Sex and intellect at the Times!


How unintelligent are they: Yesterday, Maureen Dowd opened her piece with the world’s dullest question.

It was followed by a type of answer from an intellectual giant:
DOWD (11/3/13): I asked Mike Nichols, the director of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” on Broadway, why love triangles have such a mythic hold on the imagination.

“We’re born in a triangle,” he said about parents and a newborn. “That’s the most important one, the triangle that determines who we are, the one that affects the other triangles that you get into in your life. It’s all about that first triangle, what it gives you and what it takes away from you.”
Did Nichols actually say that? If so, was he kidding around?

We could have answered Dowd’s question better:

Why do triangles have a hold on Dowd’s “imagination?” Because she has nothing else on her mind? Because she cares about nothing that actually matters?

We’d be guessing! That said, Dowd’s column was so dull and so desperate that it put her readers to sleep.

Dowd offered a summary of recent gossip about shacked-up celebrities. This dated back to Johnny Carson getting “cuckolded” at some point in the 1970s.

Only 151 readers commented, a very low number for Dowd. Right away, one commenter offered these jibes. Easy to be hard!
COMMENTER FROM DC AREA: Sorry to say that this is an unappetizing stew of a column that signifies nothing. Combine the Brooks/Coulson affair, a stale account of the implosion of the Johnny-Joanna Carson marriage, and some inconsequential remarks by Daniel Craig. Stir and print.

What a waste of an enviable place on the New York Times’ global platform. Mo, you can and should do better than this.
Such commenters frequently add the claim that Dowd can do better. Why would anyone think that?

Few other readers offered such comments; frankly, we were disappointed. But the overall lack of response to this dull, worthless piece provides some hope for the world.

As Ed might have asked, How dull was it? Dowd's column was so dull that it even put her own readers to sleep! But for unknown reasons, the New York Times put this worthless piddle on the front page of the Sunday Review.

The New York Times is desperate for eyeballs. Also, it isn’t real bright.

How unintelligent are they? We marveled at a piece in the same Sunday Review concerning the incidence of poverty in the United States. Or something like that.

We liberals! When we aren’t claiming that people belong to the Klan, we’re now engaged in the practice of swelling the poverty rate. For last week’s example, click this.

This piece was written by a professor at a well-regarded university, Washington U. in St. Louis. It reads like a parody of intellectual method. “Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans,” Professor Rank is able to say, by just his sixth paragraph.

At present, the official U.S. poverty rate is around 16 percent. A majority is commonly said to be more than 50 percent.

Sixteen is believed to be less than 50. Here’s how Rank was able to build a majority out of a much smaller number:
RANK (11/3/13): Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line).

Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.

In addition, half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time.

Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans.
Say what? “If we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events?”

Presumably, that statement is true, if a bit strangely constructed. Of course, if we add in the inability to purchase the Taj Mahal, over 99 percent of Americans “will encounter that event.”

That doesn’t tell us whether those are are living in poverty!

How do we build a majority out of 16 percent? In part, we stop asking how many people are living in poverty in any conventional sense. Instead, we start asking how many people will “encounter...related conditions.”

If you’re living in near poverty, it’s very much like you’re living in poverty! Once that general sleight of hand is accepted, we liberals are on our way!

That piece is just astoundingly dumb; the New York Times couldn’t tell. They put that dreck in the Sunday Review. Dowd’s piece was on its front page!

It’s counterintuitive, but stunningly plain. Many higher-ups at the Times just aren’t especially bright. That piece by Rank was dumbfoundingly dumb, but the New York Times couldn’t tell.

Can they tell at Washington U? How far does the poverty reach?

Killjoys in angry denial: Several readers felt fairly sure that Dowd was making important points.

Inevitably, a pair of killjoys appeared:
COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK CITY: How is writing a column gloating about a tawdry pair of tabloid editors being themselves caught in an affair made public not itself an exploitative exercise in titillation?

COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK: I need a shower after reading this. Yes, so there are hypocrites. But somehow I don't think the rest of us come off looking good reading (or writing) about this stuff.
We felt sorry for those readers. They remain in denial about the triangle which determined who they are.


  1. Is normalizing poverty a way of keeping us quiet about the increasing income inequality in our society? Was the motive of such a piece to show that there is little justification for fighting a state that is part of most people's lives at some point?

  2. not exactly but similarly I think instead it's an attempt to lessen our collective compassion for the truly poor and depress our sense of urgency for helping them.

