Also, there was no Professor Reade!

SATURDAY, MAY 23, 2020

Donald Trump as his state's greatest baseball player:
When the New York Times reported on Tara Reade's apparent misstatement, they cited CNN as the original source of their report.

Reade had always claimed to be a graduate of Antioch University. But, as CNN had reported, the university has now said that it just isn't so.

As we noted yesterday, this is emerging as a rather familiar pattern. But when we read CNN's lengthy report, the problem seemed to be even worse:
LEE AND KAUFMAN (5/19/20): Reade has said that she changed her name to Alexandra McCabe and fled from her ex-husband [in 1996]. Some details of Reade's personal life are hazier after that.

Reade told CNN that she received a bachelor of arts degree from Antioch University
in Seattle under the auspices of a "protected program," personally working with the former president of the school to ensure her identity was protected while she obtained credits for her degree. She also said that she was a visiting professor at the school, on and off for five years.

Presented with this, Karen Hamilton, an Antioch University spokesperson, told CNN that "Alexandra McCabe attended but did not graduate from Antioch University. She was never a faculty member. She did provide several hours of administrative work."

An Antioch University official told CNN that such a "protected program" does not exist and never has.
Oof! According to Antioch, Reade doesn't hold a degree from the school—and she was never a professor there!

For whatever reason, CNN didn't start discussing these problems until paragraph 17 of its largely ho-hum report. When they did, they only said that the facts here seem to be "hazy."

We can't swear who's right about these matters, but in this morning's Washington Post, the story seems to get worser. In this passage, the reporters are discussing assertions by Reade in her work as an alleged "expert witness" in various court proceedings:
VISER AND SCHERER (5/23/20): While Reade told the court she had worked as a legislative assistant to Biden, she actually held the job of staff assistant, a more junior role, according to Senate records. And while her résumé, shared with the defense by the district attorney before she appeared in court, said she worked in Biden’s office from 1991 to 1994, records show she was there only eight months, from Dec. 2, 1992, until Aug. 6, 1993.

A spokeswoman for Antioch University said that, contrary to Reade’s claim, she did not graduate from the school
, as first reported by CNN. The spokeswoman also said that Reade never worked as an “online visiting professor,” as she claimed on the résumé shared as part of the court proceedings.

In testimony that she gave in December 2018, she was asked if she was licensed to practice law in California, and she responded that she had not taken the bar exam.

But Reade herself published a blog in 2012 documenting her third attempt to pass the California bar exam.
The blog was titled “California Bar Exam: Three Times A Charm.”
Oof! According to the Post's report, Reade misstated the nature of her job with Biden. She misstated the length of time she worked for Biden, turning eight months into three or four years.

She falsely claimed to be a graduate of Antioch. She falsely claimed that she had been a professor at the school.

Beyond that, she claimed that she'd never taken the bar exam. Earlier, she'd apparently said that she had taken the exam three times.

We can't straighten out these various contradictions. But we can recall the headlines on Professor Manne's highly instructive essay:
I Believe Tara Reade. And You Should, Too.
We already knew that Biden is the type. Had we as voters and had the Democratic Party taken this seriously, we wouldn’t be in this mess now
Professor Manne believed Tara Reade. She said that you should too.

Why did she believe Tara Reade? In part because, as the headline explained, Biden is "the type!"

Appallingly, Professor Manne is a ranking philosophy professor, at Cornell. Her essay appeared in The Nation.

Each of these facts should tell us something about the way our absurdly self-impressed tribe has been contributing to our failing nation's breakdown in intellectual order. Concerning Reade, the pattern which seems to be emerging is quite familiar.

As we tell you every time, none of this can possibly prove that Reade's claim about Biden is false. But, for whatever reason, some people do make false accusations of this type. At this point, does Reade really seem like someone you'd be inclined to trust?

(For the record: Natasha Korecki's report about Reade stressed her endless money problems. Could Reade be on the Putin payroll? Yes, of course she could! She's written at least one crazy essay about the sexy Russkie hunk. Also, everything's possible, and it always has been!)

Does Reade seem like someone you can trust? Instead, might she be a person who "has problems," as Emily Bazelon suggested at Slate way back in April, speaking to a pair of hopelessly scripted male colleagues?

In the the words of the embarrassing Manne, does Reade seem like someone you should believe? Sadly, Professor Manne is a real professor, and she's part of our own failing tribe!

This brings us to the question of President Trump, whose statements are generally semi-coherent but rarely seem to be accurate.

This morning, perusing the Washington Post, we were struck by the headline above Colbert King's weekly column. We became even more intrigued when we saw the way King began:
KING (5/23/20): All the president's lies

When President Trump announced this week that he is taking the drug hydroxychloroquine, I was working my way through The Post’s new book, “Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth,” written by the newspaper’s Fact Checker staff.

The thought that Trump would ignore warnings from the Food and Drug Administration and deliberately ingest a drug that could have serious side effects was disturbing. Equally upsetting, however, was the thought that the president may have taken to the airwaves to tell a flat-out lie. Why should we believe he’s taking the drug? After all, America has come to this: a president of the United States whose word cannot be trusted.
As a general matter, it's certainly true that President Trump's "word cannot be trusted." President Trump emits bogus, false and misleading statements in much the way dark storm clouds will toss off showers of rain.

That said:

If Trump is taking hydroxychloroquine, that would seem to indicate that he actually hasn't been lying when he's said that he thinks it's safe. If he thought the drug was going to kill him, we'll guess that he wouldn't be taking it.

Is he actually taking the drug? There's no way to be sure. But that headline talks about the president's "lies," and the Washington Post's Fact-Checker site has never used that term.

Playing by older, sounder rules, the site continues to tabulate the president's "false or misleading claims." And, as everyone used to know, a false statement isn't a lie if the speaker believes the statement is true.

The Fact-Checker site has bowed to that old understanding. Until today, when King proceeds to quote Glenn Kessler, the site's major player:
KING (continuing directly): Fact Checker editor and chief writer Glenn Kessler labels Trump “the most mendacious president in U.S. history.” And the 344-page book backs up that charge.
Mendacity is a form of lying. It may be that Kessler is held to one set of rules in the Post itself, but has been able to state a different judgment in this new book.

We haven't seen the new book. We do recommend the possibility that Trump is disturbed and disordered—that the fellow "has problems."

Consider two apparent misstatements by Trump. Just this week, at a public event, he claimed, apparently falsely, that he was honored as Michigan's "Man of the Year" a few short years ago.

It seems quite clear that there is no such prize, and that Trump wasn't so honored. But was Trump lying when he said that? Is it possible that he's so delusional that he believes that claim?

In asking that question, we refer you to another absurdly swollen claim Trump has made down through the years. Linking to a fascinating report in Slate, Tyler Lauletta summarized the lunacy here:
LAULETTA (5/6/20): President Trump's recollections of his career as a high school baseball player have come under scrutiny.

Trump has claimed that he was a standout player, capable of making the big leagues had he desired.

"I was captain of the baseball team," Trump said in a 2010 interview with MTV. "I was supposed to be a professional baseball player. Fortunately, I decided to go into real estate instead. I played first base and I also played catcher. I was a good hitter. I just had a good time."

In a 2013 tweet, Trump went as far as to say that he was the best player in the state of New York in his high school days.
Actually, Trump only said in that 2013 tweet that he was said to be the best player in the state. Exaggerations and misstatements are part of the human condition!

That said, was Trump the best baseball player in the state of New York during his high school days? Asking a slightly different question, was he any darn good at all?

Wonderfully, Leander Schaerlaeckens decided to check it out! In his lengthy, detailed report for Slate, it becomes fairly clear that Trump wasn't an especially good high school player at all, let long the best player in the state.

Question: When Trump made this ridiculous claim, was he actually lying? Or could it be that he's so disordered that he thought his false claim was true?

If he knew his claim was false, he was lying. If he actually thought it was true, does some larger problem exist?

Is Donald J. Trump a liar, or might he simply "have problems?" We think that question is worth exploration. This seems to put us in the minority in our own infallible tribe.

Like all tribes in all of human history, our tribe likes to make the sweeping moral denunciation. We tend to opt for the simplest accusation against the other or others.

You can't believe a thing Trump says, but how often is he actually lying? We'd like to see medical specialists tease that question out, if they can be nonpartisan in their discussions.

Concerning Reade, it seems that a certain familiar pattern has emerged. Our big news orgs are actually discussing that pattern this time. They were never willing to do so in the history-altering cases of Gennifer Flowers and Kathleen Willey, who never stopped being regarded as the most credible people on earth.

An unfortunate pattern has also emerged among some of our tribe's professors. Recent essays by Professors Hirshman and Manne constitute an embarrassing indictment of one branch of our own failing tribe.
.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our self-impressed species is deeply tribal. At times like these, we aren't inclined to be real bright—and that cab even be true Over Here, among our most brilliant sachems.

Andrew Sullivan batters Trump!

FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2020

To our ear, this doesn't make sense:
As with Conor Friedersdorf, so too with Andrew Sullivan.

He doesn't work from either tribe's scripts. That makes him a valuable journalist.

Sullivan's weekly ruminations for New York magazine have struck us as very valuable. That said, we though today's profile of Donald J. Trump is very strange, highly illogical, on the border of almost deranged.

All though his profile, Sullivan uses the language of psychiatric or cognitive impairment as he describes Trump behavior. He starts by describing the "plain evidence of Trump's derangement" and, by paragraph 3, he's explicitly saying this:
SULLIVAN (5/22/20): Count the objective COVID-19 failures in 2020 alone. The president was briefed on the looming viral threat, both internally and externally, multiple times in January. But he does not read his briefings—he doesn’t actually read anything—and is uniquely un-briefable in person, according to a story in the New York Times: “‘How do you know?’ is Mr. Trump’s common refrain during his 30- to 50-minute briefings two or three times a week. He counters with his own statistics on issues where he has strong views, like trade or NATO. Directly challenging him, even when his numbers are wrong, appears to erode Mr. Trump’s trust, according to former officials, and ultimately he stops listening.” In other words, the officials who tell him things he doesn’t want to believe are soon sidelined or fired. This is the behavior of a 2-year-old. In a man in his 70s, it’s a form of pathology.
Trump's behavior is "a form of pathology," Sully explicitly says. To our ear, that sound a great deal like a psychiatric assessment.

Sullivan uses this kind of language all through his profile of Trump. We'll highlight the relevant examples in the following chunk of text:
SULLIVAN: He even predicted at the end of February that “you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” (Asked two months later about this prediction, he said—of course!— that he was right: “Well, it will go down to zero, ultimately.”) He said it wasn’t a threat, and would go away, like a miracle. Put simply, these are delusional attempts to describe his own fantasies as an objective reality—like how the Russians did not try to interfere in the 2016 election, his inauguration crowd was way bigger than Obama’s, tariffs are paid by the Chinese government, and that anyone in America could have gotten a COVID-19 test. This is a form of psychological disorder.

[...]

I know we’re used to it, but there is no rational or coherent explanation for any of this. There is no strategy, or political genius. There is just a delusional pathology in which he says whatever comes into his head at any moment, determined entirely by his mood, which is usually bad. His attention span is so tiny and his memory so occluded that he can say two contradictory things with equal conviction repeatedly, and have no idea there might be any inconsistency at all.

His COVID-19 press conferences were proof of his mental limits. He couldn’t understand basic questions. He had no grip on epidemiology. He believes that tests are bad, because they make America look bad, and then boasts of his record in testing (which is, of course, not good). When a White House staffer, Vice-President Pence’s spokesperson, Katie Miller, tested positive for COVID-19, this is what Trump said: “She tested very good for a long period of time. And then all of a sudden today she tested positive. So, she tested positive out of the blue. This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily, right, the tests are perfect but something can happen between a test where it’s good and then something happens and then all of a sudden, she was tested very recently and tested negative.” With anyone else, we would assume he was drunk when he said that. His sobriety is indistinguishable from alcoholic stupor.
All in all, that's about as clear as it gets. According to Sullivan, Trump exhibits "a delusional pathology"—"a form of psychological disorder."

Sullivan also suggests that Trump may suffer from a cognitive impairment. (Many older people do.) Trump's recent press conferences, Sullivan says, "were proof of his mental limits."

With anyone else, we'd assume he was drunk. Trump behaves like a two-year-old, Sullivan tells us, twice.

As the reader may know, we don't necessarily disagree with any of this. That said, Sullivan isn't a medical or psychological specialist. We'd rather hear these possibilities discussed by some responsible person who is.

We think Sullivan may well be right, but we're puzzled by his overall tone. We modern Americans don't normally scold people who are psychiatrically or cognitively impaired, but Sullivan aggressively scolds Trump all through his profile, even as he seems to tell us that Trump is in the grip of a psychological disorder, indeed a pathology, and presumably can't do any better.

Sullivan is very smart; it seems to us that this long tirade pretty much isn't. We'd even say that it tends toward the type of writing which has come to be called a form of "derangement syndrome." Such syndromes, from the right or the left, have made it impossible for our discourse and our politics to function.

We don't normally scold people who are cognitively limited or cognitively impaired. Sully thoroughly scolds Trump on this basis.

(When Sully scolds Trump for not reading anything, it doesn't seem to occur to him that it's possible that Trump suffers from some form of dyslexia—that he literally can't read, or can't read well, and has never been able to.)

We also don't normally scold people with severe psychiatric disorders. Sullivan desribes Trump that way all through his profile, but scolds him all the way through.

Trump has extreme "mental limits," Sully says. He says there is "no rational or coherent explanation" for the crazy things he says and does.

Trump's pressers were proof of these mental limits. Later, though, Sully says this:
SULLIVAN: When it was pointed out that what mattered was not the number of tests as a whole but tests per capita, Trump responded: “You know, when you say ‘per capita,’ there’s many per capitas. It’s, like, per capita relative to what? But you can look at just about any category, and we’re really at the top, meaning positive on a per capita basis, too.” I have no idea what he is trying to say and neither does he. But it’s a lie. Per capita, the U.S. is not “way ahead of everybody”: We’re behind Russia, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Austria, and New Zealand. And this is only true because, as Alexis Madrigal has reported, the CDC has been counting antibody testing as well as COVID-19 swab testing, o the numbers are inflated. How the CDC has been reduced to this squalid error is beyond me.
First Sullivan seems to say that Trump is too limited to know what he's talking about. His crazy claims aren't a strategy, Sully explicitly says.

Then, when Trump makes a stupid remark, Sullivan says it's a lie. That doesn't quite seem to make sense.

A lie is a knowing misstatement. Does this mean we're supposed to believe that Trump does know what he's talking about? Earlier, did Sullivan seem to say different?

Increasingly, our politics has been driven by lurid "derangement syndromes." For ourselves, we were trained, early in life, to "pity the poor [metaphorical] immigrant." We believe Bob Dylan said that!

It seems to us that Trump is nuts, that he's basically out on his feet. Does it help to scream and yell at a person who's so impaired?

Sullivan is a valuable journalist. Andrew Sullivan, call Bandy X. Lee!

Ask Lee how she would assess these disordered syndromes and these impairments. She's waiting at Yale for your call!

INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE: What Friedersdorf said about Tara Reade!

FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2020

Top professors fail:
The background reporting on Tara Reade is beginning to sound quite familiar.

One week ago today, Politico's Natasha Korecki published a punishing report in which former associates of Reade described her in deeply unflattering terms.

Reade is a "liar," one such person said. Also, Reade was said to "have problems."

That same day, the PBS NewsHour published and broadcast lengthy reports casting doubt on some of the claims Reade has made concerning Joe Biden. Over at Vox, Laura McGann has largely cut Reade loose too.

We summarized and linked to these three reports on Monday of this very week. To recall our winged words, just click here.

Korecki's report was punishing, but go ahead—admit it! In the week since her report appeared, you've heard almost nothing about it.

You haven't seen it discussed on your favorite "cable news" channel. Jonathan Chait discussed it at New York magazine, but we haven't seen it discussed anywhere else.

How for a sad fact:

Within our own self-impressed tribe, such discussions aren't permitted. Our professors tell us not to conduct them. Instead, they conduct screwball discussions of their own, in which we're encouraged to keep believing claims we can't possibly know to be true.

In these ways, our self-impressed tribe contributes to the ongoing failure of our society's intellectual infrastructure, a breakdown which has been underway for three or four decades now. It's frequently horrible over at Fox (and in the deep red precincts beyond), but it's also quite bad Over Here.

One week ago, Korecki's report painted a picture of Reade as someone whose word you wouldn't be likely to trust. Late last night, the New York Times filed another such report.

According to the Times report, Antioch University has become the latest entity to challenge Reade's past claims. Reade's resume has always claimed a bachelor's degree from Antioch, but Antioch has now said that she holds no such degree:
LERER, RUTENBERG AND SAUL (5/23/20): Defense lawyers in California are reviewing criminal cases in which Tara Reade, the former Senate aide who has accused Joseph R. Biden Jr. of sexual assault, served as an expert witness on domestic violence, concerned that she misrepresented her educational credentials in court.

Then known as Alexandra McCabe, Ms. Reade testified as a government witness in Monterey County courts for nearly a decade, describing herself as an expert in the dynamics of domestic violence who had counseled hundreds of victims.

But lawyers who had faced off against her in court began raising questions about the legitimacy of her testimony, and the verdicts that followed, after news reports this week that Antioch University had disputed her claim of receiving a bachelor’s degree from its Seattle campus.

The public defender’s office in Monterey County has begun scrutinizing cases involving Ms. Reade
and compiling a list of clients who may have been affected by her testimony, according to Jeremy Dzubay, an assistant public defender in the office.
Antioch has denied Reade's claim that she holds a degree from the school. We offer three cheers for the New York Times for publishing this report.

