STARTING TOMORROW: Standard reporting on standardized testing!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2019

Fictitions all the way down:
Last week, the latest international test results were released by the Program for International Student Assessment, which is known to its friends as the PISA.

The PISA is administered every three years to 15-year-old students in roughly six dozen nations. These new results come from the 2018 testing.

Here's the great thing about all such standardized testing. You know, in advance, what you'll be told in newspapers like the Post and the Times. It doesn't matter what actually happens. The reporting is preordained.

The gloomy headlines you may have seen were required by Hard Insider Upper End Mainstream Press Corps Law. In the process, some very basic information was withheld from public view.

In the area of standardized testing, there are certain basic things which, by law, you must be told. There are other extremely basic facts you aren't encouraged to think about and aren't even permitted to know.

At the Washington Post and the New York Times, it was standard reporting on standardized testing! And yes—

This is the world we all live in. We can choose to believe it or not.

SCOLD THE ELECTORATE WELL: "A boundless sea of novel ideas!"

MONDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2019

Charles Mann versus The Scolds:
Thanksgiving Day arrives in this country virtually every year.

Along with the four-day weekend and the football games, we now get the work of the scolds.

Quite a few of the scolds haven't been overwhelmingly bright in recent years, at least in their performance of this Turkey Day assignment. They complain that Mommy and Daddy didn't tell them the truth about the so-called first Thanksgiving when they were in first grade.

In response, they construct long lists of "legends and lies," not missing such turkeys as these:

The Pilgrims didn't even refer to themselves as Pilgrims! And the first Thanksgiving wasn't a true "thanksgiving" at all—it was just a harvest celebration!

The Pilgrims—and remember, they didn't call themselves Pilgrims—(allegedly) didn't even bring the bulk of the food!

These scolds today! They compose nonsensical work for Fortune magazine—and two years later, the New York Times reprints the passage, failing to notice the awkward fact that it makes no sense on its face:
BLOW (11/28/19: As Grace Donnelly wrote in a 2017 piece for Fortune:

The celebration in 1621 did not mark a friendly turning point and did not become an annual event. Relations between the Wampanoag and the settlers deteriorated, leading to the Pequot War. In 1637, in retaliation for the murder of a man the settlers believed the Wampanoags killed, they burned a nearby village, killing as many as 500 men, women, and children. Following the massacre, William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth, wrote that for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Just 16 years after the Wampanoag shared that meal, they were massacred.
We're sorry, but no. Sensibly enough, the Pequot War was waged against the Pequots, not against the Wampanoags. And obviously, Governor Bradford, one of the original Plymouth settlers, never made a statement describing what occurred "for the next hundred years" after the Pequot War, a period extending through 1757.

That passage made no sense, on its face, when it appeared in Fortune. But given the way modern "journalism" works, it was close enough for inclusion in a Turkey Day takedown there—and two years later, it was close enough for the Times' Charles Blow to republish.

At even less accomplished sites, journalists have been capable of seeming to think that the Wampanoags had once built a settlement right on Plymouth Rock! In this and a hundred other ways, the spectacular dumbnification of American culture proceeds apace in this, the age of Trump.

Into this wilderness, two Thursday ago, wandered Professor Silverman. He too was concerned about "Americans’ grade school Thanksgiving pageants." But to our ear, he highlighted dogmatic ideological scolding over the simpler pleasures of dumbness alone. Headline included, his column started like this:
SILVERMAN (11/28/19): The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth

Generations of Americans have told themselves a patriotic story of the supposed first Thanksgiving
that misrepresents colonization as consensual and bloodless.

The story goes like this: English Pilgrims cram aboard the Mayflower and brave the stormy Atlantic to seek religious freedom in America. They disembark at Plymouth Rock and enter the howling wilderness equipped with their proto-Constitution, the Mayflower Compact, and the confidence that they are God’s chosen people. Yet sickness and starvation halve their population during the first winter and challenges their faith.

