Can we believe the things we're told in Our Town?

THURSDAY, MAY 6, 2021

Locking up Barr again: Can we believe the things we're told by the major news orgs in Our Town?

Today, consider a major case. Consider the case of Bill Barr.

On Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow devoted her first sixteen minutes to this favorite (defunct) punching bag. At this point, Barr no longer matters. But it's still good business, here in Our Town, to dream about locking him up, preferably while mugging and clowning and all-in-all yukking it up.

Maddow may have embellished a time or three as she entertained us with this evergreen product. This morning, a news report in the Washington Post includes this puzzling passage:

HSU (5/6/21): Both judges blasted Barr’s four-page letter to Congress in March 2019 that said the special counsel did not draw a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed the investigation and that Barr’s own opinion was that the evidence was insufficient to bring such a charge.

In reality, Mueller’s report laid out evidence of obstruction but said the special counsel could not fairly make a charging decision, given department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Writing in March 2020, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton called Barr’s public statements “misleading” and said he had “grave concerns about the objectivity of the process” that led up to the public release of the Mueller report.

The reporter here is Spencer Hsu. Forget his claim about what those two judges did. 

(The more recent ruling, by Judge Jackson, involves the judge's assessment of a document which hasn't yet been released to the public. It amused us, and yet it didn't amuse us, when Maddow seemed to assume that the judge's assessments had to be accurate. Judges can be biased too, and judges can make errors.)

Can you believe the things you're told? For today, let's consider Hsu's account of Barr's initial four-page letter. Let's compare it to Hsu's account of what the Mueller Report really said.

Hsu is certainly right on one point:

In his four-page letter, Barr did say that Mueller didn't draw a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr may have done that because that seems to be what the Mueller Report clearly said at several different junctures.

The Mueller Report considered possible obstruction of justice in "Volume II" of the two-part report. At the start of Volume II, the report says this:

MUELLER REPORT (page 2): [I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.  Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

Plainly, that passage says that the Mueller team was not "exonerating" Trump on the question of obstruction. Barr specifically quoted that language in his four-page letter. (You can see Barr's text below).

That said, the passage also says that the Mueller team didn't conclude that Trump committed an act of obstruction. Which part of "this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime" doesn't Our Town understand? 

We've read Barr's four-page letter a good numbers of times over the years. We've never quite been able to see what was supposed to be wrong with it.

By way of contrast, Barr staged a ridiculous press conference when he finally released the redacted Mueller Report roughly three weeks later. That press conference resembled a Trump PR event, but the original letter correctly stated that Mueller didn't state a judgment about whether Trump had committed an act of obstruction.

How about it? Should Barr have said that the Muller Report "did not draw a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed the investigation?" 

Rather clearly, Hsu seems to imply that something was wrong with Barr's statement to that effect—but as we've shown you, that's what the Mueller Report seemed to say on page 2 of the relevant Volume. Indeed, just a few pages later, it seemed to say it again:

MUELLER REPORT (page 8): Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President's conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

As you can see, that's the same thing they said six pages earlier. At the very end of Volume II, they decided to say it again:

MUELLER REPORT (page 182): Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President's conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

As you can see, that was a verbatim restatement of the passage from page 8.

We've never really understood what was supposed to be wrong with Barr's original four-page letter. His later press event struck us as a ludicrous PR event, but his letter seems to present a reasonable overview, including the verbatim quote about Trump not being exonerated.

That said, the journalism in Our Town now runs on Storyline. Journalistic statements don't have to be accurate. They simply have to reflect prevailing script and Storyline.

Last night, Don Lemon gave it a try! Two night earlier, he had tried to explain the basic facts about the way this country was founded. Here's what Lemon said last night, almost surely reading text prepared by staff:

LEMON (5/5/21): Remember, Bill Barr released a misleading four-page summary of the Mueller report and hosted a spin session to get out in front of that report.

On obstruction, Barr's initial summary claimed that Mueller's report sets out evidence on both sides of the question of obstruction. But the Mueller Report specifically said it did not exonerate the president, and Mueller testified to Congress that he didn't.

You'll remember, at the time, Mueller called Barr out, writing a letter to him just after the summary. It was released saying it did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of the investigation and its conclusions. Mueller also made clear that if Trump did not commit a crime, we would know. 

 Did we mention that this was CNN? That account made almost no sense at all.

According to the CNN star, Barr released a misleading four-page summary of the Mueller Report. "But the Mueller Report specifically said it did not exonerate the president."

