A VERY STABLE DUMBNESS: How did AOC get where she is?

FRIDAY, JANUARY 24, 2020

She spills with remarkable talent:
Did the New York Times editorial board really do "Mayo Pete" wrong?

That's a matter of judgment! For ourselves, we were surprised by the interview snippets which aired during Sunday's hour-long TV show, in which the board pretended to clue us in on how their most recent sausage was hatched.

For ourselves, we were embarrassed by the dumbness of the "Mayo Pete" snippet. Also, we were surprised by Binyamin Applebaum's remarkably hostile tone.

Later, should we have been surprised by the board's full interview with Buttigieg? Should we have been surprised to see that the interview started off like this?
KINGSBURY (1/19/20): Thank you for coming. So, we have heard you obviously talk about health care and climate and the Middle East a lot in the debates, so we’re going to try to ask you some questions we haven’t heard you answer in the past, and you will be shocked to hear that we’d like to start with your time at McKinsey.

You graduated from Oxford with sterling credentials. You could have pursued any number of career paths from there, including the choice you ultimately made to join the military. Can you walk us through why you decided to go to McKinsey from there?

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, so the biggest thing was that I had a great academic education, but I was beginning to feel that there wasn’t as much real-world experience mixed in with it. That in particular, I was eager to do as many things as I could, touching as many fields as I could, and to understand business in particular, about how people and money and goods move around the world and how that works.

KINGSBURY: So you didn’t just want to make a lot of money?

BUTTIGIEG: What’s that?

KINGSBURY: You didn’t just want to make a lot of money?

BUTTIGIEG: I definitely noticed the paycheck and that was important, too. Yeah. I’m not going to pretend that that wasn’t on my mind, too.
At age 24, as he took his first job, was Pete just chasing the Benjamins? This strikes us as a very strange way to start an interview of this type.

That said, the board was perhaps a bit surprising again and again. This has often been the case, in the past thirty years, with the occasionally limited types who sit at the top of our press corps.

For the record, we aren't attempting to endorse the Mayonnaise Man. (He emerged from the session with a new handle: Rapmaster White 'n Bland.)

Our view? By normal standards, Buttigieg is too young, and too inexperienced, to be a viable candidate. On the brighter side, two of the other four front-runners are way too old by normal standards, and the fourth top contender spent several decades claiming to be Native American, which she plainly isn't and wasn't.

By normal standards, these top four contenders strike us as a highly beatable group. That said, the nominee, if there ever is one, will be running against the craziest person in political history. So at least there's that!

In our view, Buttigieg is way too young, but he's also transparently bright. He's so bright that he knew enough to answer The Question Posed to All The Hopefuls in the manner shown below:
KINGSBURY: We only have about half an hour left, so I want to turn to foreign policy, but before we do, I wanted to ask you one question which we are asking all of our candidates, which is, who has broken your heart?

BUTTIGIEG: I mean, Boston College. I was 11 years old. We were this close to the National Championship. And they came to South Bend, we were one game away, we had beaten Florida State, become No. 1. There wasn’t a B.C.S. back then, so when you finish the season undefeated, you’re the champion. And they came into our stadium, and they broke my little heart.
It's just as Mother always said: If you ask a silly question, you'll get a silly answer! So it went when Buttigieg had the smarts to stay away from the silly palaver the board had somehow dreamed up.

Did the Times editorial board have it in for Buttigieg? The interview seemed strange from the start, but he apparently ended up as one of the board's top four choices when they took an actual vote.

(On the TV show, the top four were said to be Warren, Klobuchar, Booker and Buttigieg, though not necessarily in that order. Ain't transparency grand?)

Someone apparently liked Mayor Pete; others did seem a bit hostile. Equally striking was a Buttigieg-themed piece which had appeared in the Sunday Times the same day the TV show aired.

The sprawling report to which we refer dominated the first page of Sunday's National section. The piece was written by Emma Goldberg, who's three years out of college.

(Yale, class of 2016. After that, she got a master's degree in gender studies at the University of Cambridge.)

Goldberg's piece involved the type of gender analysis the Times has (very) recently embraced. We'd say the topic is very important, but as with so many other topics, it's often pursued in the Times in the least insightful possible way.

The modern Times is rarely without a piece of this general type. Headline included, Goldberg started by repeating a Klobuchar complaint:
GOLDBERG (1/19/20): Would a 37-Year-Old Woman Be Where Pete Buttigieg Is?

Amy Klobuchar was 37 when she ran for Hennepin County district attorney. Her opponent, in a 1998 debate, labeled her “nothing but a street fighter”—to which Ms. Klobuchar responded, “thank you.” The image of a tough competitor is one that Ms. Klobuchar, who is now a Democratic senator from Minnesota and presidential candidate, has come to embrace. She swung a punch at a rival in her moderate ring during November’s Democratic debate, taking aim at Pete Buttigieg, then the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

“Do I think that we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience that he had?” Ms. Klobuchar said, speaking for her fellow female contenders. “No, I don’t. Maybe we’re held to a different standard.”

Ms. Klobuchar’s comment touched off conversations about whether a female version of Mr. Buttigieg—elected by fewer than 10,000 votes, with under a decade of experience—could have advanced so quickly in a crowded presidential field.
Klobuchar runs as a sensible centrist. In the instance cited by Goldberg, she was bellyaching hard.

Goldberg took the complaint and ran with it. By implication, sexism and misogyny were working against the female contenders again!

That said, we're able to answer Klobuchar's question, and the answer is largely no. In most cases, a 37-year-old woman would not have risen as fast as Buttigieg has. That said, the same is true of most 37-year-old men as well.

However Buttigieg might be judged overall, he's plainly a cut above the average political player in a type of pure intelligence. That said, has he only been permitted to rise because he's a talented man?

We'd have to say that the answer is no. Consider another rising star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

AOC is eight years younger than The Mayonnaise Man. Her rise to national prominence as a 29-year-old first-term member of the House was perhaps more remarkable than the rise of Mayo Pete.

Question: Would a 30-year-old man be where AOC is today? It's hard to imagine such a thing, but that's because it's hard to picture talent like hers until it comes along.

AOC has risen to prominence because she spills with political talent and appeal. In our view, her appeal may exceed that of Candidate Buttigieg—but he has plainly visible talent too, and so did Barack Obama in The Summer of '04.

Barack Obama was 43 in The Summer of '04. He was a little-known back-bencher in the Illinois state legislature—but the Democratic Party had already seen that he was massively talented.

(Back in 1991, both parties knew the same thing about the little-known Bill Clinton.)

Obama was chosen to give the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention—and when he did, he rocked the world. Less than three years later, he was was running for president, with major elements of the party and the upper-end press corps supporting him all along.

At the time, it was sometime asked: Could a very young, little-known white guy have risen as fast as Obama?

The answer, of course, was yes! But it's hard to picture such an unusually talented person until he comes along.

We like Candidate Klobuchar. We respect the type of person who comes up the traditional way, demonstrating that she can win local, then statewide, elections.

That said, Klobuchar doesn't have the kind of shooting-star political appeal of an AOC or an Obama. (She lacks "charisma," someone said on the TV show.) In our view, Buttigieg isn't on their level either—but he does possess a highly visible type of smarts which sets him apart from the field.

Goldberg may have been taught her critical theory well. Also, she's now at the New York Times, where a topic which isn't explored in a way which is perhaps somewhat scripted won't be examined at all.

Also, Goldberg is very young! Is it wise for the liberal world to cast its lot with such remarkably young and inexperienced journalistic leaders? It may save news orgs a couple of bucks, but is it a good idea?

The New York Times, an upper-class paper, has gone all in on race and gender in the past few years. The topics are very important, but the work may sometimes seem to tilt toward the scripted and the possibly somewhat dumb.

AOC has risen because she possesses highly unusual talent, as did Barack Obama. Speculation has already started about a White House race by AOC, once she's old enough to run.

Could a 30-year-old man be where AOC is? As a matter of fact, the answer is yes—if he had remarkable talent of the type she has.

If he had remarkable talent! Buttigieg is white and bland, the Times board thoughtfully told him. But he does possesses a type of visible talent. Just check out the smarts he displayed when asked who broke his heart!

Next week: Grievance Culture and Its (Scripted) Discontents

Wampanoags and Pilgrims in the Times once again!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 23, 2020

A familiar type of reporting:
There they were in the New York Times again! We were alerted to the report in the list of NOTEWORTHY FACTS found on this morning's page A3 (print editions only).

Somewhat oddly, Farah Nayeri's news report carried a London dateline. Hard copy headline included, it started off like this:
NAYERI (1/23/20): A New Thread on the Mayflower Narrative

In 1970, the Native American leader Wamsutta Frank B. James was asked to give a speech at a state dinner in Plymouth, Mass.
It was 350 years since the arrival of the Mayflower, and Mr. James, a member of the Wampanoag tribe that has inhabited what is now Massachusetts for 12,000 years, was invited to participate in the commemorations.

“This is a time of celebration for you—celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America,” his speech began. “We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.”

But that speech was never delivered. The event’s organizers had asked to see an advance copy, and proposed an alternative text. Mr. James chose not to participate. He led a protest near Plymouth Rock instead.

Fifty years have passed, and commemorations for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower crossing are now approaching. This time, Native Americans—particularly the Wampanoag Nation—are actively shaping the programming of events in the United States and Britain.
This "new thread" wasn't necessarily new to regular New York Times readers. During Thanksgiving week, the Times ran two separate opinion columns on this very same topic.

Today, the topic was back again, this time reported from London.

For whatever reason, some British groups will be staging a 400th anniversary commemoration of the Mayflower's passage this fall. The Mayflower story has never been an especially big event in England, but this year, things will be different.

This time, the perspective of the Wampanoags will be included, Nayeri stresses in her report. With that in mind, maybe someone should tell Nayeri what that perspective is.

Nayeri began her report as shown above, quoting the 1970 speech which was never delivered, the speech about the way the Wampanoags welcomed the Pilgrims in 1620, only to lose their freedom.