Meanwhile, the neighboring Indians (rarely identified by tribe), with whom the English desperately wish to trade for food, keep a wary distance. Just when Plymouth seems destined to become another lost colony, miraculously, the Natives make contact through the interpreters Samoset and Squanto (the story sidesteps how these figures learned English, nor does it explain why the Indians suddenly became so friendly). The sachem (or chief), Ousamequin (whom the English know, from his title, as “Massasoit”), even agrees to a treaty of alliance with Plymouth.

Over the spring and summer, the Indians feed the Pilgrims and teach them how to plant corn; the colony begins to thrive. In the fall, the two parties seal their friendship with the first Thanksgiving. The subsequent 50-year peace allows colonial New England and, by extension, the United States to become a citadel of freedom, democracy, Christianity and plenty.

As for what happens to the Indians next, this story has nothing to say. The Indians’ legacy is to present America as a gift to white people—or in other words, to concede to colonialism...
According to the professor, what was wrong with that "patriotic story" about the supposed first Thanksgiving? It didn't include an account of what happened fifty years later!

The professor's sarcastic tone is evident from the start. In his rendering, the dumbness belongs to those "generations of Americans" who told themselves that "patriotic story" of the supposed first Thanksgiving without even identifying the Indians at the first Thanksgiving by the name of their tribe!

The professor performs side-eye with respect to traditional themes of the search for religious freedom, even at the traditional idea that these settlers could be seen as "brave" in some possible way. And their peace treaty only lasted fifty years! For the record, that's how long wars were running in the Europe they abandoned at that benighted point in time.(According to the leading authority, the Pilgrims decided to leave Holland, in part, because "the truce was faltering in the Eighty Years' War, and there was fear over what the attitudes of Spain might be toward them.")

In Silverman's column, we get to roll our eyes at the Pilgrims' laughable 17th century religious understandings which we, in our astonishing brightness, have moved so far beyond. Good liberals will also know that we're rolling our eyes at the idea that the subsequent nation, the United States, emerged as "a citadel of freedom, democracy, Christianity and plenty," a silly set of popular understandings our tribe has moved far past.

These elements of the column involve the professor's capacity for tedious, tired old snark. The dogma emerges with his scolding remarks about colonialism.

Just to be perfectly honest, colonialism wasn't fully explained in most second grade pageants. As part of his amazing erudition, Professor Silverman knows more about this unfortunate topic than generations of Americans were willing to tell second-graders.

That said, no one advocates colonialism today. Everyone understands the fact that, to borrow from Frost, "the deed of gift was many deeds of war" as English settlement of this "new world" proceeded.

Everybody understands the problems with the conduct which followed that first Thanksgiving, both in New England and elsewhere. But uh-oh! Thanks to the tiresome scolding of higher-fallutin' people like Silverman, voters decide that the liberal world really is too dogmatic in its "political correctness." They stand in line to vote for Trump, who recently declared his brave opposition to the unfolding war of Thanksgiving which he finds so vile.

Silverman's column is almost as childish as the story which was told at those second-grade pageants. This is a shame, because the history of the Americas before and after contact with Europe is a deeply fascinating story, featuring a mountain of material everyone doesn't already know.

Silverman scolds, but Charles Mann dreams, imagines, admires, ruminates, instructs. His rumination on these topics received its first full airing in his widely acclaimed 2005 book, 1491: New Revelations of The Americas Before Columbus.

Mass was a journalist at that time, not a professor. He was a bit of a "Katherine Boo type;" he was working on the most intelligent levels of American journalism before his acclaimed book appeared.

His cover report from the March 2002 Atlantic gave an inkling of the book to come. The report appeared beneath this partial synopsis:
1491
Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe...
Unfortunately, that sub-headline suggests that Mann will be engaging in invidious comparisons designed to tilt our sentiments against the Europe, and the Europeans, of those thankfully distant years.

Such childish comparisons are the stuff of our modern, flamboyantly flailing pseudo-progressive project. Mann's book takes us to a more remarkable, more intelligent place.

What was the nature of Mann's book? It placed a vast amount of erudition at the service of admiration and regret. In his review of the book for Salon, Steve Kettman lapsed fairly quickly into the inviting culture of invidious comparison. But before he did, Kettmann described the volume's vast sweep, and its power:
KETTMAN (9/29/05): As he explains in a useful preface to "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," Mann had been waiting, at least since the early 1990s, for someone to publish a book pulling together the wealth of research conducted in recent years to redefine radically how we think of our continent's history. But no one did. He finally decided that he was going to have to write the book himself. "1491" is less a self-contained work per se and more an induction ceremony into what, for many readers, promises to be a lifelong obsession with the startling new perspective slowly opening up on this prehistory.

