One of our reasons for watching John Wick!

MONDAY, JANUARY 18, 2021

Monetizing the blood of a martyr: At the present time, our long-term friend, NAME WITHHELD, is living in his car somewhere near the Berkeley-Oakland line.

We've known WITHHELD since 1982 or 1983. We met him within the comedy world, although he's no longer performing.

WITHHELD is one of the reasons why we recently watched the xx murder film, John Wick. First, though, let's discussing the monetization of the late Dr. King.

We're going back now to a comedy show which probably would have occurred in 1985 or1986. The show was held at Charm City Comedy Club, the place where patrons were invited to "see next year's stars last week." 

(In fairness, we booked Roseanne Barr and Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Maher and Paul Reiser, along with a long list of others. The most skillful performance we ever saw was done by the very good person Paula Poundstone, late show Friday night, late in April 1985. We'd booked her with one of her friends—Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.)

Back now to the comedy show which probably would have occurred in 1985 or 1986: 

We were performing at that show; WITHHELD was in attendance. We offered our observations about what were then the widespread furniture sales over the three-day holiday weekend which commemorated Dr. King's birth.

These observations got a good laugh, as they usually did. When we came off, WITHHELD said this about that: 

That's what people think they're going to see when they go to a comedy club.

We don't know what such people thought, but we recalled WITHHELD's remark when we saw this highly illustrative announcement late last week:

On MLK Day the league will have a five-game slate of nationally televised games on TNT and NBA TV, beginning at Noon EST. During those games and throughout the weekend, teams will wear custom Nike MLK Day warm-up t-shirts designed in collaboration with the NBPA, MLK Foundation, and Martin Luther King III. 

That's what it actually said! Using Google, you can find plenty of NBA announcements showing that this pathetic claim was 100% for real.

All day today, NBA teams will be wearing commemorative MLK warm-up gear! These selfless acts of commemoration are being performed in connection with Nike and other corporate partners.  

Back then, it was "storewide reductions on sofas and love seats." (Our full panoply of remarks would typically get a laugh.)

Today, it's league-wide T-shirts and sweatpants. Some behaviors never end.

A few months back, WITHHELD told us that he was going to see John Wick 2 at a drive-in theater that night. Neither one of us knew what the John Wick films were about. 

Skillfully, we Googled. We shared a brittle laugh with WITHHELD at the absurdity of the description which appeared at the top of the list. 

The John Wick films are often shown on basic cable. Recently, the original film appeared for free through our On Demand service. Mainly because of the New York Times, we decided to give it a look.

The New York Times came into play because of this ridiculous feature. In the feature, its two film critics, Dargis and Scott, presented a silly, time-waste compendium which appeared beneath these headlines:

The 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century (So Far)
Chameleons or beauties, star turns or character roles—these are the performers who have outshone all others on the big screen in the last 20 years.

We were surprised to see Keanu Reeves listed as the fourth best actor of the century (so far). When we read A. O. Scott's explanation, we were surprised to see the Wick movies cited twice as key examples of the brilliance of the great actor's oeuvre:

SCOTT (11/25/20): Is the melancholy, uxorious, dog-loving assassin in the “John Wick” movies a genre put-on, a paycheck gig, a midlife action workout? Probably. Of course. With (let’s say) Gerard Butler in the title role they would be slick, nasty throwaways. What Reeves does is give the franchise more gravity than it deserves, more humor than it needs, and the soul that it otherwise comprehensively lacks.

Only Reeves could have done it! At the end of the short precis, the Times included a third cite, in the form of a commercial tie-in:

"Stream or rent the 'John Wick' movies and other Reeves titles on major platforms," the uxorious paper advised.

Scott and Dargis seemed to know that they'd made a daring pick. Here's the way Scott began his sadly instructive homage to the century's fourth best actor:

SCOTT: Maybe you’re surprised to find Keanu Reeves so high on this list. But ask yourself: have you ever been disappointed when he showed up in a movie? Can you name one film that has not been improved by his presence? We’re talking about Ted Logan here. About Neo. John Wick. 

"Have you ever been disappointed" by a Reeves performance? When the original John Wick appeared for free in our On Demand, we decided to take The Scott and Dargis Challenge.

We weren't exactly "disappointed" in what we saw; it's more like we were appalled. We were appalled by what we saw in that film, but also by Dargis and Scott.

A few weeks back, we tried to do a series on BABEL AND GOMORRAH. We never got to the "Gomorrah" part, which would have involved the back-story of the way these two corporate stars are now framing the John Wick films.

When we watched the John Wick film, a few fleeting thoughts flitted through our heads. No country whose leading upper-end newspaper agrees to peddle fare like this can ever really hope to survive, we thoughtfully mused in part.

In real time, those films had been regarded with such disdain at the Times that neither Dargis nor Scott had reviewed them. The task had been shunted off to one of the hands, who had rated the films very poorly. 

The unparalleled greatness of John Wick 3 had been captured thusly:

‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ Review: Keanu Reeves Is Back for Another Brutal Round

In “John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum,” guns have more dialogue than its hero and more capacity than seems technically possible, the spraying of bullets interrupted mainly to showcase another lethal weapon. Even more than its predecessors, this third installment in the reluctant-assassin franchise is, like most modern action movies, perfectly attuned to the needs of the foreign markets where most of its money will be made. Bangs and grunts and body slams do not require subtitles.

John himself (still embodied, to mechanistic perfection, by Keanu Reeves) is a man of so few words that he seems less the movie’s star than its wrecking ball—a human Cuisinart pulverizing an unending supply of foes...

Dumb as dirt and twice as filling, “Chapter 3” is a symphony of dazzlingly sterile, cartoonish abuse... 

Even though they're dumb as dirt, the John Wick films are now recommended for streaming. 

Also, Reeves is the century's fourth best actor. While you're at it, don't forget to admire the Nike warm-up gear which will be on display all day long.

This is the way our upper-end culture works. For a very long time, the various rewards have been too damn high, and the leading lights here in Our Town have been playing along. 


STARTING TOMORROW: The children of Flint!

MONDAY, JANUARY 18, 2021

Anthropology lesson rolls on: The anthropology lesson rolls on, and on and on and on.

Consider the first half of this morning's essay by Ben Smith—the part of the essay in which Smith says "the mainstream media loves to beat itself up." If we might borrow from the late Fulton Oursler, it strikes us as the latest example of The Dumbest Story Ever Told.

We hope to run through this matter later this week. That said, so many dumbest stories, so few pixels and so little time!

Indeed, the ongoing lesson in our species' instinct for dumbness rolls on and on and on. For today, we'll start where we left you on Saturday.

We'll start with the corporate partners at TNT, the NBA and Nike celebrating the legacy of the late Dr. King. And no, we aren't dreaming this up:

On MLK Day the league will have a five-game slate of nationally televised games on TNT and NBA TV, beginning at Noon EST. During those games and throughout the weekend, teams will wear custom Nike MLK Day warm-up t-shirts designed in collaboration with the NBPA, MLK Foundation, and Martin Luther King III. 

As you can see, the King family is involved in this gong-show too. Being just as human as everyone else, they've tended that way all along.

We humans! "The rents are too damn high," one sidewalk poet once said. 

The rents were too damn high, but so too with the financial rewards! What inevitably follows, top scholars now say, results from our species' imperfect wiring.

Please remember Dr. King as you gaze on those Nike warm-ups beginning at noon EST! In passing, though, we'll mention two other examples of current human logic.

President Donald J. Trump pardons himself: We start with the possibility that Donald J. Trump will issue a pardon of or to himself at some point in the next two days.

We have no way to know how the Supreme Court would rule on the constitutional validity of such an action, but we ask you to ponder the logic of such an act:

If a commander-in-chief can pardon himself for federal crimes, then any such president could commit a federal crime each morning and pardon himself that night. Groundhog Day could prevail the next morning—and yet, in fairness, the Constitution doesn't explicitly forbid the commander from such a ludicrous action.

Senate bars Donald J. Trump from running again: The logic behind an act of self-pardon seems ludicrous on its face. But how far behind it is the logic of this other proposed action?

Can the Senate, by a simple majority vote, bar the current commander-in-chief from running for president again? We don't know how the Supreme Court would rule on the constitutional validity of such an action, but consider the logic of such an act:

In the current context, we're imagining that fifty Democratic senators, assisted by the tie-breaking vote of a Democratic vice president, could make it impossible for the most popular Republican pol to run for president the next time around! 

In our view, this action isn't quite as dumb as a self-pardon would be, but it comes strikingly close. For the record, constitutional language concerning any such action strikes us as remarkably vague, and the matter has never been tested in court.

Does it make sense to regard these two proposals as something like "dumb and dumber?" We can't tell you how the Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of these proposed actions. But it's easy to see the way these two proposals join hands as our nation slides toward the sea of all-out tribal warfare.

(For the record: Could the possibility of that second action convince Republican senators to vote against impeachment itself? Do we really have to ask? Of course it maybe and possibly could!)