That said:

In a somewhat myopic way, the Times report focuses on the way this revelation might affect verdicts from court cases in which Reade participated as an "expert witness." If she did misstate her credentials, some verdicts may be thrown out.

Somewhat comically, the Times report focuses on that. Meanwhile, how might this revelation affect the way people view Reade's remarkable claim against Joe Biden, a claim which might change world history?

Within our tribe, we may tend to be too polite to focus on questions like that!

Did Joe Biden assault Tara Reade in 1993? As before, we have no way to demonstrate that he did, and no way to show that he didn't. In cases of this type, it's very rare for evidence to emerge which proves or disproves an accuser's claim.

As everyone knows, "liars" can get assaulted too, as can people who "have problems." But the background reporting around Tara Reade has taken on a familiar look, whether the sachems of our tribe are prepared to discuss this fact or not.

They've never discussed the background reporting on Gennifer Flowers. Back in the day, they refused to report one embarrassing matter after another concerning the credibility of press corps' darling, Kathleen Willey.

It may well be that our tribal sachems will never discuss the background reporting on Tara Reade as well. They'll let the matter fade away, or we'll still be told that we should believe the claims such accusers make. Our professors, such as they are, are sometimes willing to jumble their logic to keep us on this tight path.

All the way back on May 16, the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf discussed what sensible people should do when confronted with such accusations.

Friedersdorf isn't in thrall to either of our warring tribes; this makes him a valuable journalist. That said, we're going to grade him down a few points for his rumination on this matter, as we did on May 19, when he let himself imagine the possibility that President Trump isn't lying as much as we might be inclined to think and say.

In that more recent essay, Friedersdorf imagined an un-tribal possibility. In effect, he imagined the possibility that President Trump is cognitively impaired in such a way, and to such a degree, that he actually may not understand the various topics he constantly mangles when he tries or pretends to discuss them.

We don't know how to assess that possibility. We'd like to see medical specialists consider this thesis, but under the rules of our high-minded tribe, these discussions aren't permitted either. We aren't allowed to discuss Reade's apparent lying, and we aren't allowed to discuss the possibility that Trump is badly impaired.

With respect to the matter of Trump, we're going to grade Friedersdorf down several points for his failure to come to terms with the hidden issue:

Is it possible that Trump's weird behavior and weird ruminations are the result of psychological or cognitive impairment? We'd like to see this question raised with the use of such big boy terms.

In our view, Friedersdorf took a bit of a pass on that. For that reason, we'll give him an incomplete, even as we praise the way he stepped outside scripted denunciations.

So too with the question of Reade. We cheered Friedersdorf for articulating a basic fact—with most accusations of this type, there will never be an ultimate way to determine the truth of the matter.

In his discussion of Reade's accusation, Friedersdorf started as shown below. He was working outside tribal lines:
FRIEDERSDORF (5/16/20): Do you believe Tara Reade or Joe Biden? Did you believe Christine Blasey Ford or Brett Kavanaugh? My emphatic answer to both questions is the same: I pass. I punt. I vote present. And that dodge causes me no guilt, anxiety, or nagging discomfort. If these questions cause you distress, try it yourself: When pressured to pick a side in a public controversy without definitive evidence, just politely decline.

Agnosticism is bliss—though it can upset others.
Biden supporters warn that a failure to defend him could saddle the country with another four years of Donald Trump in the White House. Countervailing pressure from feminists and members of the #MeToo movement is as intense. As the headline of an article in The Nation put it, “I Believe Tara Reade. And You Should, Too.”

Its author, the feminist academic Kate Manne, argued that admitting the credibility of Reade’s claim is a “moral obligation,”
even though she went on to acknowledge, “If this were a court of law and we were jurors, then it would be appropriate to deem Biden innocent until he’d been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” But if what happened in a given case hasn’t been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, why would anyone be morally obligated to believe either party’s claims?

“If the Me Too movement means anything, it is that victims must not be swept aside and ignored, impugned, erased, and silenced when their claims are difficult to countenance,” Manne argued. As far as that goes, she is correct. But declining to reach a conclusion about an allegation isn’t the same as sweeping it aside, erasing it, or ignoring, impugning, or silencing the accuser. One can listen, assess, and still conclude that one knows too little to judge.
That's the way Friedersdorf started. In a way which predates current battle lines, he stuck to the basic logic and understandings which our own tribe's sachems have long since abandoned.

He said we should be willing to recognize, even to say, that we don't know how to reach a verdict in cases of this type. And good lord! In just his first four paragraphs, he assailed the logic of Professor Manne on two basic matters.

Later, he assailed the tribal logic of Professor Hirshman, whose misshapen reasoning finally reached the New York Times' print editions on that same day, May 16.

Professors Hirshman and Manne are reigning sachems of our own floundering tribe. Their conduct helps define the ongoing failure of our nation's infrastructure.

That said, we're going to grade Friedersdporf down on this topic too. It seems to us that he ducked some basics concerning the Reade/Biden matter.

He failed to note a basic fact—we've had a series of high-profile cases in which we saw that, on some occasions, some women do make false accusations of this very type.

We saw that in the Duke lacrosse case. We saw that in the UVa matter. Most likely, we saw that with Julie Swetnick. Most likely, we saw that with Kathleen Willey.

Meanwhile, in the case of Gennifer flowers, the background reporting revealed a host of past claims which suggested that Flowers—she was alleging a consensual, 12-year love affair—probably wasn't the type of person you would rush to trust. Rather plainly, the background reporting on Tara Reade now resembles that background reporting.

These are very basic facts with respect to whole Reade matter. That said, our own tribe's high-ranking sachems keep ignoring these basic facts.

Our tribal pundits tend to ignore reports from the likes of Korecki. Her report suggests that Reade may not be a hugely credible person—but within our deeply fallible tribe, such things simply aren't said.

If you're a human, you belong to a species which was built to think and act tribally. Manne and Hirshman are tribal beings, recently up from the swamp.

Our failing nation's intellectual infrastructure is often amazingly poor. It's frequently horrible over at Fox, and it isn't real great Over Here.

What's up with Germany, South Korea, Taiwan?

THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2020

Also, what's up with those N95 masks?
Frankly, we wonder as we wander. Today, we'll cite two questions we don't see being widely reported or discussed:

First, what explains the vastly different death rates from Covid-19 in different relevant countries? More specifically, what explains a range of cases like this?
Coronavirus deaths per million population, as of May 21:
Spain: 598
Italy: 537
United Kingdom: 531
France: 431
Canada: 163
Germany: 99
Norway: 43
South Korea: 5
Australia: 4
Taiwan: 0.3
Let's ignore the United States this once (289). Let's ignore Boris Johnson's early Trump-like clowning in jolly old England, which has been hit so hard.

What explains the difference between France, at 431, and Germany, at 99? What explains South Korea and Australia? What explains Taiwan?

These seem like fairly obvious questions. We don't see them being discussed a whole lot, except in terms of cozy sweatshirts and prefab tribal tales.

Our second question involves personal protective equipment—PPE. Let's focus on N95 masks.

In this morning's Washington Post, we find a report of a major survey of front-line health care workers. The survey was taken from April 26 through May 4. At that time, 66 percent of respondents reported that N95 masks were "in short supply at [their] workplace."

As we noted a few weeks ago, this was a major hot topic back in March and early April, after which it basically disappeared. Although the reporting has disappeared, this survey makes it sound like the shortage of PPE quite possibly hasn't.

Does a problem still exist? Consider this slightly annoying, multi-media report from a reporter in the Washington Post's Graphics department.

The report appeared online on May 17. We don't know if it will ever appear in the Post's print editions.

Does a shortage still exist? The report began with a question, and with a statistic, we ourselves advanced many times way back when. We did so early and often:
BERKOWITZ (5/17/20): On April 2, the New England Patriots’ team plane left China with mundane but suddenly precious cargo: 1.2 million N95 respirators, a critical type of mask that protects health-care workers treating patients who have infectious diseases.

Was that a big stash?

In normal, pre-covid-19 times, the answer would be yes. Most hospitals buy just a few thousand N95s per year, according to a company that negotiates purchasing contracts.

In the frenzied weeks of March and April, when the trickle of covid-19 patients suddenly grew into a deluge, the answer was a hard no. Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Robert Kadlec had testified in February that the United States would need 3.5 billion N95s in a serious pandemic.
According to Kadlec's testimony, we were going to need 3.5 billion N95 masks! On that basis, were the Patriots' measly 1.5 million N95s just a drop in the bucket?

When we were asking similar questions, we related them to "the gong-show of very large numbers." The problem arose like this:

Every evening, in prime time, at his televised non-briefing briefings, President Trump would rattle off the number of N95s some incredible company had incredibly pledged to provide.