What's most shocking about "1491" is the feeling it induces of waking up from a long dream and slowly realizing just how thoroughly one has been duped.
We all knew there were problems with the old narrative of brave European settlers crossing the Atlantic to find an empty continent, but it's jarring to discover, as Mann tells us, that in 1491 there were almost certainly more people living in the Americas than in Europe—and that, in many ways, American civilizations of the time were as advanced as anything across the ocean.
With his complaint that we've all been "duped," Kettmann starts buying in to the realm of complaints about Mommy and Daddy, and those past second-graders, who just wouldn't tell us the truth. That really isn't Mann's game.

Mann's book is the most remarkable volume we've read in the years we've been at this site. If we were to pull one passage from his remarkable tome, it would be this one, in which Mann describes the vast cultural wealth which was lost after encounter with Europe—lost, in large part, to the savage sweep of epidemics which no one understood at the time:
MANN (page 137-138): Having grown separately for millennia, the Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries, and all the other products of the mind. Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures. The simple discovery by Europe of the existence of the Americas caused an intellectual ferment. How much grander would have been the tumult if Indian societies had survived in full splendor!

Here and there we see clues to what might have been... [Examples follow]

Think of the fruitful impact on Europe and its descendants from contacting Asia. Imagine the effect on these places and people from a second Asia. Along with the unparalleled loss of life, that is what vanished when smallpox came ashore.
As noted above, Mann's book describes a Western Hemisphere which "was vastly more populous and sophisticated," at the time of first encounter, "than has been thought." Even now, we'd guess that this would qualify as (potentially inspiring) new information for almost everyone. Also new would be the astonishing role played by epidemic disease in what happened next.

Yes, there was "colonialism," and there were murderous "deeds of war." Impressively, Professor Silverman has seen through this way of life, along with virtually everyone else over the age of three.

But there also was the repetitive wave of epidemics which decimated native populations all through the Americas, North and South. These epidemics took whole populations and whole advanced civilizations down even before European soldiers could hope to accomplish such tasks.

The story is astonishing in a wide array of ways. In his column for the Times, Professor Silverman briefly mentions the epidemic which "took a staggering toll on [the Wampanoags'] population" from 1616 through 1619, just before the Pilgrims arrived.

To our ear, the professor floats the suggestion that this may have been deliberate on Europeans' part. Our childish tribe likes to play it in such waya. Mann describes the astonishing history of that particular epidemic in devastating detail:
MANN (page 60): Based on accounts of the symptoms, the epidemic was probably of viral hepatitis, according to a study by Arthur E. Spiess, of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and Bruce D. Spiess, of the Medical College of Virginia. (In their view, the strain was, like hepatitis A, probably spread by contaminated food, rather than by sexual contact, like hepatitis B or C.) Whatever the cause, the results were ruinous. The Indians “died in heapes as they lay in their houses,” the merchant Thomas Morton observed. In their panic, the healthy fled from the sick, carrying the disease with them to neighboring communities. Behind them remained the dying, “left for crows, kites, and vermin to prey upon.” Beginning in 1616, the pestilence took at least three years to exhaust itself and killed as much as 90 percent of the people in coastal New England.
Theories about the specific nature of that epidemic may have advanced since Mann's book appeared. At any rate, this devastation preceded the Pilgrims' arrival on the scene.

According to Mann, Ousamequin/Massasoit's immediate community was reduced from several thousand people to just sixty during this three-year plague. The larger confederation he ruled dropped from twenty thousand to fewer than one. Such stories played out all through the Americas, North and South, as European microbes actually moved ahead faster than explorers or soldiers could march.