At any rate, major experts have persistently warned us about three anthropological points:

Our species just isn't especially "rational," these despondent scholars have said. Also, our species is inclined to split into tribes and to launch tribal war against the other.

Third point: When the tribal war begins, top experts all say, enlightenment values—our rationality, fairness and common sense—will typically be the first victim. 

Our fabled rationality goes out the door! So we thought, this past Saturday, when we finally steeled ourselves to sit down and watch Thursday night's Maddow Show. 

The host was discussing the children of Flint, and so we steeled our souls.

In our view, what we saw was anthropologically instructive. The children of Flint deserve our best work, so we'll start with that topic tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Misdemeanors and poison

Later today: Dr. King, plus John Wick, plus storewide reductions on love seats


Attempting a census of the great souls!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 16, 2021

Pity versus punishment: Again today, we're recommending pity over punishment. 

Given our current state of development, punishment is still needed as a part of human society. That said, we're recommending pity over punishment as a fundamental moral approach. 

We decided to go with this recommendation today when we clicked to the Washington Post's web site. At the very top of the site's front page, a synopsis of a news report said this:

Democrats wrestle with length of Trump trial
Democrats are eager to punish President Trump for inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but wary of a Senate trial dragging on too long and slowing President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.

"Democrats are eager to punish Trump." In our view, it's the eagerness to punish which represents the shortcoming here. 

At this site, we've long regarded Donald J. Trump as "some version of mentally ill." We've gone with that somewhat convoluted language because mental illness is a somewhat amorphous concept, and because psychiatry involves a poorly understood technical language.

On a technical basis, should someone afflicted with antisocial personality disorder be described as "mentally ill?" While we're at it, does it make sense to describe such a person as being "afflicted" at all?

Are such people "afflicted" with an "illness," or are they simply bad people?  It has seemed to us that such questions arise in the context of Donald J. Trump's extremely strange behavior over at least the past ten years—in the context of what seems to be the gentleman's vast disorder.

We would have liked to see (carefully selected) medical experts asked a wide array of such questions. Instead, our upper-end press corps agreed, as a group, that such questions, and such possibilities, must never be discussed.

So it goes, in this year of the lord, when "educated" members of our species attempt to conduct, or pretend to conduct, our version of "public discourse."

We'd recommend pity for Donald J. Trump, in line with Bob Dylan's past teachings, but also with a rosebud-scented assist from Citizen Kane. (First, of course, you try to remove such a person's ability to cause harm.) 

For what it's worth, we suspect that a pity-based discourse would produce better political outcomes. With that in mind, we note another headline in today's Post:

Poll: Majority wants Trump banned from future office
One of the analysts reacted by posing an ironic question. If a majority feels that way, why do we need to engineer a ban?

According to major experts, we humans are strongly inclined to leave no punishment behind. When we stumbled upon this morning's "eager to punish" synopsis, we'd already been thinking about the four books we mentioned in yesterday's report, and with them the great souls.

We said that Charles Mann's 1491:  New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus  was one of the two most interesting books we've read in our two decades at this site. We said we'd pair those two books with two other books—the two books we've read in that time which were most instructively wrong in some way.

That makes four books in all! One of those books leads toward a question—in our own lifetime, which people have perhaps emerged as our planet's "great souls?" 

Who are the modern world's great souls? Even as the NBA celebrates and commemorates Dr. King with ten (10) games this Monday, we may start our week by listing the four books to which we refer, then moving toward that census..

In theory, Dr. King will be remembered and commemorated on Monday. In practice, TNT and NBA-TV  will be televising five of those games, starting promptly at noon Eastern. One synopsis of this commemoration goes exactly like this:

On MLK Day the league will have a five-game slate of nationally televised games on TNT and NBA TV, beginning at Noon EST. During those games and throughout the weekend, teams will wear custom Nike MLK Day warm-up t-shirts designed in collaboration with the NBPA, MLK Foundation, and Martin Luther King III. 

As per official NBA posts, the teams will be warming Nike warm-ups. Always remember that central fact! Also, never forget!

According to anthropologists, this is the way we humans are inclined to think, behave, react. Our species has always been wired in such ways,  leading top experts now tell us.

Some experts say the great souls can help. At this point, we aren't prepared to judge that particular claim.


THINGS HAVING FALLEN APART: We humans believe the darnedest things!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2021

Making the rubble bounce: Today, we perform a confession.

In the past eight or nine days, we've often thought of Charles Mann's widely-acclaimed book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 

Mann's book appeared in 2005. His sequel bears a related title. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.

(According to the leading authority on that second volume, Mann "argues that Columbus paved the way to the homogenocene, a particular feature of the anthropocene that is marked by a global homogenization of (agricultural) species, diseases, and tools brought about by the migration and transport that set in with the discovery of the new world." People, we're just saying.)

Mann's initial volume is one of the two books we've most admired in our 23 years on this campus. We'd pair those books with the two we've most enjoyed because of the ways they went instructively wrong. 

We may build next week's reports around those four seminal volumes.

Back to Mann's initial book, his 1491. We can think of no other book which has the power to amaze with each and every rereading. 

Mann's "revelations" are no longer new, but they always seem new to us. We'll confess that the passage we've been thinking about involves the death of the Inka, and its aftermath.

We humans! All through our long and war-inclined history, we humans have been able to believe the darnedest things. 

The Inka was the ruler of the Inca empire. According to the leading authority (and to Mann), it was "the largest empire in pre-Columbian America" and one of the largest and most advanced administrative states in the world at that time. 

The Inca empire was a masterwork of human organization. That said, the Inka was held in such high regard that his advice would still be sought even after his death.

They couldn't let the Inka go. We'll give you a tiny glimpse:

MANN (page 98): Because the royal mummies were not considered dead, their successors obviously could not inherit their wealth. Each Inka’s panaqa [royal lineage] retained all of his possessions forever, including his palaces, residences and shrines...The mummies spoke through female mediums who represented the panaqa’s surviving courtiers or their descendants.

[...]

Soon after arriving in Qosqo, Pizarro’s companion Miguel de Estete saw a parade of defunct emperors. They were brought out on litters, "seated on their thrones and surrounded by women with flywhisks in their hands, who ministered to them with as much respect as if they had been alive."

The royal mummies were paraded about and consulted as if they were alive. 

Throughout his book, Mann stresses the fact that Europeans of the era could match their American counterparts, crazy belief and cruel practice for crazy belief and practice. This helps establish the point we wish to advance:

We humans! Wherever we've been found, we've been inclined to believe the darnedest things!

Why have we been thinking about the death of the Inka this week? We offer that new revelation below. For now, just consider the range of crazy beliefs which have driven American politics over the past thirty years.

At present, a not insubstantial number of people believe that world government is dominated by a cabal of cannibalistic child abusers. This belief, or something like it, is or was the foundation of the so-called QAnon "theory."

All the way back in 2016, people believed that Hillary Clinton was trafficking children for sexual purposes out of the basement of a D.C. pizza joint. For whatever it may be worth, Michael Flynn's son and business partner seemed to be part of that true-believing vanguard.

Many people have believed, and still do believe, various things of this type. Decades earlier, Rush Limbaugh strongly suggested that Hillary Clinton had been involved in the (suggested) murder of Vince Foster, a long-time friend and associate of the Clintons who had taken his own life. 

Many people believed that insinuation. At this same time, one of the nation's holiest men—the extremely holy Reverend Falwell—was peddling the Clinton Chronicles videotape, an attempt to further the widespread claim that Clinton and Clinton had been involved in a wide range of murders.

Plus the drug-running, of course! 

As of 1999, Gennifer Flowers was running a for-profit web site which was strongly promoting the long-standing claim about the many murders. Being human, it's possible that she even believed it. 

During this period, a wide range of upper-end mainstream liberal pundits had anointed Flowers as the most credible person on Earth. (Frank Rich was one such seer.)  Chris Matthews proceeded to give her a half-hour on Hardball, during which time he made a large point of telling her how incredibly hot she was. 

This was shortly after Matthews almost got the Washington journalist killed. All the other humans pretended that this crazy behavior made sense.

(You never hear about these things because of the code of silence which obtains among our massively self-impressed tribe's "favorite reporters and friends." If you simply repeat what the host/hostess said, you will never go wrong.)

During that same period, mainstream pundits invented and pushed the claim that Al Gore had a major, psychiatric-level "problem with the truth." They promoted this confected claim for years, sending George Bush to the White House. 

They invented a series of wacky claims Gore was said to have said. Virtually no one ever pushed back against this astounding group behavior. Inevitably, many people believed the things they heard about Gore.

Starting in 2011, Donald J. Trump invented himself as the king of the birthers. He kept it up until circumstance forced him to issue a "hostage video"-style recantation at some point in 2016.  

Many people believed that claim! 

When Trump announced his campaign in June 2015, he'd already been pimping the claim for four years, but Rachel Maddow made a point of saying that she had no personal objection to Mister Trump. Her drinking buddy, Greta van Susteren, had been Trump's "birther caddy" on Fox News during those long, slimy years.