As with the Patriots' stash, it always sounded like a very large number of masks. Unless you considered the enormous number Kadlec had said we would need, which Trump and the press never did.
.
Two months have passed, and the Post is now dealing with the same statistic and the same basic question. Here are some newer questions which came to mind when we read this Post report:

Did Kadlec know what he was talking about? Was his estimate sound? Also, over what period of time would we need 3.5 billion N95s? The Post report didn't try to answer these questions.

Another question went largely unanswered in the Post report. Does the shortage of N95s persist?

That survey suggests that the answer is yes. By now, though, nobody seems to care about that. Our major news orgs seem to have moved on.

Does a shortage of PPE persist? Like you, we have no idea, and we don't expect to find out.

INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE: What if President Trump isn't lying?

THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2020

Friedersdorf's willing to ask:
Yesterday afternoon, President Donald J. Trump was at it again.

As always, it wasn't entirely clear what the commander was saying. According to the official White House transcript, the bafflegab started like this:
REPORTER (5/20/20): Mr. President, with 4 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of the—of the outbreak, what would you have done differently facing this crisis?

TRUMP: Well, nothing. If you take New York and New Jersey—which were very hard hit—we were very, very low. And in terms of morbidity and in terms of—if you look at the death, relatively speaking, we’re at the lowest level along with Germany. Germany, us. There could have been some smaller countries too, perhaps.

I’d like to ask you maybe about that, if I could, Deborah. We’ve done, you know, amazingly well...
As he continued, Trump seemed to say that Birx and Fauci had been "big supporters" of the China travel ban. If that's actually what he meant, that would seem to contradict the earlier, repeated statements in which he routinely said that he'd been "the only one in the room" who favored the brilliant ban.

At any rate, Trump seemed to be crazily wrong concerning the United States and Germany "if you look at the death, relatively speaking."

As usual, his jumbled syntax was hard to parse. But he possibly seemed to be saying that the United States and Germany had the lowest death rates, adjusted for size of population, of any nation in the world.

That, of course, would be crazily wrong, if that's what he actually meant. But as is now the unmistakable norm, Birx then provided the mumbled-mouthed folderol which covered for Trump's apparent groaner:
BIRX: Yeah, I think it’s always confusing—and particularly confusing to the American people when we don’t emphasize the size of our country. We’re the third largest country in the world. But every country has a different experience with this virus. And so you have to adjust everything to population size.

And so when you look at Spain and Italy, our attack rates to this virus are identical to other countries that have experienced the type of epidemic that we have experienced. And so every country is different. That’s why you really need to always report data normalized for population. And then you look at the mortality by population, and it’s true: We have, compared to our European colleagues, some of the lowest mortality—about half of Italy and Spain.
"Good job," the president said at roughly this point, as if to give Birx a treat.

In her thoroughly Birxian comments, Birx disappeared the comparison to Germany, citing Italy and Spain instead. She threw in some typically arcane terms—does anyone know what "attack rate" means?—and she probably changed the subject, though if she did no one could tell.

Welcome to Babel, modern American-style! Consider:

First, a journalist murkily said the United States has "30 percent of the outbreak."

In response, a barely coherent commander in chief suggested that we "talk about the death, relatively speaking."

At that point, along came Birx; she discussed "the mortality by population." By that, she may have meant the percentage of people diagnosed with the infection who actually die (deaths per reported cases).

As she droned on, the likelihood grew that Birx was referring to that marginally useful statistic. In that way, Birx was covering, once again, for her bumbling boss.

That said, none of the journalists in the room knew what Birx meant. Of that you can feel quite certain. Also, none of them bothered to ask.

Sadly, this is the way our discourse works in upper-end modern America. Let's return to President Trump, the most important figure in the room during this pseudo-discussion.

Last night, Brian Williams assumed, not unreasonably, that Trump had been referring to our nation's death rate in his remarks—to our number of coronavirus deaths adjusted for size of population. Cruelly, Williams played videotape of these later remarks by Trump, making our analysts scream:
TRUMP: And, you know, when you say “per capita,” there’s many per capitas [sic]. It’s like, per capita relative to what?

But you can look at just about any category, and we’re really at the top, meaning positive on a per capita basis too. They’ve done a great job.
By that point, Birx had been discussing number of tests per capita. Trump jumped in to say that we're "really at the top" in "just about any category" "on a per capita basis."

Sad! The United States isn't "really at the top" in "just about any category" "on a per capita basis!" With respect to deaths from coronavirus per capita, here are the figures for the four countries mentioned by Trump and Birx:
Coronavirus deaths per million population, as of May 21:
Spain: 596
Italy: 535
United States: 287
Germany: 99
Truth to tell, our per capita death rate is almost three times that of Germany. Nor do we and Germany stand alone as the best among roughly similar nations. As of today, some other numbers look like this:
Coronavirus deaths per million, continued:
Canada: 160
Denmark: 97
Norway: 43
South Korea: 5
Australia: 4
Taiwan: 0.3
We're sorry, but no. The United States isn't aligned with Germany at all, let alone as the best in the world, on this extremely basic measure.

By any dimly rational standard, yesterday's press event was a gruesome disgrace. There's no excuse for what Birx is now doing, or for the press corps' endless tolerance for her appalling conduct.

With respect to the press corps itself, the watchdogs just bungle along.

With respect to President Trump, his statements are frequently so imprecise that it isn't especially clear what he's even talking about. But it's also obvious that his flat misstatements are endless.

Long ago, it became the norm to refer to these misstatements as "lies." Last week, the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf had a different idea.

Friedersdorf is one of the least scripted journalists in our upper-end press corps. He works from older intellectual norms and traditions, those which preceded our current Age of the Script and the Tribe.

Friedersdorf's column appeared under the headlines shown below. Greedily, we clicked to see what he'd said:
Maybe Trump Isn’t Lying
The president does not seem to grasp the most basic aspects of the public-health crisis.
Is every misstatement a lie? They are if you're simple-minded, or perhaps if you're working from script.

That said, our tribe began wiping this ancient distinction away during the reign of George W. Bush. To cite one dramatic example, David Corn explicitly redefined the ancient term "lie" in the preface to his best-selling 2004 book, The Lies of George W. Bush.

In his recent column, Friedersdorf raised an intriguing possibility. What if Donald J. Trump actually doesn't understand the unbelievably basic topics he's constantly discussing?

We think that question is strong. Tomorrow, we'll briefly discuss the merits of Friedersdorf's musing, and we'll then consider a more significant recent column—a column in which Friedersdorf discusses Tara Reade.

Our president seems to be out on his feet. Our upper-end mainstream press doesn't always seem a lot better.

In that sense, our basic intellectual infrastructure is remarkably soft. Friedersdorf types from within an older tradition. Still, in each of these recent columns, he didn't go far enough.

Tomorrow: Could Trump be cognitively impaired in some way? Should people believe Tara Reade?

Twenty-four hour "Trump's the worst" service!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2020

Anthropology all the way down:
Don't get us wrong! Although we've long recommended pity, we regard Donald J. Trump as being badly disordered.

In that sense, we basically regard Trump as the worst.

With that point established, please consider the very first thing we read today at Slate. It follows a fully predictable theme:

We have the most covid deaths in the world! That proves that Trump is the worst:
HANNON (5/20/20): The U.S. has far and away the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, topping 1.5 million infections, more than the next six largest country outbreaks combined. That is, of course, a bad thing. As a result, the U.S. also leads the world in coronavirus deaths with more than 90,000. No matter where the virus originated or how it first hopscotched across the planet, topping the charts in confirmed cases months later represents a failure of national leadership to protect Americans. Even worse, it’s emblematic of an incoherent federal response that failed to equip Americans with the tools and information to protect themselves. But there’s no number Donald Trump can’t invert, no truth he can’t unwind and repurpose...
So it goes, again and again, and then again and again.

The United States leads the world in deaths, proving what a failure Trump is! This is the basic tribal messaging with which we liberals now get relentlessly pleasured.

That said, does the United States lead the world in coronavirus deaths? Only because we have a much larger population than other affected nations!

With that in mind, if our number of deaths represents a giant failure of leadership, just think how bad the failures must be in these other lands:
Coronavirus deaths per million population, as of May 20:
Belgium: 790
Spain: 596
Italy: 535
United Kingdom: 526
France: 431
Sweden: 380
The Netherlands: 336
Ireland: 319
United States: 285
Some of those numbers have risen since this morning, when we published similar data. But the statistically illiterate tribal messaging just keeps rolling along!

If our number of covid deaths represents a failure of leadership, just think how bad the failure has been in such nations at Belgium, Spain, Italy, France!

That said, in the current tribal environment, our tribal sachems won't mention such countries. They want to please us by suggesting that nothing could ever be worse than whatever it is Trump has done.

People who tabulate deaths in this way aren't in their right mind, Kevin Drum has said. Still, we liberals will be pleasured this way again and again and again.