Part of the unending surprise of Mann's book—of those "new revelations of the Americas before Columbus" which he reported as an extremely high-end journalist—involve what Europeans found as they encountered existing American civilizations. Tenochtitl├ín, today's Mexico City, was the center of the Aztec Empire. In Mann's account, this is what the Spaniards saw as they arrived on the scene:
MANN (page 140): Tenochtitl├ín dazzled its invaders—it was bigger than Paris, Europe's greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gaped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away...Long aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains across the lake and into the city. Even more astounding than the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens–none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren't ankle-deep in sewage! The conquistadors had never conceived of such a thing.)
Again, a passage like this may seem to involve Mann in invidious comparison of the "Europe bad, Americas good" school. That isn't the tone of the book.

Did the English settlers consider themselves to be "God's chosen people?" Possibly, but Mann describes the crackpot religious beliefs and behaviors which obtained in some of these pre-encounter American societies.

When he describes the possibly unfortunate human sacrifices practiced by the Aztecs, he compares the conduct to the widespread public executions being conducted in Europe at that time. In this way, he suggests the non-childish understanding that we humans had a long way to go, all over the world, at this particular point in time.

Back to New England! What did English settlers find when they landed on those shores?

They didn't find great cities like Tenochtitlan. They did find Indian populations whose housing they envied and admired as perhaps superior to the standard housing technology in England at the time.

Among survivors of the 1616 epidemic, they found people whose diet was more nutritious than the typical European diet. (Coastal Indian diets "averaged almost 2,500 calories a day, better than those usual in famine-racked Europe.")

They found people who were larger and healthier than the typical English settler. ("Time and again Europeans described the [coastal Indian groups] as strikingly healthy specimens.")

According to Mann, "Pilgrim writers universally reported that Wampanoag families were close and loving—more so than English families, some thought." But no, it wasn't all sweetness and light. Our human race had a long way to go at that time, as it does today:
MANN (page 46): Armed conflict was frequent but brief and mild by European standards. The casus belli was usually the desire to avenge an insult or gain status, not the wish for conquest. Most battles consisted of lightning guerrilla raids by ad hoc companies in the forest...Women and children were rarely killed, though they were sometimes kidnapped and forced to join the winning group. Captured men were often tortured (they were admired, though not necessarily spared, if they endured the pain seriously). Now and then, as a sign of victory, slain foes were scalped, much as British skirmishes with the Irish sometimes finished with a parade of Irish heads on pikes. In especially large clashes, adversariess might meet in the open, as in European battlefields, though the results, Roger Williams noted, were "farre less bloudy, and devouring then the cruell Warres of Europe." Nevertheless, by Tisquantum's time defensive palisades were increasingly common, especially in the river valleys.
If you don't count the kidnappings, the torture and the scalpings, these coastal Americans were the very good people and the Pilgrims, who didn't even call themselves Pilgrims, were the very bad.

It's impossible to capture the full range of the history offered in Mann's densely-written book. But what you find in Mann's book is admiration for the civilizations which existed in the Americas before first encounter with Europeans, combined with deep regret in the face of all that was lost through the astonishing epidemics and all the "deeds of war."

Mann offers ruminations which are extremely intelligent. AS almost anyone can see, "Who brought more food to the first Thanksgiving" is just stupendously dumb. But so is the silly scolding robotically dispensed by the know-it-all professors who stand opposed to colonialism and all the word conveys.

Everybody agrees on that, and many people agree about this. Our tribe is extremely hard to like, and seems eager to re-elect Donald J. Trump, defender of Thanksgiving tradition and all other popular holidays.

Material to dream on: Here's Mann, in 2005, on the nature of "the new scholarship:"
MANN (page 29): One way to sum up the new scholarship is to say that it has begun, at last, to fill in one of the biggest blanks in history: the Western Hemisphere before 1492. It was, in the current view, a thriving, stunning diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered knew that this world had existed. Now, though, it is returning to view. It seems incumbent on us to take a look.
It seems incumbent on us to take a look.

Or we can complain about who brought more of the food to that remarkable three-day feast in Plymouth. Because such questions are stupendously dumb, they are rushed into the New York Times as Stephen Miller cheers.

Can a modern-day nation survive this decline?

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2019

The New York Times ponders The Karens:
We'll postpone our review of Professor Silverman's Turkey Day takedown until Monday next.