It's an important part of American and world history. But just a couple of paragraphs later, Nayeri was offering this:
NAYERI: [T]he Mayflower is a more politically charged subject on one side of the Atlantic than it is on the other. In the United States, generations of schoolchildren have learned that the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower signed treaties with Native Americans and celebrated the first Thanksgiving with them—a sugarcoated version of events that many historians consider a misrepresentation. In Britain, the Mayflower is barely mentioned in the school curriculum.

“In the United States, I’m having to unravel the misconceptions that are put out there in history,” said Paula Peters, a member of the Wampanoag tribe who is on the advisory committee for the American and British events and working on an exhibition of Native American belts as part of the British commemorations. “There is the myth of the Thanksgiving holiday that brings to mind for just about everybody the idea that Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims.”
In paragraph 2, Nayeri encouraged readers to empathize with the story in which the Wampanoags welcomed the settlers. By paragraph 7, she was quoting a contemporary Wampanoag who seemed to call the welcoming story a myth.

Nayeri didn't seem to notice the apparent contradiction. Especially at orgs like the New York Times, reports of this type tend to go like this.

The Wampanoag population is very small today. It would be interesting to learn more about the contemporary lives and experiences of these people.

Do Wampanoags tend to feel like part of the American fabric? Do they tend to feel like a people set apart? We grew up in Massachusetts ourselves. We'd like to know more about this.

As she continues, Nayeri quotes an official at the British Museum saying, “It is important that groups like the Wampanoag are getting more involved in bringing their side of the story to this.”

Presumably, that is true. Nayeri then describes some of the program which is being planned in Britain, quoting an artist who's playing a central role:
NAYERI: The British arm of the commemorations, known as Mayflower 400, is a rich cultural program featuring public artworks, performances and exhibitions around England, and has been put together in collaboration with members of the Wampanoag Nation.

The program will have a strong visual component. “Settlement,” a monthlong series of displays and performances by Native American artists, will be held in a park in Plymouth, England, where the Mayflower set sail.

“The narrative of the romantic Indian on the plain with buckskin and feathers is not what we’re trying to present—and it’s what I’ve experienced every time I’ve come to Europe,” said the artist Cannupa Hanska Luger, who is leading the “Settlement” project. “There’s a prevailing notion of us trapped in an 18th-century or 19th-century experience, and then also limited to just a single vision of what that would be.”

Mr. Luger said he had learned more about the Mayflower from his research for the British project than he had growing up in the United States, where the version of history taught in school was “super abrasive, and there is a silencing.”
Luger is finally getting to learn about the Mayflower. Much later in the report, we learn that he grew up on a reservation in North Dakota—that he himself doesn't hail from the Wampanoag tribes.

Then again, do modern Wampanoag members know the history of those unfortunate distant years any better than anyone else? We found ourselves wondering about that last fall. Nayeri lets the question slide past.

It's possible that this all makes sense, though it's also possible that it doesn't. In theory, it's a good idea to teach America's tragic, frequently brutal history with more accuracy and more clarity.

It's also true that revisionist history may sometimes tend to misstate, as we saw the Times' Charles Blow clownishly do back at Thanksgiving. Heartfelt enthusiasm will sometimes undermine accuracy although, on the brighter side, it may also tend to excite.

Meanwhile, in this morning's New York Times, the Wampanoags welcomed the Pilgrims, except that story's a myth. This is the way these stories tend to get told in the Times, one of the most caring and thoughtful upper-class newspapers found anywhere on the earth.

A VERY STABLE DUMBNESS: "Remarkably transparent," Cillizza proclaims!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 23, 2020

No talking point left behind:
Are the mainstream press, and the liberal world, possibly gripped, in some small tiny way, by the impulses future experts have called "a very stable dumbness?"

You're asking a wonderful question! We'd planned to examine that question this week, focusing on the burgeoning realm that's sometimes called "Death by Woke."

The New York Times' recent dual endorsement(s) threw that plan into disarray.

As we've skillfully noted, there's nothing automatically dumb about endorsing two candidates in a race only one hopeful can win. That's not the traditional way to play, but it could make a type of sense.

The TV show the New York Times aired was another story.

It reeked of dumbness in the way it aped the dumbest "reality shows." Beyond that, some of the interview snippets the Times chose to air did hint of that familiar dumbness. Even worse, some of the snippets struck us as highly misleading and journalistically unfair.

For one example, we would refer to a televised snippet involving Candidate Buttigieg, AKA "Mayo Pete." (The board had some good solid fun with that Internet meme, explaining to Buttigieg that the meme is based on the idea that he's both bland and white.)

Why doesn't the Mayo Man showcase more anger? In a snippet which appeared on the TV show, Binyamin Applebaum posed a remarkably prosecutorial question along this line in a strikingly hostile way:
APPLEBAUM (1/20/20): If I can put this question in a slightly different way, you’ve been on the front lines of corporate downsizing. You’ve been on the front lines of corporate price fixing.

BUTTIGIEG: Whoa, whoa whoa, that’s, that’s, I’m sorry, that’s—

APPLEBAUM: You’ve been on the front of our misadventures in foreign policy. You’ve had direct experience in many of the things that make a lot of young people very angry about the way that this country is operating right now. You don’t seem to embody that anger.

BUTTIGIEG: So the proposition that I’ve been on front lines of corporate price fixing is bullshit. Just to get that out of the way.
As it turned out, the Mayo Man had "been on the front lines of our misadventures in foreign policy!" Within this strikingly hostile line of questioning, this became the board's way of saying, "Thank you for your service."

In Tuesday morning's Times,
one letter writer complained about the board's interview with Buttigieg. We think his letter is worth presenting in full:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/21/20): I’ve been reading the transcripts of the interviews that the editorial board conducted with several of the major Democratic candidates for president. Until your interview with Pete Buttigieg, they were, for the most part, friendly and collegial. The interview with Mr. Buttigieg, which started with his stint at McKinsey & Company, was so hostile that it took my breath away. You would have thought his joining McKinsey as an entry-level employee was the equivalent of his traveling off to Syria to join ISIS.
We think that reader's reaction to the Buttigieg interview isn't far off base. In some ways, the snippets the Times chose to include in its TV show only made matters worse.

On balance, we thought the board's TV show was so silly as to be an embarrassment. In that sense, the program was painfully instructive.

That said, within the realm of the modern press, no silly claim, no matter how silly, will ever be left behind. So it went when CNN's Chris Cillizza critiqued the Times' "utterly confusing 2020 endorsement."

Cillizza scalded the board for endorsing two candidates. But he also offered these remarks, reinforcing a Times talking point:
CILLIZZA (1/21/20): [T]here's lots to praise the Times for in all of this. They took what is usually a totally secret process and made it remarkably transparent—releasing not only videos of their conversations with each of the candidates but also the deliberations of the editorial board after the interviews.
To their credit, the board had made the nomination process "remarkably transparent!" That claim strikes us as so absurd that we thought we'd spend one more day discussing what the board actually did.

Did the Times editorial board make their endorsement process "remarkably transparent?" Did they make the process transparent at all?

We think the claim is absurd. Again, we offer a set of questions which went completely unanswered:

Where in the world was James Bennet? James Bennet seems to be the head of the Times editorial board. But he seems to have played no role in any of the interviews or deliberations. Why not? No explanation was given.

Why did Kathleen Kingsbury make the final decision?
Throughout the TV show, Kathleen Kingsbury seemed to be in charge of the process. Here's how the end-game went down:

After the board's final deliberation, each board member was shown casting a vote for their top two choices. The top vote-getters, not necessarily in order, were said to be Warren, Klobuchar, Booker and Buttigieg (!). Kingsbury was then shown saying this:
KINGSBURY: I feel very torn. I don't know. I don't know what the answer is, but I actually—like, there's part of me that leaves this room like being a little bit terrified by the idea of choosing just one of them.

I have a few questions I want to ask to call the candidates specifically about and then I'll use that to make my final decision.
Why was the final decision left to Kingsbury? Despite the massive transparency, no one ever explained.

What were the vote totals? Viewers of the TV show saw "the silly high school canvas of votes" to which one letter writer referred (full text of her letter below). But viewers were never told what the final vote totals were. How transparent was that?

Did "the publisher" play any role? At one point in the TV show, we were told that Kingsbury made her decision, then shared it with "the publisher," a person who went unnamed. Did the publisher have any say in the final endorsements? Inquiring minds might sensibly want to know.

On what basis did Kingsbury make her decision? On what basis did Kingsbury make "[her] final decision?" Despite the vast transparency Cillizza spotted, this was never explained.

Somehow, Cillizza was able to watch this TV show and come away with the thought that the whole thing had been "remarkably transparent." In our view, the show was often remarkably silly, perhaps even tilting toward dumb.

That said, many questions about the endorsement process were left completely unaddressed. Cillizza's comments help us see that, within the world of the upper-end press, no simple-minded talking point is ever left behind.

Did Sunday evening's TV show perhaps expose us rubes to a surprising type of dumbness? One letter writer offered the take shown below.

In essence, her answer was yes. We think she was basically right.

Tomorrow: We return to our original scheduled programming

We think she was basically right:
In our view, the process wasn't hugely transparent, but it often seemed silly and dumb.

That said, what else is new? In our view, this letter writer basically got it right:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/21/20): Televising the editorial board’s Democratic primary endorsement decision on “The Weekly” on Sunday night turned out to be eye-opening—in all the wrong ways. From immaterial questions (“Who broke your heart?,” apparently asked of each candidate, and cruelly asked of Joe Biden) to the silly high school canvass of votes (“Write down your top two!”), the show had all the gravitas of bad reality TV. There was scant insight for those of us still deciding between Democrats.

Next time, please spare us the view of the sausage making and make a damn choice.
Upper-end journos just like to have fun! This has been true for a very long time, especially when they parade around covering White House elections.

Experts describe this as a vast "dumbness." However surprising that judgment may seem, we can't say that those experts are wrong.

