Whitmer appears with cable news star!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2020

What unblinking courage looks like: We can't link you to a transcript. Presumably for obvious reasons, the "cable news" channel in question no longer provides them.

We can't show you the videotape of the full interview. The cable news conglomerate in question has cut way back on its postings.

We can tell you this:

Last night, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer appeared on the Rachel Maddow TV show. We had the same reaction we've had on several occasions watching Whitmer of late:

That's what political talent looks like that. Talent, and political leadership.

The flyweights who run the Maddow Show have dropped the part of the interview which we found most impressive—beyond impressive, in fact. That was the opening exchange, when Whitmer said, as she always does, that she and her family have the Michigan state police in charge of their security.

For that reason, "I have never once felt unsafe," Whitmer said, unblinkingly, just as she always does, even though it's hard to believe that her statement could be true. 

It's amazing to see an elected official who knows exactly what to say, even when it's almost surely untrue. Also, who knows how to go out in public and say it without the slightest hint of flinching.

Whitmer was referring to the recent kidnap/trial for treason plot aimed at her person. She went on to discuss Donald J. Trump's ongoing attempts to stir up such acts of violence. 

In the face of this heinous behavior, this governor keeps saying all the right things, without the slightest sign of flinching. Meanwhile, our "journalists" keep refusing to speak to medical specialists about the possible state of the president's mental health.

Whitmer looks straight into camera when she says these things; she doesn't flinch or blink. She goes on to say that Trump's behavior needs to stop. 

You rarely see such perfect leadership We're newly surprised, almost amazed, every time we see it.

AOC is soaked in raw talent; Whitmer has been amazing. We thought we saw that same talent when we watched Kamala Harris make her campaign kick-off speech.

We quickly saw that we'd been mistaken as Harris waged her horrible primary campaign. Nothing that's happened since Biden picked her has led us to think that she's up to the task she's been handed.

(Very few people would be.)

It's surprising to us that muscular Michigan is the state which elects so many impressive women to statewide office. That said, Michiganders just keep doing it, and Trump just keeps doing it too.

Talent and leadership on this level don't come along very often. It seems to us that attention should be paid.

Mateo explained it in the 2002 feature film, In America, speaking to the delightful pair of sisters who had just moved in upstairs and had come to his door on Halloween.

Lacking candy to give as a treat, why was he giving the girls his "fortune"—a big glass jar full of spare change?

"When luck comes knocking on your door, you can't [shouldn't] turn it away."



THE 1619 CONNECTION: Woodward's book is a bit Dick-and-Jane!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2020

So too with the Project?: Last month, we broke down and purchased Bob Woodward's latest best-seller, Rage.

After that, we tried to read it. We only got so far.

Woodward's books tend to be written on something like fourth-grade level. We refer to the Dick-and-Jane sentence structure, but also to the lazy standards of evidence and proof the reporter brings to his various tasks.

Full disclosure! We bought the Kindle version of Rage, for $14.99. Certain electronic evidence suggests that we gave up after reading page 198 of 452, an effort which had taken us to "Location 2722 of 8448."

Woodward's books have a certain grade school "story hour" feel. We gather around and listen to Woodward tell us a string of vastly sanded and simplified tales.

His conclusions may not be wrong, but his route to those conclusions is vastly smoothed and sanded. We'll have to admit that we get a somewhat similar feeling when we read the featured essay for the New York Times' ballyhooed 1619 Project, the somewhat unusual plus-que-journalistic undertaking which was unveiled last year.

That featured essay was written by Nikole Hannah-Jones, an experienced journalist who, based upon the standard metrics, has had a very substantial career.  

Hannah-Jones graduated from Notre Dame in 1998. In 2003, she earned a master's degree in journalism from UNC. Her career took her to ProPublica in 2011, then on to the New York Times in 2015.

As a journalist, she has received some of the highest honors possible. The leading authority on the topic tells us this:

Hannah-Jones is a 2017 award winner of the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award." The award cited her “ Chronicling the persistence of racial segregation in American society, particularly in education, and reshaping national conversations around education reform.”

In 2019, Hannah-Jones launched a project to re-examine the legacy of slavery in the United States, timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia. Hannah-Jones produced a series of articles for a special issue of The New York Times Magazine titled The 1619 Project. The ongoing initiative began August 14, 2019 and "aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative"...

In 2020, Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her work on the 1619 Project. The award cited her “sweeping, provocative and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.”

We'll guess that very few journalists have ever won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award and a Pulitzer prize. On a slightly cynical note, we'll throw in this observation:

She won these awards for saying the things our tribe's current ruling elites most deeply want to hear. Though this doesn't necessarily mean that her work lacked merit.

Briefly, a personal note:

At this site, we spent a great deal of time on a lengthy report Hannah-Jones prepared for ProPublica in 2014. 

Her report concerned the segregation, integration and desegregation of the Tuscaloosa city schools, a very complex topic. 

We can't recall the ultimate assessments we drew concerning the journalistic merits of her lengthy piece. If memory serves, we came away thinking that she had criticized the city's (black) leadership class for reaching certain decisions which were forced upon them by the backwash of our nation's brutal racial history.

We're working from memory there. That said, the lengthy piece was thoroughly reported and full of information. 

On balance, we can't say we're inclined to spill with praise for Hannah-Jones' featured essay for The 1619 Project. Indeed, as we've reread it in recent weeks, it has made us think of Rage.

The essay revisits aspects of our nation's brutal racial history which everyone already knows and has known for a very long time.  As is currently fashionable, it seeks to retell this brutal history as if no one has ever been willing to tell it before.

To our ear, it also tends to tell this history in a type of "TV miniseries" way. Brutal history is simplified to the point of possibly being simplistic. 

The stories read like YA fiction, with a hint of invidious group division thrown in. Consider what's said to have happened here:

HANNAH-JONES (8/14/19): Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different—it might not be a democracy at all.

The very first person to die for this country in the American Revolution was a black man who himself was not free. Crispus Attucks was a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave his life for a new nation in which his own people would not enjoy the liberties laid out in the Declaration for another century. In every war this nation has waged since that first one, black Americans have fought—today we are the most likely of all racial groups to serve in the United States military.

Did Crispus Attucks "give his life for" this country? There's a treacly feel to that construction which modern upper-end discourse loves, and frequently seeks to reward.

That said, constructions like that are more commonly found in books for third or fourth graders. For the record, it isn't clear that they're instructive, appropriate or helpful even there.

Our nation's conventional history crawls with stories like that. As every schoolchild once knew, Nathan Hale is said to have said, at the time of his execution, that his only regret was that he had but one life to give for his country.  

As is almost always the case in such matters, it seems that no one really knows what Hale actually said. Whatever! Smoothed and sanded hero tales have always been popular with us rubes, and Hannah-Jones' account of Attucks' death seems to follow the yellow brick road which leads to grade school accounts of heroism.

In this case, the imagined heroism is especially pleasing because it's imputed to "a black man who himself was not free." As in standard grade school narration, he isn't just "the first person to die for this country"—he's the very first person to die for this country! That almost comes before first!

To our ear, Hannah-Jones simplifies such stories throughout, dumbing us down as she serves us helpings of current approved tapioca. Such work is now amazingly common on the front pages of our major upper-end newspapers.

To our ear, Hannah-Jones also tends to overdo it in the direction of the one "racial" group being greater than all the rest. But that's a story for a whole different era, for an era which isn't in love with invidious "identity" structures.

Woodward's book struck us as Dick and Jane. So does Hannah-Jones' essay. 

That said, she's telling us liberals, and our liberal elites, the stories we love at this juncture. There's nothing especially new about the basic history which anchors her piece—Before the Mayflower was a major book in the mid-1960s—but she almost seems to be suggesting that no one has told it before.

Sometimes, Hannah-Jones makes us think of Woodward's book. It's when she and her editor were forced to contemplate corrections of apparent errors that we saw the kind of work which defines the modern age.

We'll discuss those non-correction corrections tomorrow. For today, one last point concerning the life and death of Attucks:

The leading authority on Attucks' life and death offers a much less simplistic account. (We weren't present at the time to give you a first-hand report.)

That authority's account of that life and that death almost seems to be drawn from the real world of  human experience. 

By way of contrast, Hannah-Jones gave us something perhaps a bit more like a novel. Rightly or wrongly, the corps then gave her its top prize.

Tomorrow: Douglass' (Maryland) childhood


Does Rutgers pay female professors less?

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2020

According to Rutgers, yes: Does Rutgers pay its female professors less?

According to Rutgers, yes!

According to this New York Times news report, the university commissioned a study of the question in 2018. Here's what the study is said to have found:

KRAMER (10/15/20): At Rutgers, a study commissioned in 2018 by the university’s faculty union showed that when adjusted for rank, women who are tenured earned on average about 2 percent less than men. Because women make up only 30 percent of full professors and 20 percent of distinguished professors, the study also examined pay discrepancies among faculty members of different ranks.

We're puzzled by the logic of that second sentence, but let's let that go.

According to the study, tenured women earned two percent less than (tenured?) men—"when adjusted for rank."

What does it mean to "adjust for rank?" Based on the somewhat murky report, some Rutgers professors are "full professors," while others are "distinguished professors." 

Does every tenured professor fit into one group or the other? We don't know, but that seems to be the matter of "rank" to which the report refers.