On Tuesday, we'll turn to the most recent data from the PISA—more specifically, to the various things you weren't told about those international test scores.

For today, we'll direct your attention to a lengthy piece which appeared today, on line, at the New York Times. The piece appears under this dispiriting heading:
Editors' Picks
In fairness, the essay in question comes from the paper's Style desk, arguably the dumbest part of this sprawling exercise in modern-day, upper-end dumbness. More specifically, the essay hails from a subsection of Style which is packaged like this:
STYLE
Rites of Passage
Essays that explore notable life transitions and events, big, small and absurd.
This particular "essay" may be destined for inclusion in tomorrow's hard-copy editions, where it will get fullest Sunday exposure. That said, the "Editors' Pick" starts like this, on-line headlines included:
My So-Karen Life
I know Karens are hard. As a member of Gen X, I grew up surrounded by them.

While everyone is complaining about boomers, Gen Z doesn’t want you to forget to complain about Generation X, the other generation that’s significantly older than them that also sucks. This sucking is embodied by the name Karen, the young people have noticed—middle-aged white moms who are always asking for the manager and calling the police on perfectly fine pool parties and wondering why kids are so obsessed with their identities.

I am a Gen Xer, but I can only say to the Gen Zs, I feel you on the Karen thing so hard. Having a Karen as a mom must suck, but also, just imagine having thousands of Karens as your constant nemeses, for your whole life.

Here is my story.

I was born in 1969 and grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts.
I went to local public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and spent 1,600 hours a year with the same 65 to 70 kids. Roughly half of those people were girls. Seventy-five percent of those girls were Karens.
"Seventy-five percent of those girls were Karens," this Gen X survivor writes, referring to the highly objectionable collection of girls among whom she was consigned to live when she herself was a mere child.

The dumbness only continues from there, increasing and spreading out as it goes. Did we mention the fact that this "essay" is currently featured, on the Times' web site, as an "Editors' Pick?"

Regarding this exercise in dumbness, we'll only tell you this:

When upper-end culture becomes this dumb, the society which spawned and nurtured the dumbness is unlikely to survive.

Putting that a different way, you simply can't run a modern-day nation on this sort of fuel. You'll end up with a Trump every time.

That said, the Times has been running on this type of fuel for a very long time now. And as we've noted again and again, career "journalists" will never tell you this. The Times is simply too powerful.

We can think of three who tried: Katherine Boo, Gene Lyons, Clark Hoyt. The discussions their efforts might have started were strangled in their cribs.

Simply put, mainstream journalists will not discuss the intellectual disorder of the modern-day Times. But we will once again tell you this:

A modern society cannot survive with intellectual horizons like those which obtain at the Times. You'll end up with a version of Donald J. Trump every time.

Despondent future anthropologists have glumly told us, several times, that the mental age of the modern-day Times was something like 8 or 9. That mental age was on display in Charles Blow's recent Thanksgiving Day column. Long go, that mental age was on display when Maureen Dowd gave the world this:
DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel Pretty

I feel stunning
And entrancing,
Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .


O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.

If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour...
Two days before Election Day, in November 2000, Dowd pictured Candidate Gore singing "I Feel Pretty" as he looked in a mirror pondering his bald spot.

It was something like the seventh column Dowd had chosen to build around the problematics of Candidate Gore's problematic bald spot. The dead of Iraq look up from their graves at the mental age of the Hamptons-based editors who kept putting those brain-dead columns in print—and at our sprawling, self-impressed liberal world, which wasn't bright enough to notice that something was wrong with this ridiculous work.

(Dowd's gender-based trashings of Candidate Hillary Clinton were still seven years off. Eventually, Hoyt spoke up, in a column which gave rise to crickets.)

Today, the editors want us to ponder The Karens. A modern nation can't expect to survive when its reigning elites are this dumb.

How did our reigning upper-end elites ever get this dumb? Once again, we'll recommend Kevin Drum's work on lead exposure in the years when we modern-day adults were children. But whatever the explanation may be, the gauntlet is thrown down to you:

Are you able to see this state of affairs for what it actually is? Or are we going to diddle ourselves, as always, with the latest thing Donald Trump said?