This is an anthropology lesson. We humans, rational animals all, are wired to function like this.

Concerning the larger point: Concerning the larger point in Elliot Hannon's post, there's a basic element of truth to this ridiculous thing Trump said.

If we had conducted fewer tests, we would have recorded fewer covid cases. We wouldn't actually have fewer cases, but our reported number would be lower.

Given the way such matters are tabulated, we might even have a lower number of reported deaths. This would make our situation look better on international tabulations, though our actual situation might be exactly the same.

As with everything he discusses, Trump turned this into a wholly ridiculous circus act. Our own sachems do something similar when they wipe countries like France off the map to swear that our situation is worst.

We humans were wired to function this way. As history has proven again and again, we're built like this all the way down.

INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Tapper and Williams and Maddow oh my!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2020

Not in their right mind, Drum says:
For today, let's stick to a very basic bit of (statistical) blocking and tackling.

In most contexts. how should our nation's coronavirus death rate be reported? What manner of presentation makes basic statistical sense?

Yesterday, Kevin Drum weighed in on this (extremely basic) question. He did so using some catchy graphics, which you can peruse for yourselves.

He started with a novel twist. It led him to this (extremely basic) conclusion:
DRUM (5/20/20): Nobody in their right mind would present the top chart as evidence of anything much. It’s obviously meaningless thanks to the large range of populations. If you want to study death rates, you need to look at deaths per capita. The same thing applies to deaths from COVID-19...
"If you want to study death rates [from different nations], you need to look at deaths per capita," Drum said. He then presented a graphic which showed coronavirus deaths rates from the following nations:

Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, United States...

Three others nations were included—Switzerland, Germany, Canada.

For our money, if Switzerland was part of the package, Belgium—it has a larger population—should have been in there too. Its inclusion would have made the basic statistical point even clearer.

That said, whatever! For now, we return to our basic statistical blocking and tackling, and to Drum's basic assessment:

A person has to be out of his or her mind to compare coronavirus deaths among various nations without adjusting for size of population.

A person has to be out of his mind—but as we noted yesterday, quite a few high-profile journalists are. For one example, here was Jake Tapper on Sunday's State of the Union, jousting with Alex Azar:
TAPPER (5/17/20): We have more—we have almost 90,000 Americans who are now dead because of this. I don't think that this is anything to celebrate, how we handled this as a country.

AZAR: Oh, Jake, you can't celebrate a single death. Every death is a tragedy. But the results could have been vastly, vastly worse. It's also important to remember, Jake, as we, as we face—

TAPPER: But it's worse for us than it is for anyone else.

AZAR: No, that's actually not factually correct. When you look at mortality rates, that's simply not correct as a percent of diagnosed cases, Jake, that every death is tragic, but we have—

TAPPER: I'm just looking at the number of dead bodies.

AZAR: Every, every, every—every death is tragic, but we have maintained our health care system—our health care burden within the capacity of our system to actually deal with it.
According to Tapper, the pandemic has been "worse for us than for anyone else." When Azar tried to disagree, Tapper explained his assessment:

"I'm just looking at the number of dead bodies," he said.

In other words, Tapper wasn't adjusting for size of population. Statistically speaking, he wasn't in his right mind!

Yesterday morning, we showed you the transcript of Brian Williams making the same type of presentation, right at the start of Monday night's program. Two hours earlier, Rachel Maddow had done the same darn thing.

She'd made the same misleading play. Here are two of her presentations:
MADDOW (5/18/20): Here we are, three days after the White House`s imaginary model, made by their economist friend, said that U.S. deaths would be at zero. And, of course, U.S. deaths are not at zero.

We have the biggest coronavirus epidemic in the world. U.S. deaths continue their inexorable climb up over 90,000 at this point. The only question right now, in terms of the milestones here is whether we are going to hit 100,000 dead Americans by the beginning of next month, or are we going to hit it sooner.

[...]

MADDOW: But big picture, the more we understand about what is going on in our country, I know it sucks to hear it—forgive me—but things really aren't getting better. We do have the worst epidemic in the world.
Rachel was so overwrought that she actually used a bad word, for which she quickly apologized.

That said, do we have the worst epidemic in the world? And can any such assessment be based on the total number of deaths, unadjusted for size of population?

According to Drum's (correct) assessment, Maddow wasn't in her right mind. Again, we offer examples:
Coronavirus deaths per million population, as of May 20:
Belgium: 790
Spain: 594
Italy: 532
United Kingdom: 521
France: 429
United States: 283
Do we have "the worst epidemic in the world?" Only if you choose to ignore the deaths of foreign people. And who gives a fig about them?

By our informal assessment, we think Tapper should do better than he did on Sunday. When it comes to Williams and Maddow, we may not expect a lot more.

That said, we're speaking here about very basic statistical blocking and tackling. We're also talking about tribal journalism of an increasingly familiar kind.

As we've noted, our liberal tribe (correctly) complained when Donald J. Trump kept saying that we led the world in coronavirus tests. We correctly said that his claim made no sense because he hadn't adjusted for size of population.

We complained and complained and complained again. Then, our tribal sachems lit out across the countryside to do the same darn thing with respect to coronavirus deaths!

They're out of their minds, Drum said yesterday—but they're also just being tribal. They're advancing the type of segregated tribal vision which is quite hard to return from.

We're sticking with this topic today because it's so freaking basic. (Because we avoided using a bad word, we won't have to stage an apology.)

That said, it should be amazing to see people like Tapper, Williams and Naddow playing this dumb statistical game. It should be amazing, but it isn't. Our intellectual infrastructure has been crumbling for decades now.

Tomorrow, we're going to look at one of two recent columns in which the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdof plays by the older, sounder rules. Routinely, that's the path Friedersdorf takes. It makes him a valuable player.

For today, we'll suggest that you peruse Monday's essay by Glenn Greenwald. It's an essay about "Resistance Journalism," the name he gives to the type of journalism in which corporate players like Williams and Maddow lean their elbows on the scales, playing by tribal rules.

Greenwald's starting point is this essay on Monday's New York Times by media columnist Ben Smith. Smith suggests that Ronan Farrow has been sidestepping basic journalistic rules to advance a progressive agenda.

According to yesterday's hard-copy Times, Smith's critique was Monday's most-read article.

Greenwald doesn't offer a judgment about Farrow's work. Instead, he uses Smith's essay as a starting point for a larger critique.

In particular, he assails the type of "resistance journalism" which prevailed at MSNBC during the years of the Mueller probe. Specifically, he assails Maddow's work.

It's hard to create a short assessment of any such body of work. That said, Greenwald also links to this series of essays, in which the Washington Post's Eric Wemple criticizes the Russia coverage on MSNBC, including that by Maddow.

In our view, Maddow has had her thumb on the scale in many areas over the past many years. It's hard to cover such work in one essay. But the basic principle being discussed is very important:

In the years since Trump came to power, has such a thing as "resistance journalism" emerged? If so, have people like Maddow and Natasha Bernard really been putting their thumbs on the scale in the ways Greenwald and Wemple allege?

It isn't easy to assess such sweeping bodies of work. But as we've said, we think Maddow has tended to put her elbows and butt cheeks on the scale again and again through the years.

That said, have recent years spawned a "resistance journalism" of the left—a journalism in which corners are cut in search of preapproved, pleasing assessments?

We think the obvious answer is yes, and we think it's important to know that.

Are Maddow and Williams "in their right minds?" We can't answer your question! But viewers of CNN and MSNBC are receiving selective work every day of the week, as are viewers of Fox.

When it comes to adjusting for population, first Trump failed to do it. Then we began failing too!

Adjusting for size of population is amazingly basic blocking and tackling. But so it has gone as the sachems of our own tribe create the type of journalistic product we libs will be certain to like.

Tomorrow: Friedersdorf thinks about Trump

National populations look like this!

TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2020

Our'n is larger than their'n:
We tried to cover too many topics this morning. Sometimes that happens.

With respect to coronavirus deaths, one point is very basic:

It didn't make sense when Donald J. Trump kept saying we led the world in tests. Also, it doesn't make sense when journalists keep pimping the claim that we lead the world in deaths.

It's highly misleading, but everyone in the anti-Trump realm says it. Just in this morning's cites, we mentioned Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams, Jake Tapper and CNN's Robyn Curnow.

They all said that we lead the world in deaths. In one sense, of course, that's literally true. But just as it was when Trump kept saying that we lead the world in tests, the claim is grossly misleading.

(Everybody criticized Trump. Then, our team did the same thing!)

For this afternoon, we're just going to show you the populations of some of the world's nations. Many people may not realize how large our population is, as compared to the populations of other well-known lands.

Let's get started:

China and India are the world's largest nations by population. Each has 1.4 billion people, give or take a few.