Among tenured professors, that looks like a rather small wage gap. By the way, was seniority—years of service—figured into the comparison?

The Times report doesn't say. But then, what else is new?

In that first passage, Jill Kramer reported what the study showed when adjustment was made for rank. In her next paragraph, Kramer reported this:

KRAMER (continuing directly): When rank was eliminated, women’s pay lagged more than 7 percent on average to men’s salaries, according to the study.

Women comprise a smaller percentage of the "distinguished professor" group. Is that because the university's female professors are, on average, younger and/or more recently hired? Or are tenured women, all basic factors being equal, less likely to get rated as "distinguished?"

We have no idea.

Kramer cited results of the study in the context of a news report about lawsuits brought against Rutgers by five female professors. These professors allege that they're being paid less than their male counterparts by what sounds like a set of large amounts.

The liberal world likes to talk about the gender wage gap. We especially like to make claims about this gap which everyone knows to be false.

Stating the obvious, women shouldn't be paid less than comparably qualified men, not even by two percent. But doggone it! When it comes time to examine cases, we tend to get handed lazy journalistic work. 

We've made a basic point many times, with respect to many different topics:

Journalistically, statistics are hard. Human interest is easy and fun and easy to sell to  us the people, even though we're widely acknowledged to be pretty sharp.


THE 1619 CONNECTION: The project came together fast!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2020

Thus ever with revolutions: For ourselves, we've never quite understood how Vertigo came to be regarded as  "the greatest film in history."

The film has massive flaws. For starters, its basic storyline takes us so far beyond implausibility that you can't even see implausibility from there. 

Beyond that, two of its four major characters have simply disappeared by the end of the film. The ultimate fate of the murderous husband is never addressed. More unhappily, the Barbara Bel Geddes character has also ceased to exist. 

In a more humiliating version of the Grace Kelly character from Rear Window, the Bel Geddes character has begged Jimmy Stewart to marry her—possibly, just to concede that she exists—through the first two-thirds of the film.

At that point, she ceases to exists. As it turns out, it wasn't just Stewart. Hitchcock  didn't care about this character either!

That said, the film does have a certain dreamy quality, suggesting that it's secretly about all things known to humans. This is especially true when Carlotta Valdes possesses the Kim Novak character, producing dreamy memory episodes which take us back to, and perhaps beyond, the dawn of the human race.

(See Novak, counting the rings on the redwoods, dreamily in the Muir Woods.)

For whatever reason, we've found ourselves thinking of Valdes as we've pondered the New York Times' inevitably award-winning undertaking, The 1619 Project. 

At some point in 2019, the Times decided that it would go ahead and set all of American history straight. Nor was it reluctant to say so:

The 1619 Project 

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

Finally! Finally, someone was going to "tell our story truthfully!" For better or worse, it was going to be a bunch of journalists at a deeply flawed, Hamptons-based, super-bougie newspaper. 

Finally! After all these years, this bunch of journalists was going to get it right. They weren't just going to "tell our story" accurately

Finally, for the first time, someone was actually going to tell our story truthfully!

Thus spake the eternally childish Times. Mommy and Daddy had lied all along. At long last, finally, the children were going to be honest.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with trying to give a full account of the backwash—the continuing destructive effects—of our nation's brutal racial history. 

There is something a little bit odd about the idea that a bunch of journalists are going to be the ones to accomplish this task—with the idea that these Peter Pans would be the first to try to do so "truthfully."

A certain childishness might seem to lurk in those inspiring phrases. With that in mind, we were a bit surprised by the speed with which this slightly peculiar project took shape.

Last Thursday, Sarah Ellison detailed that part of the story in the Washington Post. The idea began with the Times' Nikole Hannah-Jones, an experienced, thoroughly competent 43-year-old journalist.  

At least in Ellison's telling, the project came together quickly:

ELLISON (10/15/20): In December 2018, Hannah-Jones was rushing to finish a book project before the end of a temporary leave from the Times—but another deadline kept nagging at her.

She had been thinking about August 1619 ever since discovering the date in high school, on page 29 of Lerone Bennett’s “Before the Mayflower.” That was when the White Lion merchant ship brought more than 20 enslaved Africans to the shores of Virginia—a rarely noted milestone that probably marked the beginning of chattel slavery in the mainland English colonies.

Now the 400th anniversary loomed. “And I was wondering, what I should do with that?” Hannah-Jones said in a recent interview.

Back at work, she told her colleagues she wanted to mark the occasion with a special issue dedicated to slavery’s impact on modern society. “It didn’t take very much convincing,” said Jake Silverstein, the magazine’s editor in chief. Hannah-Jones convened a multidisciplinary group of scholars—Pulitzer winners and Ivy League stars among them—to steer her thinking and brainstorm topics.

Seven months later, the 1619 Project had expanded to include a broadsheet section of the newspaper, a podcast series and a collaboration with the Pulitzer Center to develop a free school curriculum...

A school curriculum—even that! The project had expanded like topsy. We'll return to that particular expansion before the week is done.

(In fairness, and on the brighter side, some "Ivy League stars" were consulted. Sic semper that!)

Let's start with the obvious. There's zero reason why Hannah-Jones shouldn't have wanted to call attention to the 400th anniversary of that profoundly unfortunate event.

It made perfect sense to think that the Times might want to call attention to that deeply unfortunate milestone. Beyond that, there's no reason why the Time might not want to chronicle "slavery’s impact on modern society."

Those ambitions make perfect sense. We'll admit that we're not completely impressed with the way things seem to have proceeded from there.

Based upon Ellison's chronology, it sounds like Hannah-Jones approached Silverstein, her editor, at some point in early 2019. "Seven months later," this germ of a perfectly sensible idea had expanded far and wide.

We're prepared to admit that Ellison's chronology makes us think of the old films—for example, Babes in Arms—in which Judy and Mickey get the rest of the kids together to put on a show. 

The shows would come together with remarkable speed. At least as Ellison tells it, so did this somewhat unusual project.

For today, we'll only mention one additional point. We're struck by Ellison's account of Hannah-Jones' intellectual journey.

"She had been thinking about August 1619 ever since discovering the date in high school," Ellison writes, "on page 29 of Lerone Bennett’s 'Before the Mayflower.' "  

It's completely appropriate that that auspicious date should have stuck in Hannah-Jones' mind. More accurately, it speaks well of Hannah-Jones that the date stuck in her mind.

Based on her own date of graduation from high school, she apparently came upon that date some time in the early 1990s.

It's completely appropriate that that date should have stuck in her mind. But Bennett's book was originally published in 1962.  The very phrase, "before the Mayflower," had become iconic decades before it impressed Hannah-Jones, as well it should have.

Our point is simple. The kids at the Times almost seem to think that they have discovered this history for the very first time. In fact, this history had been known to many people for a very long time before Hannah-Jones spoke with Silverstein, and many people other than they have tried to deal with it truthfully.

To our reckoning, the idea that they were "finally" going to "tell our story truthfully" suggests a certain possibility. It suggest the possibility that a so-called "revolution of the saints" was now underway at the Times.

The Times has often produced underwhelming work, and it may have done so again. On that point, opinions are likely to differ.

How good was the work which emerged from this somewhat unusual project? We'll start to evaluate that question tomorrow. For today, we'll only say this:

Revolutions of the saints often produce unhelpful work. Gullible members of our own tribe may not be aware of this problem. 

Over the weekend, Carlotta Valdes recalled the many errors of the near and more distant past, American and otherwise. She adopted a dreamy, mournful aspect.

It almost seemed to us that her insights were sharp.

Tomorrow: To our ear, almost a bit like Woodward


Berman does what mustn't be done!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2020

SNL delivered no laughs, misfiring cable host says: CNN's Erica Hill was working directly from script. Also, from decades-old tradition.

At the end of this morning's 6 o'clock hour on CNN's New Day program, she told us we were going to enjoy some solid laughs, courtesy of this past weekend's Saturday Night Live:

HILL (10/19/20): All right, Sara Sidner, thank you for that reporting. 

We're going to take a little shift here, take a turn.  Saturday Night Live, taking on the Trump and Biden dueling town halls. Here's a look at your late night laughs.

Viewers were going to enjoy some good solid ate night laughs! Producers then played videotape of SNL's hilarious spoof of last Wednesday night's dueling town halls.

It's been an established norm for decades. On cable, anchors are supposed to pretend they think that leaden clips from Saturday Night Live are actually funny.

This morning, to his vast credit, John Berman wasn't buying. 

In the past few years, we've come to regard Berman as a cut above the average cable news host. This morning, he joined the pantheon of the gods. 

His co-host had promised some late night laughs. After sitting through the video clip, Berman responded as shown:

BERMAN: So it happened. I mean, I think we have definitive proof that Saturday Night Live was on TV.

HILL: Yes. Where you going with this?

Already, Hill was concerned. Metaphorically, she sensed that one of the androids at Westworld had started to think on its own.

She sensed that Berman was misfiring. Instantly, it became clear that her instinct was right:

BERMAN (continuing directly): Yes, that's it! I mean, I think that's the most we can say about it.

HILL: O.K.

BERMAN: We called it "late night laughs." That may be a misnomer in this case. It was on late night.

HILL: It was on late. There were some—some funny lines.

