On most recently looking into Steven Pinker!


How did these giants not notice:
For the first time since an elderly friend became ill four years ago, Amtrak semi-failed us yesterday.

But that's a different story.

This morning, up here in the Hudson Valley, before we go to visit our friend, we were reading Steven Pinker, in an interview in in the Book Review section in tomorrow's New York Times. Asked for his favorite science writers, Pinker responded alphabetically:
PINKER (2/28/14): Broadly defined: Dan Dennett, Jonathan Gottschall, Colin McGinn, Geoffrey Pullum, Mary Roach, Robert Sapolsky, Steven Strogatz, Carl Zimmer.
In a brush with greatness on somebody's part, Dennett's sister, Charlotte Dennett, was our pal in grade school.

We'll admit it! Daniel Dennett is one of the writers we enjoy reading for his apparent incoherence, especially in Consciousness Explained, which the New York Times declared to be one of the most accessible books of all time. Soon, Pinker was asked to name "the great writing styliests of our time:"
PINKER: Where to begin! In the book I showcase Richard Dawkins, Rebecca Goldstein, Margalit Fox, Isabel Wilkerson, Brian Greene, John Mueller and Mike O’Connor, author of the Ask the Bird Folks column in The Cape Codder.
So many great stylists! Four ourselves, we have studied Greene at great length, pondering his inability to "make Einstein easy." Earlier this year, we spent maybe six weeks in the coffee joint puzzling over the world-class incoherence of Goldstein's book on Godel.

Pinker went on and on, praising the greatness of the high-minded and brilliant. For whatever it may be worth, Goldstein is his wife.

Can we tell you what we always think when we see work of this type?

Our current posts on The Houses of Nantucket County have led us back into the world of Clinton/Gore-trashing. Here's what we always wonder when the Pinkers go on and on about the greatness of their class:

We always wonder how all the named giants have managed to sleep through the past many decades. Why the lunacy of the "earth tones" journalistic culture didn't offend their massive pools of intelligence, as it so deeply insulted ours.

(Our active puzzlement about that culture dates to 1992.)

Are you happy with the place that culture has taken us to? Here at THE HOWLER, we aren't! Next week, we'll finish our Houses of Nantucket County posts and move on to our next topic.

Jack Kennedy wrote Why England Slept. In our view, the Pinkers, so skilled at self-praise, have slept through their own era.

Did they own TV sets in the Clinton/Gore years? What did they think when they read Maureen Dowd? Given their self-admitted brilliance, how have they managed to sleep so deeply and soundly, for so many years?

All in the family: On the front page of that same Book Review, Krugman discusses the rolling failure of the top economics professors!


  1. Pinker was just as smug in 1992 as he is now.

  2. Absolutely everything reminds Bob of the 2000 election, doesn't it?

    1. How could it not? Asking "where to begin" Pinker ended thusly:

      "and Mike O’Connor, author of the Ask the Bird Folks column in The Cape Codder..

      Just as Tim Russert first visited Nantucket as a collegian (we learned from BOB) so BOB first visited Cape Cod with his college pal, Al.

      Cape Cod reminded Bob of Gore and Meredith Viera, and it caused an episode of "Who Wants to Be a Pissed Off Blogger Attacking Millionaires?"

      Plus the named olumnist appears to be an East Coast Irish Catholic. Frends of a Feather and whatnot.

    2. Harvard academics all go to Cape Cod, not Nantucket (for journalists) or Martha's Vineyard (for politicians) or the Hamptons (for the Manhattan elite). Pinker is signaling he is one of the in-crowd with his reference to The Cape Codder, which no one otherwise would read. The odds of someone being Irish in the Boston area are very large. Pinker is Jewish, at least in heritage. So was Einstein -- hey, maybe there is a connection there you douchebag troll.

    3. Yes, 12:26, linking Pinker's comments to an election held 14 years ago is brilliantly linking the the present to the past and the future -- to a Bob fan. And yes, the entire media plot against Gore just must have been hatched in Nantucket. Why look at all those fancy houses.