Did the Mueller Report specifically say that? Yes, it specifically did! But then again, so did Barr's "misleading" letter. Here's the relevant text:

BARR LETTER (3/24/19): The report's second part addresses a number of actions by the President—most of which have been the subject of public reporting–that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns. After making a “thorough factual investigation” into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion—one way or the other—as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

In his letter, Barr specifically quoted the passage in which the Mueller Report specifically said that it hadn't exonerated Trump. Compare that to Lemon's delivery of product.

Lemon's presentation made no sense, but why would anyone expect different? This is the way the "journalistic" game is now widely played in Our Town. 

The Crazy has plainly come to rule the towns in which The Others live. But banality often rules ours.

When it comes to the reporting and discussion of news, Our Town is in a deep corporate decline. It's been that way for a very long time—and as is true in other towns, Our Town just keeps getting worse.

According to anthropologists: According to major anthropologists, your lizard wants you to  believe every negative claim about Barr. These scholars keep saying that this is the way our human brains are wired.

According to these credentialed experts, sometimes such claims about Barr can be wrong. We find this extremely hard to believe, but that's what these experts keep saying.


BANALITY AND TOWN: The incident wasn't worth talking about!

THURSDAY, MAY 6, 2021

The banality suffusing Our Town: In this morning's Washington Post, this news report describes a lawsuit about a local event—a bungled no-knock raid from September 2019, a raid gone badly wrong.

For the record, no one was killed in that bungled no-knock raid. That said, today's news report mentions another local raid gone wrong—an April 2020 no-knock raid in which Duncan Lemp, age 21, actually was shot and killed.

Amazingly, the lengthy Washington Post report doesn't mention the bungled Louisville no-knock raid in which Breonna Taylor, age 26, was shot and killed last March. 

The Louisville raid has been widely discussed on the national level. The bungled raids in the Washington area—one raid fatal, one raid not—won't be discussed at all, except in the Post's Metro section.

Here in our rapidly failing town, this is the "journalism" we and our stars have chosen.

We can possibly chalk this up to "the banality of banality." More specifically, we can attribute this state of affairs to the banality of selective reporting.

A giant banality currently exists in Our Town. The Crazy is in control in many towns where The Others live. A typ of banality now plays a very large role in our fatuous village.

This banality regulates the things we read about in our major newspapers. It regulates the things our favorite multimillionaire "cable news" stars will pretend to discuss and lament. 

This brings us to a violent arrest which occurred in Loveland, Colorado in June 2020. More significantly, it brings us to the banality of the way a group of police officers sat around the station house, chuckling about that remarkably violent arrest.

Across this very large nation, quite a few violent arrests occur in the course of a day. 

In many arrests, the violence is necessary. What made the arrest in Loveland remarkably violent?

For that, we turn to another news report in the Washington Post. We turn to this news report by Andrea Salcedo, which appeared last Tuesday, online only, as part of the "Morning Mix."

Anthropologically, Salcedo's report is highly instructive. The headline offers this:

After violently arresting woman, 73, with dementia, police laughed about it, video shows: ‘We crushed it'

That headline only begins to suggest the dimensions of this situation. Salcedo's astounding report starts like this:

SALCEDO (4/27/21): Last June, Karen Garner sat handcuffed to a bench inside a booking cell weeping and in pain.

No one had come to treat her fractured arm and dislocated shoulder hours after Loveland, Colo., police violently arrested the 73-year-old with dementia, her family said.

Meanwhile, about 10 feet away, three officers sat hunched around a computer as they re-watched body-camera footage of Garner’s arrest, a new video released by the attorney representing Garner’s family shows.

“Ready for the pop? Hear the pop?” the officer who initially handcuffed Garner can be heard saying, referencing the moment he injured her shoulder.

The nearly one-hour booking cell video released Monday shows two Loveland Police Department officers who participated in Garner’s arrest fist-bumping each other while discussing the incident. At one point, they are joined by another officer as they mock and praise the arrest, which they claimed “went great,” while referring to Garner as “ancient,” “senile” and “flexible.” 

“We crushed it,” one of the officers says.

At this point, we've only begun to understand why this particular violent arrest was remarkably violent. Later, Salcedo presents additional facts:

SALCEDO: Police aggressively arrested the 80-pound woman as she was plucking purple wildflowers and strolling back home on June 26. They had been called after she left a Walmart without paying for items worth $13.88, according to her family’s lawsuit. Walmart said employees called the police after Garner allegedly pulled off an employee’s mask during the incident.