BERMAN: There were laughs?

HILL: Yes.

BERMAN: I'll have to take your word for it. We'll take that under advisement.

The lusty cheers of our youthful analysts rocked our sprawling campus. "Meantime, New Day continues right now," the badly shaken Hill said, and the 7 o'clock hour started.

Berman had broken  one of the longest-standing rules in the cable handbook. 

No matter what, cable hosts are supposed to act like they think SNL is  funny. Similarly, they're expected to say, "The American people are pretty sharp," every time it becomes clear that we actually aren't.

It takes a tremendous act of will to perform such tasks. Cable hosts are willing to do it.

This morning, one of the cable hosts briefly broke free. Berman had seemed to be a cut above. Just like that, he proved it!

CNN gets it right: To its credit, CNN still provides transcripts for all its shows.

Presumably for the obvious reason, MSNBC has stopped producing any transcripts at all. Amazingly, it has also taken down the years of transcripts it created in the past for its prime-time shows.

Why would a channel decide to eliminate years of transcripts? We American liberals, famously sharp, can possibly figure that out.

(Rachel could make them return to transcribing. In your heart, you know she won't.)


THE 1619 CONNECTION: A visit from Carlotta Valdes!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2020

"More alike than different:" Crowds were chanting, "Lock them up!" A strong man sometimes joined in.

Also this:

A newspaper published a shocking report as the White House campaign neared its end. But then too, how odd:

According to a later report in a different major newspaper, the principle author of the report "refused to put his name on it"—"did not allow his byline to be used because he had concerns over the article’s credibility."

The principle author of the report didn't believe his own news report, though only if this second report is accurate!

Crowds were chanting, "Lock them up?" In this way, our species' history was coming around again. 

Or so we were told by a famous time-traveler who visited us last night. We refer to Carlotta Valdes (1831-1857), who's best known from her seminal role in the Hitchcock film, Vertigo. 

Vertigo was poorly reviewed, and only modestly popular, at the time of its release in 1958. For these reasons, a gang of French cineastes decided it was "the greatest film in history" and eventually got everyone else to say the exact same thing. 

Last night, as crowds were chanting a very old cry, Carlotta Valdes spoke. She engineered one of the puzzling nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as dreams. 

She spoke to us about those cries—but also about the New York Times' award-winning effort, The 1619 Project.

Valdes plays a key role in Vertigo. We'd always assumed that she was fictional. After a bit of a search this morning, we're no longer sure.

In the film, Carlotta seems to travel through time. She keeps seizing the soul of the Kim Novak character, who also turns out to be fictional.

Whenever Novak is seized by Valdes, she sees back through the whole of human experience. And so it seemed to be last night, when the real Valdes appeared to us and discussed these recent events.

The chanting of the crowds was easy.  If only periodically, that's who we've always been, this ancient personage said. 

Carlotta's remarks about the Times were much more surprising:

She said she saw a certain set of connection between the group at the New York Times and the crowds at those Trump events. "More alike than different," she somewhat dreamily said.

For the record, The 1619 Project was launched by the Times in August 2019. Beneath a photo of the Atlantic, this basic framework appeared:

The 1619 Project 
In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

One part of that passage is plainly (almost) true. Few aspects of our nation's history and culture  are unconnected to the brutal racial history which got its start near Port Comfort that day. 

That said, "It is finally time to tell our story truthfully?" Several questions come to mind:

Is it possible that the deeply flawed folk at the New York Times were possibly getting out over their skis in their pursuit of this somewhat unusual "project?" 

Also, a thought which came to us:

Are we really sure we want these people rushing ahead, full of belief, to create a public schools curriculum for 7- and 8-year-old children?

The project has been in the news of late. At the Washington Post, Sarah Ellison offered a fascinating overview of the situation as the project's creators have scrambled to correct or clarify, or perhaps to cover up, some of its alleged flaws. 

Text of the project has been changed or dropped, without notice. In the face of embarrassing contradictions, a trove of tweets by one of its creators has been disappeared. 

Its creators insist that no one said some of the things they themselves rather plainly did. In short, this project, whatever its ultimate merits, has displayed some of the journalistic traits we've written about at this site for the past twenty-plus years.

In Vertigo, the Novak character gloomily relives the past when Carlotta takes control of her soul. She's seized by a sense of the suffering which has gone before.

At present, those chanting crowds are dangerous in a way the project is not. But since we discuss the press at this site, we're going to offer some ruminations about The 1619 Project during the course of the week.

Large crowds want to lock the others up. Meanwhile, the Times has been changing text, and killing tweets, in pursuit of a very good cause.

"It's all the same," she wearily said. "It's more alike than different."

Tomorrow: High speed, true belief, self-assurance


The childish cognition of Donald J. Trump!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2020

The statements of Rachel Maddow: Thirty-six hours later, we're still thrilled that we got to see Savannah Guthrie's confident, skillful performance at Thursday night's town hall.

You almost never see major journalists perform in a competent manner. Especially on that one early question—When was Trump's last negative test before contracting Covid-19?—Guthrie performed with tremendous confidence and skill.

As citizens, you almost never get to see that. It simply isn't done.

In each of the last two nights, MSNBC star Rachel Maddow has displayed the more typical upper-end conduct. We'll get to one part of that below. First, a basic question:

Is Donald J. Trump cognitively impaired? If so, what would that even mean? 

Is something wrong with Trump's cognition? We refer to the painfully childish way he responded to many of Guthrie's questions. 

For one such childish embarrassment, consider his comments concerning the killer masks.

At several points in the hour, Trump mangled a recent study concerning the role of masks. When Guthrie challenged the wisdom of his mask-free rallies and White House events, Trump responded  by offering this apparently ludicrous claim:

TRUMP (10/15/20): As far as the mask is concerned, I’m good with masks. I’m okay with masks. I tell people, wear a mask. But just the other day, they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it. So this is a very—

The claim seems ludicrous on its face. Presumably, if 85% of people who wear masks become infected, our nation's total infection number would be in the stratosphere by now.

Trump's claim seemed ludicrous on its face. At that point, Guthrie broke in to dispute what he'd said, and this exchange occurred:

GUTHRIE (continuing directly): It didn’t say that. I know that study.

TRUMP: That’s what I heard, and that’s what I saw. And regardless, but everybody’s tested and they’re tested often. 

That's what Pharaoh heard! Trump constantly falls back on this standard of proof. This behavior is stunningly childish.

That said, Trump persistently displayed the logic of a (rather young) child as she spoke with Guthrie. Consider:

Why does Trump hold maskless rallies and White House events? Because, in his role as president, he can't stay in the basement!

Why would be post a transparently crazy claim about the death of Obama bin Laden? It was just a retweet, Trump said! He's letting the people decide!

Why has he made a radiologist his top adviser concerning a completely different area of medicine and public health?  "He's one of the world's great experts," this childish fellow said.

Why is he trying to kill Obamacare? "In order to replace it with a much better health care at a much lower price!"

Presumably, everyone would favor "much better health care at a much lower price." In our view, Guthrie wasn't sufficiently clear in articulating the obvious response to this silly statement: 

From June 2015 to this very day, why haven't you ever proposed a plan which would accomplish that? Why haven't you ever presented a health care plan at all?

Routinely, Trump's attempts at adult discourse are just stunningly childish. Beyond that, he doesn't seem to realize how childish his attempts at reasoning will inevitably seem to the occasional adult observer.

Is this merely the best he can manage in an attempt to influence voters? Or does this endless, childish performance suggest some sort of impairment?

We'd like to see appropriate medical specialists offer their thoughts on this matter. Unfortunately, the upper-end press corps has long since agreed that such specialists must never be consulted, and that such obvious questions must never be asked.

Trump's childish imitations of life continue along, unabated and underdiscussed. At that point, along comes Maddow and other such TV performers.

We were struck by Maddow's terrible work immediately after Thursday's town hall. As with Trump, so too here—her conduct rolled back, in effect repealed, the accumulated wisdom of centuries, even millennia, of human intellectual development.

We'll try to discuss that matter next week. When MSNBC stopped posting transcripts, they made it much harder to discuss the work of the network's stars.

We'll try to discuss Thursday's effort next week. For today, consider the way this TV star behaved on last night's program.

Did Donald Trump test negative for the virus before his debate with Biden? On Thursday evening, he kept telling Guthrie that he couldn't remember if he was tested on the day of the debate.

(He also said that he had frequently been tested.)

Inevitably, Maddow denounced the statement that he couldn't remember as a "lie." She also offered this cavalcade of her own misstatements:

MADDOW (10/16/20): That was a strange exchange, like how do you not remember that? But also, there's something really wrong with that.

It was a rule from the Commission on Presidential Debates that the candidates had to get tested on the day of the debate. Trump is basically saying that he didn't!

[PERFORMS ENTERTAINING IMPRESSION OF TRUMP]

"Possibly I did, possibly I didn't."

And then, three days later, he's in the hospital. This matters in terms of the debates.

[...]

I mean, would you want to get into a closed space and stand next to him on stage if he's been lying and breaking the rules, not just about over-talking the moderator and his opponent, but he's been lying and breaking the rules about his Covid testing?

He admitted last night that he didn't follow the rules when it came to Covid testing for the first debate. Should there be a third debate then?