Letter to Slate subjected to doubt!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2020

Even Slate can no longer be sure:
To make it in the modern media world, you have to dumb it way down. This very morning, over at Slate, the fun got started like this:
RICH JUZWIAK / JAN. 22, 2020 / 5:55 AM
I Live With Six Brothers and Have Sex With Two of Them. What Should I Call This?

JAMILAH LEMIEUX / JAN. 22, 2020 / 6:00 AM
Dear Care and Feeding: How Do We Stop Our Adopted Daughters From Fighting Over a Modeling Internship?

DANNY M. LAVERY / JAN. 22, 2020 / 6:00 AM
Help! Should We Let Our Flower Girl Walk Down the Aisle With Her Dead Sister?
You know? Basic life issues like those! Two hours later, it was this:
DANNY M. LAVERY / JAN. 22, 2020 / 8:00 AM
Help! My Friend Has Been Sharing Photos She Took of Me While I Was in a Coma.
Are you starting to see what we mean? Once again, basic life problems, not infrequently targeted at folk who were once in a coma.

A month or two back, we asked if we were really supposed to believe that these alleged problems were on the level. And hallelujah:

At the start of the month, one alleged problem seemed so absurd that even the journalists at Slate admitted they couldn't feel sure.

The problem had been sent to Stoya and Juzwiak, or so we were led to believe. Their report was headlined like this:
STOYA AND RICH JUZWIAK / JAN. 2, 2020 / 6:30 PM
Is It Unhealthy That I Paid My Best Friend to Have Sex With Me?
Again, a typical real-life concern, the kind they handle at Slate.

Stoya and Juzwiak began by responding, in typical fashion, to the highly believable real-life story they had received in the mail. Eventually, though, even they had to crack! Their analysis continued as shown:
Stoya: I think our writer is fooling himself to a certain degree. “Checking to see if we have compatible kissing styles” feels pretty sexual to me.

Rich: yeah, I mean, that almost reads like a fantasy scenario. “Oh I’m doing this … for science.” “I’m Doctor Love and I’m going to examine your mouth with my tongue.”

Stoya: So I’m not the only one somewhat skeptical of the truthfulness of this letter?

Rich: It definitely seems at least a little strange, especially the chain of events regarding his divorce and settlement. I always feel paranoid that someone will troll us by sending in a synopsis of a movie in the hopes of flying under our radar and us taking it seriously.

Stoya: I wouldn’t mind doing that, though. It could make a fun column. Dating advice for rom-coms.

Rich: That particular flourish—”During the conversation, I got a notification on my banking app that a sizable amount of money from the divorce settlement had been paid to me. It felt like the stars were aligned, so I paid some money to her straight away”—feels very scripted.
The ersatz life doctors continued from there, wondering if the letter was real.

Here at The Howler, the analysts lustily cheered. Finally! Finally, Slate's experts had received a letter which seemed so transparently fake that even they had been able to notice!

These columns have crept, then spread at Slate. They reflect a cultural drift which despondent future experts describe as "a vast stable dumbness."

The bosses at Slate have been dumbing it down. The dumbness isn't just found Over There, it's also widespread among Us.

A VERY STABLE DUMBNESS: Aristotle's picture prevails!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2020

Two scribes spot "well-informed experts:"
In the wake of Sunday night's cable show, the New York Times editorial board has been getting a bit of attention.

As presented, the hour-long TV show may have suffered from a bit of a "Cupcake Wars" feel.

Beyond that, the board—or, at least, the deputy editorial page editor—decided to endorse two candidates in a Democratic nomination fight which only one hopeful can win.

(No real attempt was made to explain how she reached the decision. She described the decision as hers, though she did share it with "the publisher.")

As we noted yesterday,
the board was mocked for its self-importance, but also for its self-indulgence. Kurt Andersen delivered the ultimate blow, saying the televised discussion snippets revealed board members to be "no smarter or more knowing or wiser than somebody at a dinner party."

In short, criticisms rolled down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. In the end, how should we regard the thirteen to seventeen different people who may sit on the board?

How should we regard the board? We were struck by a discussion which was posted at New York magazine's Intelligencer site.

Three of the journal's reporters or columnists debated whether newspaper endorsements have any real value at all. All in all, the discussion was perfectly sensible.

That said, we were struck by a larger problem. On the meta level, we were struck by the highlighted characterizations in this early statement by Josh Barro:
BARRO (1/21/20): I’m not sure they ever made sense. I’m not sure that unsigned editorials on any topic make sense....I don’t know what the particular expertise of the New York Times editorial board is supposed to be that gives these endorsements weight. They’re a bunch of well-informed liberals. But the people to whom this endorsement is directed largely are also well-informed liberals. They’re positioned to draw their own conclusions.
Barro described the board members as "a bunch of well-informed liberals." Beyond that, he may have suggested that they have some type of "expertise."

Moving much farther out on a limb, Barro even seemed to say that New York Times readers are "well-informed!" For today, let's stick with his characterization of the people who sit on the board.

Are Times board members "well-informed?" Do they possess "expertise?" Much more significantly, is that the fundamental or only way we should regard the board members?

That's the impression which may have emerged from this three-way discussion. As the discussion continued, Eric Levitz extended Barro's description in a series of remarks, and no one piped up to complain:
LEVITZ: I think the Times’ endorsements are a useful institution in the context of state and local races/ballot referenda—low salience, low visibility elections where a significant segment of the (low turnout) electorate might both want and heed the guidance of well-informed liberals.

[...]

And on those things, the subject-area expertise of certain board members is helpful.

[...]

[T]oday’s Times board is a semi-random assortment of left-of-center journalists and experts who have no reason to share a consensus take on the 2020 presidential race, and manifestly don’t.

[...]

[B]y its nature, the board can’t not be a collection of “extremely high-information, professional class” voters, and the Democratic primary electorate is not uniformly those things.
The overall discussion was perfectly sensible. That said, Levitz doubled down on Barro's initial characterization, even while drawing a useful distinction between the editorial board and the Democratic electorate.

Readers were persistently told that the New York Times editorial board is a collection of "well-informed" "experts," full and complete total stop.

Board members are “extremely high-information voters" possessed of "expertise." Full and complete total stop.

Full and complete total stop! When it came to the editorial board, no countervailing characterization was offered in this discussion.

How about it? Is the Times editorial board a collection of extremely well-informed experts? More to the point, is that the way we should think of the board, full and complete total stop?

We're going to say that the answer is no. We'll also say that Aristotle's ancient, unhelpful framework was very much alive and well in those characterizations.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal!" Aristotle is widely said to have said it.

It isn't entirely clear what he meant by whatever it is he actually said in the original Greek. But down through the annals of time, this characterization has come to define the way we humans tend to think of ourselves, at least over here in The West.

That said, we pose a question:

Can anyone read the New York Times and think they're being exposed to fully rational expositions driven by expertise, full stop?

Sadly, the answer to that question is yes. We hugely gullible liberal subscribers are strongly inclined to see the Times that way. This perceptual failure helps explain the current state of our failing democracy.

Briefly, let's be clear! The people who sit on the editorial board are not in charge of the newspaper's news reporting. Increasingly, that's the province of people barely out of college, people who may be heavily steeped in certain kinds of tribal propaganda.

Tomorrow, we'll return to the types of work which are increasingly being characterized as possessing "a very stable dumbness." Most of that work isn't done by the board.

On the other hand, some of it is.

Go ahead—we dare you! Watch the hour-long TV show the editorial board allowed to be broadcast.

(The program is available through FX or Hulu, or maybe through your cable On Demand.)

After doing so, ask yourselves if you just watched a set of discussions conducted by “extremely high-information" people possessed of "expertise," full and complete total stop.

When we watched, we thought we saw a fair amount of silly simpering of a horribly familiar kind. We also thought we might have seen occasional hints of tribal dumbness. Reading through the full transcripts of some of the interviews, the picture may have become a bit worse.

Within our modern upper-end journalism, there is no word that's more misused than the pleasing and silly term "expert."

Reporters constantly use the term in support of their own preferred views. Meanwhile, we liberals persistently read the New York Times without being able to see the presence of a very stable type of tribal dumbness.

We've lived with that unhelpful dumbness for a very long time now. By the nature of the species, it's hard for tribal members to see it.

Andersen seemed to say the dumbness was visible during that TV show. If the society hopes to survive, it's time to start spotting such manifestations, and also to loudly complain.

Tomorrow: Candidate Pete meets AOC, plus Greta and Barack

Who sits on the Times editorial board?

TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2020

We've been asking that question for years:
At least in theory, the New York Times editorial board is an important part of American upper-end journalism.

That said, who actually sits on the board? Over the years, we've periodically wasted time trying to figure that out.

How strange! It's easy to find a list of the Times' opinion columnists. Just go to the web site and scroll to the bottom. FRom there, you can learn in one click.

Similarly, it's easy to find a list of the paper's "op-ed contributors." But who sits on the editorial board? Even today, as we speak, we can't say we're totally sure.

Sunday night, the board endorsed two different people in a campaign only one person can win. They did so at the end of an hour-long TV show which seemed like a cross between Fox & Friends and (possibly) Cupcake Wars, a program we've never seen.

Whatever! We decided to use the Google machine in yet another attempt to see sits on the board.

We entered "New York Times Editorial Board." Up popped a link to this page—and the page is plainly quite recent.

The page carries the New York Times logo. Below that, it carries this title:
The New York Times Editorial Board
We seemed to be at the right place! After one paragraph of boilerplate, the page features head shots of seventeen people, along with their seventeen bios. You'd almost think they were the members of the Times Editorial Board!

To all the world, it looks like these are the (17) members of the Times Editorial Board! But at this very peculiar newspaper, few things are ever that simple.