      Normal people might think that kind of thinking to be a bit strange, irregular and obsessive.

      But of course, they would be the dumb, we the people -- not the highly intellectual crowd that makes up Somerby's target audience.

    4. Tony Bennett and Lady GaGa have just released a new duet album.

      Bet Bob can tie that to the War on Gore, too.

    5. The CBS crime drama "Criminal Minds" will debut its 10th season on Oct. 1.

      That should remind Bob of the criminal minds that hatched the grand conspiracy against Al Gore.

    6. ZKoD, we also have the smoking gun in the very last Q and the very last A that pulls the whole conspiracy together.

      Q. What do you plan to read next?

      A. “Middlemarch.”

      Wasn't it the middle of March, 1999, that the War on Gore began? Coincidence? I think not!

    7. "Pinker is signaling he is one of the in-crowd with his reference to The Cape Codder, which no one otherwise would read."

      Can Bob fans, like Bob himself, even begin to realize how silly they sometimes sound?

    8. BOB seems to really think that mainstream journalists played a part in getting George Bush elected. He has shown again and again quotes from Carlson and Feinman where they basically admit to treating it like a game, a joke, a horse race. He talks about it a lot and often and seems to be obsessed with it. It could just be a conscious decision on his part to keep repeating it until a wider audience understands this horse race behavior they engaged in and that it did indeed have enormous implications on world history. I'm not sure if I agree because I thought Gore ran such a horrible campaign. I don't understand why he couldn't stand up to or somehow convince these journalists into stop beating him up. Many commenters obviously disagree with BOB although they are very inarticulate and constantly discredit themselves with their sarcasm, immaturity and stupidity. It would be great to have an articulate criticism of BOB's central thesis regarding this election.

    9. How many times can it be said articulately enough that in any election that close, there are a million reasons why one candidate wins and the other loses, and it is foolhardy to isolate just one as THE reason?

      Gore lost for lots of reasons. One of them was a rather bizarre Supreme Court decision. Another was the Nader effect. Another was disillusioning his base by picking Lieberman, who was really no help during the campaign.

      Another reason is Gore's overeagerness to tailor his debate performances to his critics instead of just being himself. Thus the horrendous "I agree with George" performance in the foreign policy debate where he should have mopped the floor with him.

      We should also note that Gore made a lot of enemies in his own party, particularly during his 1988 run for the presidency, and specifically, Dick Gephardt and organized labor.

      And that was further exacerbated by the fact that after the debacle of the 1994 mid-terms, Bill Clinton suddenly morphed into one the best Republican presidents we ever had.

      And this is what Thomas Frank constantly bemoans. When the Republican Party moved even farther to the right than Reagan led it, Clinton responded by moving the Democratic Party to the right -- at the cost of policies and issues (some of them repealing key New Deal protections against high financial shenanigans) that have always been at the core of Democratic Party principles.

      Ask yourself this. How often did Gore make the environment a key issue in his run for the presidency. Yeah, he did give a mention the bad shape Texas was in in that regard during the Bush watch, but was the environment ever a key issue during the 2000 election?

      This is why a lot of people asked, when "Inconvenient Truth" came out a few years later, where was this Al Gore during the 2000 campaign.

      So what did we get? A "lockbox on Social Security," a prescription drug plan for Medicare that the Bush campaign countered with his own plan so we had both candidates offering one, "targeted tax cuts" for the middle class, with Bush offering "big tax cuts for everyone", and vague promises to "invest" the rest of the budget surpluses.

      His campaign was also wrapped around stories about individuals in key battleground states whose problems Gore was going to solve. My favorite was the high school girl in Florida without a desk.

      Against all that, we had Bush's "compassionate conservatism" --- "I can give you everything the Democrats offer, plus a huge tax cut."

      No wonder that election was so close.

      But of course, Bob in his analysis thinks it was all about how badly the press treated Gore, and nothing more than that.