It would be hard to cram more misstatements into a speech of that length. Start with this apparent groaner:

"It was a rule from the Commission on Presidential Debates that the candidates had to get tested on the day of the debate."

Is that statement accurate? As we noted yesterday, news orgs have been rather lazy with respect to this basic question. 

That said, it appears that the commission actually required that each candidate had to be tested within 72 hours of the debate. 

On October 8, ABC News reported that this had been the requirement. The report even included a specific  statement to that effect by a Biden spokesperson.

We can't swear that this was the case. The hopelessly foppish CPD seems to have issued no official statement on this matter.  (Almost all our elite institutions function as this one does.)

(The Cleveland Clinic, the CPD's partner, has apparently issued at least three statements on this general topic. But none of the statements we were able to find reported the exact testing requirements.)

When Maddow made her claim last night, she seemed to offer this news report as her source. The report's headline appeared on the screen behind her, along with a brief excerpt from the report. 

Unfortunately, the report doesn't say that the candidates had to be tested on the day of the debate. In effect, Maddow had offered a classic "link to nowhere" in support of her pleasing claim.

We've seen no evidence in support of Maddow's central factual claim. Beyond that, consider her logic:

Trump said he can't remember whether he was tested on the day of the debate. Maddow implied that this claim didn't make sense on its face, then seemed to say that Trump was lying when he said it.

For unknown reasons, she said that Trump "admitted that he didn't follow the rules when it came to Covid testing for the first debate." She also said that Trump was  "basically saying that he didn't" get tested on the day of the debate.

We have no idea why she'd make either statement, aside from entertainment and messaging purposes.

Was Trump tested on the day of the debate? It's entirely possible that he wasn't.

Was he tested within the 72-hour window? We have no idea. For all we know, he may not have been tested for weeks. Given his obvious mental disorders, he may have taken a Pharaonic approach, in which those approaching Pharaoh were tested but Pharaoh himself was not.

Was 72 hours the real requirement? We've seen no definitive statement to that effect, but ABC News quoted a Biden spokesperson making that very statement.

Is it possible that Trump doesn't remember when he was tested, or if he was tested at all? In our view, Donald J. Trump is badly disordered. We have no idea why a multimillionaire  corporate employee like Maddow would make any assumptions about what Trump knows, believes, understands or remembers, except is pursuit of tribal or personal gain.

In our view, Maddow should have been taken off the air long ago, or subjected to major supervision. That said, she's exceptionally skilled at "selling the car," and our massively gullible liberal world has largely purchased the product she's selling.

We would very much like to know if Trump was ever tested before that debate. We're sorry that Guthrie didn't ask Trump to commit to releasing such information.

In fairness, that's just us! We'd also like to know why NBC News leaves Maddow on the air.

In our view, Maddow's performance on Thursday was even stranger than her performance last night. That said, our national culture is dying or dead wherever you look, and the crowd-pleasing programs on MSNBC are certainly no exception.

On balance, Guthrie performed superbly on Thursday night. At the upper ends of our national press corps, you almost never see that.

We assume that Trump is badly impaired. What's the story with Maddow?

Concerning the death of transcripts: MSNBC has joined Fox News in refusing to transcribe any of its TV shows. One possible motive is obvious.

The lowest-rated of the three channels still transcribes every show.


Outside Pittsburgh, belief in QAnon!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2020

The limits of human discernment: "The American people are pretty sharp!" 

Upper-end pundits have always known that they should make such statements.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal," Aristotle is said to have said. 

These standard bromides help shape the lens through which we view human conduct. According to experts, it may be time to set this framework aside.

Last evening, on NBC Nightly News, Lester Holt ran a report by Kate Snow about people in the Pittsburgh suburbs who believe in QAnon. To watch that report, click here.

A more extensive version of Snow's report had aired on the Today show. Last night, Brian Williams ran the version of the report which was broadcast on Nightly News.

MSNBC has stopped posting transcripts. We aren't going to do their work for them on this occasion. 

Meanwhile, as goes Pennsylvania, so may go this year's election. With that in mind, we'll suggest that you watch Snow's reports. 

Human discernment is limited. New technologies—talk radio, partisan cable, the Internet, social media—have turned the promulgation of bogus claims into a very big business. It's also true that these new media are prime propaganda vehicles.

(Susan Page joined hands with Candidate Pence to shut down Candidate Harris! It's what white women do! Thus spake our own tribe's very strange Lawrence O'Donnell.)

Adults believe the darnedest things! In our view, NBC News should do a lot more of this type of reporting. After that, it should possibly turn the lens on the things its own cable stars tell us.

Can a large nation survive "cable news?" We aren't entirely sure.


THROUGH A GLASS EXTREMELY DARKLY: Savannah Guthrie gets it right!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2020

The absence of the logicians: What happened last night happens so rarely that it should be memorialized. 

Last night, Savannah Guthrie asked the commander-in-chief a perfectly sensible question. And yes, it actually happened:

When the commander didn't answer her question, she asked her question again!

In fact, depending on the way you want to count, she asked her question as many as seven times. Here's how the extended exchange began. You almost never see what happened next:

GUTHRIE (10/15/20): Well, let’s talk about testing because there’s a little bit of a, I guess, confusion about this. And I think we can clear it up.

TRUMP: Yeah, and there shouldn’t be.

GUTHRIE: Your first positive test was Thursday, October 1st, okay? When was your last negative test? When did you last remember having a negative test?

For transcript and tape, click here.

The commander tested positive on Thursday, October 1. He had debated Candidate Biden, live and in person, just two nights before.

Had Trump produced a negative test before the debate with Biden? This question has been floating around for the past two weeks.

Guthrie asked a form of that question in the passage we've posted. When was Trump's last negative test? Here's the non-answer he gave her:

TRUMP (continuing directly): Well, I test quite a bit, and I can tell you that before the debate, which I thought was a very good debate, and I felt fantastically, I was, I had no problems before. It was afterwards—

Trump hadn't answered the question. If this had happened at a White House press briefing, slumbering journalists would have rolled over and asked him about something else.

Guthrie wasn't playing that game. In response to Trump's non-answer. she made her question a bit more specific, as you can see below.

Once again, the commander failed to answer. In response, Guthrie asked her question again and again. Here's the full exchange:

GUTHRIE (continuing directly): Did you test the day of the debate?

TRUMP: I don’t know, I don’t even remember. I test all the time. But I can tell you this, after the debate, I guess a day or so, I think it was Thursday evening, maybe even late Thursday evening, I tested positive. That’s when I first found out about it.

GUTHRIE: Well back to the debate, because the debate commission’s rules—it was the honor system—would be that you would come with a negative test. You say you don’t know if you got a test on the day of the debate?

TRUMP: I had no problem. Again, the doctors do it. I don’t ask them. I test all the time. And they-

GUTHRIE: Did you take a test, though, on the day of the debate?

TRUMP: If you ask the doctor, they’ll give you a perfect answer. But they take a test and I leave and I go about my business.

GUTHRIE: So you— Did you take a test on the day of the debate, I guess is the bottom line?

TRUMP: I probably did, and I took a test the day before, and the day before, and I was always in great shape, and I was in great shape for the debate. And it was only after the debate, a period of time after the debate, that I said, “That’s interesting.” And they took a test and it tested positive.

GUTHRIE: Just to button it up, do you take a test every single day?

TRUMP: No. No, but I take a lot of tests.

GUTHRIE: Okay. And you don’t know if you took a test the day of the debate?

TRUMP: Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t. But you know the doctor has very accurate information, and it’s not only that doctor, it’s many doctors. The one thing, if you’re president, you have a lot of doctors you’re surrounded by. But I was in great shape for the debate. And sometime after the debate, I tested positive, then that’s when they decided to, let’s go.

GUTHRIE: Okay, good. I hopefully provided some clarity for folks. Let’s talk about the event that was held at the White House on the Saturday before you tested positive...

Was Donald Trump tested before the debate? On the day of the debate?

In standard journalistic fashion, the testing protocols to which the two campaigns apparently agreed have never been made fully clear. As recently as this Wednesday, Mika was still saying, on Morning Joe, that Trump arrived at the debate too late to be tested.

Rather plainly, it seems that that had never been the agreed-upon protocol. As we watched Mika continue to misstate this point, we wondered how many millions of dollars she gets paid each year.

It seems clear that the two campaigns had agreed to test the candidates themselves, "on the honor system." Was Trump ever given any such test? If so, did he test negative?

Given Trump's dedication to misdirection and misstatement, it would have taken a very long time to nail down a complete set of answers to such basic questions. 

That said, Guthrie did what very few of our upper-end journalists ever do. As Donald J. Trump kept failing to answer, she just kept repeating her question!

She asked her question again and again. In service to American history, let us list the ways:

GUTHRIE: When was your last negative test? When did you last remember having a negative test?

GUTHRIE: Did you test the day of the debate?

GUTHRIE: You say you don’t know if you got a test on the day of the debate?

GUTHRIE: Did you take a test, though, on the day of the debate?

GUTHRIE: So you— Did you take a test on the day of the debate?

GUTHRIE: You don’t know if you took a test the day of the debate?

She asked, and asked, and asked again. She never got an actual answer. But you almost never see a major mainstream American journalist conduct herself this way.