We humans! There's nothing so stupid that we won't believe it, or at least avert our gaze from those who are making the claim. As a matter of anthropology, our astonishing lack of basic discernment is a very large part of our species' profile. Or so major experts have said.

It's also true that we're strongly inclined to construe the world in a highly simplistic tribal manner. More specifically, we're strongly inclined to create and demonize the other, observing such rules as these:

Rules for fashioning others:

1) Never speak or listen to others. Never ask others to explain what they think or believe. When journalists do so, complain!

2) Heighten the grievances of the elect. Spend no time trying to think of the best ways to win over (some of the) others.

3) Always turn to punishment-based approaches and ideation. Always look for ways to criminalize the conduct of others. 

4) Always heighten fear of others. Assume that the others are all just alike. More specifically, assume that the others are all just like the most heinous individuals among them.

5) Invent a handful of highly simplistic tribal Storylines. Cling to those Storylines as if to life itself. 

These rules are very widely observed in the streets of Our Town. They dominate life on the "cable news" channels most frequently heard in our homes.

We humans believe the darnedest things! We're also inclined to construe the world in the darnedest, most simplistic ways.

In our reports this week, we've stressed one bit of simple-mindedness which has been widely observed in Our Town. We've noted the fact that we don't seem to believe in the basics of psychology / psychiatry. 

More precisely, we don't seem to believe in the existence of "mental illness."

Is the ruling commander-in-chief in the grip of powerful "psychopathologies?" If so, should we pity him for his disorder, the approach Bob Dylan once suggested?

(Removing his ability to cause harm would come first, of course.)

Should we pity the commander-in-chief for his apparent disorder? Here in Our Town, we look through a moral lens only. We seek to criminalize and to punish. As with Michael Flynn, so with us:

We are very strongly inclined to want to "lock them up."

This is why we've been recalling the death of the Inka this week. By instinct, we can't seem to let our own Inka go, any more than those earlier humans could.

Only a people as fearful as we could miss the humor in our current approach, in which we want to remove the president from office even after he's left office. Even after our Inka is gone, we'll be looking for a way to make the rubble bounce.

We're not saying this approach is wrong. We're just saying it's humorous.

We want to lock our Inka up. With respect to impeachment, we want to keep making the rubble bounce, even after he's left office!

Beyond that, we want to bar him from ever seeking office again. 

The constitutional authority for such a move is extremely unclear.  (For the rare explainer, click here.) Even we humans can probably see how this action would heighten the perceived martyrdom of the disordered former commander-in-chief.

That said, our tribunes keep telling us that it only takes a simple majority vote. We're that sure that we couldn't win a future debate about so plainly disordered a person!

For ourselves, we're not saying that this week's impeachment was the wrong thing to do. It may even have been the best approach to a disastrous situation which offered no good approach.

We are saying that our vast desire to punish, and to keep punishing, is "human, all-too human." In the present circumstance, it's an addition to the atavistic way we've refused to imagine the possibility that the absurdly disordered person in question is some version of mentally ill.

Long ago and far away, Dylan seemed to suggest that we should "pity" such a person. He described the commander to a T:

That man who with his fingers cheats,
Who lies with every breath.

Who passionately hates his life
And likewise fears his death.

[...]

Who eats but is not satisfied;
Who hears but does not see.
Who falls in love with wealth itself
And turns his back on me.
Should we pity such a person—a person who suffered the sociopathic upbringing Mary Trump describes in her best-selling book? 

Instead, we're so atavistic, so recognizably human, that we want to make the rubble bounce. We want to chase this apparent sociopath all the way to the gates of Hell.

At this site, we've polled the youthful analysts. They all feel sorry for the child who was raised by the deeply disordered Fred Trump.

These youngsters have all seen Citizen Kane. They all understand the concept of Rosebud—possibly the most famous single word in Hollywood history.

The Inka is dead, these youngsters say. Long live our pitiful Inka, who was mistreated as a child and seems to be mentally ill.

These youthful analysts know how to feel. They face a hard time in a town without pity, in a town very much like our own.

Full disclosure: Our Inka could still start a nuclear war. (We've also spent years avoiding this fact.) Active pity for the Inka only begins after he's been disarmed.

In our view, our Inka seems to be very badly disordered. In Our Town, we've spent four or five years refusing to discuss and explore that apparent fact.

We humans! We sent Cordelia (Bandy Lee) away. But we'll be keeping the Inka around. We'll cart him around on his litter!


The docile police let the white trash in!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 14, 2021

Frank Rich, loud and clear: What happened at the Capitol building last Wednesday? More precisely, what was the instant experience of officers with the Capitol Police?

This morning, at Buzzfeed News, we found another account. In this excerpt, Emmanuel Felton is interviewing one officer:

FELTON (1/13/21): [Officers] are still grappling with the toll that last week’s siege exacted on them and their colleagues. The third officer described how close they had been to opening fire on the mob: After nearly two decades on the force, the officer said, “I’ve never, ever, ever had physically or mentally been in a place where I’ve felt the need to use my weapon, and I was about five seconds from doing it on that day. I felt legitimate concern for my safety and the safety of the other few officers that were around me because to say we were outnumbered is a gross understatement.”

[...]

The veteran officer said they were so outnumbered and unprepared that at times he had to stand by helpless as colleagues were viciously attacked. “We came to this door and they were like five or six officers on the other side,” they said. “And it was very heart-wrenching for me because there was nothing that we could do for them. There were literally hundreds, thousands of people on the other side of this door and [the officers are] literally [pinned] against the wall, but we can’t open the door because if we opened the door, they’re going to get crushed and these people are going to pretty much take over.”

These reports go on and on. They contrast with many instant claims which were heard in the streets of Our Town.

On Tuesday, we noted Roxane Gay's instant account in the New York Times. According to Gay, Capitol Police were "basically ushering these terrorists into the building and letting them have the run of the place for a ridiculous amount of time."

Gay was not a first-person observer. Despite her lack of first-hand knowledge, she quickly offered an account which closely mirrors the preferred narratives of many who live in Our Town.

Were Capitol Police ushering the rioters into the Capitol building and letting them have the run of the place? Later reporting has made it sound like Gay's account may be less than perfectly fair and balanced.

That said, many of Our Town's experienced pundits quickly produced such claims. At times like these, information develops slowly, Storyline flames up quite fast.

Anywhere Storyline exists, can Frank Rich be far behind? Here's what the one-time "butcher of Broadway" said at New York magazine: 

RICH (1/8/21): Let’s not resort to euphemisms about what happened. There were no “very fine people” among these rioters. They are trash. They trashed the people’s house so they could feel right at home...

Another thing about them, by the way: They were almost exclusively white.

Also largely white: the docile police who facilitated their entry into the Capitol, who failed to curb their criminal behavior until way too much damage had been done, and who, in some cases, fraternized with the insurrectionists as if they were all members of the same secret society. Maybe, with time and investigation, we’ll learn that in fact they were.

Maybe, with time, we'll learn that—and then again, maybe we won't! Stir in one dose of racial invective and you have the secret sauce which is frequently ladled by the upper-end stars of Our Town.

According to Rich, it wasn't just that the docile police let the white trash in. The problem was even worse than that—the police were largely white too! 

Rich, of course, is a Harvard man; we'll assume he's an OK guy. He isn't as bad as a violent rioter, but in our view, his attitude has made him a part of the problem for a rather long time.

Others slimed the docile cops who let the white trash in. Reports of the injuries, and the one or two deaths, began to filter in later.

We'll leave this here, but we'll restate two key points:

First, Storyline travels much faster than info. Also, you can't necessarily trust or affirm the things you hear from those who align on your side.


THINGS HAVING FALLEN APART: Do we even believe in mental illness?

THURSDAY, JANUARY 14, 2021

Lithwick quotes Bandy X. Lee: At times like these—at times when things have fallen apart—there is simply nothing so stupid that tribal sachems won't say it.

Today, we'll stay in the streets of Our Town. Last night, shortly after 9 P.M. Eastern, a highly-rated former Rhodes scholar actually told Our Town this:

UNNAMED CABLE STAR (1/13/20): Tonight's vote to impeach President Donald Trump was the largest vote ever for a presidential impeachment. There were 232 votes for his impeachment, 197 votes against.

No article of impeachment against a president has ever had that many votes for it before. And there have never been anywhere near ten members of the president's own party who have voted with the opposition party to impeach a president, like there were ten Republicans who voted yesterday.

So you know, mazel tov! Records falling everywhere!

No, it doesn't exactly matter. But just for the record, could anything possibly be any dumber than those pleasing tribal statements by this top cable star?

What was wrong with the cable star's statements? Let us count most of the ways:

As she started, the unnamed star said this was "the largest vote ever for a presidential impeachment." We'd be inclined to disagree with that statement, but this heralded star forgot to mention the rather small size of her N:

Before yesterday's vote, there have only been three such impeachments in all of American history. In other words, the cable star's N, not unlike her IQ, was perhaps rather small.