      Bob can't seem to accept the fact that Gore entered that campaign in better shape to make it a blowout that the first Bush had in his campaign against the dreadful Dukakis -- whom Gore helped to mortally wound during the primary season.

      Is that articulate enough for you?

    10. And another thing. Every campaign, and not just political campaigns, should have a central theme, a thesis if you will, around which its message is built.

      We had "A Place Called Hope" in 1992, "A Bridge to the 21st Century" in 1996, and "Compassionate Conservatism" in 2000 out of Bush.

      What was the theme of the Gore campaign in 2000? "A Lockbox on Social Security"? Or as Somerby would put it, "The Press Is Picking On Me!"

    11. It's great. The last paragraph won't win awards for clarity but it's great. Thanks. You don't say anything about he mainstream media. Do you think they played a part?

    12. Is it foolhardy to isolate one of the reasons? In this case BOB seems to be saying "the reason the election was lost was because of extraordinarily sleazy, egoistic and stupid behavior on the part of mainstream journalists."

      It is not THE reason as you articulate well but is it one of the reasons? If it is, that's worth talking about. Is it foolhardy to write about it every day, thousands of words a day for years on end acting like it's the only reason out of many? This is what he has decided to do it seems. To shine the light on mainstream media's behavior during that election and now. He is, in a caustic and crazy way, saying they are a small, insulated club who perform horrible journalism that has hurt our democracy then and now. I guess it's kind of foolhardy. I don't know. I feel what I think doesn't matter. Have a good one.

    13. So, this is clearly not the blog for you. It focuses repeatedly on an issue you are uninterested in. Why are you here?

    14. I like that description of Somerby being a pissed off blogger. I for one would rather be pissed off than pissed on, and therein lies the problem with this new breed of liberal that all too often efuses to stand up and defend their own interests.

    15. Yes, it is foolhardy, not to mention the hallmark of a lazy mind, to isolate one reason out of dozens as THE reason.

      But this happens in every close election. Self-proclaimed analysts search for one thing and proclaim that THE reason.

      Hence, Nixon lost because he didn't shave. Charles Evan Hughes lost because he snubbed the governor of California. James G. Blaine lost because of the single "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" rally in New York which allegedly cost him the Catholic vote -- never mind that Blaine spent his life as an anti-Catholic and never had the Catholic vote to lose.

      To me, the key factor that kept that race close enough to steal was that Bush did very well, for a Republican, with Latino voters, particularly in Florida in the wake of the Gonzalez incident.

      This was of course before the entire Republican Party went Sheriff Joe on immigration. And the Mittster actually thought he'd do as well as Bush with Latinos, and was quite stunned -- as was the whole party -- when he didn't.

      But then again, there are lots of Republicans who simple-mindedly blame the 2012 loss on Chris Christies bear hug on the beach, rather than facing the fact that otherwise socially conservative Latino voters defected in droves.

      But that's the fallacy when you "isolate" one reason, and pretend that everything else was hunky-dory.

    16. My antecedent may not be clear enough. Allow me to rephrase:

      "To me, the key factor that kept the 2000 race close enough to steal . . ."

      And good Lordy, look at all the factors in Florida alone. The purging of the books by Bush's state campaign chair who was also in charge of counting the votes. The butterfly ballot. The hanging chads. The Election Day voter suppression effort in Miami-Dade. And Nader and the Green Party desperately reaching, and failing, for its 5 percent by trolling in Florida in the final week on GOP money.

    17. Isolating factors in order to study them individually is the essence of scientific reductionism, not laziness. It is the analytical approach. No one, not even Somerby, is insisting that the focus of his interest is the only factor affecting the 2000 election, despite any hyperbolic language used to make a point in past posts.

    18. 1:01, Granted there were any number of factors that could have flipped the very close 2000 election. As with virtually any long campaign there are self-inflicted mistakes and missteps, but had media coverage been even remotely fair, balanced and professional, any and all such mistakes in this case would have been rendered mute. Bottom line is that the media clearly, indisputably and inexcusably disgraced themselves once and forever, That's not even debatable and it is not acceptable, EVER.