Below, you see the populations of some countries which get mentioned a lot with respect to the coronavirus. Our population is much larger than everyone else's. Among nations which are being discussed, we do lead in that!
Population of various nations:
United States: 330.7 million
Japan: 126.5 million
Germany: 83.8 million
United Kingdom: 67.8 million
France: 65.2 million
Italy: 60.4 million
South Korea: 51.3 million
Spain: 46.7 million
Canada: 37.7 million
Australia: 25.5 million
Taiwan: 23.8 million
Belgium: 11.6 million
Sweden: 10.1 million
New Zealand: 4.8 million
We're four time the size of Germany. All those other famous nations are ven smaller than that.

Given these data, are you surprised to learn that the United States (330.7 million) has suffered more Covid-19 deaths than Belgium (11.6 million)? We don't think you should be.

Should anyone have been surprised to hear that the United States had administered more tests than everyone else? The same principle applies.

The United States is much larger than the other currently relevant nations. As usual, Donald J. Trump was clowning the nation when he kept saying that we led the world in tests. Maddow, Williams and Tapper are doing the same thing now.

Below, you see the way some of the numbers look when you adjust for size of population. The United States doesn't come close to leading the world in this death statistic:
Coronavirus deaths per million population, as of May 19:
Belgium: 786
Spain: 593
Italy: 529
United Kingdom: 513
France: 433
Netherlands: 334
Ireland: 317
United States: 278
Canada: 157
Germany: 98
South Korea: 5
New Zealand: 4
When you make this obvious statistical adjustment, we aren't leading the world in deaths. It's sheer dumbness, and it's propaganda, to keep pimping the unadjusted ranking, just as it was when Donald J. Trump played the same game with tests.

For the record, we don't lead the world in tests either. On deaths, we currently rank 13th in the world, including some smaller nations.

On tests, we currently rank 30th. Trump was conning us, day after day, when he kept saying different. (Cable channels canceled their programs to let him con the public day after day on the air)

This is just extremely basic statistical blocking and tackling. That said, our intellectual infrastructure is extremely sad.

It's been this way for decades now. We run on the fuel called Dumb.

INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Rachel and Brian do it again!

TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2020

Statistical blunders abound:
No, it doesn't actually matter.

That said, it actually happened. This Sunday, in the Sunday Review, the New York Times published an informative essay by Dr. Mary Bassett.

Bassett directs the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard. In her essay, she argued that upscale New York City residents shouldn't flee the city during the pandemic. The affluent should stay where they are.

Should we blame Gotham's population density for the city's high rate of infection and death? According to Dr. Bassett, it isn't the population density that's at fault—it's "household overcrowding" among lower income residents, along with other income-related factors.

We thought the essay was quite informative, though possibly not convincing with respect to its narrowest point. Weirdly, though, in paragraph 3, Dr. Bassett said this:
BASSETT (5/17/20): New York [City] had an average life expectancy roughly 2.5 years longer than the nation’s in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available. This is good news, since most of humanity lives in cities, and in the United States, over half of the population lives in cities of one million residents or more.
Bassett's basic statistical claims seem to be accurate. In this official report to which she linked, average life expectancy at birth was 81.2 years in New York City in 2017.

Based on this CDC report, it seems that the corresponding figure for the United States as a whole was 78.6 years.

As of 2017, babies born in New York City had a higher life expectancy than those born throughout the U.S.! Especially now, with the pandemic raging, that fact will perhaps seem surprising.

That said, we remain puzzled, two days later, by the way Dr. Bassett referred to that fact as (unqualified) "good news." We're still trying to puzzle out the logic of that assessment.

People born in New York City were expected to live longer? That sounds like good news for people born in New York. But couldn't it possibly sound like bad news for people born everywhere else?

Dr. Bassett bases her assessment on the fact that "most of humanity lives in cities." But do people who live in cities have some intrinsic health and longevity advantage over those who don't?

Bassett doesn't attempt to argue that point. We found her "good news" statement puzzling.

We're still trying to puzzle out the logic of that assessment. That said, very late on Sunday night—actually, in the wee hours of Monday morning—we observed a statistical groaner whose busted logic was clear.

It happened on CNN, where Robyn Curnow was hosting an overnight show. At one point, she spoke with Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious disease specialist, about an earlier, somewhat murky set of statements made by Alex Azar.

As he spoke on Sunday with Jake Tapper, Azar had made a type of statement which every mainstream pundit has made on TV by this time. The statement dealt with the relatively high rates of "comorbidities"—pre-existing health care challenges—which exist within the country's black and Hispanic populations.

By now, everyone and his crazy uncle has cited this unfortunate state of affairs. That said, Azar's presentation to Tapper had possibly been a bit insensitively framed—plus, he's from the Trump administration.

Curnow's response to Azar's statements made no sense at all. With Curnow taking the lead, this exchange occurred:
CURNOW (5/18/20): We know that the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, also suggested underlying conditions, especially among minority communities, were factors in the disease killing so many Americans. Here he is telling CNN's Jake Tapper that diversity is part of the problem.

[VIDEOTAPE OF TAPPER AND AZAR: For text, see below]

CURNOW: You just heard those comments there from, you know, a top person within the U.S. here, saying that the reason America is the worst in terms of the death toll is because of obesity, and inequality, and hypertension, and diabetes, and diversity. But countries around the world all have that as well.

SENANAYAKE: Yes, that's right. I mean, certainly, we do know that people who get severe episodes of COVID are more likely to have certain underlying chronic conditions, chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancer etc. But that's not necessarily—

CURNOW: But those aren't exclusive to the U.S.

SENANAYAKE: No, no, exactly. It's not exclusive to the U.S. at all. And just because you have them and you have COVID isn't necessarily a death sentence either. So, there are other factors too.

So, how quickly did you get tested? How quickly could you seek testing? And were you able to get into a hospital in time? Did the hospital have the capacity to look after you in terms of doctors, nurses and ventilators? So, all of those are factors as well.

CURNOW: Yes, they certainly are. I want to talk about some of those underlying conditions just a moment, but also when we talk about America, most states here are reopening...
Curnow never did return to the question of those underlying health conditions. Nor did she show any ability to respond to what Azar had said, except by advancing an obvious, irrelevant fact.

Had Azar actually told Tapper that "diversity is part of the problem?" We'd call that a somewhat shaky paraphrase. (You can see their fuller exchange below.)

At any rate, Curnow responded by saying that "comorbidities"—those underlying health conditions—exist everywhere in the world, not just in the U.S. That is obviously true, of course, but it was irrelevant to what Azar had said.

At one point, Azar had seemed to say that the American population has a higher level of such comorbidities as compared to other nations. We don't know if that is true; we're not even sure that that's what Azar meant.

But Curnow took a tribal approach, and Senanayake was willing to follow. She kept insisting that comorbidities exist all over the world, not just in the U.S.!

That statement is plainly true. It also had no apparent relevance to anything Azar had said. It represented a tribal pushback against Curnow's reflexive sense that Azar had attacked diversity. We can't say it's clear that he did.

By the way, did you notice another problem with Curnow's presentation? It came when she said that "America is the worst [in the world] in terms of the death toll" from the coronavirus.

That isn't even close to true if you simply adjust for size of population. But again and again and again and again, over and over and over and over, American journalists—even American academics—seem to have a very hard time with the simplest statistical presentations and the simplest statistical logic.

For decades, American journalists have struggled with so basic a statistical matter as adjusting economic data for inflation. Education reporters rarely seem inclined to "disaggregate" American test scores—to present comparisons in which adjustments have been made for demographic differences.

In the current situation, anti-Trump journalists insist on declaring that the United States "leads the world in the death toll." However tribally pleasing it may be, that claim that is nowhere near true if you simply adjust for size of population.

Last night, we saw Rachel Maddow perform that basic statistical groaner at least three separate times. Less than two hours later, Brian Williams opened his program like this:
WILLIAMS (5/18/20): Well, good evening, once again, on day one thousand, two hundred and fifteen of this Trump administartion. One hundred sixty-nine days until our presidential election.

Today, our country leads the world in coronavirus infections, and in deaths
. Our death total tonight stands at 91,172...
Williams' numbers were accurate. But does the United States really lead the world in coronavirus deaths?

That's only true because of the size of our population. Once again, for the ten millionth time, here are a few of the numbers:
Deaths from Covid-19 per million population, as of May 19:
Belgium: 786
Spain: 593
Italy: 529
United Kingdom: 513
France: 433

[...]

United States: 278
Does the United States "lead the world in deaths?" We certainly do if you want us to—and many star pundits do.

In these highly tribalized times, many anti-Trump journalists may want the United States to "lead the world in deaths." Dumbly, Trump ignores population size when he says we lead the world in testing. Anti-Trump stars dumbly follow suit when they say we lead in deaths!

The intellectual state of the union is remarkably weak. Maddow is Our Own Rhodes Scholar. But have we ever watched her in the past month without seeing her make some statistically misleading claim?

In this sense, our nation's intellectual infrastructure is remarkably weak. Our sitting president is deeply disordered. Our academics and high-end journalists don't always seem a lot better.