Uh-oh! James Dao is the third person featured on the page—and his bio says this:
James Dao
Deputy Editorial Page Editor

James Dao has been a deputy editorial page editor for The Times since 2016. He oversees the Op-Ed section
, which produces opinion pieces for the daily Op-Ed page, the Sunday Review and the international Op-Ed section. In the past, Mr. Dao has been Albany bureau chief, a Washington correspondent, national correspondent and military affairs writer. He has also been the deputy metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. In 2010 and 2011, he reported an eight-part series about the yearlong deployment of an Army battalion in Afghanistan, “A Year at War.” The series won numerous awards for multimedia journalism, including an Emmy. Because of his areas of expertise, the editorial board asked Mr. Dao to join its endorsement process, though he is not an official member.
Uh-oh! Dao is deputy editorial page editor, but he isn't a member of the editorial board. Or at least, he isn't an "official" member. The actual members merely asked Dao to join the endorsement process.

Question! If Dao isn't a member of the board, why do his photo and his bio appear on an official page which rather plainly seems to list the members of the board?

At the Times, such questions can rarely be easily answered. Meanwhile, bios of two other people on that page—Aisha Harris and Charlie Warzel—explicitly say that they aren't members of the board either. The bio of Serge Schmemann leaves his status undeclared.

Seventeen people appear on that page. At least three of those people, and maybe four, aren't members of the board.

This would suggest that the board contains as many as thirteen or fourteen members. But who on earth, except the Times. has so much trouble creating a simple record?

One more confusing point:

At one of the three million sites the Times created in connection with the endorsement(s) process, the saga is described as shown:
OPINION
THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The Choice

Nine candidates. Fifteen journalists.
On the record. Let us help you decide who should be the Democratic nominee.
It's true! Though seventeen names appear on that list, only fifteen people seem to have taken part in the interviews with the Democratic candidates.

As best we can tell, Carol Giacomo, an apparent board member, didn't take part in the interviews. But apparently, neither did James Bennet, and he's the Times' editorial page editor! He's also described as the person who "oversees the board."

Bennet seems to be in charge of the board. Why didn't he take part in the deliberations? Similarly, why was the final decision left to Kathleen Kingsbury? Also, how did she reach her final decision?

The Times created a heap of buzz around the idea that this year's process would be hugely "transparent." That said, we can't answer the most basic questions about this highly transparent affair.

One final speculation, followed by one last question. First, our speculation:

Why did the Times add Harris, Dao and Warzel to the mix? Forgive us for our speculation, but the Times board isn't especially diverse on a racial and ethnic basis.

This fact will sometimes seem especially striking at a paper which is frequently telling everyone else on the face of the earth that they need to be more diverse.

The additions may have made the board look a bit more diverse. Since a TV show was being shot, this may have been part of this very strange's newspaper's thinking.

Now for our question, and our question has won awards:

How hard can it possibly be to create a reliable list of board members? Also, does anyone except the New York Times have trouble with such basic tasks?

Among other things, the New York Times is a giant, sprawling bureaucracy. Routinely, it produces ridiculous copy which seems to come from the maws of such a machine.

On a daily basis, the New York Times is much more interesting than the Washington Post. Unfortunately, that's because it almost always includes some article or analysis which is just comically awful.

So it went with its deeply underwhelming TV show. Maybe it's best when we the rubes can't see the sausage get made.

A VERY STABLE DUMBNESS: Don't forget to vote early and twice!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2020

The gang which couldn't endorse straight:
It remains amazingly hard to learn who sits on the editorial board of the New York Times.

More on that puzzle this afternoon. We can tell you this:

Kathleen Kingsbury is deputy editorial page editor of the Times. She's only been with the Times since 2017, but she does seem to serve on the editorial board.

Rather plainly, Kingsbury seems to have been in charge of the process which recently issued in the paper's presidential endorsement(s). James Bennet, the editorial page editor who "oversees the editorial board," doesn't seem to have taken part in the process, a fact which has gone unexplained.

Briefly, let's be clear:

When we say that Kingsbury was in charge, we refer to Kathleen Kingsbury, not to Alex Kingsbury, who also seems to sit on the board.

These Kingsburys traveled to the Times from the Boston Globe in the past few years. Are they spouses? Siblings? Should it seem strange to see spouses or siblings serving together on an editorial board?

Despite the most transparent endorsement process in history, we can't answer such questions. We can't even tell you, with full certainty, who's on the aforementioned board.

Whatever! As is perfectly appropriate, Kathleen Kingsbury seems to have been in charge of the endorsement process. That fact seemed clear on the Sunday night's hour-long cable broadcast, in which the public was given an unfortunate look at the way the endorsement(s) were chosen—at the way the sausage was made.

The board is currently being mocked as the gang which couldn't endorse straight. The ridicule stems from the fact that the board decided to endorse two candidates in a Democratic nomination fight which only one hopeful can win.

That decision was quite unusual—"unprecedented," even! Arguably, the board made matters somewhat worse when it decided to endorse each of the female candidates who currently have a chance to prevail, then closed its editorial with the arguably unfortunate riposte, "May the best woman won."

Given the state of our failing culture, reactions were preordained. On the left, overwrought types quickly tweeted that the board was saying that it takes two women to do the job of one man.

On the right, a second reaction was preordained. The board is so tragically woke, pundits said, that it felt it had to endorse both possible women. The New York Times was willing to leave no woman behind!

Given the way the New York Times has been flirting with Death By Woke, that second interpretation did quickly pop into our own heads when we learned on the twin endorsements. That said, it may just be that this closely resembles the way the votes of the board members really came out.

Should the board have endorsed two people in a race only one can win? It seems like a slightly odd thing to do, but Moses presented no tablets establishing rules for such matters.

We'll suggest a different objection—though we'll also say that something important can be learned from this widely ridiculed endorsement event.

At the start of Sunday night's TV show—it aired at 10 PM Eastern on FX—(Kathleen) Kingsbury explained how the endorsement process works. A tiny suggestion of self-praise may have been in the air:
KINGSBURY (1/19/20): Every election year, we invite all the candidates to New York and we interview them.

We sit down and we ask them tough questions, questions that they're not being asked on the debate stage or on the campaign trail. And then finally, we make a decision.
Those intrepid board members! They pose "tough questions" to the hopefuls, the questions they're not being asked!

Soon, we were treated to one example. It came from Kingsbury herself. She posed a tough one to Candidate Biden:
KINGSBURY: Sir, we’re running out of time and I want to get to some economic questions as well as foreign policy.

But before that, we have been asking every candidate the same question, which is, who’s someone who has broken your heart?
She wanted to ask about the economy and of course about foreign affairs. But before she did, she wanted to know who has broken Joe's heart!

In a letter in this morning's Times, a writer says this question was cruel, given the well-known personal tragedies Candidate Biden has faced.

In fairness, though, Kingsbury wasn't joking when she said that this same question was being posed to every one of the candidates. Here she is, posing the same tough question to Candidate Warren, this time with a tough follow-up:
KINGSBURY: Well, one more personal question for you. Who has broken your heart?

WARREN: My first husband.

KINGSBURY: Why? Do you mind telling?
To her credit, Candidate Warren said that she did mind. Below, you see the deputy editorial board editor posing the tough one to Bernie:
KINGSBURY: I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a couple of more personal questions. Can you give us an example of one person who’s broken your heart?

SANDERS: [AFTER A LONG PAUSE] What, on a personal level?

KINGSBURY: Yeah.

SANDERS: No. I won’t. Even candidates for president of the United States have a limited amount of privacy.
Two leading candidates ducked the question. Only of the the pair got endorsed!

Deputy Kingsbury did indeed ask that question of every hopeful. Let us say this about that:

We'll assume that Kathleen Kingsbury is a good, decent, admirable person. Her official bio at the Times reads, in part, as follows:
NEW YORK TIMES: Kathleen Kingsbury is deputy editorial page editor of The New York Times. She joined The Times in 2017 from The Boston Globe, where she served as managing editor for digital.

Ms. Kingsbury joined The Globe’s editorial board in 2013 and later edited Ideas, the paper's Sunday section aimed at tackling the new thinking, intellectual trends and big ideas that shape our world. In this role, Ms. Kingsbury was also a deputy managing editor and the deputy editorial page editor.

She was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished editorial writing for a series on low wages and the mistreatment of workers in the restaurant industry. The same eight-part series, “Service Not Included,” also received the Scripps Howard Foundation’s 2014 Walker Stone Award for editorial writing and the Burl Osborne Award for editorial leadership from the American Society of News Editors.
(Kathleen) Kingsbury may be the world's greatest person. But she, like so many others, is part of a fatuous, upper-end journalistic culture which long ago began leaving this nation for dead.

As far as we know, no one has ever explained why the final decision on these endorsements was hers. But just for the record, Kingbury is shown saying this to the rest of the board after their final discussion of the candidates:
KINGSBURY: I feel very torn. I don't know. I don't know what the answer is, but I actually—like, there's part of me that leaves this room like being a little bit terrified by the idea of choosing just one of them.

I have a few questions I want to ask to call the candidates specifically about and then I'll use that to make my final decision.
Why was the final decision hers? On what basis was it finally made?

In this most transparent process of all time, no explanations were given. For ourselves, we find it less than impressive to see Kingsbury saying she feels terrified by such a decision—when she says how much she "hemmed and hawed" before she reached that decision.

Even for us, what we saw in that TV hour was less impressive than what we would have imagined. In fairness, no one is known to have died in the filming of the Times' TV show. Also, no one was asked what kind of tree they would be if they could be a tree.

That said, anyone watching Sunday's embarrassing TV show might well come away with a valuable lesson. For our money, Kurt Andersen captured it with this invaluable tweet:
ANDERSEN (1/20/20): Most mortifying self-own of the Times TV show (as opposed to the good hours of interviews) was when they discuss each candidate. Not just undignified reality-show-judge-ish, but the total demystification—they’re no smarter or more knowing or wiser than somebody at a dinner party.
They’re no smarter or more knowing than somebody at a dinner party? Based simply on the TV hour, we'd have to say that Andersen is possibly being too kind.

Andersen's tweet suggests that the actual interviews with the candidates were less dumb than one might think from watching the TV program. That would almost have to be true—but on balance, the TV hour was an embarrassment, as many others have said.