      BTW, this country and this world is still very much living with the damaging residue of what that misconduct helped produce and will continue to for years. One person, at least the only one that I'm aware of, brings light to that history changing misconduct. Our puppy dog new breed "lib" not only doesn't want to know of any of it, they get downright offended just to hear mere mention of it. I don't quite understand the lib's media defense, is it because their media favorites are rich, famous and on television, kind of a suck up to celebrity thing? Or is it because these corporate tools occasionally throw you a bone by stoking your resentments when giving you your nightly ideological sponge bath?

    19. I think Maddow just has a very large extended family.

    20. I agree with Anon@3:19. It is Ralph Nader's right to run President and Al Gore can run whatever type of campaign he desires. However, it is never acceptable for the media to act the way it did in the run up to the 2000 election and no one should allow that type of behavior to continue today without comment and condemnation.

    21. Well, Bob really wants you to believe that the media was so much worse in the 2000 election than it has been at any other point in human history, but that's simply not true.

      But trying to explain that to the willfully ignorant of history as well as to those impressed by their own genius would be futile.

    22. "That's not even debatable and it is not acceptable, EVER."

      Well that's too bad, because the "media" -- however you want to define it -- was just as "bad" -- however you want to define that -- long, long before the 2000, and Gore -- unlike Clinton in both 1992 and 1996 who also had some horrible things written about him -- had no clue what to do about it.

      And that's the bottom line. You can't count on a friendly press who behave by the rules you want to set.

      And the only thing that is not debatable is the fact that Somerby has convinced you otherwise, so by golly, we're still going to blame the whole darned thing on those meanies in the media.

      And keep blogging about it fir 16 years while the rest of life goes on without us.

      And by golly, someday we'll finish our book. Or many instead, we'll write about the swank homes that a handful of TV stars live in. Yeah, that will prove our point, once and for all.

    23. I'm glad you stopped procrastinating and got around to speaking the truth Anonymous @ 3:03. Somebody had to, eventually.

  3. Bob criticizes Greene for his inability to "make Einstein easy." That seems pretty harsh. Maybe it's impossible to make Einstein easy.

    1. Actually, he didn't.

    2. General relativity is much easier than quantum field theory but is still too difficult for a popular audience. You can't get very far with a few trite analogies.

      Somerby's criticism of course is not that Greene failed to make it easy, but that so many people pretended that he succeeded.

    3. Perhaps Bob should admit that there are certain areas his brilliant mind will never make sense of that other people can.

      Hard for the World's Most Brilliant Mind to accept that, however. So the fault is always with the messenger.

    4. You no doubt were unable to read the comment just before yours when you wrote your knock on Somerby's intelligence. There is a real irony to a commenter calling a blogger stupid while failing to get the point of his post. Whatever else Somerby may be, he isn't unintelligent.

    5. 4:05 the real irony is nobody just called the blogger stupid.

  4. Pinker, Dennet and the others are not paid to worry about how Al Gore and other politicians are treated by the Wapo and other media. Nor are their interests the same as Bob's in other matters. Somebody has to actually work on science and even on trying to explain it to laypeople. If Bob doesn't understand the explanations maybe some of the fault is his.

    1. I've met these guys and heard them speak in public on several occasions. They are insufferably arrogant. Pinker only makes sense when he talks about linguistics. Dennett only makes sense if you buy his assumptions. Theirs is a simplistic kind of assertion that pretends that everything is very clear if you follow their line of reasoning but when you start to examine it more closely, it falls apart. In other words, they do not explain things clearly because they do not take into account other people's frames of reference -- only their own. Pinker in particular has been accused of glossing over major controversies and asserting as true many things that are by no means settled.