Most strikingly, you can't watch people like Maddow and Williams (and Tapper) without seeing low-IQ statistical groaners. And then, there's the liberal world's attempts to deal with Tara Reade—to deal with what Reade has said.

Tomorrow, we're going to journey to The Atlantic in search of a more competent discourse. We'll look at two recent columns by Conor Friedersdorf. One column deals with Tara Reade; one column deals with Trump.

Our nation's intellectual infrastructure has been in tatters for decades. Friederdorf takes us to a better place—but we won't even be giving him straight A's! That's how bad it is!

Tomorrow: Friedersdorf on Donald Trump, Friedersdorf on Reade

What Azar said: Below, you see the excerpt Curnow played from Azar's interview with Tapper:
AZAR (5/17/20): Every death is tragic, but we have maintained our health care burden within the capacity of our system to actually deal with it. Unfortunately, the American population is a very diverse and— And it is a, it is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular, African-American, minority communities, are particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease health disparities and disease comorbidities, and that is an unfortunate legacy in our health care system that we certainly do need to address.

But know the response here in the United States has been historic to keep us within our health care capacity, even in New York, and New York City, to keep this within capacity. It's genuinely a historic result.

TAPPER: I want to give you an opportunity to clear it up because it sounded like you were saying that the reason that there is so many dead Americans is because we're unhealthier than the rest of the world. And I know that's not what you meant.

AZAR: Oh, no. I think that there's—we have a significantly disproportionate burden of comorbidities in the United States. Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, these are demonstrated facts that do make us at risk for any type of disease burden.

TAPPER: Sure.
Tapper took instant offense, though not on a racial basis. He said, "It sounded like you were saying that the reason that there is so many dead Americans is because we're unhealthier than the rest of the world. And I know that's not what you meant."

Are we "unhealthier than the rest of the world?" We have no idea. Nor do we know if that's what Azar meant, so jumbled was the full exchange.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Curnow took instant offense on a racial/ethnic basis. She proceeded to state and restate an obvious and irrelevant point—underlying conditions exist everywhere in the world.

Can anybody here play this game? On cable, the answer is typically no. Indeed, Tapper's jumbled exchange with Azar began with Tapper saying this:

"But it's worse for us than it is for anyone else. I'm just looking at the number of dead bodies."

Emulating Trump himself, Tapper didn't adjust for size of population! Azar tried to correct his misleading claim, then proceeded from there.

This sort of thing is part of our basic infrastructure. For all we know, that infrastructure may be the worst in the world!

New Zealand has suffered only four deaths per million!

MONDAY, MAY 18, 2020

Now, let's consider Australia:
By common agreement, New Zealand has done an excellent job handling Covid-19.

What explains New Zealand's success? Only in the New York Times would you read something as silly as this:
TAUB (5/16/20): After New Zealand began its lockdown on March 25, [Prime Minister Jacinda] Ardern addressed the nation via a casual Facebook Live session she conducted on her phone after putting her toddler to bed. Dressed in a cozy-looking sweatshirt, she empathized with citizens’ anxieties and offered apologies to anyone who was startled or alarmed by the emergency alert that announced the lockdown order.

By contrast, Mr. Trump has tried to anthropomorphize the virus into a foe he can rail against, calling it a “brilliant enemy.” But while that may have encouraged his base, it has not aided American efforts to contain the pandemic. The United States now has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world.
What explains New Zealand's relative success? (For data, see below.)

We can't necessarily answer that question. But we're fairly sure that the nation's success hasn't been caused by the fact that Prime Minister Ardern wore "a cozy-looking sweatshirt" when she addressed the nation. Nor would we link it to the claim that she had just put her toddler to bed.

Meanwhile, note the almost fanatical innumeracy which seems to be gripping the Times. In this high-profile piece from Saturday's paper, Amanada Taub included the grossly misleading fact that the United States "has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world."

That's true, of course, but it isn't relevant to Taub's insinuation. Among major nations, the U.S. currently ranks ninth in deaths per million population, and we're nowhere close to first.

We only have "the highest death toll" because we're the world's third-largest nation by population, behind only China and India. When it comes to this simple point, the New York Times is almost as innumerate as President Trump himself.

Trump constantly ignores population size when he triumphantly declares that we lead the world in tests. The Times keeps countering with the innumerate clam that we lead the world in deaths. As we noted on Friday, the same misleading claim had appeared in Mara Gay's otherwise excellent editorial essay in that day's editions.

In that sense, the New York Times—its reporters and its editors both—are almost as dumb as Trump is. That said, let's return to Prime Minister Ardern's cozy attire, along with her slumbering toddler.

That ridiculous passage about the sweatshirt was part of Taub's attempt to claim that female heads of state have been doing a better job confronting the coronavirus than their male counterparts.

That may or may not be true. Let's consider New Zealand.

Taub started her report with praise for Prime Minister Ardern. This is the way it went:
TAUB: Monday was a day of triumph for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Thanks to the efforts of the entire nation, she said, New Zealand had been largely successful in meeting its ambitious goal of eradicating, rather than just controlling, outbreaks of Covid-19. The lockdown she had put in place on March 25 could now end.

Ms. Ardern’s success is the latest data point in a widely noticed trend: Countries led by women seem to be particularly successful in fighting the coronavirus.
Have countries led by women been particularly successful? As you'll see, we aren't hugely sure.

But that was the premise which led to the claim about the cozy-looking sweatshirt. Under present arrangements, anything which fits some prevailing narrative is fit for the New York Times.

In fairness, New Zealand does have a good track record. Below, you see its current standing, as compared to a neighboring country ruled by one of those men:
Deaths from Covid-19 per million population, as of May 18:
New Zealand: 4
Australia: 4
Oops! Taub failed to mention the fact that Australia, ruled by a man, has the same low death rate that New Zealand does!

Taub cited three other female heads of state—those in Germany, Finland and Taiwan. She didn't mention Belgium—which, despite its female head of state, has the highest death rate in the world:
Deaths from Covid-19 per million population, as of May 18:
Belgium: 784
United States: 276
Does the United States have "the highest coronavirus death toll in the world?" Once you adjust for population, it isn't even close!

For various reasons, assessing these matters isn't enormously easy at the present time. For a Washington Post report concerning Belgium's high death rate, you can just click here.

Concerning the general question, you can consider Taub's report for yourself. But the "N" in question is very low, while the "narrative quotient" is high.

New Zealand has a low death rate—but so, alas, does Australia! This is part of the way cogitation works in this, the age of the tribe.

INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Tara Reade, denounced by those who know her!

MONDAY, MAY 18, 2020

Recalling what Bazelon said:
Way back at the dawn of time—on April 30, 2020—Emily Bazelon offered two warnings concerning Tara Reade.

Bazelon offered her warnings during a podcast at Slate. Speaking with a pair of male colleagues who were being extremely correct, Bazelon offered these winged warnings about Tara Reade's accusation:
BAZELON (4/30/20): You know, in some cases, we’ve had people who’ve seemed incredibly durable as witnesses in terms of their credibility coming forward. So I’m thinking of Anita Hill. I’m thinking of Christine Blasey Ford. And I don’t see Tara Reade in that category.

Now, I realize in saying that I’m basically showing my own bias against people who are alleged victims who also have a lot of, like, questionable actions in their past. I mean, reading about Reade’s activities with this horse rescue operation she was involved with, where the owner and employees are saying, like, "You stole stuff from us," and it just looks really like not credible.

And I guess my own basic bias is that, if you are going to bring a really long-ago serious allegation against a public official, and you can line up some pieces of corroboration but not real proof, your reliability is going to be on the line. And we should not err in the direction of deciding to let people destroy the careers of the men they accuse in those settings without some real sense that we are sure, because otherwise we are in a world in which the MeToo movement has turned into a place where we’re perilously close to letting people who, who lie, or who have problems, destroy other people.
There was more to what Bazelon said that day. Because we transcribed the bulk of her warnings, you can peruse them here.

Concerning the passage posted above, we're sorry that Bazelon used the term "bias" in describing her own words of caution. In our view, she wasn't displaying a "bias" at all.

In our view, Bazelon was displaying painfully basic common sense as he advanced her warnings. As we noted in real time, she did so in the face of two male colleagues who kept changing the subject to avoid what she had said.

At any rate, let's simplify! In the passage posted above, Bazelon said she that she didn't regard Reade as highly credible. She specifically cited an incident in which Reade was accused of stealing from a horse rescue operation—an incident her male colleagues didn't seem to want to discuss.

In the more general sense, Bazelon offered a pair of warnings concerning accusers like Reade. Sometimes accusers are lying, she said. And sometimes accusers "have problems."

Sometimes accusers are lying, and sometimes accusers "have problems!" For those reasons, Bazelon said, we need to "exercise caution in believing high-profile accusations which can destroy other people."