Body-camera footage shows [Officer Austin] Hopp grabbing Garner by her arms and wrenching them backward to handcuff her as she repeatedly cried that she was “going home.” At one point, Garner fell to the ground as officers struggled with her before putting her in a cruiser. Prosecutors later dropped all charges against Garner.

In the lawsuit, Garner’s family argues that due to dementia and sensory aphasia, a condition that leaves her unable to understand speech or to communicate easily, she was unable to understand the police officers’ commands. 

The news report doesn't address a fairly obvious question. If Garner was intellectually challenged in the manner described, it isn't clear why she would have been allowed to be out and about on her own.

That said, bodycam video of the arrest suggests that Garner's disability was fairly obvious at the point of her arrest. This leaves us with the basic outline of this remarkably violent arrest, in which a 73-year-old woman who weighed 80 pounds suffered a dislocated shoulder and a fractured arm in the course of a violent arrest over a charge that she (briefly) walked away from a Walmart with goods worth $14.

At this point, we've only begun to describe what made this incident so startling. For that, we must turn to the videotape of the conversation the officers had in the station house.

The Post report links to this edited, 14-minute videotape which intersperses that astonishing conversation with footage of Garner as she sits in a holding cell, having received no treatment for her serious injuries. 

He arms are handcuffed behind her. She shifts uncomfortably on a flat bench as she tries to compensate for her physical pain. Ten feet away, officers are chuckling and fist-bumping.

It's important to understand a fact which many commenters don't. The officers who conducted that  conversation are themselves and nobody else. In particular, they aren't "the police" in some unexplained global sense.

That said, Our Town has been pretending, for roughly ten years, to be involved in a long discussion about police behavior and police attitudes. The videotape of that conversation takes us to a place where no other tape has gone.

Last June, in that very same month, the videotape of George Floyd's death seemed to offer a window into the soul of one Minneapolis police officer, with two first-week cops thrown in. No one died in the course of this second violent arrest, but the subsequent conversation in that station house offers a window into the soul of one aspect of human behavior writ large.

On that videotape, several officers sit around laughing about the arrest as Garner writhes in her holding cell. Surprisingly, though, we would have to say this:

As we watch the officers conduct their astounding conversation, they don't strike us as standard-issue Hollywood sociopaths. As we watch them, we're truck by their overpowering banality—by the atttibute Hannah Arrendt described as "the banality of evil."

Others may see the tape differently. For ourselves, we've never seen such instructive videotape—instructive concerning the wide range of human comprehension and behavior. 

How instructive is that videotape? Consider:

Last Thursday, Slate's Elliott Hannon became one of the very journalists here in Our Town to acknowledge that videotape. 

Hannon posted this very brief report at Slate. Among an array of unintelligent comments which generalized wildly about "the police," one commenter offered this:

COMMENT TO SLATE: In its own way this is worse than the Floyd video. The woman was so clearly not a danger to anyone, and the use of force was so clearly unnecessary, and then the video of them laughing about it—the contempt for the public, the causal sadism, the total and complete lack of empathy.  All the same things were there in the Floyd video, but the Floyd video you could chalk up to racism, and the fact that he was a big, strong guy: it's slightly more explicable. This is just naked awfulness by awful people.

Did they go into the police because they were awful bullying sadists, or did police training/culture make them into awful bullying sadists? Hard to know...

We're inclined to disagree with the reference to "sadism." In the main, that isn't what we thought we saw on that videotape. 

We'd also be slow to attribute Derek Chauvin's bizarre-seeming behavior to racism. In the Loveland arrest, we see several "white" police officers behaving in a remarkably violent way toward a woman who is also "white." This shows that inexplicable, violent behavior can cut across "racial" lines.

We do agree with the commenter when the commenter says that, "in its own way," the Loveland tape is (almost) "worse than the Floyd tape."  We agree with the commenter's reasoning:

Derek Chauvin's behavior on that Minneapolis tape seems very hard to comprehend. That said:

"In its own way," the behavior in Loveland is even more "inexplicable," given the fact that the victim of the violent arrest was 73 years old and weighed just 80 pounds. In our view, the commenters was suitably puzzled by that puzzling pair of facts.