      I think Somerby make be objecting to a tone some writers adopt that implies that everything that has been said is obvious and clearly so, when it is not. Some critics may mistake this tone for clarity because they don't bother raising questions about anything said -- they just accept it at face value as stated. Thus they do not realize that many things have not been explained and are not clearly true if you know a little bit about the controversies being debated by experts in that area. Pinker is much better liked outside his own field.

    2. Me too, DinC. Me too. Which one, though?

    3. I was admiring AnonymousSeptember 27, 2014 at 12:07 PM

  5. Krugman's column basically criticizes free market economics. He uses two tricks to strengthen his case:

    1. He turns conservative principles into absolutes. E.g., "the phrase [invisible hand] is almost always used to mean the proposition that market economies can be trusted to get everything, or almost everything, right without more than marginal government intervention." Of course, no economic principles cannot be expected to get everything right, nor do free market proponents make that claim.

    2. He compares free market economies to perfection, rather than to real world alternatives. E.g., a comparison of Chile vs. Argentina would show more freer economy doing better, as would Hong Kong vs. Shanghai, East vs. West Germany, Texas vs. California, Taiwan vs. Beijing.

    1. What on earth does this have to do with today's post by Somerby?

    2. Aren't points 1 and 2 the same?

    3. So your quote about absolutes includes "almost everything" and "marginal government intervention". Those aren't absolutes. In fact, those qualifiers are as far as any national republican leader will ever dare go.

    4. 12:26, as much as Steven Pinker had to do with the War on Gore.

    5. Obviously you can't resist taking a shot at a thorn in your side -- because he is always (OK, almost always) right -- but Krugman's statement with its qualifier is correct. When can you find a real case of a conservative agreeing with any specific proposal to regulate any market? You need to re-read Greenspan before and after the economic collapse he did not believe could happen.

  6. OMB (Citing the Wrong Oversight with the OTB)

    Richard Dawkins, Rebecca Goldstein, Margalit Fox, Isabel Wilkerson, Brian Greene, John Mueller and Mike O’Connor.

    Dan Dennett, Jonathan Gottschall, Colin McGinn, Geoffrey Pullum, Mary Roach, Robert Sapolsky, Steven Strogatz, Carl Zimmer.

    "Given their self-admitted brilliance, how have they managed to sleep so deeply and soundly, for so many years?" BOB

    None of them have been accused by BOB of not saying anything about black children or their remarkable rising NAEP scores. As soon as that happens they will toss and turn in shame every night for the rest of their miserable little arrogant lives.

    1. Can I get a spell cast that will make you disappear in a cloud of greasy black smoke?

    2. How well do you sleep, you bitter piece of trash troll? Don't answer. No one cares about you.

    3. Though he wasn't mentioned in this post, ZKoD, you could have mentioned another "self-proclaimed" genius, Stephen Hawking.

      Bob also can't fathom a word he writes, so the only conclusion is that the millions who consider Hawking brilliant must be faking it.

      And I also find the phrase "self-proclaimed brilliance" deliciously ironic coming from the keyboard of Somerby.

    4. You think TDH touts his own "brilliance"? His shtick is that other people are willfully ignorant, inexperienced, or corrupt so they get the obvious things wrong.

      Or do you think TDH is serious when he talks about things like "our incomparable series"?

    5. Sometimes the blogger is obviously commenting in a tongue-in-cheek manner. After all, he has significant experience as a stand-up comedian. However, when the blogger's comments are very nuanced, sometimes it's hard to know when he's being hyperbolic or not.

    6. Well deadrat, unlike the aforelisted self-admitted brilliant people, you managed to slip in a reference to something black. Since BOB always manages to mention something new and link it to something old, all we need is something purloined or given and we'll have a marriage of the minds.

    7. KZ, I hate the arch cuteness of remarks like this. Don't you have any schizophrenic friends who might admire your attempts at humor?

    8. Gee, deadrat, you really think you are one of the few who think such phrases "incomparable archives" might be Somerby's attempt to be self-effacing?