As events of the past thirty years have shown, those accusations can also change the course of world history, bringing death to innocent people all over the world. Perhaps for that reason, Politico's Natasha Korecki has "interviewed more than a dozen people, many of whom interacted with Reade through her involvement in the animal-rescue community."

Korecki conducted these interviews "as part of an investigation into Reade’s allegations against Biden—charges that are already shaping the contours of his campaign." Having said that, good lord:

Last Friday afternoon, Korecki published a lengthy account of what those people told her about Biden's accuser. We'll strongly suggest that you read every word, but at one point, the nub of Korecki's findings came out sounding like this:
KORECKI (5/15/20): [M]any of those who knew her well in recent years said she frequently lied or sought to manipulate them, in many instances taking advantage of their desire to help a person they felt was down on her luck.

“You can use these words: manipulative, deceitful, user,” said Kelly Klett, an attorney who rented Reade a room in her home in 2018. “Looking back at it all now, that is exactly how I view her and how I feel about her.”

“She has a problem,” said Lynn Hummer, who owns a horse sanctuary where Reade volunteered for two years, beginning in 2014.

She described Reade as “very clever, manipulative. ... I do think she’s a liar.”
For the record, Hummer is the person to whom Bazelon referred when she mentioned the claim that Reade had stolen from the horse rescue operation.

According to Korecki, Hummer said that Reade is a "liar," and that she "has a problem." As you can see, Kelly Klett said similar things, as did other people with whom Korecki spoke.

Meanwhile, those are the specific concerns which Bazelon voiced. That's what Bazelon said!

Is Tara Reade lying about Biden? Now, exactly as before, we have no way of knowing.

People with problems can get attacked too. In some cases, a sexual assault can be the source of a person's later "problems."

That said, something else is plainly true—and, as Bazelon noted, we've had a string of examples, whether confirmed or apparent, dating back to Gennifer Flowers in 1992:

Especially in cases involving public figures, sex accusers are sometimes lying. Sometimes, accusers may perhaps be delusional, due to some previous problem.

They may be lying to gain attention. They may be lying for profit. They may be taking money from Putin. That's always possible too!

Korecki interviewed a range of people who say they've been scammed by Reade down through the years. We suggest you read every word of Korecki's report, but we'll offer three cheers for her work, with four cheers for Bazelon's thoroughly sensible warnings.

We'll offer no cheers for Dickinson and Plots, Bazelon's male interlocutors. They were exquisitely correct that day—correct in every respect. Have we mentioned the fact that people are dead all over the world because of such past correctness?

Two other reports casting doubt on Reade's accusations have appeared of late. One came from Laura McGann of Vox.

McGann receives only two cheers. We're stingy for a reason:

According to McGann's report, she has been in contact with Reade since April 2019. To McGann's credit, she never published a report about Reade's ever-shifting claims.

"I couldn't prove it," McGann writes at one point. At another point, she writes this about one of Reade's constantly shifting claims:

"But that wasn’t the narrative I wanted. I wanted the truth."

To the credit of McGann and Vox, she didn't report what she couldn't confirm. On May 7, she did publish a lengthy report—a lengthy report which also casts substantial doubt on Reade's claims.

Once again, McGann and Vox deserve full credit for failing to rush into print. So why does he only get two cheers? She gets only two cheers because, at various point, her report includes such problematic remarks as these:
MCGANN (5/7/20): All of this leaves me where no reporter wants to be: mired in the miasma of uncertainty. I wanted to believe Reade when she first came to me, and I worked hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe her, too. I couldn’t find it. None of that means Reade is lying, but it leaves us in the limbo of Me Too: a story that may be true but that we can’t prove.
Should a reporter "want to believe" certain types of claims? Wanting to believe some such claim, should a reporter "work hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe [it], too?"

In our view, that's a Halloween-inflected version of the reporter's mission. Rather plainly, though, that's what happened at Rolling Stone in the journalistically gruesome case of the UVa fraternity gang rape allegation, a claim which turned out to be false.

At Rolling Stone, an experienced reporter wanted to believe the claim. This led her to blow past various warning signs concerning the accuser, "Jackie," a young woman who rather plainly "had a problem" and needed some help, as we humans sometimes do.

"Jackie" apparently ended up getting help, the kind of help we people sometimes need. First, though, her false accusation caused tremendous harm to various parties, with reporters and editors at Rolling Stone "wanting to believe" her tribally pleasing tale.

Unlike the reporter at Rolling Stone, McGann didn't publish prematurely. But even now, does she understand the basic logic of a case like this? We were struck by these passages:
MCGANN: Eight women have now said they’ve been made uncomfortable by Biden in public settings. Reade is the lone woman to accuse him of sexual assault. This is a situation out of her control, but it means that reporters can’t build a story about Biden around a pattern of behavior, where multiple accusers boost one another’s story. Instead, reporters are looking at Reade’s account in isolation—and that account has changed.

[...]

If Reade had told a consistent story and shared all of her corroborating sources with reporters, if those sources had told a consistent story, if the Union piece had shaken loose other cases like hers, or if there were “smoking gun” evidence in Biden’s papers, her account might have been reported on differently in mainstream media a year ago. It is not fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation, but it’s what reporters have found is necessary for their stories to hold up to public scrutiny and successfully hold powerful men accountable. So we are here.
In those passages, McGann says that the lack of other accusers "is a situation out of [Reade's] control." She says the need for such types of corroboration, or for some type confirmation, "isn't fair to an individual survivor."

In those passages, McGann still seems to be boo-hoo-hooing on behalf of Reade, who has changed her story a million times. According to McGann herself, Reade has offered a string of unconvincing accounts of why she has done so.

"It isn't fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation?" The fact is, McGann doesn't know if Reade is a "survivor" of anything at all!

She doesn't know if Reade's a survivor! But does she know that she doesn't know? We'd say that still isn't clear.

In truth, Reade may simply be lying, whether for attention or for money. Given some of her crazy writings, she may be on the Putin payroll. There's no way to know that she isn't.

Putting profit from Putin to the side, Reade may be lying, or she may be delusional. Such situations exist in this world, just as Bazelon noted.

Last Friday, the PBS NewsHour also published and broadcast long reports casting doubt on Reade's accusations. In this post for New York magazine, Jonathan Chait links to all of these reports, at Politico, Vox, PBS.

We're going to give Chait one cheer, not three, for what he says in that post. We may be especially jaundiced at this site, but we hear hints of tribal positioning games when he starts like this:
CHAIT (5/15/20): When Tara Reade first made her assault allegation against Joe Biden, I thought the charge was more likely to be true than false. To be clear, I had no intention of changing my vote. The allegation came too late to reopen the nominating process without doing violence to the expressed will of the electorate. And I’ve always believed the primary criteria for voting on a candidate is their policy impact (which is why I wrote a column in 2018 defending Republicans who still supported Roy Moore over Doug Jones). But I did feel bad about voting for a candidate I suspected had done something terrible.

Since then, however, three detailed reports—by Vox’s Laura McGann, PBS NewsHour, and Politico’s Natasha Korecki—have delved into Reade’s allegations. Neither reaches a definitive conclusion. But all of them on balance add a lot of grounds for skepticism. At this point, Reade’s allegation seems to me to be more likely to be false than true.
Before these debunking reports appeared, Chait "thought the charge was more likely to be true than false." He doesn't explain why he thought that, or why he had formed a provisional judgment at all, but this keeps him on the side of the tribal angels.

Meanwhile, don't get him wrong—he was still planning to vote for Biden! This stance also conforms to the tribal agreement which had taken shape as of Friday last. Our tribe had now decided that, while we should continue "believing women," we didn't have to let the purity of our unfounded assessments affect the way we vote.

Did Chait "feel bad about voting for a candidate [he] suspected had done something terrible?" Out here in the real world, he wasn't going to vote for six months! To our ear, this too sounds like the performative tribal morality which had Bazelon's male interlocutors changing the subject whenever she suggested that Reade might be lying, or that she might even "have problems."

Chait didn't know whether Reade's accusation was true. Why did he think the ugly charge was likely to be true? Why did he think anything at all? Skillfully, he didn't say.

Starting in 1992, we've gone through similar charges from Gennifer Flowers, from Kathleen Willey and from Julie Swetnick. We've had Stormy Daniels seeking cash for a report about one alleged instance of fully consensual sex ten years in the past.

Along the way, we also had the false accusation in the Duke lacrosse case, followed by the false accusation in the UVa case. But people like Chait are still pretty sure that we should believe such accusations, even when we have noway of knowing whether they're true or they're false.

All the way back on April 30, Bazelon offered a pair of winged warnings. We offer four cheers for Bazelon, with the standard three cheers for Politico's Korecki.

Concerning the basic logic of such situations, we human beings, with our flawed intellectual architecture, still have a long way to go. We'll have more on this case as the week proceeds, and on other examples of our species' extremely frail intellectual infrastructure.

We'll look at The Crazy and at The Dumb, as seen in more than one tribe.