For our money, Guthrie's performance wasn't perfect. Most notably, she didn't ask Trump to guarantee that his doctors will provide this basic information—the information he says he can't remember.

We thought that was a glaring omission. But good lord! Grading on the mainstream press curve, we'd give Guthrie whatever grade comes above A-plus.

As the hour proceeded, Guthrie wasn't always this persistent. She let several matters slide. 

In fairness, Trump emits misstatements at a truly remarkable clip. For that reason, it would be very hard to follow up on every such item within a one-hour format. 

The key point here cuts in Guthrie's favor. In that early exchange with Trump, she engaged in a type of journalism our journalists almost always avoid.

Originally, we had planned to spend this week discussing the things which happen when professors and press interact. When we spent several days watching the Barrett hearings, we were largely knocked off course.

We'd planned to revisit the absence of the logicians—the failure of our nation's professors of logic to intervene in our endlessly bollixed public discussions. 

(As with the moral philosophers who spend their time exploring "Kant's attempts to ground fundamental normative conclusions in his account of agency," our logicians tend to spend the bulk of their time off in La-La Land. As with Bergman's absent God, they're defined by their silence—by their apparent indifference to what happens here on Earth.)

We'd planned to mention how badly we tend to be served by the progressive professors who do decide to pipe up. 

(Are we still supposed to believe Tara Reade, the way Professor Manne instructed? Will these hapless progressive professors ever stop asserting belief in cases where they have zero idea who is telling the truth? Duke lacrosse? UVa? Do they ever quit?)

We'd planned to mention the history professors who offered accurate criticisms of the New York Times' 1619 Project. In the wake of reports like this, we expect to explore that fascinating topic next week.

We'd planned to mention the former professor, Robin D'Angelo, whose work is so clownishly bad that it almost gives Donald J. Trump a chance to be almost right. With respect to our mammoth, unexplained health care spending, we'd planned to wander the fields in search of economists or professors of public health.

Many things happen when professors and press interact, or when professors hold back. In all these areas, the most striking example remains the way the upper-end press corps refused to speak with the medical experts.

Is Donald J. Trump psychiatrically or cognitively impaired? In January 2018, the press corps agreed not to ask. 

Instead, they've continued to be "shocked, shocked" by his endless disordered behavior.

They've agreed to be mystified by the ways the commander behaves. For better or worse, Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee and her colleagues were disappeared.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. In one of human history's oldest stories, our failing nation has descended into a vast tribal breakdown.

Our press corps has frequently driven this mess. As the nation has slid toward the sea, our professors have largely stayed silent.

By the clock: By the clock, Guthrie's exchange with Trump took one minute and fifty seconds. 

Guthrie's brisk questioning moved things along. We admire the skillful way she performed. The commander never answered.


Who is Amy Coney Barrett?

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2020

All in all, nobody asked: Who the heck is Amy Coney Barrett?

We have no idea. We thought Democratic questioning of Barrett was stunningly ineffectual these past two days Today, we're running into commentaries that seem to make little sense.

Concerning the questioning:

Much of the time was devoted to the repetitive presentation of questions the nominee wasn't going to answer. We refer to questions about various issues which might conceivably come before the Court.

This refusal to answer didn't seem especially new to us. Indeed, Barrett kept quoting bromides from Justices Kagan and Ginsburg designed to convey the impression that she was following past practice in refusing to answer.

On the front page of yesterday's New York Times, Adam Liptak placed Barrett's reticence within the historical context we ourselves would vaguely remember: 

As a nominee for the Court, Robert Bork talked about everything under the sun, and he got voted down. From that date forward, nominees have generally clammed up. That includes Kagan and Ginsburg.

You'd never know that any such history exists judging from Susan Matthews' unfavorable critique of Barrett at Slate. Matthews seemed to want to tell readers that Barrett was refusing to answer because she's a very bad person, as "others" typically are.

Matthews isn't a legal reporter. She doesn't seem to understand the concept of a "super-precedent" as it arose in these hearings, even though Barrett explained it rather clearly on several occasions. 

Meanwhile, at New York magazine, Charlotte Klein offered this near the start of a snarky review:

KLEIN (10/14/20): A judge on the D.C. appeals court, Barrett was noncommittal when asked if she would weigh in on possible election disputes. “I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,” she told Senator Patrick Leahy. While Supreme Court nominees have historically given vague responses to hypothetical questions or ones about potential cases, Barrett’s dodges are particularly concerning because Trump has made it clear that his rush to confirm her has everything to do with the election he plans to contest.

"A judge on the D.C. appeals court?" Even now, one day later, the passage hasn't been corrected. Truly, our tribe is less than impressive.

Over and over, again and again, Democratic senators asked the kinds of questions that haven't been answered for decades. As usual, Kamala Harris was slickest of all, drawing praise from the liberal faithful in the process.

Other types of questions never got asked. How were this person's values formed? Is she now, or has she ever been, a member of an organized political party? 

Questions about Barrett's basic person and basic values were basically never asked. Not that any of that was going to matter, of course.

Is everything artifice now? At hearings of this type, we start with the questions which won't be answered, then proceed directly to reviews which place the subject on the wrong court and assail her for performing like the earlier nominees we regard as saints.

Who the heck is Amy Coney Barrett? We watched for two solid days and we don't have  the slightest idea.

We can't really say that was Barrett's doing. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our failing, flailing tribe is extremely lazy and soft and more than a little bit faux.

Full disclosure: The liberal world lost this seat when it stared into air, for twenty-five years, as Hillary Clinton was accused of multiple murders and was called every misogynist name in the book by high-profile media stars on our own corporate side. 

In the end, this trashing let Donald J. Trump squeeze into the White House. To this day, you aren't even encouraged to know that this trashing ever occurred!

That's the way we lost three seats. Barrett didn't do that.


THROUGH A GLASS EXTREMELY DARKLY: Biden isn't out of the woods!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2020

Feinstein, off in the weeds: We lost the thread of this week's planned report as we spent the past three days watching the Barrett hearings.

Our original focus withered away as we sat and watched. On the other hand, we got to see Diane Feinstein say this, yesterday morning:

FEINSTEIN (10/14/20):  For me, the Voting Rights Act is extremely important. And it defines our election system to a great extent. It’s hard for me to understand that anyone would want to do away with it. What is your position in that regard?

For what it's worth, the Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder didn't "do away with [the Voting Rights Act]." As Barrett explained, it did away with certain parts of that act. 

The leading authority on the decision explains:

Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013), was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.

On June 25, 2013, the Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states. The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4(b), no jurisdiction will be subject to Section 5 preclearance unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula.

The Shelby decision left Congress free to create a new preclearance formula. Seven years have passed, and Feinstein and her associates haven't achieved, or perhaps even sought, any such revision.

For ourselves, we'd like to see every state and jurisdiction supervised by the federal government in this very important area. Others will strongly disagree, and the tribal divisions which undergird such matters have hardened, then turned to stone, in recent decades.

We were struck by Feinstein's statement, in which she said it was hard for her to understand why anyone would have favored the Court's decision. Despite our personal preference in this area, it wasn't hard for us to understand that matter, nor was it hard to understand the reasoning behind the majority decision.

But so it goes in modern America, a failing state which is, by the by, increasingly a gerontocracy. You can set possible agreement to the side. Feinstein, 87 years old, was happy to say that she can't even understand the values and views of the others.

It disn't seem to cross her mind that she was thereby making a comment about herself and about her own tribal faction.

It isn't that she doesn't agree with the others. She said she can't even understand why anyone would disagree with her. This is the essence of tribal intelligence, or so major experts have told us.

We were struck by Feinstein's admission that she can't understand. It seemed to us that her admission emerged from deep in the weeds. We thought of her statement early this morning when we heard that Candidate Biden may not be out of the woods. 

We heard the statement on Morning Joe. It tracks to a detailed analysis piece by Thomas Edsall of the New York Times.

As of this morning. Edsall's piece was barely being featured at all at the New York Times web site. 

It's classified as an Opinion piece. The site linked to nineteen other Opinion columns before Edsall's piece appeared on the list.

Edsall's piece is scary. It appears beneath these headlines:

Biden Is Not Out of the Woods / Unanticipated electoral developments are affecting both presidential campaigns in surprising ways. 

"Most signals favor Biden," he writes. Instantly, though, he adds some scary observations: 

EDSALL (10/14/20): With 20 days to go, most signals favor Joe Biden, but the chain of events that delivered an Electoral College victory to Donald Trump in 2016 still hovers in the rearview mirror.

[...]

Here are some of the things causing anxiety among Democratic partisans, particularly political professionals.

One way to measure voter enthusiasm is to compare voter registration trends for each party. A Democratic strategist who closely follows the data on a day-to-day basis wrote in a privately circulated newsletter:

"Since last week, the share of white non-college over 30 registrations in the battleground states has increased by 10 points compared to September 2016, and the Democratic margin dropped 10 points to just 6 points. And there are serious signs of political engagement by white non-college voters who had not cast ballots in previous elections."

David Wasserman, House editor for The Cook Political Report. wrote on Oct. 1 that voter registration patterns over a longer period in key battleground states show that “Republicans have swamped Democrats in adding new voters to the rolls, a dramatic GOP improvement over 2016.”

As an aside, the quoted excerpt from that "privately circulated newsletter" is virtually incoherent. We invite you to try to explain what either part of its first sentence means.