However you assess such matters, we would offer this:

Even if we in Our Town weren't pretending to be involved in a discussion of police behavior, that videotape from Loveland would have been newsworthy—wholly startling.

The conversation in that station house is unlike anything we've ever seen. To our ear, it spills with the fatuous state of mind Arrendt once called "the banality of evil."  In a rational world, that tape would be an anthropological sensation at any point in time.

Tht would be in a rational world. In our world, and in Our Town, that tape has been wholly ignored. The stars who entertain us here in Our Town haven't said one word about it.

The reason for that is obvious. No one was killed in that violent arrest, and the victim in question was "white."

To our ear, a banality suffuses the conversation in that station house. To our ear, a sepatare banality now suffuses reporting here in Our Town.

We discuss no-knock raids if the victim is "black." We discuss fatal shootings if the decedent is "black," and if the decedent was shot and killed by "the police."

The no-knock raids in this morning's Washington Post haven't made in out of the Metro section because of the existence of that potent news filter. So too with the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, a local event the Post has discussed for the past three or four years.

So too with the fatal shooting of Peyton Ham, age 16. In yet another local event, he was shot and killed by a state trooper as he lay on the ground, already shot, just two weeks ago. This shooting death never made it out of Metro because the decedent was "white."

A banality filled the air as those officers discussed that violent arrest. Ten feet away from the discussants, the target of their violent arrest writhed in a holding cell.

To our ear, a separate banality fills the air when we watch Our Town's  "cable news." Loathsome people appear on the screen, though only if you believe in such beings, which we basically don't.

Tomorrow: The banality of Our Town's banality as seen in the (unmentioned) events at the Grace Church School


Should students all take the same math class?

WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 2021

Let's take a look at the experts: Should students all take the same math class? 

Putting it a different way, should every sixth grader be taught the exact same "sixth grade math," and so on, up through the grades?

That strikes us as a crazy idea, but it seems to be catching on with the experts found in Our Town. Yesterday, Kevin Drum reported on a drift of this general type in California's public schools:

DRUM (5/4/21): [California's latest draft framework for K-12 math] takes on the issue of tracking, which has been the source of math pedagogy wars since before I was born. The new framework comes down firmly on the anti-tracking side up through middle school, based on the idea that recent neurological research shows that (a) anyone can learn math up to high levels,¹ and (b) advanced kids who take the standard Common Core classes do better than those who are tracked into honors classes...

In the footnote to that passage, Drum expresses his doubts about the (vague) claim "that anyone can learn math up to high levels," based on recent research. 

Drum found California's public school establishment drifting toward "one size fits all." On Monday, in the Washington Post, long-time  education writer Jay Mathews described the same tendency in the state of Virginia's establishment. Here's how his essay began:

MATHEWS (5/3/21): Pamela Fox is a mother of four and former lawyer who cares about the schools in Fairfax County, Va. She was appalled by the website of the Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI), described by the Virginia Department of Education as its partner “to consider how to modernize and update math instruction” in the state.

Under the VMPI plan, Fox said, “every student would be required to take the same math class through 10th grade of high school. There would be no classes for struggling students needing remedial help or for advanced students seeking accelerated math.”

We share the old school system tie with Mathews. We went to rival high schools at the same time back in the wonder years. 

His temperament is different from ours. That's one of the reasons why we admire his work. 

When Mathews tried to follow up by speaking with the appropriate officials, it sounds like he may have encountered a bit of doublespeak, with some okey-doke thrown in. That isn't entirely unusual when dealing with public school officials.

Should everyone take the same math class? We were struck by this observation, based on Mathews' voluminous experience:

MATHEWS: [I]t is difficult to find untracked math programs that work well—except at some charter schools in low-income neighborhoods that accelerate all math students. The Virginia plan does not appear to endorse that approach. Similar anti-tracking policies for math have produced an uproar in San Francisco Peninsula public school districts.

(Full disclosure: we attended those rival high schools right there on that very peninsula!)

For our money, the oddness in that passage is this—the charter schools to which Mathews refers decided to "accelerate all math students." Even there, school officials decided that everyone should take the same math class. They just thought that one math class should be harder!

Should everyone take the same math class? The idea strikes us as strange. 

In part, we base that on personal experience. In part, we base it on our acquaintance with basic data.

Are some kids "better at math" than others? We'll guess that the answer is yes!  We'll even guess that some kids are a whole lot better. 