  3. Start with Dowd, pivot on liberal Klan labelling, launch into a poverty piece,
    the spin back to Dowd commenters.

    As a famous critic of our post journalistic culture once advised, some can't stick to the topic at hand. Simply put, Somerby doesn’t seem up to the task of keeping his work on target.

    1. Go to hell, and please, please Bob as suggested on the last thread, ban these intolerable trolls who care only to destroy other people and in this case this wonderful blog.

    2. a) Bob could ban people you two define as trolls.

      b) You two could skip the commentary section altogether
      since you seem to offer nothing of substance.

      c) If Bob does a) then you might as well do b) because there would be few if any comments in that event.

    3. I too am wondering how a Dowd column on love triangles segued into a critique of a paper on the pervasiveness of poverty written by a Washington University professor, with a bit of "liberals using the K-word" thrown in between.

      Of course, that won't bother the Bobinistas, who hang on every word, and will eagerly await more of the same tomorrow.

    4. Well, clueless, I mean Anonymous @5:25, here's a clue: They were both in the Sunday Review of a major "newspaper." Here's another: They were both of little and questionable substance for a major newspaper.

    5. I don't mind the trolls. They see themselves in Bob's critiques and become angry enough to comment because they wish no one were noticing that they out-rube any Fox viewer.

  4. Do you realize that you're posting comments to a blog?

    Do you realize that the main theme is the incompetence, malfeasance, and overall haplessness of journalists, particularly those on the liberal or progressive side?

    Did I mention that this is blog?

    1. "overall haplessness of journalists, particularly those on the liberal or progressive side?"

      So now Professor Rand is a journalist "on the liberal or progressive side"?

      Yes, it is a blog. Pretty much these days, a vanity blog in which the author gets to type up whatever thought crosses his head, and his adoring fans, what few there are remaining, lap it up.

    2. Excuse me, Professor Rank. Just got done reading the pointless post above about the "pointless" debate over Rand Paul's obvious laziness in cutting and pasting from Wikipedia.

      No doubt, since the key players now are Rachel Maddow and Joan Walsh, Somerby will spend the next several days if not weeks telling his Bobinistas how "pointless" it all is.

    3. Anonymous @5:27P,

      How clueless do you have to be to think that the focus of TDH's blog entry is Rand? Do you even read the blog entries? Or do you just go straight to making comments?

      For TDH, the Rand/Wikipedia flap is a non-event. He's criticizing journalists in how they deal with it.

      And "vanity blog" is redundant. A blog author gets to "type up whatever thought crosses his head." Or even his mind.

      I think baseball is the most boring activity in the world, excepting possibly cricket and curling. So I just don't read much of the TDH posts on the World Series. See how that works?

    4. And deadrat, you just explained why TDH has such low traffic, even after 15 years. It's boring. And repetitive. About everything, not just baseball. It reads like some sort of inside joke that only Somerby gets.

      Again, once upon a time, this blog offered very sharp and insightful analysis of media, particularly during the Lewinsky flap and the 2000 election.

      But like a one-joke comic, he ran out of things to say about a dozen years ago, but kept saying them anyway.

      Meanwhile, David Brock, Markos Moulitsas, Josh Marshall and Arianna Huffington started their own vanity blogs, but turned them into pretty sizeable news organizations, regardless of what you think of them, that generate millions of hits.

      And here is Bob, plugging along with a few hundred per day, and "readers" that spend about a minute here -- hardly enough time to scroll down to read the headlines -- before moving on.

    5. OK, irishguy, at least you've figured out this is a blog and as such, reflects the author's interests and (some would say) obsessions. And apparently you've tumbled to the fact that the blog entry isn't so much about Rand Paul's entanglement with Wikipedia as it is about the news coverage of the affair.

      But your complaint is that the blog is boring and doesn't get much traffic. Fine. Then what are you doing here adding to the minuscule readership? Why don't you do with the boring entirety what I do with the baseball entries?

    6. But like a one-joke comic, he ran out of things to say about a dozen years ago, but kept saying them anyway.

      Only a short-attention-span, low-information reader would claim that.

  5. OMB (The Unqualified are Among Us)

    Let us see. We have been treated to a series, now in its third month, about a bad book. In it we are told today, the author of the book is unqualified.

    Today we also have BOB declaring a column written by a Professor of Social Welfare "dumbfoundingly dumb." Actually BOB's misinterpretation of the column is what is dumbfoundingly dumb. Moreover it is profoundly pinheaded and stupifyingly stupid. BOB has declare "US" to be "THEM" earlier today. Here he proves it by being "THEM."