The cable star was very excited in spite of her very small N. She went on to say this: 

"No article of impeachment against a president has ever had that many votes for it before." And yes, that's technically accurate—but only because there were so many fewer members of the House in the first of those three impeachments.

According to at least several experts, President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868. At that time, there were 190 members of the House. 

Today, there are 435 members. Hence the grossly misleading technical accuracy of this particular cable star's skillfully nuanced claim.

It's true! Never before have as many as 235 House members voted in favor of a presidential impeachment. That said, this was the initial vote when Johnson was impeached:

Initial vote on Johnson's impeachment:
Yay: 126
Nay: 47
Not voting: 17

In the final voting, several articles of impeachment were approved by margins of 127-42. Those 127 votes were more than 75% of the members who voted, roughly 70% of the total House. That dwarfs the percentage of the House who voted yesterday for the impeachment of Trump.

Stating the obvious, none of this makes the slightest bit of difference. This topic only arose last night because the corporate star is paid her multimillions by her corporate owners to make her viewers feel good.

If we get to feel good in the streets of Our Town, we're more likely to tune in tomorrow! This may explain why the cable star presented such manifest nonsense last night, as she so frequently does.

It's true that such foolishness doesn't matter—that nothing will turn on this bullshit. But this stupid behavior, however insignificant, helps us see how our species is strongly inclined to function after things have fallen apart.

According to experts, our species is inclined to panic at such times and turn to tribal soothing. Sometimes, though, we'll see flickers of emergent sanity. Consider what Lithwick did.

As a general matter, we're not fans of Dahlia Lithwick's work, though we're sure she's a very good person. Yesterday we were surprised by her work. 

In this essay for Slate, she acknowledged a very important fact. At present, there are no obvious "remedies" for the dangerous state we're all in.

That danger comes from violent Trump supporters, but also from Trump himself. Along the way, Lithwick did something very unusual—she quoted Bandy X. Lee:

LITHWICK (1/12/21): Trump has been a danger to himself and others since election day 2016, but enablers all around have worked to obscure and erase the signs of his unfitness for so long that it’s almost hard to track if he’s become more dangerous in recent days or if we underestimated the damage all along.  Republicans peeling away from him at this eleventh hour do so either for fear of personal legal liability, or because they can’t cover up for him anymore. Checks and balances with a sell-by date. Which is precisely how we got into this current, volatile situation in which the president is profoundly impaired and decompensating under the pressure.

Yale’s Bandy Lee, the forensic psychiatrist who has never stopped trying to warn us about Trump, put it this way in an interview in Politico before Christmas:

"The probability of something very bad happening is very high, unacceptably high, and the fact that we don’t have guardrails in place, the fact that we are allowing a mentally incapacitated president to continue in the job, in such an important job, for a single day longer, is a truly unacceptable reality … We’re talking about his access to the most powerful military on the planet and his access to technology that’s capable of destroying human civilization many times over."

Last Wednesday we witnessed what can happen when, despite widespread claims of readiness and detailed knowledge of what was coming, nobody was adequately prepared for something catastrophic to happen.

Remarkably, Politico had spoken to Lee in December. Amazingly, Lithwick now decided to report what Lee had said.

The upper-end press corps, Slate included, has been disappearing Lee for years. Now, Lithwick mentioned the way Lee "has never stopped trying to warn us about Trump."

Lithwick also noted the way "enablers all around have worked to obscure and erase the signs of [Trump's] unfitness." But as she listed the various parties who have refused to address Trump's apparent psychiatric disorder, she failed to mention her own guild—the mainstream, upper-end press corps.

According to major anthropologists, we humans just aren't very sharp. The years-long flight from this discussion constitutes a strong recent example. We'll even ask this award-winning question:

Do we self-impressed burghers here in Our Town actually believe in mental illness / mental health / psychiatry / psychology at all? Given the way we've behaved in the past several years, we'd say the answer to that question isn't real clear at all.

Do we believe what Lee has said bout the dangerous state of the president's psyche? Did we believe Mary L. Trump when she assembled a daunting list of her uncle's "psychopathologies?"

To this day, and on the highest levels, the answer isn't clear. Consider what Kristof has said.

No journalist has better values than Nicholas Kristof; also, he's thoroughly bright. But look what Kristof, a very bright person, is saying this very morning:

KRISTOF (12/14/21): People often believe that it’s poverty and illiteracy that drive terrorism, but that’s too simplistic. The 9/11 plot was orchestrated by university-educated elites. Last week’s Capitol rampage was obviously entirely different and not comparable, but it was galvanized by a trio with Ivy League degrees. And yes, I’m talking about Donald Trump, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. They all know better, and they should be held responsible.

Plainly, Hawley and Cruz can be numbered among our "university-educated elites." Beyond that, it's hard to doubt that they "knew better." 

Hawley and Crus were extremely successful students at Yale and Harvard Law Schools. It seems obvious that they knew that "stopping the steal" was a ridiculous, unfounded gong-show.

Plainly, Hawley and Cruz just had to "know better." That said, did the deeply disordered fellow known as Donald J. Trump?

For ourselves, we don't have the slightest idea whether Trump believed his own crazy claims. We have little experience in the realm of abnormal psychology, but the commander's psychology seems to be about as abnormal as it gets.

His niece says that Donald J. Trump was raised by a sociopath. She says that he's a stew of "psychopathologies." She says  he satisfies diagnostic criteria for (clinical) malignant narcissism, and most likely for sociopathy too.

Lee has been walking that same road for the past four years. In January 2018, the sachems at the New York Times ruled that she must disappear—but the question we're left with is this:

Given his stew of psychopathologies, does anyone know if Donald J. Trump believes his own crazy claims? This morning, Kristof says that Donald J. Trump "knows better." Absent discussion with medical experts, what makes him so sure about that?

For the past however many years, Our Town's unimpressive top media stars have traveled in their usual pack. They're refused to discuss the possibility that the commander-in-chief is some version of mentally ill, in a way which is dangerous.

(For the record, Trump could decide his goose is cooked and start World Wat III today.)

By joint agreement within the guild, people like Lee were disappeared. Mary Trump's astounding description of her uncle's psychopathologies was largely disappeared as well. On cable, Mary Trump has long since agreed to perform like a regular pundit.

Our "journalists" luxuriated in a familiar and easy moral discussion; they have enjoyed discussing Trump as a competent moral agent. But is that agent dangerously disordered? Is he severely mentally ill, and if so, what does that mean?

Such questions were never answered or asked.  Behaving as they always do, the pundits kept it simple.

Final point—Donald J. Trump is in no way way a member of our "university-educated elites." Yes, he has an Ivy League degree—but it's one his father bought him.

When even Kristof can't see these things, the anthropology lesson becomes amazingly clear. By the way, Kristof was a Rhodes scholar too. 

Does that make our problem more clear?

Tomorrow: Rules of the [human] road

Fuller disclosure: No one has better values than Kristof. We thought we should mention that fact.


What happened at the Capitol Building?

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2021

Carol Leonnig tells Brian: What happened at the Capitol Building last Wednesday afternoon? How many people got inside? Why were they able to do so?

As we've frequently noted in the past week, information develops slowly, Storyline spreads very fast. We're looking forward to learning more about what happened that day.

How were people able to gain entry? Last night, the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig told Brian Williams this:

LEONNIG (1/12/21): As one former Secret Service official said to me, who'd been involved in a lot of inaugural planning, those people made it look so easy to trounce an iconic building, the symbol of our democracy, and walk right in.

Of course, they were eight thousand people strong against fourteen hundred police officers. They were wearing riot gear and helmets and gas masks and had pipes and bats, and many of the officers had none of that.

Why were Capitol Police so outnumbered? We look forward to learning more about that. If they were inadequately equipped, we hope to hear more about the planning which went into that.

Meanwhile, Leonnig went on to describe what reinforcements from Metropolitan Police saw when they arrived at the Capitol:

"Metropolitan Police Department officers who rushed to this complex, to protect it, to help their colleagues the Capitol Police" saw those colleagues "getting their heads bashed in, with pipes, with bike racks." Or at least, so Leonnig said.

Yesterday, we linked to a Washington Post report about injuries sustained by those outnumbered police. Meanwhile, for what it's worth, it seems that some of the people invading the Capitol didn't have quite so easy a time "walking right in." 

Lots of videotape seems to show the invaders struggling to gain entry by breaking external windows or by scaling exterior walls. This morning, in The Daily Beast, we read this account of the way one of these disordered people managed to gain entry, Pilar Melendez reporting:

MELENDEZ (1/13/21): A 36-year-old West Texas florist and one-time mayoral candidate, Jenny Cudd, was also arrested on Wednesday. She allegedly bragged online that “we” scaled a wall and charged down the doors to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

“We had to scale a wall to get there and we just pushed and pushed and pushed, and yelled, ‘Go’ and yelled, ‘Charge’, and we just pushed and pushed and pushed and we got in. There was a door that was open, we went through the door and we were inside,” Cudd said during a Facebook Live.