At any rate, here are some Grade 4 scores from the last administration of "America's report card," the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep):

Grade 4 math, 2019 Naep, public schools nationwide
90th percentile: 279.46
10th percentile: 198.19

Translation: 

On the 2019 Naep, ten percent of the nation's fourth-graders scored 279 or above. Also, ten percent of the nation's fourth-graders scored 198 or below. 

That's twenty percent of the nation's fourth graders. Moving forward, should they all be taking the same math class? Consider a rough rule of thumb:

As part of a very rough rule of thumb, a ten-point gap on the Naep scale is often said to represent roughly one academic year. 

Such rules of thumb tend to start breaking down when applied to such matters as these. But do we really think that all those kids should be taking the same math class? Beyond that, does common sense really suggest any such thing?

The nation's experts seem to be drifting toward "one size fits all" in the question of public school math. This strikes us as a strange idea, but then, let's consider those experts:

We began writing about cheating on standardized tests back in the 1970s (in the Baltimore Sun). For the record, we weren't talking about "teaching to the test." We were talking about flat-out cheating, of the most ridiculous kind.

We had stumbled upon such behavior by pure happenstance. Still, if you simply examined certain test data, it was sometimes blatantly obvious that some data made zero sense.

(For various reasons, the Naep is not susceptible to outright cheating. Or to specific "test prep!")

Decades went by, and our public school experts remained blissfully unaware of this problem. For a  few years along the way, we worked with Dr. John Cannell as he tried to call attention to this problem through his "Lake Wobegon" reports. ("Where the children are all above average.")

Finally, a few newspapers blew the whistle on major cheating scandals in such large school systems as those in Atlanta and D.C.

Sadly, no! It wasn't the New York Times or the Washington Post which finally called attention to this ridiculous ongoing problem. It was such papers as the Atlanta Constitution and USA Today—with Mathews' wife, Linda Mathews, in charge of the project at the latter, widely-mocked newspaper.

In our experience, Our Town's top experts quite frequently aren't. We've never been able to stress that unfortunate fact quite enough. 

We're inclined to be suspicious of the wisdom of experts. For better or worse,  such attitudes are almost  wholly unknown in the well-ordered streets of Our Town.

On the brighter side: You'll never have to hear about public school kids, or the schools they attend, if you watch "cable news."

You'll hear about Matt Gaetz, and Rudy. To the very end of your days, you'll hear about Trump and Barr.


BANALITY AND TOWN: Thomas Friedman gets it right...

WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 2021

...about one of our two major breakdowns: Has Thomas Friedman gotten it right? Are we "closer to a political civil war...than at any other time in our modern history?"

Friedman makes that statement right at the start of his new column in the New York Times. Below, you see the fuller text. In our view, he's understating:

FRIEDMAN (5/5/21): President Biden’s early success in getting Americans vaccinated, pushing out stimulus checks and generally calming the surface of American life has been a blessing for the country. But it’s also lulled many into thinking that Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen, which propelled the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, would surely fade away and everything would return to normal. It hasn’t.

We are not OK. America’s democracy is still in real danger. In fact, we are closer to a political civil war—more than at any other time in our modern history. Today’s seeming political calm is actually resting on a false bottom that we’re at risk of crashing through at any moment.

Friedman says our failing republic is moving toward "a political civil war." He goes on to detail what he means. 

We'd say he's understating. Beyond that, we'd say he's only managed to see one of our two major breakdowns.

Are we moving closer to a political civil war? Focusing on the Republican side, we'd say it's worse than that.

We'd say we've already reached the point of a silent secession. And that's just what's happening Over There, on the Trump/GOP side.

As his column proceeds, Friedman describes the widespread rise of The Crazy among the Republican base as Trump's claims about the last election gain purchase. After describing the nuttiness of those widespread beliefs, Friedman describes a possible future event—a type of event which could imaginably happen:

FRIEDMAN: Imagine if all or many of these ["voter suppression"] measures are passed—and in 2022 and 2024 Republicans manage to retake the House, Senate and White House with, say, only 42 percent of the popular vote, effectively establishing minority rule. Do you know what will happen? Let me tell you what will happen. Disenfranchised Democratic voters will not sit idly by. They may refuse to pay their taxes. Many will take to the streets. Some might become violent, and our whole political system could become paralyzed and start to unravel.

Yet, this is precisely the path that Trump’s G.O.P. is setting us on.

