BREAKING: Beware of interesting times!


Enlightenment values down:
"Beware of interesting times," the sages have famously said.

We live in that kind of time. Consider two things Eric Levitz has recently said.

Yesterday, at New York magazine, Levitz offered a sensible warning about the dangers of overstating the extent of the dangers faced by public school students.

"Schools in the United States are safer today than at any time in recent memory," he said, linking to published statistics. "Criminal victimization in America’s education facilities has declined in tandem with the nation’s collapsing crime rate."

Levitz made a sensible argument. On balance, you may or may not agree with his point of view. Along the way, though, he made a peculiar comment.
LEVITZ (2/22/18): In the wake of the Parkland shooting, progressive activists and commentators (including this one) repeatedly claimed that there had been 18 school shootings since the start of this year. When the Washington Post looked into that statistic—and found that it included a suicide in the parking lot of a long-closed elementary school, and that there had only been five incidents that resemble the popular understanding of a “school shooting”—some progressives mocked the paper for its callous pedantry.

This sort of response struck me as defensible
—until the victims at CNN’s town hall began using the supposed ubiquity of school shootings as a justification for policies other than gun control.
Say what? According to Levitz, many people were saying that there had been 18 school shootings this year. In fact, said Levitz, there had been, at the most, only five such incidents.

Should people say 18 if the actual number is five? Was it "callous pedantry" when the Post noted this rather large difference?

There was a time when everyone would have known the answer to those questions—but that time isn't now. "This sort of response struck me as defensible," Levitz weirdly said.

Perhaps Levitz was simply throwing a bone to the rampaging herd. But what a remarkable statement!

Let's call them "Enlightenment values." According to one such basic value, you really shouldn't go around making wildly inaccurate statements. Even if you, and your cause, are both wondrously good!

Perhaps you can't see what difference your wild misstatement makes in the particular instance. Traditionally, that doesn't matter. Unless you're a medieval yahoo or a nut, it's something you just shouldn't do. There was a time when everyone knew this.

Levitz saw the gang abandon this value—and he said it seemed to make sense. Then, today, he wrote a piece about Trump's speech at CPAC.

For the record, Levitz is one of them college graduate fellers (Johns Hopkins 2010). He's also a ranking professional journalist, but this is preliterate work:
LEVITZ (2/23/18): Referencing congressional Democrats’ opposition to his administration’s proposed changes to legal immigration, Trump told the crowd of right-wing activists, “They’re willing to give us the wall. But they don’t want to give us any of the laws to keep these people out.”

Here, “these people” are, by definition, a group of U.S. residents and citizens who have entered the country legally,
through the existing immigration system (ostensibly, including his own father- and mother-in-law).
In that passage, Levitz tells us who Trump meant when he referred to "these people"—but he doesn't provide the surrounding text which lets us assess his claim. Trump is full of clumsy locutions and lousy ideas—but this is the fuller text:
TRUMP (2/23/18): To secure our country, we are calling on Congress to build a great border wall to stop dangerous drugs and criminals from pouring into our country. And now they’re willing to give us the wall. But they don’t want to give us any of the laws to keep these people out. So we’re going to get the wall. But they don’t want to give us all of the other, chain migration, lottery, think of a lottery. You have a country, they put names in, you think they’re giving us their good people? Not too many of you people are going to be lottery. So we pick out people. Then they turn out to be horrendous. And we don’t understand why. They’re not giving us their best people, folks. They’re not giving us—use your heads.
As with almost everything Trump says, that passage doesn't exactly parse or make clear sense. Still, the most obvious antecedent for "these people" is the unpleasant word "criminals." In a jumbled way, Trump seems to be saying that some people coming in through "chain migration" or the "lottery" have "turn[ed] out to be horrendous."

They may have entered the country legally, but they've turned out to be criminals! Almost surely, that has actually been the case in any number of instances—and no, it really isn't a reference to his own in-laws. (Are we now required to make the dumbest possible connection every time?)

Trump's policies may or may not make sense, but Levitz's prose style plainly doesn't. In what universe does a ranking national journalist quote and interpret a statement in that fashion?

Levitz thought it was OK to say 18 when the number was five. He thinks it's OK to quote and then interpret a speech in the manner displayed.

It's fairly plain that Donald J. Trump is slowly driving some journalists nuts. Basic values are being abandoned. These values track back many years.

"Callous pedantry!" That's what the armies of outrage say in response to such obvious observations. It's the way real dumbness has always begun, especially before the Enlightenment, back in the days of the trials.


  1. 'Are we now required to make the dumbest possible connection every time?'

    Only if they belong to the Somerby school of nitpicking and Trump defense.

