├ín, today's Mexico City, was the center of the Aztec Empire. In Mann's account, this is what the Spaniards saw as they arrived on the scene:
MANN (page 140): Tenochtitl├ín dazzled its invaders—it was bigger than Paris, Europe's greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gaped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away...Long aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains across the lake and into the city. Even more astounding than the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens–none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren't ankle-deep in sewage! The conquistadors had never conceived of such a thing.)
Again, a passage like this may seem to involve Mann in invidious comparison of the "Europe bad, Americas good" school. That isn't the tone of the book.

Did the English settlers consider themselves to be "God's chosen people?" Possibly, but Mann describes the crackpot religious beliefs and behaviors which obtained in some of these pre-encounter American societies.

When he describes the possibly unfortunate human sacrifices practiced by the Aztecs, he compares the conduct to the widespread public executions being conducted in Europe at that time. In this way, he suggests the non-childish understanding that we humans had a long way to go, all over the world, at this particular point in time.

Back to New England! What did English settlers find when they landed on those shores?

They didn't find great cities like Tenochtitlan. They did find Indian populations whose housing they envied and admired as perhaps superior to the standard housing technology in England at the time.

Among survivors of the 1616 epidemic, they found people whose diet was more nutritious than the typical European diet. (Coastal Indian diets "averaged almost 2,500 calories a day, better than those usual in famine-racked Europe.")

They found people who were larger and healthier than the typical English settler. ("Time and again Europeans described the [coastal Indian groups] as strikingly healthy specimens.")

According to Mann, "Pilgrim writers universally reported that Wampanoag families were close and loving—more so than English families, some thought." But no, it wasn't all sweetness and light. Our human race had a long way to go at that time, as it does today:
MANN (page 46): Armed conflict was frequent but brief and mild by European standards. The casus belli was usually the desire to avenge an insult or gain status, not the wish for conquest. Most battles consisted of lightning guerrilla raids by ad hoc companies in the forest...Women and children were rarely killed, though they were sometimes kidnapped and forced to join the winning group. Captured men were often tortured (they were admired, though not necessarily spared, if they endured the pain seriously). Now and then, as a sign of victory, slain foes were scalped, much as British skirmishes with the Irish sometimes finished with a parade of Irish heads on pikes. In especially large clashes, adversariess might meet in the open, as in European battlefields, though the results, Roger Williams noted, were "farre less bloudy, and devouring then the cruell Warres of Europe." Nevertheless, by Tisquantum's time defensive palisades were increasingly common, especially in the river valleys.
If you don't count the kidnappings, the torture and the scalpings, these coastal Americans were the very good people and the Pilgrims, who didn't even call themselves Pilgrims, were the very bad.

It's impossible to capture the full range of the history offered in Mann's densely-written book. But what you find in Mann's book is admiration for the civilizations which existed in the Americas before first encounter with Europeans, combined with deep regret in the face of all that was lost through the astonishing epidemics and all the "deeds of war."

Mann offers ruminations which are extremely intelligent. AS almost anyone can see, "Who brought more food to the first Thanksgiving" is just stupendously dumb. But so is the silly scolding robotically dispensed by the know-it-all professors who stand opposed to colonialism and all the word conveys.

Everybody agrees on that, and many people agree about this. Our tribe is extremely hard to like, and seems eager to re-elect Donald J. Trump, defender of Thanksgiving tradition and all other popular holidays.

Material to dream on: Here's Mann, in 2005, on the nature of "the new scholarship:"
MANN (page 29): One way to sum up the new scholarship is to say that it has begun, at last, to fill in one of the biggest blanks in history: the Western Hemisphere before 1492. It was, in the current view, a thriving, stunning diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered knew that this world had existed. Now, though, it is returning to view. It seems incumbent on us to take a look.
It seems incumbent on us to take a look.

Or we can complain about who brought more of the food to that remarkable three-day feast in Plymouth. Because such questions are stupendously dumb, they are rushed into the New York Times as Stephen Miller cheers.

Can a modern-day nation survive this decline?

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2019

The New York Times ponders The Karens:
We'll postpone our review of Professor Silverman's Turkey Day takedown until Monday next.

On Tuesday, we'll turn to the most recent data from the PISA—more specifically, to the various things you weren't told about those international test scores.