Could the GOP ever take the White House, and both branches of Congress, with something like 42 percent of the vote? At least on the presidential level, the GOP came scarily close to doing so last November, in an election where Donald J. Trump won 46.9 percent of the popular vote.

Candidate Biden managed to win the electoral college by virtue of scarily narrow margins in Arizona and Georgia. Given the oddities built into our electoral systems, things have bene trending this way since Campaign 2000.

In 2000, Candidate Gore won by 550,000 votes—and yet he lost the White House. In 2016, Candidate Clinton won by 2.9 million votes. She lost the White House too.

Four years later, Candidate Biden won by 7 million votes, and he came scarily close to losing. The system is trending in the direction of the "42 percent solution" Friedman now imagines.

If the GOP managed to produce some such outcome, would "disenfranchised Democrats" refuse to accept the outcome in the ways Friedman imagines? 

We can't imagine why such things wouldn't happen. That would constitute a second silent secession, joining the one the GOP base has already engineered.

The current "silent secession" isn't being spoken out loud. That said, will the current GOP base ever accept the results of an election the GOP loses?

Under present arrangements, we see no reason to think that they will. We'd call that a "silent secession"—a type of secession which is already being played out in various ways, not excluding vaccination refusal.

Friedman imagines violence occurring if the GOP wins the world with 42 percent of the vote. We suspect that some such violence is already taking place.

We say that because we see two meltdowns occurring in our society where Friedman sees only one. We see The Crazy ruling the roost Over There—but we also see the banality which has taken hold in Our Town.

The craziness of the GOP base is tied to adherence to a Dear Leader, a classic human instinct. The banality on display in Our Town is tied to a different set of concerns.

We see that banality every day we we peruse the nation's newspapers. We se that banality every night as we watch Our Town's cable stars at work.

We wouldn't describe what we see in Our Town as "the banality of evil." The Third Reich engaged in behavior which can only be described as evil. That isn't the way Over Here.

The banality at play in Our Town is more "the banality of banality." That said, evil ends can flow, and are doing so now, from Our Town's preferred intellectual breakdowns.

(Our human brans are wired for this, top experts persistently say.)

Friedman ends today's column as shown:

FRIEDMAN: [W]ithout a war of ideas inside the [GOP], one that is won by principled Republicans, we run the real risk of a political civil war in America over the next election.

Things are not OK.

Unless more principled Republicans stand up for the truth about our last election, we’re going to see exactly how a democracy dies. 

[Friedman's italics]

Friedman sees only one breakdown. He persists in believing that "political civil war" (and the death of democracy) remains a matter of risk.

At this site, we see two breakdowns—and we're inclined to think the game is already lost. We base this on the surprising things we're repeatedly told by major credentialed top experts.

What kind of intellectual breakdown is already underway in Our Town? In what way is the banality of our conduct lighting the way to our democracy's dusty death?

You're asking excellent questions! Tomorrow, we'll return to the violent arrest which occurred in Loveland, Colorado. 

On Friday, we return to the banality of that front-page report about education at Manhattan's Grace Church School.

Tomorrow: Banality watch! Here in Our Town, our popular stars haven't said a word about what happened in Loveland

Friday: Banality watch! What happened next at that school


Our Own Rhodes Scholar forgets to correct!

TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2021

Our Town is drowning in banal: We're so old that we can remember the DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS.

We refer to the highly successful branding scheme Our Own Rhodes Scholar, Rachel Maddow, ran for several years. 

You may recall the performance. The star would appear beneath a large sign which said this:

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

She would proceed to correct some utterly trivial mistake. As she did, she'd be bigly apologetic. Her penitence would be obvious. 

These performances went on for years. They would distract us from the fact that Our Own Rhodes Scholar actually didn't correct her genuine howlers.

Her scam concerning  the gender pay gap was a refusal-to-correct for the ages. But this silly game went on for years. In time, acolytes began turning up in comments sections, pushing her bogus claim for her:

Rachel always corrects her mistakes, these gullible marks would say.

Last Friday night, Rachel repeated a report by the Washington Post which later turned out to be false. That same report was equally false when it appeared in the New York Times, and when it was presented by NBC News.

By now, everyone knows the report was false. But because the (false) report put Rudy in a badly  compromised light, Our Town's various cable stars had thoroughly enjoyed it.

It wasn't the fault of Our Own Rhodes Scholar that the report was false. She didn't know the central claim was false when she kept returning to it.

That said, she cited the false report again and again on Friday's program. The statement was false each time.