"We had to scale a wall to get there," this newly-arrested miscreant had allegedly said. For whatever it may be worth, plenty of videotape seems to show plenty of those 8,000 people seeming to have a difficult time "walking right in."

According to Leonnig, Capitol Police were badly outnumbered, and they may have been under-equipped. We look forward to learning more about how this breakdown may have occurred.

Tomorrow, though, we'll show you more of the claims which were instantly made over here in the streets of Our Town. 

With lightning speed, the New York Times published a bit of script by Roxane Gay, as we noted in Tuesday's report. According to Gay, Capitol Police "basically usher[ed] these terrorists into the building and let them have the run of the place for a ridiculous amount of time."

Gay was hardly alone. Even here, in the streets of Our Town, the ancient gods Rumor and Slander were quickly allowed to rush in.

This is the way we "humans" are wired. Or so a raft of top anthropologists have despondently, quite sadly said.

With apologies: Like Fox News, MSNBC no longer prepares transcripts of the TV shows in which it take so much pride.


THINGS HAVING FALLEN APART: Our Town is shocked all over again!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2021

Disappearing what Mary Trump said: Yesterday, we were struck by Greg Sargent's analysis at the Washington Post.

Sargent even used a key word. He seemed to say that he'd found the commander-in-chief's recent conduct "shocking:"

SARGENT (1/12/21): As shocking new revelations emerge about President Trump’s depraved and malevolent response to the violent siege of the Capitol, it’s becoming clear that this event will require a much bigger reckoning than we may have first thought.

Impeachment may be only the beginning of what’s truly required, if we are going to come to terms with the enormity of this occurrence and what led up to it—and parcel out appropriate accountability for it.

This is thrust upon us by an extraordinary new report in The Post that reconstructs Trump’s actions during the assault, and by renewed discussion of the 14th Amendment as a tool for barring officials who incited the mob from ever holding public office again.

The meta-revelation in the Post piece is that Trump appeared to take solipsistic, even sadistic pleasure in watching a mob lay siege to our seat of government in his name, and as a result, refused to call for calm, potentially further endangering lawmakers’ lives.

Greg Sargent is a good, decent person. He was referring to this news report on page A1 of yesterday's Washington Post.

The front-page news report in question has been widely discussed. Relying on unnamed sources, it describes the behavior of Donald J. Trump as various aides and advisers tried to get him to stop watching TV—to make an appropriate statement instead—during last week's Capitol riot.

Borrowing from the ancient spiritual, Donald Trump would not be moved. According to Sargent, the Post had produced an "extraordinary" report, built upon "revelations" Sargent said he found "shocking."

As noted above, Sargent's a good, decent person. He isn't dumb at all. In part for those reasons, we think his description constitutes a highly instructive anthropology lesson. More specifically, it offers an instructive lesson concerning recent press corps conduct.

In Sargent's account, the Post's report said that Trump "appeared to take solipsistic, even sadistic pleasure in watching a mob lay siege to our seat of government."  

We wouldn't use those exact same words to describe the contents of the report, but Sargent is giving a perfectly reasonable account of what the Post report said. Having said that, it seems to us that the obvious question is this:

Why would anyone find it "shocking" to hear that Donald J. Trump reacted that way? As a subset of our species, are we completely unable to process, remember and understand what Mary Trump has said?

As you may recall, Mary L. Trump is a clinical psychologist; she's also Donald Trump's niece. In her recent, number-one best-selling book, she described her uncle's upbringing along with his "psychopathologies."

No, she isn't the oracle at Delphi. That said, Mary L. Trump said this:

MARY TRUMP (pages 12-13): None of the Trump siblings emerged unscathed from my grandfather's sociopathy and my grandmother's illnesses, both physical and psychological, but my uncle Donald and my father, Freddy, suffered more than the rest. In order to get a complete picture of Donald, his psychopathologies, and the meaning of his dysfunctional behavior, we need a thorough family history.

In the last three years, I’ve watched as countless pundits, armchair psychologists and journalists have kept missing the mark, using phrases such as "malignant narcissism" and "narcissistic personality disorder" in an attempt to make sense of Donald’s often bizarre and self-defeating behavior. I have no problem calling Donald a narcissist—he meets all nine criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—but the label only gets us so far.

[...]

[Clinical] experiences showed me time and again that diagnosis doesn't exist in a vacuum. Does Donald have other symptoms we aren't aware of? Are there other disorders that might have as much or more explanatory power? Maybe. A case could be made that he also meets the criteria for antisocial personality disorder, which in its most severe forms is generally considered sociopathy but can also refer to chronic criminality, arrogance, and disregard for the rights of others...

The fact is, Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for. 

Elsewhere in her book, Mary Trump explicitly says that Donald Trump's father—her own grandfather—was "a high-functioning sociopath." In substantial detail, she describes the heinous way this sociopath raised his five unfortunate kids.

In Mary Trump's assessment, the greatest damage was done to the two youngest kids, one of whom is our commander-in-chief. The two youngest kids were still very young when their mother's physical ailments limited the role she could play in their upbringing. 

Donald J. Trump was very young when his mother's illnesses meant that he would be very heavily influenced by his sociopathic father. In that passage, you see Mary Trump's assessment of the commander's subsequent "psychopathologies," concerning which we'll only say this:

How quickly they forget!

After reading an account like that, why would anyone be surprised by the behavior described in the Washington Post's news report? Why would a journalist rush into print to call the behavior "shocking?"

To our ear, Mary Trump describes her uncle as a "sociopath plus." However you might want to describe it, the commander has been behaving exactly as a person with the described "psychopathologies" would. And, lest we further forget, let us also say this:

Way back in 2017, Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee published an earlier best-selling book. That best-seller carried this rather explicit title:

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President

In a later edition, the number of expert contributors jumped to thirty-seven. That said, our question is this:

More than three years after Dr. Lee's book; a full half-year after Mary Trump's book; why would anyone be shocked, let alone "shocked, shocked," by the commander's ongoing behavior?

We say "shocked, shocked" for this reason. Cable punditry concerning Trump has been a version of Groundhog Day cross-fertilized with Casablanca. 

Every morning, at 6 A.M. sharp, Joe and Mika are excitedly shocked all over again. They're shocked by whatever the commander-in-chief has said or done in the preceding ten minutes.

Joe and Mika set the tone, and their gang of sycophants follow. As the day proceeds, similar conduct will be seen all over the "cable news" press corps.

Each day, the monkeys agree to be shocked, shocked by the commander's latest insanity. In the course of this daily performance, they agree to pretend that the best-selling books of Mary Trump and Bandy X. Lee were never composed or published.

This press corps behavior is almost as strange as that of Trump himself. Ever so quickly, let's describe the history of this conduct, admittedly for the ten millionth time:

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump was published on October 1, 2017. According to the leading authority on the subject, "The book was an instant New York Times Best Seller, and high demand led to a second edition."

In that second edition, thirty-seven "psychiatrists and mental health experts" attempted to warn the nation about Donald J. Trump's dangerous psychiatric condition. Inevitably, the mental giants at the New York Times editorial board swung into action at this point in time.

For many years, this board has been about as fatuous and foppish as such boards can get. In this instance, they swung into action with an editorial in January 2018.

In their editorial, the board said that journalists shouldn't discuss the president's psychiatric state. As the children always do, the children fell into line.

Exactly as they always do, the children fell into line. If Ralph Kramden had sent Bandy Lee to the moon, she and the book she compiled could not have been disappeared further.

Needless to say,  similar behavior occurred when Mary Trump's book appeared. Reviewers tended to make glancing mention of the rather severe diagnosis she offered of her uncle's "psychopathologies" and personality disorders. 

Instead, they tended to focus on human interest nuggets—The time he regifted those presents! The time he commented on Mary Trump's breasts!—and they tended to let the author's diagnosis go.

The children tend to think with one brain, and they tend to be highly obedient. In recent months, Mary Trump has been a frequent presence on "cable news," but she's been turned into a standard pundit, making the standard pundit assessments.

Her diagnosis is rarely mentioned. She's never asked to revisit the remarkable diagnosis we've posted above. With regret, we're forced to say that she's been complicit in this.

This leads to us yesterday's state of affairs. In Sargent's essay, a perfectly intelligent liberal pundit seemed to say that he'd been shocked by the kind of behavior reported in the Post. He found the behavior shocking!

That said, unless you've been living on Neptune, there was nothing surprising—nothing at all—about that reported behavior. 

Mary Trump had described her uncle as something like a "sociopath plus." Dr. Lee's contributors had issued similar warnings about his "dangerous" condition. (According to Lee, the commander's condition would only be getting worse.) 

These warnings had come in a pair of well-known, best-selling books. But within the culture of the upper-end press, if it weren't for all the disappeared topics—if it weren't for all the topics the children agree they won't discuss—it sometimes seems that there wouldn't be any topics at all.

We told you, several years ago, that "it's all anthropology now." In part, we meant to say there would be no useful solutions to the disasters in which we're all encased. The only subject worth pursuing was the question of the mental wiring through which we've arrived at this place.