One such observer is New York magazine's Raymond. Before posting Andersen's tweet, he made these accurate comments:
RAYMOND (1/20/20): Nine candidates, one prize, loads of drama—for the first time since handing out its first presidential endorsement to Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Times’s process of announcing its pick for the next commander-in-chief drew comparisons to The Apprentice and LeBron James’s “The Decision.” What was billed by Kathleen Kingsbury, the deputy editor of the editorial page, as the “most transparent endorsement process to date” was instead a self-indulgent spectacle that seemed less transparent than performative.

“The promised inside look at how the Times made one of its most ostensibly important decisions of the year turned out to mean viewers spent an hour watching the paper crumble under the weight of its own self-importance,” Ashley Feinberg wrote for Slate.

The whole show was a contrived bit of drama meant to satisfy the demands of a TV show
, which meant keeping viewers hooked until the end to find out who the paper would choose. While some took issue with treating an important election with such frivolity, others noted the irony of the Times criticizing Trump’s reality TV presidency while turning its own endorsement into reality TV.
Even Feinberg got it right! Can Schwedel be far behind?

Dating to the days of earth tones and "invented the Internet;" dating to the days when mainstream reporters hid in the bushes, late at night, to see if Candidate Hart had a girl friend;

Dating to the days when Maureen Dowd sent America to the polls with visions of Candidate Gore singing "I Feel Pretty" in their heads; dating to the evening when Bernie Shaw asked Candidate Dukakis what he'd do if his wife was raped and murdered;

Dating through all those pre-Trump years, this nation has been afflicted with the viral intellectual sickness which is known as upper-end press corps culture.

That culture has dropped a remarkably stable type of dumbness on the heads of our failing nation. If you watch Sunday's TV show, you'll see that culture in action, if only in the fact that the Times was so dumb that they didn't understand how dumb that show would seem.

Who's so dumb that they couldn't see how dumb that show would seem? How much it would look like the dumbest kind of reality TV? How much it would resemble the televised dumbness which once came from an earlier version of Trump? How it would seem to reek of the self-indulgent self-importance Raymond thought he spotted?

Kingsbury wanted to talk about serious issues, but she kept popping her really tough question instead. No candidate was asked what tree they would be, but based upon other televised manifestations, surely some members were wondering.

How do people from normal backgrounds become so dumb and so fatuous? Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves are working on that question today, despondently seeking an answer.

Who has broken your heart? Might a sensible person start by naming the a certain newspaper?

This afternoon: Who actually sits on that board?

Tomorrow: Even younger than Mayor Pete!

OUR FIRST WEEK OF RATIONAL ANIMAL TALES: Digest of last week's reports!

MONDAY, JANUARY 20, 2020

All this week, A Very Stable Dumbness:
Last week, we started a lengthy series of reports which will lead us all the way back to Lord Russell and the later Wittgenstein, even to the set of all sets not members of themselves.

More precisely, we started our Rational Animal Tales—reports about the way our species, the famous rational animal, ended up suffering the global conflagration which future experts are already glumly describing as Mister Trump's War.

In the next few weeks, we'll survey a few ongoing failures by members of our floundering species. From there, it's on to Lord Russell and his famous set of all sets!

Last week, our first set of reports concerned a peculiar manifestation from the realm of popular culture. Our reports ran under that generic heading, Rational Animal Tales:
Rational Animal Tales—Week One
Monday, January 13: Atticus Finch complicit in murder! Strong hints of Woke Gone Wild!

Tuesday, January 14: Sorkin discerns the real Atticus Finch! #InterrogationSoDumb.

Wednesday, January 15:
It can get very dumb at the top of the heap. The Summer of '35!

Thursday, January 16: Atticus said to [HEART] Bob Ewell—and he calls to mind Donald J. Trump!

Friday, January 17: West Wing enables The Death of the West. The Autumn of '99!
This week, we'll be exploring A Very Stable Dumbness—the persistent, semi-comical dumbness on display at the New York Times. For our first report in this series, you can just click here.

After a few more weeks, we'll reach our ultimate destination. We'll issue a series of reports, In the Lair of the Rational Animal!

Starting with our own experiences in Professor Nozick's Phil 3 course, we'll explore what the logicians were doing in the hundred-plus years before the Trumpism crept, then took hold.

For the record, it's too late for any of this to matter. It's too late to expect to find a way out of our current mess. Those Iowa polls can't help us now. Neither will all those putative "plans." Nor will the mugging and clowning.

Or at least, so we're told by the future experts who are now directing our work. They inform us through the peculiar nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as dreams.

Though she isn't a fully credentialed expert, Cassandra is often there. It's all over now but the anthropology, or so these glum scholars have said.

Full disclosure: All reports are prepared in consultation with Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves, a fully-credentialed, award-winning group of disconsolate future scholars.

A VERY STABLE DUMBNESS: Rational animals just wanna have fun!

MONDAY, JANUARY 20, 2020

The dumbness of the times:
In Saturday's print editions, the headlines sat at the very top of the New York Times' front page.

Journalistically, they came from a traditional place. The headlines read as shown:
U.S.D.A. Tries To Relax Rules On School Food
Easing Meal Standards Obama Encouraged
Journalistically, the headlines came from a traditional place. Sadly, though, the headlines weren't entertaining enough. They weren't catchy, or a whole lot of fun.

The headlines sat atop a news report by Lola Fadulu, who's two years out of college (Amherst, class of 2017).

Fadulu is currently at the Times as part of a one-year "fellowship program," the successor to the paper's intern program. Especially if she can escape from the Times, she may go on to have a brilliant career, and we hope she does.

At any rate, the news report by the very young scribe sat at the very top of the Times' hard-copy front page. But at the modern New York Times, the editors want us to have fun!

To a striking degree, the modern Times is devoted to dumbness and the silly. Perhaps for that reason, Fadulu's report now lives forever, enshrined online, under headlines which are dumber but more engaging:
Trump Targets Michelle Obama’s School Nutrition Guidelines on Her Birthday
The Agriculture Department proposed a rule that would further unravel nutrition standards set by Mrs. Obama when she was first lady.
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Some editor took those drab, gray headlines and made the readership's experience a lot more fun!

The headlines in the print edition came from an older world. In effect, they told a certain story "straight:"

The USDA was trying to relax certain rules concerning food served in schools. The proposed changes would ease standards which had come from the Obama Administration.

So the print headlines said. By way of contrast, the headlines which will live forever make the whole thing more fun. All of a sudden, Michelle Obama's birthday lay at the heart of the tale!

In fairness to the headline writer, Fadulu's report did begin with a rather shaky focus on the widely-admired former first lady's birthday.

The youngster had no idea whether the birthday was relevant, in any way, to the events at hand. But so what? She started with the birthday anyhoo, thus making the story more fun:
FADULU (1/18/20): The Trump administration moved on Friday to roll back school nutrition standards championed by Michelle Obama, an effort long sought by food manufacturers and some school districts that have chafed at the cost of Mrs. Obama’s prescriptions for fresh fruit and vegetables.

The proposed rule by the Agriculture Department, coming on the former first lady’s birthday, would give schools more latitude to decide how much fruit to offer during breakfast and what types of vegetables to include in meals. It would also broaden what counts as a snack.

A spokeswoman for the department said that it had not intended to roll out the proposed rule on Mrs. Obama’s birthday, although some Democratic aides on Capitol Hill had their doubts. Food companies applauded the proposal, while nutritionists condemned it, predicting that starchy foods like potatoes would replace green vegetables and that fattening foods like hamburgers would be served daily as “snacks.”
Some Democrats had their doubts—or at least, that's what they'd said. We'll note that the unnumbered doubters were just aides, and that their names were withheld.

There is no sign that the unnamed aides had any idea what was true. But so what? At the Times, this manifest bit of piffle led the front-page report. Under the guidance of an editor who mercifully remains unnamed, that's the way the young reporter ended up deciding to start.

The young reporter had no idea whether Obama's birthday was an actual part of these events, but it did make the story more fun. It also tickled prevailing tribal feeling, in which our sense that The Others are very bad makes it hurt, and therefore feel, so good.

The young reporter had no idea if the birthday was part of the story. But so what! With the help of an editor who only had at heart her getting lost, the birthday element led her report, then migrated into the headlines.

This is the way the news gets served at the modern New York Times. The modern Times, quite routinely, is a very dumb publication—but given the branding surrounding the Times, the very basic point can be quite hard for liberals to grasp.

As Fadulu continued, she managed to work Sarah Palin into her piece—and also, Eleanor Roosevelt! She quoted emotional language about the way "our babies" get fed.

At times, her news report seemed more like an admiring profile of Michelle Obama than like a report on the topic at hand. We think of sprawling testimonial passages like this:
FADULU: Combating childhood obesity was Mrs. Obama’s signature issue, a rallying cry for her supporters and a lightning rod for conservative critics who saw it as epitomizing the liberal “nanny state” of the Obama era.

Mrs. Obama pressed to update federal nutrition standards and to bring healthier foods to schools.
She planted the White House kitchen garden on the South Lawn — the first real garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II “Victory Garden” — and invited students to sow and harvest it each year. And she created the first Task Force on Childhood Obesity and developed the “Let’s Move!” campaign that aimed to get children to engage in 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Mrs. Obama’s work “improved the diets of millions of children, especially vulnerable children in food insecure households,” said Juliana Cohen, a nutrition professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. More students are eating vegetables and whole grain-rich foods because of the former first lady.

“Food waste was a problem before the healthier standards were enacted, so rolling them back won’t solve that problem,” Ms. Cohen said. “It’s just that more people are paying attention to the issue now.”

With nearly 14 million American children, or about 19 percent, considered obese, few doubted Mrs. Obama’s intentions. And with more than 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, school meals were a powerful way to target poor diets. Of that total, 22 million children are from low-income families.
"Few doubted Mrs. Obama's intentions!"

In fact, many did something much like that, Over There on The Other Side, Where The Wild Things Are. We base that rather obvious claim on Fadulu's previous statement about conservative critics' complaints concerning "the nanny state."