    1. What a worthless, empty, knee-jerk response.

  2. 'You have a country, they put names in, you think they’re giving us their good people? Not too many of you people are going to be lottery. '

    if Somerby didn't spend all his time defending Trump gallantly, he might have pointed out that that Levitz should have said that Trump was wrong because countries don't give 'us' people. Individuals decide to apply for the visa.

    But Somerby only attacks journalists when they seem to be anti-Trump. Yay for Trumptardism !

  3. Somerby's says "only" 5 school shootings are correctly identified as such.
    Question: Are the victims still dead?

  4. "Schools in the United States are safer today than at any time in recent memory," (says Levitz).

    That statistic refers to any and all kinds of crime. It does not single out mass shootings, which are way up.

    The number 18 for this year comes from the definition used by the used by the Gun Violence Archive, where they clearly define the criteria they use.

    There is an interesting database maintained at Mother Jones that keeps track of mass shootings:

    Here is a recent article talking about the difficulty of putting precise numbers to the incidents:

    One could go on....there are all kinds of articles in the "liberal" press trying to clarify the "18" figure.

    But for Somerby, the sin is saying "18" instead of "5", even though both are correct, based on the criteria used. By saying "5", the gun lobby will undoubtedly be cowed into silence due to the incredible accuracy of "liberal" statistics.

    1. How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn't make it a leg. Abraham Lincoln

      Defining "school shooting" in a non-intuitive way and then reporting that figure as the number of school shootings is a way of misleading people. The organizations who do this know that listeners won't interpret his figure according to their secret, non-intuitive definition.

    2. Hey David,

      I can shed some light on this for you since I was in attendance at the last meeting of the Order of Fiery Liberals. As usual, with Somerby in the room, nothing could be decided. So, we waited until he was in the lobby hitting on Dahlia Lithwick and quickly voted. The vote was unanimous for calling 5 school shootings 18 school shootings. Exit polling found that most everybody voted for the higher number just to piss off David in Cal.

    3. There was a time when liberals could claim to be more moral than conservatives. They still try to make that claim, often based on useless virtue-signaling. But, when they willingly mislead, they lose the moral high ground.

    4. “…when they willingly mislead, they lose the moral high ground.”

      No argument there. That’s absolutely true. Sadly, this is the current state of affairs, right and left: cable news, print media, Congress and the White House press room. More sadly, many people choose to avert their gaze when it's their own tribe doing it and feign holy outrage when it's the demon on the other side.

  5. The nonprofit [Gun Violence Archive] defines a school shooting as an episode on the property of an elementary school, secondary school or college campus. Another defining characteristic is timing — shootings must occur during school hours or during extracurricular activities.
    Only episodes in which people were injured or killed by gunfire are included.

  6. Crime rates for immigrants are lower than for non-immigrant citizens.

  7. "Are we now required to make the dumbest possible connection every time?"

    ...and then you, Bob, started making the dumbest possible connection - pretending that what's happening is "Donald J. Trump is slowly driving some journalists [sic] nuts".

    What could be more obvious that what we're witnessing here is pure propaganda? And, in case of anti-Trump hate-mongering, a well-organized smear campaign.

  8. From today's Cannonfire:

    "Inauguration. Everyone seems to have missed a key point: Rick Gates was the Deputy Chair of the inaugural committee. As Rachel Maddow -- and almost nobody else -- has noted, the Trump inauguration raised more than twice as much money as necessary. Nobody knows where the extra money went.

    Correction: Gates knows.

    Did Manafort take the lolly? Did he use it to pay off his debt to Deripaska?"

    1. ...and did the Clintons sell cocaine and personally murder dozens of people? Did they?

      Inquiring minds want to know.

    2. 8 official GOP-led investigations into the Clintons says "No."

    3. Meh. There was only one investigation, and it proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that Bubba committed perjury and obstruction of justice.

      Alas, dealing cocaine and the horrific murder spree were never investigated.

      So, did they? Our experts say they did.

    4. And charged with NOTHING.
      What's worse, corruption or the total lack of competence by the entire Right-wing to be able to find, charge, and prosecute that corruption?
      It's good to know the uselessness of the Right-wing goes far beyond their inability to govern.

    5. You're missing the point, dear. But hey, I'd be surprised if you didn't.

    6. And I'd be surprised if your argle-bargle ever had a point. Fortunately for trolls like you, "The Service" doesn't dock you kopeks for lack of coherence.

  9. Mao, why did Uncle Vova's friend Zhenya send mercenaries to attack Mr Trump's base in Syria?

  10. Trump is a liar and a thief.