It's interesting that an experienced journalist, and his editors at the Times, were willing to publish a statement which basically can't be paraphrased. That said, Edsall then quotes Wasserman saying this, in recognizable English:

“Republicans have swamped Democrats in adding new voters to the rolls...”

Is it possible that a wave of new voters is being added to the rolls in a way which is slipping under the radar of polling groups? 

We don't have the slightest idea. Meanwhile, Edsall cites other sources of concern, even including this:

EDSALL: Democratic strategists are also worried about how well their voters will perform in properly requesting, filling out and mailing in absentee ballots.

More than twice as many Biden voters as Trump voters—the actual ratio is 2.4 to 1—plan to cast ballots by mail, according to polling by Pew. So far, however, Democratic requests for absentee ballots have not reached the levels that surveys suggest will be needed for the party to cast votes at full strength on Election Day.

That resembles a point of concern we described on Monday. For the record, we have no idea how the election will turn out, even assuming that it proceeds in a normal way.

Could Donald J. Trump really win? This morning, Joe Scarborough started Morning Joe with comments about Edsall's essay. 

Eventually, Scarborough explained why many of his family and friends are still going to vote for Trump, a man they regard with disdain. It comes down to "negative partisanship," Scarborough explained:

SCARBOROUGH (10/15/20): It’s really negative partisanship. It’s their fear of the Democrats. It’s their fear of "Woke Nation." It’s their fear that the kids will go to college and get hammered because of political correctness. 

You can’t say that on television without people freaking out. I’m just explaining it to you. Political correctness is something that is not spoken of, [but] it drives so much of Donald Trump’s support.

How do I know? Because I keep hearing it from one person after another. When I say, "How can you support this man who has breached every constitutional norm, who breached every societal norm?", they’ll talk about how Democrats are socialists. They’ll come back and talk about political correctness and "wokeness." It’s the negative partisanship even more than it is Donald Trump.

You can watch videotape of the fuller statement at Raw Story. Inevitably, MSNBC declined to post this tape.

To what extent was Scarborough describing the source of Trump's continued support? Is it possible that Trump could still squeak through to re-election, thanks to this type of support?

We don't know how to answer that question, but we thought of Feinstein's lack of understanding when we watched Scarborough's presentation. We also thought of one of our tribe's better-known former professors, and of the possible disasters which may ensue when certain professors interact with the upper-end mainstream press.

We see The Crazy all around Candidate Donald J. Trump. Unfortunately, we also see emanations from the penumbra of The Crazy affecting our tribe Over Here.

Feinstein doesn't even understand the way the others feel. All too often, we suspect that we possibly do. 

We'll start with that professor tomorrow. With hours lost before the tube, our exploration of this week's topic still has a long way to go.

Tomorrow: Our own tribe's professors gone wild


Waldman says we're all alike!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2020

Plus, urges loathing of Barrett: Paul Waldman agrees that we the humans aren't "rational" beings at all. Here's what he says about the way we evaluate court decisions:

WALDMAN (10/14/20): Let’s be honest: All of us, whether we’re laypeople or lawyers or Supreme Court justices, believe that the outcomes we want to see are justified by the law and the Constitution. Human beings have a limitless ability to rationalize their own preferences to themselves. It almost never happens that a justice says, “The position I’m taking is constitutional baloney, but it gives me the outcome I want.” (The conservative justices in Bush v. Gore said as much, but that’s the rare exception.)

According to Waldman, we humans "have a limitless ability to rationalize our  own preferences to ourselves." 

According to Waldman, we act on this limitless ability when we evaluate legal rulings. 

"Let's be honest," he says. We all "believe that the outcomes we want to see are justified by the law and the Constitution." 

In short, if we support the right to abortion, we believe that right is guaranteed by the Constitution. If we oppose abortion rights, we have a limitless ability to rationalize that preference too.

Man [sic] is not the rational animal, Waldman thereby says—though in fairness, he's just being honest. He agrees with the formulation we posted this very morning. That overview, offered by Jennifer Senior, went exactly like this:

SENIOR (10/7/20): Back in the 1950s, the psychologist Leon Festinger came up with cognitive dissonance theory, which can essentially be described as the very human desire to reconcile the irreconcilable. Our brains, he realized, will go to baroque lengths—do magic tricks, even—to preserve the integrity of our worldview, even when the facts inconveniently club us over the head with a two-by-four.

According to that formulation, our brains "will do magic tricks" to justify our preferred beliefs.  

Waldman cops to this behavior. We humans "have a limitless ability to rationalize our own preferences to ourselves," he says--and where Senior described this state of affairs with an air of lament, Waldman toughly says that's just the way it is.

Is that really the way it is? Not necessarily, no. For ourselves, we support the right to choose, but we aren't at all sure that the reasoning in Roe v. Wade actually "passes constitutional muster." 

Beyond that, we've watched our own liberal senators the past several days with a sense of dismay. Our team is very, very weak. Somehow, we're able to see this.

Our floundering team is extremely soft—and this helps explain how we got here. That said, in his tough-minded piece, Waldman exhibits yet another part of our tribal weakness:

He seems eager to urge us to loathe the other, in this case the future Justice Barrett.

Barrett is going to sit on the Court because our tribal leaders persistently rolled over and died over the past thirty years. (People like Waldman won't tell you that, because it isn't done.)

Who lost Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett? We did, when our leaders refused to push back over those many long years. You aren't allowed to hear about the endless ways they failed.

Rachel clowned us endlessly; we were dumb enough to buy it. Before that, Chris Matthews engaged in endless trashing of Candidate Gore and of future Candidate Hillary Clinton.

He called her every misogynist name in the book. People wanted to get on TV, so no one said a word.

Our team rolled over again and again, bowing to growing conservative power. Along the way, we never abandoned our greatest pleasure—the joy of looking down on the others.

Now, Waldman wants you to loathe Barrett too.

Go ahead—read his angry piece! This is the history of our own flailing tribe, but also of the reflexively tribal, war-inclined human race. 

First we fail, then we loathe. Later, we get our wars. Anthropologists have been telling us this for the past several years.

Who lost this latest Supreme Court seat? At this site, we've been naming the names, and counting the ways, for the past 22 years!

We're just as bad as they are, he says. And not only that—we're better!


THROUGH A GLASS EXTREMELY DARKLY: Anthropologists missing in action!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2020

Major logicians too: When we were still in high school, we encountered the early films of the gloomy Ingmar Bergman.

Bergman's gloomy protagonists pondered the absence, the silence, of God. We tend to feel the same way about the anthropologists. Where have these experts been?

It didn't start with Donald J. Trump. That said, the Trump years have been quite a time for people-watchers. 

Aristotle is said to have said, "Man [sic] is the rational animal." The Trump years have made it clear—this formulation, as commonly understood, was quite substantially wrong.

How should we understand the craziness we see all around us? As Bergman's protagonists were failed by the silence of God, the average American has been left on his or her own by the anthropologists' silence.

When psychiatrists tried to explain the crazy behavior of Donald J. Trump, the giants of our upper-end press corps had them disappeared.  Should anthropologists have stepped forward to explain this peculiar behavior?

(They seem to spend the bulk of their time filming programs for PBS. As the Trump years crashed down upon us, they were filming themselves digging up bones somewhere near Greater Sumeria.)

A larger question surrounded the lack of "rationality" on display as our failing nation split into tribes. At the New York Times, Jennifer Senior recently offered the modest start of an outline:

SENIOR (10/7/20): Back in the 1950s, the psychologist Leon Festinger came up with cognitive dissonance theory, which can essentially be described as the very human desire to reconcile the irreconcilable. Our brains, he realized, will go to baroque lengths—do magic tricks, even—to preserve the integrity of our worldview, even when the facts inconveniently club us over the head with a two-by-four.

These brains today! These brains today do magic tricks, Festinger explained.

Senior's synopsis was perfectly cogent. Indeed, "cognitive dissonance" has long been an active part of liberal reasoning on the web, though only in ruminations about the conduct of others.

Indeed, Senior's column focused on the crazy behavior of the people who work at Fox News. "Today, perhaps the best case study of cognitive dissonance theory can be found in the prime-time lineup on Fox News," she wrote.

We aren't saying that statement is wrong. We're grading it incomplete.

Let's move past the Doocys and the Kilmeades and even the Judge Jeanines.  What explains the conduct of the maskless marauders who show up at Donald Trump's rallies? 

With Bandy X. Lee and her group of psychiatrists banished to the dustbin of journalistic history, it fell to the anthropologists to step forward and speak to questions like that.

Along the way, they might have addressed the tribalism of our own defeated tribe. 

They might have addressed the puzzling ways our sachems behaved in the decades which spawned Trump. More recently, they might have addressed the angry way we scolded the mainstream press when it tried to interview others—when major news orgs made tiny attempts to investigate the nation's vast tribal divide.

Please don't speak to the others, we said. Anthropologists could have tried to explain that.

The psychiatrists made an attempt to be heard; the anthropologists didn't. This helped produce the remarkable state of affairs which obtains at this site:

Within the past few years, we've repeatedly been approached by spokespersons for a despondent group of highly credentialed scholars, Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves.

We can't say that we understand the technology which permits the apparent "time travel" of these despondent spokespersons.  That said, they've directed our inquiries into the shape of the human conduct which preceded the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.