After reading part of the essay about The Karens, we decided to check the writer's background. The Google whisked us away to her Twitter account, where she had just tweeted this:
"A friend just told me she goes #2 in front of her husband. Pls send help (to me)"
Can a modern nation survive this regime? In our own nation's case, the answer is already in. We already have our Trump!

That column by Blow was equally dumb. So was the more aggressive companion piece penned by Professor Silverman. We pity the teenage students he postures before. More on that topic on Monday.

The Times has been dumbing us down since forever. Can a modern society survive this regime? In our own nation's case, is it possible that the answer's already in charge?

We're going to disagree today...

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2019

...with our favorite blogger:
We're going to disagree today with our favorite blogger.

We'll disagree with Kevin Drum when he says, of Pamela Karlan's snarky comment involving Donald Trump's 13-year-old son, "There [was] nothing wrong with saying this."

We'll agree that there was nothing criminal involved in Karlan's masterful comment. We won't say the professor's remark was evil, deranged or demonic.

That said, we'll say the remark was in the neighborhood of "wrong," in two different ways:

First, it offended against a basic bit of public etiquette on which everyone has long since agreed. Everyone has long since agreed that people shouldn't go around making public comments which involve politicians' minor children.

This is a perfectly sensible piece of public etiquette. There are good reasons for this rule; it's good that people have agreed on it.

That said, it's typical of our liberal tribe's highest elites that you can't take them out for even one day without someone stepping outside this perfectly sensible rule. As we've encouraged you to notice, our ranking elites are like this.

That said, there's a second reason why the comment was wrong. It was wrong because comments like that can only help Donald J. Trump.

Not long ago, it was our hilarious liberal movie stars who could be relied upon to make some kind of half-assed comment which worked against the Democratic nominee during close election campaigns.

Usually, they would make their inappropriate remarks at major fund-raisers. In one campaign, it was Whoopi Goldberg. The next time, it was Larry David.

Back then, when the silly news cycle moved more slowly, these ill-considered jokes at major public events really did undermine campaigns for days at a time. Karlan's remark will disappear faster today, but our liberal ranks are crammed with public figures who will be strongly inclined to make the next unhelpful, unwise public comment.

At this site, we deeply resent these pampered, largely useless people. It isn't just the stunning lack of contribution these poodles have tended to make down through the years. It's the reliable way they'll shoot off their mouths at the most inopportune times.

Karlan's remark may not change any votes. But don't worry! If she ever gets the chance to screw up worse, we can feel fairly sure that she'll take it. It's the way these dinosaurs roll.

Meanwhile, might we turn to this morning's New York Times to focus on what really matters? In today's hard-copy "The 45th President: Impeachment" section, Vanessa Friedman takes us where the rubber hits the road, headline included:
FRIEDMAN (12/6/19): Nancy Pelosi and the Persistent White Pantsuit

The white pantsuit has become, against all odds, one of the most powerful emblems in Washington, D.C.

I know, I know. You’re thinking: not again! Not another story about a white pantsuit! But there’s no escaping it. That is the point.

It has become a statement in itself, layered in meaning and nuance...
Friedman knows we don't want to hear it. But these flyweights simply can't stop.

On and on and on she goes, sitting atop the second page of today's National section. This is all these idiots know how to do. It's all they care about.

This is a substantial part of the way we got where we are. At some point, intelligent people ought to insist that that these sub-royals stop.

SCOLD THE ELECTORATE WELL: Charles Blow types the darnedest things!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2019

Childhood's (refusal to) end:
Last Thursday morning—and yes, it was Thanksgiving Day—the New York Times was schooling the nation well.

In print editions, Professor Silverman adopted a scolding tone in a scolding op-ed column. It appeared beneath a scolding headline:
The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth
To our ear, a condescending tone pervaded the professor's piece from its first paragraph onward. He closed on a silly, supercilious note—one which, to our ear, defines our failing modern tribe's instincts all too well.

On line, Charles Blow offered reinforcements. His dolorous column bore this headline:
The Horrible History of Thanksgiving
Professor Silverman and columnist Blow were schooling the readership well.