That said, as Fadulu went on and on, you'd almost think that the widely-admired Michelle Obama had spent eight years as president. Trust us! The way this silly paper is going, they may soon be making that claim, perhaps as part of their ongoing, clandestine "UsToo Project."

On the front page of Saturday's Washington Post, an experienced reporter handled this topic in a much more traditional way. If anything, her report was a bit dry, but it included a great deal more information than Fadulu's report while being a lot less fun.

At the Times, they managed to borrow from the Beatles, saying it was her birthday. In reaction to the report, we received a gloomy nocturnal submission from a group of disconsolate future anthropologists. Their despondent message glumly said this, discussing the years before the onset of Mister Trump's War:

"It was at the Times that Death by Dumb joined hands with Death by Woke."

In truth, the modern Times is a purveyor of a very stable dumbness. We'll offer comically awful examples every day this week.

Tomorrow: Go ahead! You can laugh out loud! The editors couldn't decide!

Do you regard Vox's presentation as dumb?

SATURDAY, JANUARY 18, 2020

Also, (all but one of) The Reasons Why Hillary Lost:
At some point, should a major political movement decide to reject the transparent dumbness of its thought leaders?

Should political players decide that it isn't OK to be transparently dumb in pursuit of legitimate values? Over the past month, we've been asking ourselves these questions.

Golden Globe nominations were announced on December 9. It's been A Furious Time in the Neighborhood ever since.

Liberal and feminist pundits have declared that Greta Gerwig and her film, Little Women, have been widely "snubbed" on the basis of gender. In our view, gender fairness is very important, but so is avoidance of transparent dumbness.

With that in mind, how about it? Do you regard this recent presentation in Vox as dumb?
GRADY (1/13/20): On Monday morning, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women was nominated for the 2020 Oscar for Best Picture. It also racked up five other nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay. But Gerwig herself was notably shut out of the Best Director race.

Those two categories have traditionally tended to closely replicate each other
, on the grounds that the directors who did the best jobs probably made the best movies. But on a fairly regular basis, the Oscars have opted not to nominate directors from disenfranchised groups, Best Picture nomination or not: When Selma was a Best Picture nominee in 2015, director Ava DuVernay, a woman of color, was not nominated. Only five women directors and 22 directors of color have ever been nominated.
The presentation goes on from there, leading to a claim about the "consistent snubs" suffered by Gerwig as endless industry groups have handed out their endless nominations and awards.

It's certainly true that women have rarely been nominated for Best Director Oscars. When Gerwig was so nominated two years ago, she was just the fifth woman to receive such a nomination.

That said, was she somehow "snubbed" this year? This brings us back to our original question:

Do you regard that presentation by Vox as dumb?

The presentation turns on a vastly misleading statement. Truth to tell, the statement in question is really just wrong. The statement in question is this:
Two Oscar categories—Best Picture and Best Director— "have traditionally tended to closely replicate each other, on the grounds that the directors who did the best jobs probably made the best movies."
On the basis of that statement, we're asked to believe that Gerwig was discriminated against this year. Righteous anger spread through the land, but that statement by Vox was just dumb.

In fact, that angry statement was tremendously dumb. This is why we say that:

As of 2009, the statement in question was accurate. Right through 2009, the Oscars dispensed five nominations for Best Picture each year, along with five nomination for Best Director.

Almost always, the people who directed the Best Picture nominees were nominated for Best Director. For a reason everyone understands, that changed after 2009.

Starting in 2010, the Oscars began nominating up to ten films for Best Picture each year—but there are still only five nominations for Best Director. Stating the obvious, this means that many directors of Best Picture nominees don't get Best Director noms.

How hard can it possibly be to understand this point? Starting in 2010, the numbers break down like this:

Over the past eleven years (2010 through 2020), 98 different films have been nominated for Best Picture. But there have been only 55 Best Director nominations.

Two Best Director nominations have gone to people whose films weren't nominated for Best Picture. This means that of the 98 people who directed a Best Picture nominee, only 53 received Best Director noms.

Eleven years later, are we still unable to understand the way this system works? Over the past eleven years, 46 percent of the people who directed a Best Picture nominee didn't receive a Best Director nomination!

Gerwig was one of those people this year, along with two white men and one man who is ethnically Maori. As everyone knows, this is the way the system now works.

(When DuVernay failed to get a Best Director nomination, so did three white men who had directed Best Picture nominees. One of the three was Clint Eastwood.)

"Those two categories have traditionally tended to closely replicate each other?" As everyone on the planet knows, that stopped being true after 2009.

But so what? There it was in Vox at the start of the week, with some unnamed editor waving the claim into print. In this way, we liberals were goosed into seeing our tribe as victims again.

Should Gerwig have been nominated for Best Director this year? We have no idea. Nor do we know of any reason to think that the principals at Vox bring any expertise or experience to this subjective question.

Gerwig was so nominated just two years ago, for another female-centric film. This makes the claim that she's now being discriminated against on the basis of gender this year seem especially stupid.

That said, we live in a time when The Culture of Irate Tribal Complaint has surged to impressive new heights. Discrimination on the basis of gender is, of course, a bad thing. But so is the spectacular dumbness which is increasingly put on display across the liberal world, winning votes for Trump.

Should liberals and progressives complain when tribal journalistic leaders behave this way, perhaps a bit like the shills at Fox?

In our view, the answer is yes—and there's a lot more to complain about. Consider Gene Lyons' new column, the one which touches upon The Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Lost.

When we discuss the reasons why Clinton lost, we're also discussing The Reasons Why Donald Trump Won. Lyons calls attention to the decades-long role the New York Times played in this debacle.

The Times' role in this debacle dates all the way back to 1992, when its bungled front-page reporting created the Whitewater pseudo-scandal. Quite literally, Lyons wrote the book on that puzzling journalistic affair, the heavily-disappeared Fools For Scandal.

In the course of his new column, Lyons discusses the role the Times played in pushing the transparently ludicrous Uranium One pseudo-scandal.

Uranium One was an especially stupid part of the Trump-Clinton campaign. It involved a set of ludicrous charges—charges for which Hillary Clinton has recently been "exonerated."

The Times pimped Uranium One through a gigantic front-page report in April 2015. In his new column, Lyons says this about that:
LYONS (1/15/20): Like Whitewater, [Uranium One] originated in a piece of absurdist journalism published by the mighty New York Times back on April 24, 2016 [sic]. Read today ... Well, the thing is almost impossible to read, which ought to have been a tipoff.

When you can’t make heads or tails of a newspaper article, it’s usually because the authors have no idea what they’re talking about
and hope you won’t notice. Here Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was murkily accused of taking a bribe from a Canadian philanthropist who’d long ago sold his interest in a Utah uranium mine of no great value. (U.S. ore production is a tiny fraction of the world market.) A Russian company bought it.

The Times produced no evidence that Hillary played any role in the transaction whatsoever—signed off on by nine separate U.S. government agencies unrelated to the State Department. But the newspaper had made a devil’s bargain with one Peter Schweizer, a Breitbart-affiliated Steve Bannon acolyte with a history of smearing Democrats.

It was one of those deals where all the “mistakes” ran in the selfsame direction. Correct the errors, fill in the blanks, and the presumptive scandal vanishes. Exactly as this latest, and presumably last, Clinton scandal has done.
So it went at the New York Times starting in 1992, with a detour of several years spent attacking Candidate Gore in transparently ludicrous ways.

Last week, Rachel Maddow gently chided the Times for its treatment of Uranium One. She forgot to mention what viewers of her own program were told about the crazy report when it appeared in the Times.

(Maddow herself completely avoided the topic. As we've noted down through the years, this is her standard play whenever Elite Upper-End Power is involved in assaults against major Dems. She mugs and clowns and entertains but also looks out for herself.)

The Times ran a jihad against Hillary Clinton (and Candidate Gore) which extended for roughly twenty-five years. This is one of the obvious reasons why Clinton lost (and Donald Trump won), unless you read lists of reasons recently compiled by Ed Kilgore and Gail Collins.

We'll assume that Vox was just being dumb concerning those Oscar nominations. At other times, leading journalists may simply refuse to tell us rubes the (whole) truth.

We'll get back to Maddow and Uranium One as we proceed with our award-winning "Rational Animal Tales." For today, let's conclude our rumination concerning Vox:

That recent presentation was transparently dumb. Will the time ever come when we liberals decide to reject this type of tribal behavior?

The anger is fine; the dumbness is not. Will we self-impressed "rational animals" ever decide to accept this?

Best Picture reviews in the Washington Post!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 17, 2020

Just as a small point of reference:
We've mentioned some movie reviews this week.

Movie reviews are subjective. Different people—even different major reviewers—will react to particular films in different ways, depending on various factors.

You'd think that everyone would understand this basic point. But it sometimes seems that we don't.

This morning, we were looking at the Washington Post's Weekend section. We decided to look at the number of stars the paper's reviewer, Ann Hornaday, gave to each Oscar Best Picture nominee this year.

There are nine Best Picture nominations this year, though only five for Best Director. Below, you see the nine films in question, along with Hornaday's ratings. The Post rates films on a four-star basis:
Washington Post, number of stars
Parasite: 4.0
The Irishman: 3.5
Jojo Rabbit: 3.5
Little Women: 3.5
Marriage Story: 3.5
1917: 2.5
Ford v Ferrari: 2.5
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood: 2.5
Joker: 2.0
Hornaday is a major mainstream reviewer. She gave underwhelming ratings to four of the Best Picture nominees.

(Based on this Metacritic page, several of those Best Picture nominees weren't all that favorably reviewed.)

On the other side of the coin, Hornaday gave four stars to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. On her year-end Best Movies list, she listed it as second best film of the year. As you can see at Metacritic, a very small number of other critics rated it that highly.

None of this means that she was "right." None of this means she was "wrong." Reviews, best lists and numbers of stars all involve matters of judgment.

In the end, there is no right or wrong to these assessments. It's amazing to see how many pundits may not have completely internalized this fairly basic point.

It's been a furious week in the neighborhood! That may not be a great thing.