For ourselves, we'd start with the psychiatric profile of the commander-in-chief. Also at issue is the psychiatric profile, or other possible motives, of many of his high-level supporters.

Also this: What's the nature of the group dynamic which can produce a "tulip craze" among large groups of people? 

Finally, how do we explain the conduct of this nation's upper-end press corps, whose relentless group conduct has played a large role in getting us where we are? And how about the conduct we see right here in the streets of Our Town, where our own version of a "tulip craze" can seem to be occurring?

At any rate, every morning, at 6 A.M., Groundhog Day starts on cable. Joe is shocked all over again. Mika keeps saying, "I don't get it." (Truer words have rarely been spoken).

The cluelessness extends all through the day, as the children of the "cable news" corn agree to be thoroughly shocked all over again. 

In Casablanca, the willingness to be "shocked, shocked" was turned into one of Hollywood's greatest jokes. For at least the past thirty years, it's been a route to great danger here as things have kept falling apart. 

By now, things have massively fallen apart. This simple fact is plainly true, and things have even fallen apart right here in the streets of Our Town.

Tomorrow: Even right here in Our Town


Are charter schools building a revolution?

TUESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2021

Drum on Chait says no: Have charter schools begun to fashion a genuine revolution, especially among lower-income city kids? 

Jonathan Chait almost says as much in this report for New York magazine. Yesterday, after we cited the Chait report, Kevin Drum posted his own assessment of the sleep-inducing claim.

Has a revolution begun to emerge? Sadly, no, Drum said:

DRUM (1/11/21): Over at New York, Jonathan Chait has a longish piece about charter schools. His main point is that there’s been something of a revolution in the charter school [world]...

[...]

I did some checking to see if I had missed anything big over the past couple of years. It doesn’t really seem like it. The basic shape of things with charter schools is that, on average, they perform about as well as regular schools, but the best charters do indeed perform quite a bit better. The very best, as Chait says, even produce gains for their Black kids that nearly wipe out the Black-white educational gap that’s been a feature of American education forever.

This is good news in a way, but I have a couple of objections that Chait doesn’t take on. Both of them are related to scalability.

According to Drum, the "scalability" problem works like this:

According to Drum, the very best charter schools do in fact "nearly wipe out the Black-white educational gap." But these particular charter networks "are still quite small, serving barely more than 100,000 students in total."

Those schools are doing extremely well, but it isn't likely that other schools, or other charter networks, will be able to copy what they do and produce the same results. Some people are just better than others, Drum correctly says—better at hitting a baseball or writing a novel, or at running a school.

We haven't checked the research to which Chait links; apparently Drum has. Concerning Drum's assessment of the situation, we will offer this:

Based on long experience, we're always skeptical of schools which claim remarkable results based on remarkable test scores. Sadly, if history teaches us anything, history teaches us this:

When schools claim that their performance has "nearly wipe[d] out the Black-white educational gap," you'll rarely go wrong betting that some sort of fraud is involved in their claims.

Sadly, that's been the history of this phenomenon, dating at least to the 1970s. If the research to which Chait links points only to a set of schools with unusually high test scores, we'd only say the following:

"Trust but verify," we'd suggest. (We believe Abraham Lincoln first said that!)

We haven't looked at the research ourselves. There's been this little matter of the end of the world on which we've mainly been focused.

That said, Drum's post will constitute the full discussion of Chait's report. Except for performative purposes, no one cares about black kids, not even here in Our posturing Town, and no one ever will. 

Performative bullshit to the side, absolutely no one cares about black kids' happiness, lives and interests. If history teaches us anything, history teaches us that.


THINGS HAVING FALLEN APART: In the wake of officers being beaten...

TUESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2021

Roxane Gay had a better idea: We were struck this morning by a news report in the Washington Post.

In print editions, the report appears atop the front page of the newspaper's Metro section. It concerns one aspect of last Wednesday's mob attack at the Capitol. 

The report appears beneath the headlines shown below. With lightning speed, we thought of Roxane Gay's recent piece in the New York Times:

Injured officers face long recovery
Dozens beaten, trampled, hit with bear spray during riot at Capitol

The report describes the injuries suffered by police officers during the crazed insurrection. Hermann and Zauzmer prepared the report. In part, they reported this:

HERMANN AND ZAUZMER (1/12/21): The number of injuries suffered by police as they attempted to fend off supporters of President Trump who seized the U.S. Capitol last week runs long.

[...]

More than 58 D.C. police officers and an unknown number of U.S. Capitol Police officers were injured in the hours-long riot and assault on Wednesday as lawmakers were formalizing the election victory for Joe Biden as president. It was a battle in which police were outnumbered. One Capitol Police officer died in circumstances that remain unclear.

“I’ve talked to officers who have done two tours in Iraq, who said this was scarier to them than their time in combat,” acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III said Monday...

Videos circulating on the Internet show horrific scenes, including one of an officer, identified by the police union as from the D.C. force, being dragged down stairs outside the Capitol and beaten by people with clubs, a crutch and a pole with an American flag attached. The officer was rescued by other officers swinging batons.

[...]

In a statement the day after the riot, then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned Friday, said officers were attacked with metal pipes, chemical irritants and other types of weapons. Several Capitol Police officers were hospitalized with serious injuries.

The report goes on and on, even describing injuries caused by that bear spray and also by lazers. It focuses on  D.C. Police more than on Capitol Police, perhaps because the latter agency has issued few public statements in the wake of Chief Sund's resignation.

Yesterday afternoon, we watched as Nicolle Wallace described the beating administered to the officer who was "being dragged down stairs outside the Capitol." Wallace is a devotee to script, as she was in her earlier life, when her scripts targeted same-sex marriage and promoted the war in Iraq.

(Back then, she worked for George W. Bush. Today, she's one of the gods most widely loved over here in the streets of Our Town.)

What actually happened last Wednesday? In fact, many things happened that horrible day. To the extent that such a thing is possible, a full account of what actually happened will only emerge over time. 

Information will always develop slowly—but Storyline can emerge, and has emerged, with remarkable speed. That's why we thought of Roxane Gay's instant essay for the Times, in which, in an act of instant self-pity, she instantly offered this:

GAY (1/7/21): On Wednesday, Jan. 6, Congress was set to conduct a largely ceremonial count of the electoral votes. There were rumblings that a few ambitious, craven politicians planned to object to the votes in several states. The president openly pressured Vice President Mike Pence to thwart the vote ratification—something not in Mr. Pence’s power to do.

But I don’t think any of us expected to see radical, nearly all white protesters storming the Capitol as if it were the Bastille. I don’t think we expected to see Capitol Police basically ushering these terrorists into the building and letting them have the run of the place for a ridiculous amount of time while the world watched in shock and disgust...

Eventually, the Times gave this essay its highest platform, publishing it in last weekend's Sunday Review. But in the very flash of an eye, Gay had been willing to appear on line, telling citizens of Our Town that "Capitol Police" (no qualifiers appended) had been guilty of "basically ushering these terrorists into the building and letting them have the run of the place for a ridiculous amount of time."

Let's repeat! According to Gay, she (and we) had seen "Capitol Police" (no qualifiers) basically ushering these terrorists into the building and letting them have the run of the place.

Plainly, that was terrible conduct. But how many "Capitol Police" had done that? Gay didn't bother to say.

Indeed, had any member of the force done that? Even now, six days later, we aren't sure we've seen any footage which could fairly be described in that manner.

As she continued, Gay treated herself to the power we described, decades ago, as "the power of pluralization." She did so by saying this:

"I don’t think we expected to see some of those police officers taking selfies with the intruders." So Gay wrote, in an instant burst of narrative construction. 

Question! Did Gay really see "some of the officers" (plural) taking selfies with the intruders? 

Even today, only one such instance is described in this Washington Post front-page report. Even there, the Post says it isn't clear whether the officer in question posed for the photograph, or merely allowed it to be taken.

This morning, the Post is still describing only one instance—and the probe of that incident is still underway. 

Did Gay know of multiple incidents? No links supporting this apparent claim were provided in her essay when it instantly appeared, and no such links appear in her essay even today. 

Gay's overall essay, rich with self-pity, was suffused with the joys of what might be called unsupported apparent overstatement. On the brighter side, Our Town's intellectual leaders were quickly assembling the Storylines we burghers would most like to hear.

In recent mornings, on MSNBC, those Storylines have been bellowed by a certain red-faced shouter. Yesterday, in an especially loco two hours, the red-faced shouter was accompanied, supported, enabled and echoed by a mob of acolytes. 

Yesterday, the shouter explicitly repeated what he had shouted last week. Once again, he explicitly said that, if the insurrectionists had been black last Wednesday, Capitol Police "would have shot every one of them in the face."

The shouter may not have realized that he was slandering Capitol Police when he shouted this red-faced remark. In somewhat contradictory fashion, his gaggle was also reciting hero claims about officers' heroic actions against the other mob.