    Let's start with him segueing into it by associating the column with the practice of liberals "claiming people belong to the Klan." Guilt by association is one thing. Guilt by associating two things which are false is quite a feat, even for a quackadoodle like BOBerooni here.

    Now lets go to what BOB ignores, namely the entire theme of the piece, that there is a myth that poverty is a pervasive condition experienced by a small percentage of Americans living in a few concentrated areas. Professor Rank attempts to dispel these myths, but BOB in a effort to show Rank on a par with those who he falsely says falsely declare people to be Klan members, attempts to belittle Rank's demonstration of how many people may experience some level of poverty or near poverty in their lifetimes.

    Here is the nut of BOB's argument: “Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans,” Professor Rank is able to say, by just his sixth paragraph."

    BOB then repeats the offending sentence and highlights it. I will do so as well, but this time I will include what BOB leaves out and highlight that.

    Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans.For most of us, the question is not whether we will experience poverty, but when.

    Not once does BOB attempt to argue the facts of Rank's assertions.
    He just notes that there are 16% of Americans living at or below an officially designated poverty level and, by omitting this fact, makes it sound like Rank is nutty to try and inflate that by a factor of three. In doing so BOB makes it sound as if the 16% is small and thus feeds one of the myths Rank is trying to dispel.

    Rank goes on to note that for most, the time spent experiencing such conditions is short. He also makes strong statements about the weakness in the social safety net and policies needed to provide better lives. You find none of that in BOB's recounting, only a silly a effort to distort Rank's definitions.

    Rank's column, like BOB's work on Amanda Ripley, is part of a series.
    Here's what BOB doesn't tell you about that series:

    "The Great Divide is a series on inequality — the haves, the have-nots and everyone in between — in the United States and around the world, and its implications for economics, politics, society and culture. The series moderator is Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, a Columbia professor and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and chief economist for the World Bank."

    Tell us they again how "they" focus only on the elites, BOB. Call 'em unqualified, BOB. Go ahead. Make my day.


    1. KZ, I don't think you read the entire TDH post; it seems to me he covered the professor's explanation about how so many more people, over time, experience poverty. In the same way you claim THD mischaracterized the professor's op ed, you mischaracterize. (I can picture now taking on the mantel of commenting over and over about how KZ hypocritically commits the same sin as he constantly discovers in TDH, maybe with the monicker of "XS." - but life is too short).

      On another note, I would think TDH could find more worthy columns to find fault with than Prof. Rank's. There are plenty of pickings.

    2. Sorry AC/MA I did indeed read it. He quoted the professor's explanation and then dismissed it derisely saying:

      "Say what? “If we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events?”

      Presumably, that statement is true, if a bit strangely constructed. Of course, if we add in the inability to purchase the Taj Mahal, over 99 percent of Americans “will encounter that event.”

      That doesn’t tell us whether those are are living in poverty!"

      Rank was not trying to say how many people were Currently living in poverty. He was trying to say how broadly poverty reached Americans over the course of their lifetime. BOB acts as if that wasn't his point and that he was trying to inflate the current population living in poverty. He left out the sentence that made that clear. If it was deliberate it was dishonest. If it was unintentional he is all the alliterative descriptions of a fool one can muster.


  6. Dowd has always been a lightweight. I remember her writing fawning articles abut Reagan when she was a White House "reporter" in the '80's.

    This nonsense is typical of her.

  7. Triangles come from having two parents? It's good to know Freud is alive and well in the mind of that old Beat Comedian Mike Nichols. Who could that glamorous wife of his be triangulating with? New York Times readers want to know.

  8. IMHO living below the poverty line doesn't mean you're living in poverty. Today's so-called "poverty level" is an arbitrarily set dollar figure. It doesn't necessarily relate to how people actually live.

    45 years ago, my wife, daughter, and I lived well below the "poverty line" for almost 2 years, but we never thought of ourselves as living in poverty. The dictionary gives the following synonyms for "poverty": privation, neediness, destitution, indigence, pauperism, penury. None of these applied to us. We had a roof over our heads, clean clothing to wear, enough nutritious food to eat, adequate medical care, and even inexpensive recreation.

    1. OK, I'll bite. 45 years ago, what was your family income?

    2. Great point, David in C. Despite low income, you and your wife obviously had other resources, as you proudly note yourself. At no point were experiencing privation.

      Others who aren't similarly privileged by backround, good health and circumstance may well have to do without a roof, nice clothing, good food, medical care and "inexpensive recreation". If, for example, you're a single mother who commutes 3-hours a day by bus for a minimum wage job because you can't afford a car, and spend your weekends in the ER waiting for medical care for your children, you probably won't have the energy for recreation.