Much as the professor had done, the journalist complained about "the [historically inaccurate] story" he first learned in kindergarten and believed for the bulk of his life.

The journalist wrung his hands, and writhed. His attempt at a good solid debunking of all those myths got started, rather weirdly, like this:
BLOW (11/28/19): I thought it was such a beautiful story: People reaching across race and culture to share with one another, to commune with one another. But that is not the full story of Thanksgiving. Like so much of American history, the story has had its least attractive features winnow away—white people have been centered in the narrative and all atrocity has been politely papered over.

So, let us correct that.

What is widely viewed as the first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast to which the Pilgrims had invited the local Wampanoag people
as a celebration of the harvest.

About 90 came, almost twice the number of Pilgrims. This is the first myth: that the first Thanksgiving was dominated by the Pilgrim and not the Native American. The Native Americans even provided the bulk of the food, according to the Manataka American Indian Council.
In that passage, Blow demolishes what he calls "the first myth." Ever so briefly, though, might we back up from there at this point?

Fellow citizens, can we talk? To our ear, the story of that first Thanksgiving sounds like a fascinating human story, even as Blow has told it.

Are we reading his text correctly? In November 1621, 90 members of the local Wampanoag tribe and roughly 45 English settlers came together and spent three days feasting together? In what imaginable way is that not a remarkable human story, with "people reaching across race and culture to share with one another?"

Those English settlers hadn't grown up speaking Massachusett, the language of the Wampanoags. Along the same lines, Wampanoags hadn't grown up speaking English, and the two groups of people who feasted together had grown up in vastly different cultures. (We'll highlight some basic tomorrow.)

The English settlers had already seen more than half of their original party die from disease and malnutrition. A few years earlier, the Wampanoags had been decimated by one of the epidemics which devastated native populations throughout the Americas following first contact with Europeans.

(Professor Silverman: "In 1616, a European ship conveyed an epidemic disease to the Wampanoags that over the next three years took a staggering toll on their population." Is it just our imagination, or has the professor possibly shaded his langusge in such a way as to let us imagine that this was perhaps a deliberate action on the part of the Europeans? Within our own pitiful, failing tribe, it can feel good to believe or suggest that.)

Let's return to Blow. In what way is his recitation not a remarkable human story in which "people reach across race and culture to share with one another?"

As everyone except the dolorous Blow has pretty much known for a very long while, a great deal of deeply unfortunate history was going to transpire in the decades and centuries which followed. But good lord! The story he tells in that passage strikes us as astounding—and the actual history behind this and other early encounters is as fascinating as any topic we know about at this award-winning site, a site which is actively doted on by future top anthropologists.

Blow describes a fascinating human event. But then, the modern "journalist" takes control of his brain, and we're handed the childish piddle which constitutes so much of our own tribe's failing diet.

Good God! What bothers Blow about that story? He wants to argue about which of these two human groups brought the bulk of the food! In the small, tiny mind of the modern-day Times, it's nonsense like this which will be marshaled to knock down those horrible "myths!"

Modern liberals face an existential question at this particular point. That questions goes like this:

How stupid are we willing to be in pursuit of our own tribal narratives? Because when we read the modern-day Times, we are constantly and forever "with Stupid," as the iconic t-shirt relates.

How dumb does it get at the modern-day Times? To what extent are we liberals "with Stupid" when we ingest its scribblings?

Let's move ahead to Blow's sourcing. In this case, he sources his pointless claim about who brought the food to an organization called the Manataka American Indian Council.

We'll be honest! We'd never heard of the Manataka American Indian Council, whose somewhat peculiar principle web page can be surveyed here.

As it turns out, Google has barely heard of this organization either. It isn't entirely clear whether the group, which is or was apparently based in Arkansas, is still in existence.

Let's move on from there! If you click the link which Blow provides, you're taken to these rudimentary performances of first Thanksgiving history.

We have no idea why Blow would have assumed that the representations he found at that site were actually accurate. That said, the pointless, invidious claim that "the INDIANS, possibly out of a sense of charity toward their hosts, ended up bringing the majority of the food for the feast" seems to be sourced to the Pilgrim Edward Winslow's December 1621 letter, which doesn't establish the accuracy of that claim.