This morning, the red-faced shouter was suddenly calm. Just a guess—management had decided that it was time to scale back the lunatic tone of the program. They even began running ads again! The show's waters were suddenly calm.

That said, these manifestations are all part of an anthropology lesson—a lesson about the way we in our species tend to behave when things start falling apart.

Fellow sapiens, can we talk? As a general matter, things had already fallen apart by the time this invasion started.

We began to build this site in 1997 because we thought things had largely fallen apart even then! We're talking about the upper-end journalistic squalor which has played so large a role in this story up to this point—in the story of how a person as disordered as Donald J. Trump ever reached the White House.

(Four years later, disordered supporters of the disordered president finally reached the Capitol building.)

Within our species, what tends to happen when things have fallen apart? You're asking for an anthropology lesson—an anthropology lesson involving the all-too-human mental wiring shared by those in our species.

The psychological breakdown is most striking and most apparent in the case of President Trump. The craziest of his insurrectionist supporters are almost surely nuts too.

That said, the anthropology lesson spreads out from there, even to the streets of Our Town. Behaviors here in the streets of Our Town have helped to drive this fall right from the beginning. 

Not unlike ancient history's Gaul, the anthropology lesson here has (at least) three parts. Tomorrow, we'll start with the aforementioned commander-in-chief—with the apparent "psychopathologies" the widely-praised leaders in Our Town steadfastly refused to discuss.

Tomorrow: There's pretty clearly something about what Mary L. Trump said


CNN cites a point of concern!

MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 2021

Fred Kaplan explains the nukes: We don't have the transcript yet, though CNN will provide one.

That said, we just heard an intriguing report from Jim Acosta. 

Once again, Acosta reported that Vice President Pence hasn't abandoned the possibility of using the 25th Amendment to remove the commander-in-chief from office. 

In our view, it's amazing to see Pence letting such reports go uncorrected and unchallenged. Acosta then reported this:

Pence's staff say they're reluctant to move in that direction out of concern that such action might inspire Trump to do something destructive. Speaking of which, we'll link you to Fred Kaplan's report about those nuclear weapons.

We hadn't yet seen Kaplan's report when we did our own post on Saturday. Over at Slate, Kaplan had already delivered the bad news. To give you the gist of what he said, the headlines read like this:

Trump Still Has the Power to Blow Up the World
And as long as he’s in office, there’s not much anyone can do about that.

As we'd pretty much thought, there is no "fail-safe" in place to restrain this disordered man. Or at least, so says Kaplan.

Woody Guthrie said it best. "So long, it's been good to know ya," the Dust Bowl survivor cried.

It's a lovely performance, with clever, wry lyrics. What else are you doing today?


Jennifer Senior gets it right!

MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 2021

Chait's report disappears: In her column in this morning's New York Times, Jennifer Senior gets it right—again. Here's an early chunk of her column:

SENIOR (1/11/20): Our president has always been out there. But on Jan. 6, 2021, he clearly reached escape velocity and hurtled into space.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The president’s flight into the ozone of crazy was as inevitable as the country’s descent into anarchy—and almost certainly intertwined. Trump, as I and many others have noted, impeccably meets the criteria of a malignant narcissist, and he has a defect in moral conscience that is emblematic of psychopaths. People like this do not react well to being fired, divorced or kicked out of any club. They’re ego hemophiliacs. Their self-esteem cannot self-repair. And so the president is now doing exactly what all pathological narcissists of the malignant, conscience-free variety do when they’ve been given the boot. They behave dangerously.

We'll go ahead and dispute one point, while being grateful that we have, on the rare occasion, an upper-end columnist as good as Senior.

Here's the point we'll semi-dispute:

In the highlighted passage, Senior says that she "and many others" have taken note of Trump's apparent psychiatric state. 

That's certainly true of Senior herself. To her vast credit, she broke through the press corps' embargo on such discussions with this column, published on April 5. 

Amazing! Semior wrote a column about the president's dangerous psychiatric state, even after the Times had instructed the upper-end guild that they mustn't go there!

(Giving credit where it's due, the Times published both of Senior's columns.)

Once again, Senior's new column includes a very sensible discussion of Trump's apparent psychiatric disabilities / disorders. That said, we'll quibble with the statement that, along with Senior herself, "many others" have taken note of this dangerous state of affairs.

Senior offers two links in support of her statement. She links to this essay by George Conway, one of the crackpot conservative world's original anti-Clinton elves. Conway's essay appeared online, on October 3, at the web site of The Atlantic.

In his essay, Conway discussed Trump's (apparent) "personality disorders" at substantial length. Yes, it was rather late in the game. But few other journalists did this. 

Senior's other link goes to this book review in the Washington Post—a review of three books about Trump and/or the American people.

This review appeared in September 2017. One of three books was The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee's collection of essays about Trump's allegedly dangerous clinical state.

A few months after that review in the Post, the New York Times published an editorial saying that journalists shouldn't conduct discussion of Trump's psychiatric state. 

As usual, journalists fell into line. Aside from the (very) occasional person like Senior herself, there has been almost no discussion of the dangerous state of affairs described by Lee's contributors.

To an almost total extent, the upper-end press corps has agreed—the state of Donald Trump's mental health mustn't be discussed. You've almost never seen such discussions on cable, a point we may discuss in a bit more detail tomorrow.

We'll quibble, therefore, with that one statement by Senior. In fact, the press corps' refusal to discuss Trump's apparently dangerous psychiatric disorders is one of the several ways we managed to reach this (dangerous) point.

That said, Senior's new column is superb. It  follows her original column, in which she broke the rules of the game by discussing Trump's apparent disorders. 

Again and again and again and again, the others have agreed not to go there. Also, please don't eat the daisies—and please discuss the nukes!

Today, we'll cite one other recent essay—this essay by Jonathan Chait for New York magazine. He discusses ongoing research about the accomplishments of charter schools, especially when it comes to the education (and well-being) of lower-income black kids.

Is it true, as Chait claims, that this research is beginning to look very good? We have no idea, and this topic will never be discussed in the wider press.

Our press corps doesn't care about that topic, and it never will. More enjoyably, we're now immersed, all over again, in impeaching Donald J. Trump.

Endless posturing to the side, our Hamptons-based, upper-end press corps doesn't care about black kids. Quite plainly, they don't care about kids like that, and they never will.

Chait's essay appears beneath this heading: THE NATIONAL INTEREST.

In one way, that's very true. In another way, what a laugh!


STARTING TOMORROW: Things Fallen Apart!

MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 2021

Plato, Achebe described it: We foolishly thought we'd seen it all. Then we watched the first two hours of today's Morning Joe. 

Who knows what may have transpired during the program's third hour? That said, by roughly 7:52 A.M. Eastern, Joe Scarborough had us thinking of an earlier "red-faced shouter," MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

Matthews served at the top of this crackpot army in 1999 and 2000, when the war which brought Donald Trump to the White began within this guild. The lunacies he broadcast at that time were tolerated and ignored by one and all, year after year after year.

"Cable news" was much less extensive back then. That said, it was a major way to build careers, and Matthews was one of its gatekeepers. 

(In May 1999, he almost got one journalist killed. Everyone ignored that too.)

Matthews went on and on, for quite a few years, helping create a set of demonologies. Those demonologies allowed two Republican presidents to reach the White House in the narrowest possible ways, while losing the popular vote.

The second such president was Donald J. Trump. This morning, the red-faced shouting from the Morning Joe gang sounded almost as crazy as the lunacies Trump has been spewing since 2011, when he began his birther campaign.

We foolishly thought we'd seen it all. Then we watched Joe and Mika, and Kasie and Yamiche, and Jonathan and even Rick Wilson. 

At one tiny point, Joyce Vance may have suggested that the gang should consider toning their fervor down a notch. We think she may have done that. Taking notes, we weren't entirely sure, and MSNBC leaves no transcripts.

Last Wednesday, a mob of crazies entered the Capitol and taught an anthropology lesson. This morning, Joe Scarborough, a red-faced shouter, conducted a similar class.

It's an anthropology lesson in the limits of human discernment. According to anthropologists, our human discernment has never been especially strong—except in our flattering self-portraits, in which we tend to cast ourselves as "the rational animal."

The Morning Joe gang was crazy today, but the lack of discernment has been general over the guild in the past five days. We'll be discussing this problem all week.

Today, we'll start with Plato, then with Yeats. But first, we'll start with Achebe:

Who was the late Chinua Achebe? The leading authority on his life and work starts by telling us this:

Chinua Achebe (16 November 1930 – 21 March 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. His first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), often considered his masterpiece, is the most widely read book in modern African literature....

"Things fall apart!" Achebe's title was a reference to Yeats' famous and famously gloomy poem, The Second Coming, which starts exactly like this:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand...

Full disclosure: The best do not "lack all conviction" today, though it's hard to be sure who they are.

Yeats thought he saw things falling apart—mere anarchy being loosed on the world—in the aftermath of World War I. He thought the best no longer cared, while the worst were on the prowl.