      Indeed, your explanation provides an explanation for the lack of empathy so apparent in your many posts: you simply can't conceive of a life without your particular advantages and privileges.

    3. Reminds me of the story Mitt Romney told about how their first dining room table was an ironing board when he was in grad school, and all they had to scrape by on was dividends from the $300,000 stock portfolio his Dad gave him.

  9. $200/month + tuition was our total income, from a fellowship. I had to buy books and other education-related expenses out of the $200, as well as food, clothing, etc. We did benefit somewhat from reduced cost student housing.

    Anon - yes, some people who are below the "official" (that is, "arbitrary") poverty level do indeed experience privation. My point was that many at this level of income do not. It's a tempting logical error to equate government-defined "poverty level" with true poverty in the ordinary sense of the word..

    1. Well, thank you for helping to prove Professor Rank's point from your own experience.

      If poverty affected even you, hard-working and industrious man that you are, as well as your wife and child for nearly two years, then yes, it must touch a very broad chunk of the population for at least one year.

    2. A brief noodling around on the google finds that 45 years ago $200/month would be worth north of $1300/month today. Coincidentally, that's the current average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the big city near me. The equivalent of which, I'm guessing, you probably pretty much got free. Plus the university health coverage, no doubt. So from your experience as essentially an apprentice in academia, it wasn't all that bad.

      Pray tell, what did you learn from all that "education-related" experience? It doesn't seem to have been how to check sources. Or that extrapolating from your own experience might be misleading.

    3. Two wrong guesses, deadrat. I paid IIRC $90/month for a small 2BR apt, which was only a little cheaper than the $95/per month I had been paying for a smaller, unsubsidized apartment with a better location. I don't recall getting health coverage from the University. I used a private physician, not the university health service. And, I'm sure my wife and daughter had no health coverage from the university.

      Thanks for the inflation adjustment. The 2013 poverty level is $19,530/year = $1,627/month. So, at the inflation-adjusted income of $1300/month, we were living at 80% of the poverty level, but we weren't impoverished. What I learned, as I already said, is that just because your income is below the poverty level, that doesn't mean you're necessarily poor.

    4. Something isn't adding up. OK, you probably had no transportation expenses, and maybe utilities were included in university housing, which cost about half the average apartment in a large city. Fine. Figuring backwards from today's food costs for a family of three comes to about $80/month. So after room and board, you had $30/month for clothing, private medical care, unreimbursed costs of your education, and a daughter who was what, about three?

      It wouldn't make Ripley's if it were true. Just color me skeptical.

    5. I'll say it doesn't add up. Even at $90 a month for food, that means each member of a family of three, including the toddler, was consuming no more than $1 a day in food for all meals in a 30-day month. And this was before WIC.

      Yes, food was a lot cheaper 45 years ago, but it wasn't that cheap.

    6. My husband and I could live on a $90.00/month food budget NOW.

      Using legumes as our primary protein, there are endless additions of potato dishes, pancakes, rice with bits of meat, corn bread, skillet bread, crepes for both main meals and desserts (with jellies and canned fruit), cheese turned into spreads, generic spice packets at 50 cents, oatmeal, Cream of wheat...tubs of margarine, etc

      It wouldn't be fun, and I wouldn't want it for one soul, but it would be possible now, let alone in 1968.

  10. bob somerby is likely a gop operative or at least not the liberal he says he is, in my opinion.

    of course i could be wrong as this matter hinges entirely on somerbys intent, regardless of actual effect, and i cant read his mind directly, but i can draw conclusions over time reading his columns.

    *** if the blogger is suspect of flying under a false ideological flag, then the common mark of a troll as someone who consistently opposes the blogger, does not apply . . . until this matter is settled one way or the other. ***

    1. He's a liberal who is embarrassed by the (dishonest or stupid or both) clowns who distort reality to sell their point of view in the same way most conservatives should be embarrassed by Fox News.

    2. You know, even David in Cal had to admit that there was a time in his life where he and his family lived under the poverty line, though he disengenuously insists that it was really the Life of Riley.

      I think if every Bobinista took time to seriously remind themselves of the extended times in their lives that they too were in poverty, even if only temporarily, then they will realize that Professor Rank is absolutely correct, and Somerby is full of shit.

  11. Of course, if we add in the inability to purchase the Taj Mahal, over 99 percent of Americans “will encounter that event.”

    Loved that

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