      This will come as a shock to you, but no, I don't think he's a pompous, arrogant asshole because of that. He's a pompous, arrogant asshole because he thinks he's got the problems of the world all figured out, they all trace back to his handful of younger, smarter and wealthier than he targets in the media, and that he thinks the rest of the world is too stupid not only not to believe every word they right, but also to take their marching orders from a handful of op-ed columnist and TV hosts.

      This is somewhat different from what makes you a pompous, arrogant asshole, and that would be your propensity when faced with an argument you know you can't win to try to change the subject into one you think you can win.

      And repeatedly looking like a bigger fool in the attempt.

      But hey, deadrat, if it helps you sleep better at night, yeah, Bob is brilliant. Every problem we face can be blamed on Maureen Dowd and Rachel Maddow and Meredith Vieira. Plus eggheads who write books Bob can't understand.

      Sure is easier than thinking, isn't it?

    9. I am not deadrat, but I think you have certainly demonstrated that hating is easier than thinking. I still don't understand why you have singled out Somerby as your target. There are so many human beings on this planet with demonstrable flaws.

    10. In addition to that @ 6:03 there are many life forms masquerading as human. Pretending to reason. Dumbing us down and destroying our culture. But not to worry. Somerby has those singled out as targets for us.

    11. Anonymous @3:52P,

      Do I think I'm one of the few who thinks TDH attempts to be self-effacing? Of course not. I think that Anonymous @9:44A might be one of the few who doesn't think that. Thus my comment.

      This is a blog mostly about the state of the media, and TDH thinks he's got the problems of the media all figured out. He may be right, wrong, or like most people, somewhere in between; but only you think TDH has a prescription for the world's problems.

      Let's see. You regard Somerby as pompous, arrogant, and an asshole. And you know what he thinks about the rest of the world. I suppose I should take your word for all that. After all, you're on a first name basis with him.

      And, oh dear! You think I'm also pompous, arrogant, an asshole, and a fool. Quite the talent you've got there. Let's give it a workout, OK? See if you can think of something smaller than how much I care about your opinion. I'll bet you can't.

      I'll also bet you can't name an argument that I "know" I can't win so I change the subject. Most of the arguments I get into with this commentariat are easy to "win" because they're with ignoramuses like you.

      My sleep patterns are unaffected by anything that appears in TDH. I enjoy reading the blog, even when I don' t agree with it. It's enough for me to read what interests me without worrying about whether the blogger is brilliant.

      Or without setting up straw men to knock down. I'll leave that to you. Which exercise is usually easier than thinking.

  7. To improve his writing, Bob should study "The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century" which comes out day after tomorrow.

  8. "Jack Kennedy wrote Why England Slept."

    Ah. Save for the forgiveable lack of italics or underscoring (per Turabian or the Chicago M of S), we have here a grammatically perfect declarative sentence. Such elegance. Such spareness. Such simple, plain directness.

    But wait. Wouldn't it actually have made a better interrogative? Oh, think of the red-inked marginalia Dr. Pinker would been forced to scribble, all in his own enviably lucid style of course, had Mr. Howler turned in a freshman essay with such an undefended, undocumented, unfootnoted asseveration?

    But wait again. Dr. Pinker is a Harvard man, and as such his superior education would certainly enable him to recognize immediately the implicit, self-evident truth of the statement, "Jack Kennedy wrote 'Why England Slept,'" and immediately assign Mr. Howler's scholarly efforts a big A double-plus without having to read further. No Vietnam for you, fortunate son.

    The sky is blue. Socrates was a man. Jack Kennedy wrote Why England Slept. See?

    1. Jack Kennedy did not write Why England Slept.

      John F. Kennedy wrote Why England Slept.

      Jack Kennedy banged Marilyn Monroe.

      Al Gore was stiff.

      Al Gore was Bob Somerby's college friend.

      Al Gore was no Jack Kennedy.

      Al Gore is still stiff.

      Jack and Marilyn are still dead.

      Millions still wonder what happened to Jack and Marilyn.

      Bob still tells us what happened to Al.