Achebe chose to refer to that poem when he wrote his widely acclaimed first novel. For whatever it may be worth, we all saw a great deal of intensity last Wednesday at the Capitol building—but also this morning, as a red-faced shouter and his followers explored the limits of careful, considered discernment. 

We'll link Achebe back to Plato as well. Achebe wrote about the cultural problems attendant upon European colonialism in Africa. The leading authority on his life reports this part of his experience:

When the region of Biafra broke away from Nigeria in 1967, Achebe became a supporter of Biafran independence and acted as ambassador for the people of the new nation. The civil war that took place over the territory, commonly known as the Nigerian Civil War, ravaged the populace, and as starvation and violence took its toll, he appealed to the people of Europe and the Americas for aid. When the Nigerian government retook the region in 1970, he involved himself in political parties but soon resigned due to frustration over the corruption and elitism he witnessed...

Once again, it might be said that things were falling apart! We thought of Plato's Seventh Letter, in which Plato describes his experience as a young man after Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War produced an oligarchic revolution (404 B.C.). 

In Athens, a group called The Thirty ascended to power; they began to settle scores. Many years later, Plato described the disgust he felt at the human, all-too-human behavior he saw occurring around him (Professor Lee's translation):

PLATO: The existing constitution, which was subject to widespread criticism, was overthrown...and a committee of Thirty given supreme power.  As it happened some of them were friends and relations of mine and they at once invited me to join them, as if it were the natural thing for me to do. 

My feelings were what were to be expected in a young man: I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a golden age. Among other things they tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright man then living, by sending him, with others, to arrest a fellow-citizen, and bring him forcibly to execution; Socrates refused, and risked everything rather than make himself a party to their wickedness. When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times...

Already, things were falling apart; before long, things would get worse. When he saw those things, and others as bad, Plato said he was disgusted and "withdrew from the wickedness of the times."

We've long assumed that Donald J. Trump is some version of mentally ill. Tomorrow, as a point of reference, we expect to start with his niece's published account of his various "psychopathologies."

It's also true that we the humans, as a group, tend to have very poor discernment. We're strongly inclined to divide into tribes and march ourselves off to tribal war. A certain segment will always be prepared to rally behind The Thirty when things seems to be falling apart.

The reigning commander-in-chief seems to be crazy or ill. So too with the craziest of his followers. That much should be easy to see for people who live in Our Town.

That said, for at least the past thirty years, similar types have engaged in red-faced shouting all through the mainstream press corps. We actually thought we'd seen it all. Then we watched Morning Joe.

We focus on the press corps' behavior at this site. At present, they're teaching anthropology lessons through their excited behavior. We'll start that discussion tomorrow.

Our conclusion for today:

"The worst are full of passionate intensity?" For the record, we prefer to judge actions, not people.

But a group of people were very intense inside the Capitol building last week. The same can be said for the people we saw shouting agreement with each other on today's Morning Joe.

Their guild has been shouting for at least thirty years. The demon tales they constructed over the years played a very large role in placing Donald J. Trump where he currently is—and in creating the fever dreams inside insurrectionists' heads.

For everyone who lives in Our Town, it's easy to see that the one mob was wrong. But how about the other mob, the one on today's Morning Joe?


Speaker Pelosi forces the issue!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 9, 2021

Incomparable web site prevails: In today's print editions, the New York Times has pushed its report all the way back to page A14.

The Times has refused to credit this site. Very frankly, we understand their reluctance.

That said, the question of Mister Trump and the nuclear codes was finally being discussed last night, even by some of the children on Our Town's "cable news" programs. As the Times has reported, Speaker Pelosi finally forced the verboten topic out into the light.

Sanger and Schmitt prepared the New York Times' report. Their report begins as shown below, hard-copy headline included:

SANGER AND SCHIMTT (1/9/21): Pelosi Pressed Pentagon on Safeguards to Prevent Trump From Initiating Strikes

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Friday took the unprecedented step of asking the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about “available precautions” to prevent President Trump from initiating military action abroad or using his sole authority to launch nuclear weapons in the last days of his term.

In a phone call to the chairman, Gen. Mark A. Milley, Ms. Pelosi appeared to be seeking to have the Pentagon leadership essentially remove Mr. Trump from his authorities as the commander in chief. That could be accomplished by ignoring the president’s orders or slowing them by questioning whether they were issued legally.

But General Milley appears to have made no commitments. Short of the cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment or removing Mr. Trump through impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate, it is unconstitutional to defy legal orders from the commander in chief.

Ms. Pelosi’s request [was] announced to the Democratic caucus as an effort to prevent “an unhinged president” from using the nuclear codes...

As we've noted throughout the past year, the children have been aggressively disappearing the two topics involved in Pelosi's action. We refer to the question of President Trump's mental health, and to the related question of his ability to launch nuclear strikes.

Timorously, Mika Brzezinski seemed to raise the question of the nukes on Thursday's Morning Joe. Timorously, she then joined the rest of the gang in failing to follow up on her initial timorous comment.

So it has gone among the children. For this reason, it was left to Pelosi to push these issues into the light.  

Through some miracle of discernment, Pelposi is concerned by the fact that an "unhinged" commander-in-chief continues to have the ability to employ the nuclear codes. Pelosi raised these issues with General Milley, then discussed their conversation in public. 

As a result, the children were finally discussing the nuclear matter, at long last, last night. 

These "cable news" children today! How hard they've worked, down through the years, to avoid discussing topics which haven't been approved by the corporate owners who pay them their seven- and eight-figure salaries!

(Nowhere has this obedience been more striking than on the Maddow Show, the TV show most often heard as one walks through the streets of Our Town. We may present the long list of those disappeared topics at some point next week. Then again, what's the point?)

At any rate, as of last night, Pelosi's actions had finally pushed this pair of topics out into the light. Having said that, there's no assurance that our disordered commander-in-chief couldn't drop a nuke on Iran, or perhaps on Michael R. Pence's home town:

SANGER AND SCHIMTT (continuing directly): Col. Dave Butler, a spokesman for General Milley, confirmed that the phone call with the speaker had taken place but described it as informational. “He answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority,” he said.

But some Defense Department officials clearly resented being asked to act outside of the legal authority of the 25th Amendment and saw it as more evidence of a broken political system. They said that some political leaders were trying to get the Pentagon to do the work of Congress and cabinet secretaries, who have legal options to remove a president.

Mr. Trump, they noted, is still the commander in chief; unless he is removed, the military is bound to follow his lawful orders. While military officials can refuse to carry out orders they view as illegal—or slow the process by sending those orders for careful legal review—they cannot remove the president from the chain of command. That would amount to a military coup, the officials said.

As far as we know, there's no legal way to refuse Mister Trump if he decides on a nuclear strike. This is why we asked, a day or two ago, if any such "fail safe" procedure exists.

At any rate, with twelve days to go, the issue has finally been joined. A commander-in-chief who seems "unhinged" is in charge of our nuclear weapons. 

A commander in chief who seems "unhinged" is in charge of our nuclear weapons! But all year long, and long before that, the children to whom we turn for "news" and analysis have refused to discuss the apparent mental illness and the access to nukes.

At this site, we kept on pushing. Now, it has become our most frequently asked question:

Did Speaker Pelosi decide to act as a result of our own relentless behavior? 

In the face of this obvious question, we always take the humble approach:

It's true that we both have Baltimore ties, we somewhat sadly admit. 

As seen in the Washington Post: The Washington Post placed its own report atop page A2 in today's print editions. 

The Post was willing to put the word "nuclear" right in its hard-copy headline. In some ways, though, the Post's assessment sounds even gloomier than the one found in the Times:

LAMOTHE ET AL (1/9/21): The U.S. nuclear command-and-control structure gives the president sole authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons.

[...]

As it stands, the president has latitude to order a nuclear strike, even if the United States has not been attacked first with a nuclear weapon.

If the president is considering a nuclear strike, top military and defense officials normally would convene in person and by phone to brief him on options and offer advice, including on whether the action conforms to laws of armed conflict. Then, if the president proceeds, the National Military Command Center would authenticate the president’s launch codes before any strike was carried out.

Milley, as Trump’s senior military adviser, is not in the chain of command and does not have the ability to stop a launch. But he could try to persuade others not to comply. He does have informal influence as the military’s senior officer, so he could try to persuade others not to launch.

“Legally, I can’t think of anything Milley could do beyond reminding everyone who is actually involved in the chain of command that it is illegal to execute an illegal order,” said James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I can’t think of anything else he can do legally.”

On the brighter side, Acton used the word "legally" at least two separate times. Also on the brighter side, we'll guess that discussions like this have been underway, behind the scenes, dating back to 2017. 

Have provisions been made to refuse to honor a command to launch a strike—on suburban Indiana, let's say? We have no way of knowing.

But on cable news, the various children have always refused to go to these worrisome places. Instead, they've spent the past several years selling us the product we like:

Sugarplums in which we're encouraged to imagine all The Others locked up.

That's the product the children have sold. Eagerly, we self-impressed people here in Our Town have lapped that product up.