For today, we'll direct your attention to a lengthy piece which appeared today, on line, at the New York Times. The piece appears under this dispiriting heading:
Editors' Picks
In fairness, the essay in question comes from the paper's Style desk, arguably the dumbest part of this sprawling exercise in modern-day, upper-end dumbness. More specifically, the essay hails from a subsection of Style which is packaged like this:
STYLE
Rites of Passage
Essays that explore notable life transitions and events, big, small and absurd.
This particular "essay" may be destined for inclusion in tomorrow's hard-copy editions, where it will get fullest Sunday exposure. That said, the "Editors' Pick" starts like this, on-line headlines included:
My So-Karen Life
I know Karens are hard. As a member of Gen X, I grew up surrounded by them.

While everyone is complaining about boomers, Gen Z doesn’t want you to forget to complain about Generation X, the other generation that’s significantly older than them that also sucks. This sucking is embodied by the name Karen, the young people have noticed—middle-aged white moms who are always asking for the manager and calling the police on perfectly fine pool parties and wondering why kids are so obsessed with their identities.

I am a Gen Xer, but I can only say to the Gen Zs, I feel you on the Karen thing so hard. Having a Karen as a mom must suck, but also, just imagine having thousands of Karens as your constant nemeses, for your whole life.

Here is my story.

I was born in 1969 and grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts.
I went to local public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and spent 1,600 hours a year with the same 65 to 70 kids. Roughly half of those people were girls. Seventy-five percent of those girls were Karens.
"Seventy-five percent of those girls were Karens," this Gen X survivor writes, referring to the highly objectionable collection of girls among whom she was consigned to live when she herself was a mere child.

The dumbness only continues from there, increasing and spreading out as it goes. Did we mention the fact that this "essay" is currently featured, on the Times' web site, as an "Editors' Pick?"

Regarding this exercise in dumbness, we'll only tell you this:

When upper-end culture becomes this dumb, the society which spawned and nurtured the dumbness is unlikely to survive.

Putting that a different way, you simply can't run a modern-day nation on this sort of fuel. You'll end up with a Trump every time.

That said, the Times has been running on this type of fuel for a very long time now. And as we've noted again and again, career "journalists" will never tell you this. The Times is simply too powerful.

We can think of three who tried: Katherine Boo, Gene Lyons, Clark Hoyt. The discussions their efforts might have started were strangled in their cribs.

Simply put, mainstream journalists will not discuss the intellectual disorder of the modern-day Times. But we will once again tell you this:

A modern society cannot survive with intellectual horizons like those which obtain at the Times. You'll end up with a version of Donald J. Trump every time.

Despondent future anthropologists have glumly told us, several times, that the mental age of the modern-day Times was something like 8 or 9. That mental age was on display in Charles Blow's recent Thanksgiving Day column. Long go, that mental age was on display when Maureen Dowd gave the world this:
DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel Pretty

I feel stunning
And entrancing,
Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .


O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.

If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour...
Two days before Election Day, in November 2000, Dowd pictured Candidate Gore singing "I Feel Pretty" as he looked in a mirror pondering his bald spot.

It was something like the seventh column Dowd had chosen to build around the problematics of Candidate Gore's problematic bald spot. The dead of Iraq look up from their graves at the mental age of the Hamptons-based editors who kept putting those brain-dead columns in print—and at our sprawling, self-impressed liberal world, which wasn't bright enough to notice that something was wrong with this ridiculous work.

(Dowd's gender-based trashings of Candidate Hillary Clinton were still seven years off. Eventually, Hoyt spoke up, in a column which gave rise to crickets.)

Today, the editors want us to ponder The Karens. A modern nation can't expect to survive when its reigning elites are this dumb.

How did our reigning upper-end elites ever get this dumb? Once again, we'll recommend Kevin Drum's work on lead exposure in the years when we modern-day adults were children. But whatever the explanation may be, the gauntlet is thrown down to you:

Are you able to see this state of affairs for what it actually is? Or are we going to diddle ourselves, as always, with the latest thing Donald Trump said?

After reading part of the essay about The Karens, we decided to check the writer's background. The Google whisked us away to her Twitter account, where she had just tweeted this:
"A friend just told me she goes #2 in front of her husband. Pls send help (to me)"
Can a modern nation survive this regime? In our own nation's case, the answer is already in. We already have our Trump!

That column by Blow was equally dumb. So was the more aggressive companion piece penned by Professor Silverman. We pity the teenage students he postures before. More on that topic on Monday.

The Times has been dumbing us down since forever. Can a modern society survive this regime? In our own nation's case, is it possible that the answer's already in charge?