Hornaday got it right: Yes, we know Hornaday a tad, and we like her a lot. But she's always honored in these parts for her 2002 review of Blue Crush, including these assessments:
Spectacularly filmed, well acted and snappily edited, "Blue Crush" exemplifies Hollywood at its best and most brazen: It's honest, even occasionally elegant, American pulp.

[...]

As in his first feature, the teen melodrama "crazy/beautiful," Stockwell has a good eye and ear for characters and their environments, and he is especially sympathetic with women characters.
How many stars did Blue Crush get? The Post's online review doesn't say.

For ourselves, we like Blue Crush, and the basic idea of Blue Crush, more with each year that goes by. We posted our own capsule review once before at this site:
"That's my sister! That's my sister!" This time, the girls get to win.
Inevitably, Stockwell was totally snubbed. The film has become a "cult classic."

RATIONAL ANIMAL TALES: West Wing and the death of The West!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 17, 2020

The Autumn of '99:
Sometimes, you just have to chuckle.

Wisely, that's the way we chose to react to the material shown below.

This is the way David Sims started his peculiar interview piece in the Atlantic last month. Sims is describing Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird:
SIMS (12/17/19): ...Sorkin’s dramatization of Harper Lee’s novel, which opened on Broadway last December, is an unexpectedly probing work that refuses to let an American classic go unchallenged. Instead, it stages two trials: One is from the book, in which Scout’s attorney father, Atticus Finch, defends Tom Robinson, an African American man accused of rape in 1930s Alabama, and tries to combat the community’s entrenched racism.

In Sorkin’s play, the other trial is of Atticus’s own nobility, and how it doesn’t always square with his grander vision of justice. Though the adaptation broadly follows the narrative arc of Lee’s novel, it uses Scout, her brother Jem, and her friend Dill (all played by adult actors) to cast a wary eye over some of the book’s more idealistic details. That framing encourages the audience to ponder the limits of Atticus’s impulse to empathize even with vile racists such as Bob Ewell, a man who’s trying to pin his own assault of his daughter Mayella on Tom. The play beefs up the relatively anonymous parts given to black characters in Lee’s work, gives Atticus’s kids a more argumentative nature, and sheds harsher light on the book’s somewhat pat ending.

The stage adaptation is nonetheless made with appreciation for Lee’s novel, and that mix of homage and update has translated into a family-friendly Broadway hit...
Some of that passage is perhaps a bit too fuzzy to parse.

"Atticus’s nobility doesn’t always square with his grander vision of justice?" Even after reading the full interview piece, we don't really know what that means.

Meanwhile, does Sorkin's Broadway adaptation "cast a wary eye over some of the book’s more idealistic details?" Presumably, that fuzzy formulation means that Sorkin is looking askance at "Atticus’s impulse to empathize even with vile racists such as Bob Ewell."

Rather plainly, the impulse to empathize with Ewell doesn't exist in Lee's famous book. But neither do many other actions and attitudes which Sorkin seems to have placed in his "family-friendly Broadway hit" which, we're told in that passage by Sims, "is made with appreciation for Lee's novel."

Does Lee's novel actually end with Atticus Finch covering up the murder of Bob Ewell? Does Ewell get murdered at all?

It would take a very strange person to understand Lee's novel that way, but Sorkin and Sims excitedly voiced these very strange thoughts before their session was through. And despite Sorkin's "appreciation" for Lee's book, he makes other vast rearrangements in the basic events of the book, as we've been noting all week.

Today, we'll quickly note one more. In Sorkin's adaptation, Bob Ewell apparently rapes his teenage daughter, an act for which Tom Robinson is accused and convicted, and dies.

Does Bob Ewell rape his daughter, Mayella Ewell, in Sorkin's "adaptation?" So several reviewers explicitly say in their reviews of the play.

That said, no one gets raped in the Harper Lee's actual book. But once Sorkin decided that Atticus Finch reminded him of Donald J. Trump, he apparently set out to create a family-friendly, hall-of-mirrors version of the famous novel.

Bob Ewell gets murdered after raping his daughter! Atticus dumbly convinces Tom Robinson to renounce the plea deal which would have saved his life!

And not only that! In the actual words of the overwrought Sorkin, the Atticus Finch of Harper Lee's novel "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."

In short, Sorkin seems to have created a version of To Kill A Mockingbird on acid. Most significantly, it seems to us that you have to be very dumb to believe the various strange things this guy has said along the way.

In fairness, no animals died in the course of adapting Harper Lee's novel. But what does it mean when our major cultural and political figures seem to be so dumb?

Sorkin strikes us as quite limited. For example, it seems to us that he completely misses the moral arc of Lee's intertwined (fictional) stories when he tells Sims this:
"Atticus isn’t the protagonist in the book or the movie; Scout is—her flaw is that she’s young, and the change is that she loses some of her innocence."
In Lee's novel, Scout doesn't just lose some of her innocence; she gains a deeply important understanding, an understanding which escapes many of Maycomb's adults.

At the end of the book, she comes to see that Boo Radley is an actual person. He isn't a figment of her imagination, or a source for the childish fantasies she and her childhood companions have always spawned.

Boo Radley's an actual person! This understanding escapes many of the town's white adults with respect to the scary, dumb stories they tell themselves about their black fellow citizens, including the innocent person who gets convicted of a capital crime.

That's the moral arc of the book's two intertwined narrative threads. Scout comes to see something very important. On the whole, her town's white adults do not.

Sorkin seems to have missed this. Setting such denigrations to the side, let's move ahead to The Autumn of '99.

What does it mean? What does it mean when our culture's most influential thought leaders are simple-minded, substantially limited in their insights, perhaps even just a bit dumb?

What does it mean when our Sorkins are so dumb that they can read To Kill A Mockingbird and think it ends with Bob Ewell's murder? Among other things, it means that our major thought leaders were doing things like this in The Autumn of '99:
Sorkin conceived the political drama The West Wing in 1997 when he went unprepared to a lunch with producer John Wells and in a panic pitched to Wells a series centered on the senior staff of the White House, using leftover ideas from his script for The American President. He told Wells about his visits to the White House while doing research for The American President, and they found themselves discussing public service and the passion of the people who serve. Wells took the concept and pitched it to the NBC network, but was told to wait because the facts behind the Lewinsky scandal were breaking and there was concern that an audience would not be able to take a series about the White House seriously. When a year later some other networks started showing interest in The West Wing, NBC decided to greenlight the series despite their previous reluctance. The pilot debuted in the fall of 1999 and was produced by Warner Bros. Television.
Sorkin and West Wing met cute! He pitched the show "using leftover ideas from his script for The American President," a family-friendly, sit-commy film about life inside the White House.

In The Autumn of '99, Sorkin debuted his next collection of family-friendly TV fare. As he did so, a lynch mob was running through the streets of Washington and New York—a mob which would send George W. Bush to the White House, plus Donald Trump sixteen years later.

Hillary Clinton was being slandered in The Autumn of '99, often in plainly misogynist ways. Candidate Gore was being slandered too, but so darn what? Flyweights like Sorkin were flitting around, entertaining us, and dumbing us down, with silly TV piffle.

How did Donald J. Trump reach the White House? The silence and dumbness of flyweights like Sorkin very much helped put him there.

Some of these people were in entertainment. Many others were in the upper-end press.

The Creeping Dowdism had taken hold. But so had the Sorkinism.

This week, we've been telling a Rational Animal Tale about a person who's so dumb that he can read Harper Lee's famous book and think Bob Ewell got murdered. Also, that Atticus Finch "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."

You have to be extremely dumb to go around saying stupid shit like that. Are you prepared to see how dumb, and even perhaps maybe how dishonest, our own tribe's leaders have been?

There's a whole lot more where Sorkin came from. The spectacular dumbness of this unchallenged group helps explain how we got where we are, with Donald J. Trump in high office.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal." Aristotle is said to have said that, long ago. Are you prepared see how wrong this famous figure was, if only on this one point?

It's anthropology, all the way down. Are you willing to go there?

Next week: The next in our award-winning string of Rational Animal Tales.

We expect to continue with some Little Women Snub Complaints. We'll move on to recent striking accounts of The Reasons Why Hillary Lost.

It's A Furious Day in the Neighborhood!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 2020

Pseudo-lib anger and dumbness:
Anger and dumbness were on wide display in the wake of this week's Oscar noms.

Increasingly, these are the fuels on which LiberalThink runs. Again, we'll recommend the angry screed run by the Washington Post under this self-assured headline:
Pop Culture : Analysis
This year’s biggest Oscar snubs, from Adam Sandler and Jennifer Lopez to women directing movies
The Post dragged out four different "pop culture" reporters to catalog all the snubs.

They told us who was "totally snubbed." They told us who is "consistently snubbed."

They told us which were the biggest snubs. They told us which of the (thousands of) omissions were "more glaring."

They told us whose fans were "angered," or were even "totally angry." These are the only metrics these "pop culture" scribes seem to know.

Increasingly, our liberal tribe is adopting the culture of Rush Limbaugh and Fox. Within this brain-dead culture, no complaint is too dumb to advance if it supports tribal scripts.

Today, we'll offer just one example. In the passage shown below, the four "pop culture" reporters complained about the lack of Best Director nominations for a female director:
IZADI, RAO, BUTLER AND YAHR (1/14/20): Many had hoped Greta Gerwig, who earned a directing nomination two years ago for her solo debut, “Lady Bird,” would again appear for her critically acclaimed adaptation of “Little Women.” But the fifth slot went to Todd Phillips, whose box-office juggernaut “Joker” landed the most nominations of any project despite being one of the year’s most divisive films.

There weren’t too many other women who stood a chance in this arena, though it’s worth noting that Marielle Heller, who has delivered two Oscar-caliber films with this season’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and last year’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” is consistently snubbed. Tom Hanks, who was nominated for his supporting role as Mister Rogers in the former film, told the New York Times he wanted to work with Heller after reading a story that inspired him to work with more female directors and, then, seeing her debut film, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.”
Should Heller have been nominated for Best Director?