Last Friday, our multimillionaire cable stars were pleasuring us that way. The next day, we cited their fatuous conduct:

First, they dreamed of locking Rudy up. After that, they dreamed of locking up Gaetz. This is what these banal beings now think of as "the news."

Over the weekend, the three news orgs we named all corrected their false reports. By now, everyone knows that this pleasing claim was wrong:

MADDOW (4/30/21): The Washington Post reported last night that Mr. Giuliani was warned in advance by the FBI that the people he was in contact with and trying to work with this on were connected to Russian intelligence. He was given a defensive briefing by the FBI in 2019 that he was being used or that he was part of a Russian intelligence operation targeting the U.S. election. After getting that defensive briefing, he went ahead with it anyway.

"After getting that defensive briefing, he went ahead with it anyway?" Maddow kept returning to this pleasing claim during the middle third of her program.

By now, everyone knows that no such briefing ever occurred. The Washington Post got it wrong. So did the New York Times, and so did NBC News.

All three orgs have issued corrections—somewhat crabbed and grudging corrections, but corrections all the same. 

But Our Own Rhodes Scholar did no such thing last night.  Throughout the course of her show, Giuliani wasn't mentioned. That DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS sign was never seen at all. 

Don't get us wrong! Everyone pushed that false claim Friday night, on MSNBC and CNN. The crippled souls who perform the shows on these "cable news" channels keep selling imprisonment of The Others as the soul of Our Town's cable news. 

This is the porridge they've chosen to sell. They speak about little else.

Did anyone state a correction last night? We haven't yet run a full check. We're still trying to imagine how to present the transcript of Don Lemon's opening segment, in which Lemon made the dumbest presentation ever seen on cable news, calling names as he went.

These people aren't especially smart. They aren't always obsessively honest.

These people are amazingly rich. They don't want you to know about that, and they pretty much don't do corrections.

Our Town is sunk in the banal. Banality runs through Our Town's news orgs. 

It's hard to get away from the banal. While noting the craziness found Over There, does the banal define Our Town's soul?


BANALITY AND TOWN: The banality of today's Washington Post!

TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2021

Top journalists sift what you hear: In June of last year, several police officers in Loveland, Colorado executed a violent arrest of a 73-year-old, 80-pound woman who was suffering from dementia.

They arrested her "as she was plucking purple wildflowers and strolling back home" from Walmart. 

We're quoting from this recent news report. That report included a link to this edited fourteen minutes of videotape recording some of what happened next.

Bodycam tape of the violent arrest is instructive enough. Far more instructive is the videotape, which surfaced a few weeks ago, of several officers sitting around laughing about the violent arrest.

As they sat around laughing about the arrest, the woman in question was sitting in a holding cell, for several hours, with her arms still handcuffed begin her. Videotape from that holding sell shows her shifting uncomfortably, with no surface to lean back on, attempting to compensate for the pain of the fractured arm and dislocated shoulder the violent arrest had caused.

While this tiny woman shifted in pain, the officers chuckled and exchanged fist bumps about the violent arrest. Anthropologically, we regard this videotape as extremely instructive.

The videotape of the officers called to mind a famous phrase from Hannah Arendt—"the banality of evil." 

Most simply put, these officers didn't strike us as some type of standard-issue sociopaths. Instead, they seemed to be too dumb to understand the nature of the very strange event they were discussing.

They seemed too dumb to comprehend the problem with their own behavior. Having said that, we will also say this:

This dumbness seems to be everywhere in the modern life of Our Town. According to the major anthropologists with whom we consult, this banality may be what our species is wired for—the best our species can do.

To our own eye and ear, we now encounter this banality pretty much wherever we look. 

Last evening, on CNN, Chris Cuomo seemed more like the classic stormtrooper. But for a glimpse of this modern banality, consider a certain front-page report in this morning's Washington Post.

In the front-page report, Meckler and Natanson discuss an array of current disputes about the ways some public and private schools are responding to issues of race. Hard-copy headline included, the front-page report starts like this:

In schools' anti-racism push, right sees a threat

The nation’s reckoning over race has reached thousands of U.S. schools, and so, too, has a conservative backlash.

Schools across the country are working to address systemic racism and inject an anti-racist mind-set into campus life. But where advocates see racial progress, opponents see an effort to shame White teachers and sometimes students for being part of an oppressive system.