We have no idea why the claim in question would actually matter to anyone, or how it would serve to debunk a Thanksgiving "myth." We have no idea why Blow would think that the rudimentary attempts at history to which he links constitute a reliable source of historical knowledge.

We don't know why an editor at the glorious Times would let such childish reasoning or such shaky sourcing stand. That said, this is the modern-day New York Times, a highly unreliable enterprise. Consider a truly ridiculous passage which Blow soon presents:
BLOW: [M]any of those native people not killed by disease would be killed by direct deed.

As Grace Donnelly wrote in a 2017 piece for Fortune:

The celebration in 1621 did not mark a friendly turning point and did not become an annual event. Relations between the Wampanoag and the settlers deteriorated, leading to the Pequot War. In 1637, in retaliation for the murder of a man the settlers believed the Wampanoags killed, they burned a nearby village, killing as many as 500 men, women, and children. Following the massacre, William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth, wrote that for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Just 16 years after the Wampanoag shared that meal, they were massacred.
Blow presents a long passage from Donnelly's Fortune magazine piece ("Thanksgiving Myths, Legends and Lies"). Behind that selection lies a sad, but instructive, modern-day tale.

Donnelly was one year out of college when she wrote her "lies and legends" piece (Georgia, class of 2016). Her report wasn't anywhere near as silly or incompetent as other Turkey Day debunkings have been. Inevitably, though, the lengthy passage quoted by Blow made no sense on its face.

Stating the obvious, Governor Bradford couldn't have issued the statement Donnelly attributed to him. The author of that statement is offering an opinion about what happened over the hundred years following 1637. Governor Bradford, one of the original Plymouth settlers, died in 1657.

Donnelly bungled that attribution; that was obvious from her text itself. That said, it was "close enough for Fortune magazine work," and then for the New York Times.

(If you want to discover who actually seems to have made the statement in question, we'll only say this: Good luck!)

Beyond that lies a more ridiculous error, in which Donnelly asserted that the Pequot War was waged against the Wampanpoags. As almost anyone might have guessed, the Pequot War was actually waged against the Pequots, a separate group which lived in modern-day Connecticut.

In that unfortunate conflagration,
the English were joined by the Narragansetts and the Mohegans in waging war on the Pequots. One year out of college, Donnelly apparently got confused and presented a recitation which made no sense on its face.

Still and all, her doubly-nonsensical presentation made enough sense to be published by Fortune. Two years later, Blow didn't notice that Donnelly's pair of presentations made no sense on their face, and some stumblebum New York Times editor waved his work into print, perhaps as he or she rushed out the door on his or her way to the Hamptons.

Two years after Donnelly's piece appeared, the quotation which made no sense went into the New York Times. Also, the Wampanoags were massacred in the Pequot War, trusting Times readers were told.

If it's insults to indigenous people you like; if insults to American history amuse you; if you're aroused by open insults to the intelligence of the modern New York Times reader—Friend, if these are the tides which float your boat, then Charles Blow's ridiculous, dolorous column is just the work for you.

That said, this kind of half-asped, insulting "journalism" is the modern foodstuff of the Times. We've been fed this meal for decades now. Dating to Gene Lyons' Fools For Scandal, this fact very plainly helps explain why Donald Trump lives where he does.

The Times invented the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, then spent two years inventing tall tales about Candidate Gore. The paper's crazy treatment of Hillary Clinton's emails is part of modern lore.

The "Creeping Dowdism" Katherine Boo warned us about came to us via the Times. These are ridiculous, overpaid, hapless people, and they've functioned as Donald J. Trump's top enabler over the past twenty-seven years.

(It started in 1992, five hundred years after Columbus.)

That column by Blow was classic D-minus work. Rather plainly, the piece was "all script, no research," with a genuine lack of curiosity about what has actually gone on in the world, much of which has long been known to have been thoroughly gruesome.

It was standard myth-busting piddle, written for those who continue to function with with tiny small tribalized minds.

That said, this is the way the New York Times rolls. Our tribe is unable to understand the nature of this modern disease, and decimation may await us.

Tomorrow: 2500 calories per day; plus, Silverman scolds the herd