We have no idea. Beyond that, we doubt that the four pop culture reporters have anything which dimly resembles expertise in this area.

That said, we can tell you this. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” wasn't especially well reviewed. Not even with Tommy in it!

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday was an outlier in this area. She picked A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as the second best film of the year.

Almost no one else reviewed the film that way. Very few mainstream critics had it on their "ten best" lists. Were all those critics, male and female, "snubbing" Heller too?

In her own screed about the Oscars, Dana Stevens linked Slate readers to this Metacritics page. That page seems to say that A Beautiful Day didn't even rank among the year's thirty best-reviewed films.

That same page lets you review a very long list of critics' "top ten" lists. Heller's film appears on very few of those lists.

The critics aren't necessarily right. Oscar voters aren't necessarily right. But given the way the film was reviewed, why would anyone have thought that Heller would get a Best Director nod? And what makes those reporters so eager to say that she somehow got "snubbed?"

Increasingly, our tribe behaves like Fox. We're angry and persistently stupid. We're full of complaints and we're dumb.

Increasingly, our punditry and our journalism seem like versions of Children at Play. This doesn't work well for our liberal tribe, or for the values we claim to support.

RATIONAL ANIMAL TALES: Atticus Finch [HEART] Bob Ewell!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 2020

And calls to mind Donald J. Trump:
Does it really make sense?

Does it make sense to create an "adaptation" of a famous book—in this case, a famous novel—if you don't even like the book? If you don't understand the famous book, even in the most basic ways?

Also, have you "adapted" a famous novel if, in the course of your "adaptation," you simply change the famous novel's basic events all around? If you massively scramble the attitudes andthe views of its famous characters? Should we call that an "adaptation?"

The famous novel to which we refer is Harper Lee's 1960 classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. The "adaptation" to which we refer was written by Aaron Sorkin.

At present, it's bringing in big money on Broadway, but generating no public discussion. And perhaps that's just as well!

In a recent, extremely strange interview piece, The Atlantic's David Sims describes the Broadway version of To Kill A Mockingbird as "an unexpectedly probing work that refuses to let an American classic go unchallenged."

There's certainly noting wrong with "challenging" an American classic; such critiques are advanced all the time. But Sorkin's critique is based on certain perceptions which are remarkably hard to sustain—and Sorkin has played a major role in our nation's childish political discourse over the past thirty years.

Sorkin has been a major "influencer," and it seems he's perhaps weirdly dumb.

How strange are the perceptions which lie behind Sorkin's apparently heartfelt "adaptation?" In a crazy essay for New York magazine, Sorkin offered a set of crazy pensees back when his play debuted.

Sorkin reasoned thusly. Atticus Finch was going to be the protagonist of his play. And if he was going to be the protagonist, he would have to have a flaw.

That said, what flaw could Atticus possibly have? Sorkin racked his influential brain as he tried to come up with the answer.

Finally, it happened! According to Sorkin, he realized that Atticus always had a flaw, even in Lee's novel! The man who has fed us so much simple-minded TV sitcom-style pap spelled it out like this:
SORKIN (11/26/18): [H]ow do you give Atticus Finch a flaw?...I tried all the doors and they were locked, until I found one that swung open with the lightest touch. I didn’t have to give Atticus a flaw because, to my mind, he already had one; it’s just that we’d always considered it a virtue. Atticus believes that you can’t really know someone unless you “climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it.” He believes that Bob Ewell should be understood as a man who lost his job. He believes Mrs. Dubose should be understood as a woman who recently stopped taking her medication and lives in physical pain. He believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists. He believes … that there are fine people on both sides?

In the play, this set of beliefs would be challenged.
It would be hard to overstate the childishness of that analysis, and beyond that its sheer stupidity. What can it mean when one of our leading "influencers" reasons in such childish ways?

Amazingly, that passage actually seems to mean when it seems to say. As he reread Harper Lee's novel, Sorkin apparently came to believe that its noble hero, Atticus Finch, "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."

Those are Sorkin's actual words—and yes, it even gets more childish and stupid than that! As Sorkin reread the famous novel, he began to see that Atticus Finch was quite a bit like our own Donald J. Trump!

Very famously, Trump had recently said that "there are fine people on both sides." Apparently, Sorkin thought that he had spotted this attitude in Lee's heroic lawyer. The flaw had been there the whole time!

Harper Lee's fictional Atticus Finch now seemed like Donald J. Trump! In a disappointing piece in The New Yorker in which she herself seemed to take everyone's side of every point, Casey Cep summarized Sorkin's new view of the book:
CEP (12/10/18): The children are now played by adults; Calpurnia, the Finches’ black housekeeper, gets to argue a bit with her employer about his tolerance of intolerance; and Atticus—sounding, Sorkin has noted in interviews, a little like President Trump—says that there are good people on both sides of a lynch mob. It was Trump’s comments after a counter-protester was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville that, Sorkin has said, helped him see the contemporary resonance of the play.

In an essay for New York, Sorkin recounts how, after finishing a bad draft, he realized that he could not “swaddle the book in bubble wrap and transfer it gently to a stage”; instead, he focussed on Atticus and his transformation from one kind of man into another. In this new production, the empathy for which Atticus has always been celebrated—his belief, as Sorkin sees it, in the “goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists”—would be his fundamental flaw.
In Sorkin's reading of Lee's book, Atticus Finch believed in the “goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists.” He was a great deal like Trump.

In case you missed that part of Lee's book, Sorkin apparently decided to goose up this flaw just a bit. In last month's interview piece at The Atlantic, actor Ed Harris describes a scene in the new "adaptation." Harris spoke with David Sims, The Atlantic's film/drama critic
SIMS (12/17/19): The show is interrogating Atticus’s passivity and nobility. How do you want to communicate that passivity, and the anger within him as well?

HARRIS: Early on in the play, Bob Ewell comes by [to the Finch house] and threatens Atticus, saying, “We’ve got two ropes.” And Jem, Atticus’s son, comes out and says, “You want me to respect Bob Ewell?” And he says, “Yeah, there’s good in everyone.”
"There's good in everyone," this new, adapted Atticus says. Atticus [HEART] Bob Ewell!

Did Atticus Finch really [HEART] Bob Ewell in Lee's famous book? We're forced to suggest that he didn't.

In the climax of Lee's book, Ewell tries to kill the Finch children. Boo Radley saves their lives.

This unseemly bit of behavior is not unlike Bob Ewell! Early in the book, the adult narrator tells us what Scout's father had told her about the Ewells when she was still only 6:
LEE (page 33): Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb County for three generations. None of them had done an honest day's work in their lives. He said that some Christmas, when he was getting rid of the tree, he would take me with him and show me where and how they lived. They were people and they lived like animals.
There isn't a lot of admiration there. Indeed, Lee has been criticized for her book's scathing portrayal of the Ewells as "white trash."

That criticism seems valid to us. But it flies in the face of the lusty "challenge" Sorkin decided to lodge.

Later, Scout starts to learn about the crime with which Tom Robinson has been charged. Once again, we learn how Atticus has described the Ewells:
LEE (page 141): Calpurnia sighed. "Old Mr. Bob Ewell accused him of rapin' his girl an' had him arrested an' put in jail—"

"Mr. Ewell?" My memory stirred. "Does he have anything to do with those Ewells that come every first day of school an' then go home? Why, Atticus said they were absolute trash—I never heard Atticus talk about folks the way he talked about the Ewells. He said—"

"Yeah, those are the ones."
Atticus does display empathy for Bob Ewell's mistreated children. Back toward the start of the book, he tells his irate daughter why everyone agrees to let Bob Ewell hunt outside hunting season:
LEE (page 34): "Atticus, that's bad," I said. In Maycomb County, hunting out of season was a misdemeanor at law, a capital felony in the eye of the populace.

"It's against the law, all right," said my father, "and it's certainly bad, but when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey, his children have away of crying from hunger pains. I don't know of any landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their father can hit."
There is no place in Harper Lee's book where Atticus Finch tells his children that they should respect Bob Ewell because there's "goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists.” Whatever their shortcomings might possibly be, the moral holdings of the book are much more subtle and varied than that.

Atticus doesn't [HEART] Bob Ewell in Harper Lee's famous book! For whatever reason, Sorkin decided to put new attitudes in this famous character's head, new words in his mouth.

No ticket holders will be irreparably harmed by Sorkin's "adaptation." With that admission recorded, we think a different question should be asked:

What does it mean when influential figures within our culture reason as oddly as this?

As he says in The Atlantic, Aaron Sorkin apparently thinks that Harper Lee's famous book ends with Atticus Finch covering up a murder—the murder of Bob Ewell.

That is a very strange reading of this famous book. Beyond that, Sorkin seems to think that Harper Lee made her black characters too "docile." Instead of displaying respect for Atticus Finch, they should have taken to the streets of their small Alabama town in 1935.

They should have shouted "no justice, no peace," then burned the courthouse down. In The Summer of '35!

To help us see why Maycomb's black residents should have done that, Sorkin rearranges Finch's racial views, having him display imagined resentment toward Calpurnia, who isn't grateful enough. To help us see how stupid Finch was, he has him consign Tom Robinson to his death by dumbly convincing him to renounce a previously-arranged plea deal.

And not only that! Sorkin has Atticus tell his son that he should respect Bob Ewell because there's good in everyone, even in a person who has just threatened him with a hanging. This is what this very strange person thinks when he reads Lee's book.

In her disappointing discussion of Sorkin's "adaptation," Cep offers an accurate assessment of Harper Lee's actual book. "Although it features children, it is not childish," she says.

To Kill A Mockingbird isn't childish, but Sorkin's odd reasoning is. Searching for a way to "adapt" a book he doesn't seem to understand very well, he decided that its hero reminds him of Donald J. Trump and even [HEART] Bob Ewell.

Does Lee's famous book end with a murder? You have to be dumber than a seventh grader to come up with an idea like that.

The person who did so is influential! What does it mean when our leading cultural figures are as dumb and as childish as that?

Tomorrow: The Summer of '99