In particular, conservatives have seized on the idea that schools are promoting critical race theory, a decades-old academic framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism. It holds in part that racism is woven into the fabric of the nation’s history and life — a product of the system and not just individual bad actors.

In this initial framing, thousands of schools across the country "are working to address systemic racism"—and this effort has produced "a conservative backlash." 

Might thumbs already be on the scales as that framework emerges? That is a matter of judgment. We can certainly think of ways to introduce this topic which wouldn't perhaps and possibly seem to signal winners and losers to the extent that the Post's framework might.

That said, we had to sigh and turn away when we read the Post's account of a recent dispute at the Grace Church School, a high-end private school in Manhattan. In their early capsule reference, the Post reporters said this:

MECKLER AND NATANSON (5/3/21): The fight over what to do about [various racial concerns] is unfolding in public and private schools, in state legislatures and on school boards, in private Facebook groups and statewide curriculum committees.

At a private school in Manhattan, a teacher publicly complained about efforts to encourage White students to consider their privilege and affinity groups based on race. In Moore County, N.C., school board members are rebelling over state curriculum standards, which mandate history lessons incorporate the experiences and perspectives of marginalized communities.

And in Loudoun County, Va., the school system’s pursuit of equity initiatives such as anti-bias training for teachers has led conservative media and lawmakers to accuse the district of forcing students to learn about race too early and to view everything and everyone through a racial lens, sometimes basing conclusions on snatches of information, such as a short video clip of a lesson.

These conservatives today! They sometimes base their conclusions on snatches of information! 

Also, a teacher in a private school "publicly complained about efforts to encourage White students to consider their privilege,"  whatever that new-fangled phrase might signal, suggest or mean.

We assumed the private school was Grace—and sure enough, it was! Later in the front-page report, subscribers were serviced with an account of what had happened there. 

Below, you see the Post's full account of what happened at Grace:

MECKLER AND NATANSON: In Manhattan, the private Grace Church School had always seen itself as racially progressive. Then, in the aftermath of [George] Floyd’s murder, it heard from alumni posting on Instagram, saying they felt marginalized as students there. “It was a wake-up call that we were not doing as excellent a job as we thought we were,” said George Davison, the longtime head of school.

The school had already revised its curriculum. Then it hosted workshops on race and created affinity groups where students of different races could discuss their experiences.

At least one teacher, Paul Rossi, objected, both internally and, when he was not satisfied with the response, in public, including in an essay in the New York Post. He said the school requires teachers to treat students differently based on race and rejects dissenting voices.

“My school, like so many others, induces students via shame and sophistry to identify primarily with their race before their individual identities are fully formed,” he wrote. “The morally compromised status of ‘oppressor’ is assigned to one group of students based on their immutable characteristics. In the meantime, dependency, resentment and moral superiority are cultivated in students considered ‘oppressed.’ ”

Davison replied that no one should feel guilty about the circumstances of their birth. But he said students must face the systemic racism that surrounds them.

“Lots of people have, for a generation or two, said, ‘Well, I’m not a racist, so I have done all I need to do,” he said. “We have arrived at a point in our culture where we say you can’t be race-neutral anymore. Either you are against racism and therefore anti-racist or [you're] supporting racism.”

In fairness, the reporters included a substantial quote from Rossi. That said, they gave the head of school the last word.

(They also failed to report what Rossi said and did next. They failed to tell subscribers where the story went from there!)

In print editions and online, the report includes a pleasant photo of Davison as he "poses for a portrait in front of Grace Church School." It includes a second photo from Grace in which the Post appears to have found a pleasing irony.

In the part of the story the reporters discussed, Rossi said the school has been inducing certain reactions in students by use of "shame and sophistry." Davison said no one should feel guilty about their so-called "race," but he also said that students "must face the systemic racism that surrounds them."

Students should face the systemic racism that surrounds them? We feel the same way about the systemic banality which now surrounds us here in the streets of Our Town. 

When Arrendt wrote about Adolf Eichmann, she referred to "the banality of evil." This formulation accepts the obvious idea that Eichmann's actions were evil. But his evil actions were permitted by his banality, Arrendt argued.

As we read this morning's Post report, a different phrase came to mind. We thought of "the banality of banality"—of the persistent moral and intellectual fail which now rules the streets of Our Town.

Cuomo seemed like the classic stormtrooper to us. Today's reporters do not.

That said, can a modern nation run on this fuel? On banality all the way down?

Tomorrow: The banality of banality (what happened next at Grace Church)