Their insights have left our jaws agape; so has the weeping which spills from their caves.  They've often returned to that "rational" hook, rolling their eyes and emitting loud sobs as they denounce this false framework. 

Even more than the absence of plumbing, they describe their own silence during the era of Trump as the source of their vast regret. 

We humans had always been inclined to split into tribes, these major top experts have told us. And after we would split into tribes, we would descend into war.

Professor Harari tried to explain, they still sadly say. Any further attempt at discussion is swallowed up by their sobs.

Bergman griped about the absence, the silence, of God. Before him, so did  sacred Kierkegaard, the gloomiest person in Europe.

Years later, one group of professors tried to speak, while another group stayed silent.

The logicians were off in "la-la land" too. Or so spokespersons for the  Future Anthropologists have repeatedly said.

Tomorrow: Senator Hawley's logic

Still coming: Reactions to the Inka's death—but also, the set of all sets!


Thoughts while watching the Barrett hearing!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2020

Who lost health care? Who lost Barrett herself?: We've spent the bulk of the day watching the Barrett hearing. Two thoughts kept recurring.

Regarding the ACA, our team has managed to lose health care, at least in principle, as it has persistently failed to discuss such data as these:

Per capita spending, health care, 2018

United States: $10,586

Canada: $4974

France: $4965

Japan: $4766

United Kingdom: $4070

South Korea: $3192

Politicians? Press and professors? On our side, absolutely no one discusses those deeply puzzling numbers. Citizens, red and blue together, have never been encouraged to wonder where all that "missing money" goes.

Concerning Barrett herself, we lost the Barrett nomination when we sat around, for several decades, allowing the war against Clinton / Gore / Clinton to unfold.

Upper-end journalists waged misogynist war against Hillary Clinton; the nation's sleepwalking professors stood by and let it go. Our team has been very poorly served by these sleepwalking elites.

These thoughts recurred as we looked on today. More on press-and-professors tomorrow.


THROUGH A GLASS EXTREMELY DARKLY: The New York Times and the moral philosopher!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2020

When professors and press interact: According to an ancient text, we humans see through a glass darkly. 

(We refer to Corinthians 13:12, not to the Bergman film.)

In a fashion which can almost seem humorous, we tend to do so very darkly when professors and press interact. Consider what happened last Saturday morning.

The pairing was a natural. A moral philosopher had chosen to speak about a significant current event. At the same time, the New York Times had a brand to advance.

Even better, the professor in question was offering a "human interest" hook. Is there any better way for professor and press to collude?

The setting was perfect for interaction. Perhaps in a slightly humorous way, the column started like this:

MUDD (10/10/20): The other day, my 7-year-old, having gotten wind of President Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis, asked me point blank, “Mommy, are you glad that Trump got the coronavirus?”

I am a moral philosopher, and yet I had a hard time coming up with an answer. The question demands we grapple not only with the moral meaning of the president’s illness but also with our complex and contested reactions to it. 

A 7-year-old had approached a moral philosopher with a perfectly decent question. And sure enough:

Initially, the philosopher had been stumped!

For the record, one can imagine different answers to this child's decent question. 

The headline on this column reads, "What Moral Philosophy Tells Us About Our Reactions to Trump’s Illness." That headline may seem to suggest that there's some sure thing this branch of philosophy "tells us" about the situation at hand.

Presumably, that isn't the case. Presumably, different moral philosophers could assess that question in substantially different ways. 

There may be more than one possible answer! For what it's worth, the moral philosopher so confronted continued her column as shown:

MUDD (continuing directly): To be clear, I am not debating whether it is morally wrong to wish for the president’s death. It is wrong. Full stop. Nevertheless, now that Mr. Trump has been declared healthy enough to return to work, I think it is important that we assess the moral significance of the positive reactions his run-in with Covid-19 has produced.

As a general matter, we would agree that it's wrong to wish for someone's death. For the record, that isn't the question the philosopher had been asked. 

Let's make this a bit more tangy. If someone thinks that Donald J. Trump is causing other people's deaths, would it obviously be morally wrong for that person to wish for his death?

If you're speaking to a 7-year-old child, it seems to us that the obvious answer would be yes. For ourselves, we've long expressed two views about the commander in chief:

We've suggested that he seems to be some serious version of mentally ill. Also, we've suggested that this unfortunate fact should be regarded with pity.

At any rate, Professor Mudd said it's morally wrong to wish for the president's death. From there, she ruminated at length, wondering whether "those who rejoice in Mr. Trump’s misfortune [can] claim the moral high ground." 

As we continued reading, it seemed to us that she gave the standard philosophical answer. We heard it described, tongue in cheek, by an instructor (and friend) during our college days:

QUESTION: Would it be morally wrong to wish for someone's death?

ANSWER: In a sense, but not as such.

Eventually, Professor Mudd described what she actually said to the child. Her answer had gone like this:

MUDD: Here’s how I explained the moral quandary to my 7-year-old: I am sad that Mr. Trump got sick because in general suffering is bad, and I don’t want anyone to suffer, but on the other hand I think he should suffer consequences for the harm he has done. This answer seemed satisfying enough at the time, but it left out an important distinction.

In the end, as it turns out, Mudd wants Trump to go to jail. So it can go,  in the New York Times, when professors and press interact.

Does moral philosophy really "tell us" that Trump should go to jail? In the Hamptons-based realm of the New York Times, that formulation may seem to make some sort of "philosophical" sense.

For ourselves, we saw nothing in Saturday's column which seemed to derive from anything resembling "philosophical" insight or expertise. We decided to see what the professor's focus as an academic may be.

According to the Times' identity line, the professor is currently an assistant professor of philosophy at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. 

Previously, she'd served as a Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Southampton. At that previous post, we found this account of her academic work:

Research interests

Sasha's primary research interest is in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and its legacy, especially the problem of normativity and naturalism in the post-Kantian tradition. Within Kant's work, Sasha has focused on the relationship of practical to theoretical reason, Kant's so called "unity of reason" thesis, and Kant's attempts to ground fundamental normative conclusions in his account of agency. She also explores Kantian approaches to contemporary topics: including the nature of practical reason, and the possibility of a unified account of normativity. Her wider research interests include the Philosophy of History, the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis, and various issues at the interface of the Philosophy of Mind and Action, especially concerning the emotions. She believes that appropriating and developing the thought of eighteenth and nineteenth century philosophers is one of the best ways of gaining insight into contemporary philosophical problems.

As a British Academy Newton Advanced Fellow, Sasha co-directs with Dr. Lucas Thorpe (Bogazici University) a project entitled: "Agency and Autonomy: Kant and the Normative Foundations of Republican Self-Government." The project investigates Kant's contributes to republican political philosophy in light of his understanding of autonomy and human agency.

The professor is exploring the problem of normativity and naturalism in the post-Kantian tradition.  She's interested in the possibility of a unified account of normativity. 

Let us offer a guess:

No one reading last Saturday's Times would have had any real idea what that salad might mean. Nor is it obvious that anyone should know any such thing.

Is there any possibility—any chance at all—that any such research will ever shed light on any actual moral question which might actually arise in the actual everyday world? 

More specifically, is there any chance the this professor's work, and that of her colleagues, has any connection to the world in which an apparently disordered person has been traipsing about the countryside, making the crazy statements of an apparently disordered person for the past several years?

We're prepared to suggest that the research described in that account will never help us assess the moral dimensions of the situation at hand. The professor wants to see Trump in jail. But so does every one of our reigning "cable news" hosts!

At any rate, when a 7-year-old child asked a very good question, the philosopher was briefly stumped. She then offered an answer, about which she had second thoughts.

Is there anything anyone can actually learn from ruminations about the problem of normativity and naturalism in the post-Kantian tradition? 

Our initial guess would be no. A second observation would be this:

The New York Times frequently produces moments like this. At such moments, it can appear that our most foppish upper-class newspaper is exploring the deep thoughts of our "philosophers," who are drawing on the western world's greatest intellectual traditions.

Such presentations reinforce this upper-end newspaper's brand. Slightly more gullible subscribers may be not question this ruse.

In our view, last Saturday's intersection between professor and press was perhaps highly Potemkin. We saw no particular "philosophical" insight at all.

Are there any "Kantian approaches to contemporary topics" which could be of any real service? Again, we'll strongly suggest the possibility that the answer is no.

More widely, how often have press and professors joined hands to give us real instruction? As we read the account of this philosopher's work, we thought of a question we asked long ago:

Moral philosophers to the side, where the Sam Hill  are the nation's logicians? Where have our expert logicians been during these many long years?

Tomorrow: Senator Hawley's logic


Could Donald J. Trump win re-election?

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2020

Yes, he conceivably could: Could Donald J. Trump win re-election?

Yes, he actually could. 

At present, Biden is well ahead in the national polls, but we think Donald J. Trump could still win re-election.

Below, we'll share a lingering fear about what could possibly happen. First, though, this is our idea of the worst possible outcome:

Popular vote:

Biden: 52 percent

Trump: 46 percent

Electoral College:

Biden: 268 votes

Trump: 270 votes

That would be the worst outcome yet, with Trump squeezing by despite a six-point nationwide loss. It's hard to see that the center could hold if our system fails that badly.

How could such an outcome occur? Here's our lingering fear:

We keep wondering how many people will end up failing to vote. 

How many people will fail to negotiate the (unfamiliar) process by which they receive and submit a ballot by mail in their state? How many such people will then stay home on Election Day due to fear of the virus?

Could this procedural complication turn a 10-12 point lead in the national polls into a 6-point  win by Biden? Could it let Trump squeak by in enough swing states to secure a razor-thin Electoral College margin?

That's our lingering fear. And of course, there are many other factors at play designed to stop anti-Trump votes.

Biden could end up winning huge, but we've been worried about this factor. The margins are thinner in the swing states, and the virus is coming on strong.

In Wisconsin, Biden's ahead by maybe six points, but the virus case load is exploding. How will things look on Election Day? How many "likely voters" will end up failing to vote?

On Morning Joe, we hear Joe and Mika citing Republican "panic" about Biden's lead in the polls. We recall an earlier campaign, when the late Robert Novak reported this in his syndicated column:

NOVAK (9/7/00): Undeniable panic is gripping partisan Republicans, from rank-and-file voters to seasoned political operatives, with two full months left before the presidential election. They are dismayed not so much about the surge by Al Gore but the loss of confidence in George W. Bush.

...Perplexed by the boost the vice president was given by his pedestrian acceptance speech in Los Angeles, they are panicked by Bush's seeming inability to counter it.

Polling at the conclusion of the Labor Day weekend not only shows that the Democratic base has returned to Gore. More troubling are defections of vital independent voters from Bush. Since Los Angeles, it is not so much a case of the Democrats succeeding as Republicans failing. The Bush campaign's attempt to undermine Gore's credibility through its maneuvers on presidential debates has flopped.

The Democratic Convention had taken place in Los Angeles in mid-August. After his widely-mocked acceptance speech, Gore shot to a commanding lead in the national polls—and by the end of the Labor Day weekend, his substantial lead seemed to have hardened.

Novak reported "undeniable panic" in Republican ranks. Our well-connected pals at The Hotline were assuring us on a regular basis that everyone in Washington believed the election was over. (No, we didn't believe them.)

"Undeniable panic" was reported at that time by the uber-connected Novak. On Morning Joe, Republican panic is being cited now.  Of one thing you can feel certain:

The mainstream press corps' reaction to that earlier panic won't be repeated today.

Before the week is done, we'll refresh you on what happened when it seemed that the 2000 election was over. Along the way, it involves a conversation between Brian Williams and Howard Fineman, following two brand-new "lies" by Candidate Gore.

These are the stories which haven't been told—the stories which will never be told. 

What happened back then has been disappeared. It's part of the larger set of behaviors which have brought us to this very bad place.

(Novak's old columns no longer appear on-line. For the full text of that particular column, you can just click here.)


THROUGH A GLASS EXTREMELY DARKLY: Penrose wins the Nobel Prize!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2020

When professors and press intersect: Without any question, it's our favorite type of mainstream news report.

One example of the genre appeared on October 7. The piece reported a clear, distinct fact:

Roger Penrose had won the Nobel Prize in physics. 

At the New York Times, Dennis Overbye—no relation—was assigned the task of explaining what Penrose had won the prize for. The analysts crowded around, expectant. 

Overbye started like this:

OVERBYE (10/7/20): The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three astrophysicists Tuesday for work that was literally out of the world, and indeed the universe. They are Roger Penrose, an Englishman, Reinhard Genzel, a German, and Andrea Ghez, an American. They were recognized for their work on the gateways to eternity known as black holes, massive objects that swallow light and everything else forever that falls in their unsparing maws.

Dr. Penrose, a mathematician at Oxford University, was awarded half of the approximately $1.1 million prize for proving that black holes must exist if Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity, known as general relativity, is right.

Black holes must exist if Einstein's theory is right? An obvious question came to mind:

If Einstein's theory ever falls, must Penrose return the cash?

For the record, we assume that Penrose fully deserved the Nobel Prize. We assume that he's one of the world's greatest physicists, as he's long been described.

The amusement begins when Overbye starts discussing what Penrose has proven. The analysts crowded around, expectant.

Overbye started like this:

OVERBYE: Black holes were one of the first and most extreme predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, first announced in November 1915. The theory explains the force we call gravity, as objects try to follow a straight line through a universe whose geometry is warped by matter and energy. As a result, planets as well as light beams follow curving paths, like balls going around a roulette wheel.

Einstein was taken aback a few months later when Karl Schwarzschild, a German astronomer, pointed out that the equations contained an apocalyptic prediction: In effect, cramming too much matter and energy inside too small a space would cause space-time to collapse into a point of infinite density called a singularity. In that place—if you could call it a place—neither Einstein’s equations nor any other physical law made sense.

Einstein could not fault the math, but he figured that in real life, nature would find a way to avoid such a calamity.

In 1965, however, a decade after Einstein’s death, Dr. Penrose slammed the door on Einstein’s hopes.

Question:

Should journalists ever say that material "objects"—things like planets—"try to do" certain things? Ideally, they probably shouldn't—but on this early point, we'll grant the Times a pass.

A more significant question arises. As a reader of the New York Times, do you have any idea what it means when Overbye seems to say that we're living in a universe "whose geometry is warped by matter and energy?"

Admit it—no, you don't! You couldn't explain that peculiar construction in a million years.

If it makes you feel any better, neither could anyone else! We'll guess that Overbye belongs to that group, especially after reading this:

OVERBYE: A talented mathematician, [Penrose] invented a new way of portraying space-time, called a Penrose diagram, which bypassed most of the mathematical complexities of general relativity.

His diagrams are now the lingua franca of cosmology. He proved that if too much mass accumulated in too small a place, collapse into a black hole was inevitable. At the boundary of a black hole, called the event horizon, you would have to go faster than the speed of light—the acknowledged cosmic speed limit—to get away. So you could never escape. Inside the boundary, time and space would switch roles and so all directions would lead downward, to the center, where the density became infinite and the laws of physics, as we knew them, would break down.

He showed that the black hole would become a gateway to the end of time, the end of the universe.

Just for starters, admit it! You'd have a hard time explaining the term "space-time," as would every other New York Times subscriber. 

You've heard the term a million times, but you couldn't really hope to explain it. In truth, you have no real idea what that term might be said to mean, or why anyone ever uses it.

Meanwhile, do you have any idea what it means when Overbye says that time and space "switch roles" inside a black hole? Do you have even the slightest idea what that could possibly mean?

New York Times subscriber, please! Of course—of course—you don't!

We're at our happiest when we get to read journalism of this type. At such moments, the Veil of Maya is torn away. We're given a glimpse of human mental functioning as it actually is.

Here's what we mean by that:

The New York Times is a general interest newspaper. That said, it's entirely possible that no subscriber (and no editor) could explain what Overbye's talking about in the passages we've posted. 

Did a million people read Overbye's report? If so, it's entirely possible that none of them could explain what he was saying. 

Despite this fact, editors at the New York Times put the report in print. It's entirely possible that they didn't realize that no one, themselves included, understand their news report.

Why would an editor do such a thing? What makes it possible that the editors didn't even realize that their report was incomprehensible?

The bulk of the later Wittgenstein's (admittedly murky) work was designed to answer such questions. Simply put, his answer might go like this:

Overbye's piece is full of sentences which share a "surface grammar" with other sentences which are perfectly comprehensible. That is to say, his sentences sound like other sentences we could easily process,  respond to, explain.

(Example: "After five years of marriage, the spouses switched roles. Spouse B accepted a teaching job and became the family's breadwinner. Spouse A stayed home with the kids." 

(No one would be puzzled by this use of the term "switched roles." It may seem to us that we understand this familiar term when it appears in Overbye's new, unfamiliar context, even though we actually don't.) 

Overbye's sentences are perfectly formed. They conform to standard grammar; they employ no obvious technical language. As a buttered pill may slide down a struggling dog's throat, they may slide past without arousing suspicion or concern.

It may seem to us that we know what they mean! Actually, though, we don't.

According to the later Wittgenstein, large amounts of high-end academic work conform to this pattern. It's easy to feel that we know what the statements in question mean. Under questioning, it would turn out that we don't.

Whenever the Times presents Overbye's work, readers are exposed to this broken attempt at communication. We read along, mouthing every word, perhaps gaining the impression that we understand what's been said.

We may feel that we understand. Truthfully, we don't.

By all accounts. Penrose is one of the world's greatest physicists. He also may have superhuman patience. According to Overbye's presentation, he's being honored for work he did in 1965!

We assume that Penrose's work on Einstein's theory and black holes was, and remains, correct. Still, we're never happier than at moments like this, when professors and press intersect.

In theory, professors and press are two components of our modern guardian class. In theory, they help us keep our flawed thinking on track as we navigate this veil of tears.

In truth, we often see through a glass extremely darkly when these elites intersect. We'll examine such couplings all week long, focusing on our failing nation's upcoming (scary) election. 

Commander in chief Donald J. Trump could still get re-elected! On balance, have our various press/professor couplings provided serious help?

Before we're done, we'll even return to Penrose himself—to a strange (alleged) idea. According to rueful anthropologists, we get a glimpse of our actual mental functioning at puzzling moments like this.

Tomorrow: The moral philosopher's research