GOSSIP OR JOURNO: Liberals urged to kill the pig!

TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2018

Part 2—Behavior looks like gossip:
Bobby Vee, 18 years old, had a major problem.

Was his girl friend a devil or an angel? He said he loved her either way, but he couldn't make up his mind.

This week, we're asking a similar question about our upper-end press corps. Especially on the pundit end, is their product more like gossip? Or is it more like journalism?

Our question, therefore, takes this form: Gossip or journo? Are leading pundits more like gossips today, or are they more like journalists?

As for Vee, so too today; it's amazingly hard to be sure. We were especially struck by this recent Josh Marshall post, which reeked of small-minded gossip:
MARSHALL (7/25/18): As the news of “the tape” was breaking last night, I tuned in to Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox (don’t mention it) to see what Alan Dershowitz and the President’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani were saying about the new information. Below is a selection of clips that show the comical mix of nonsense and special pleading from these friends of the President.
Giuliani seems like a friend of the president. He's also the president's lawyer.

Is Dershowitz a "friend of the president?" That's what this liberal thought leader was urging his tribal group to believe—and that's what gossip looks like.

In particular, that comment resembles the form of tribal gossip known as "killing the pig."

Is Alan Dershowitz a friend of Donald J. Trump? He has said, again and again, that he has spoken to Trump three times in his life, each time about matters involving Israel.

He has said, again and again, that he voted for Hillary Clinton and contributed to her campaign. But there was Marshall, telling us stooges that Dershowitz is a friend of Trump's.

Why would somebody do that? First, a brief digression:

Over the weekend, we watched the rebroadcast of this July 11 C-Span tape in which Dershowitz is interviewed by Josh Barro. The hour-long discussion concerned Dershowitz's new book, in which he argues that a president can only be impeached and removed from office if he has committed an actual crime.

We watched the rebroadcast over the weekend. We were very much struck by what we saw.

We aren't positioned to make ultimate judgments about most of the constitutional issues involved here. But in our view, Dershowitz is dazzling on the tape, and Barro is remarkably capable in the role of the interviewer/disputant.

How does this discussion compare to the typical discussion on cable? Imagine this:

Imagine seeing the Golden State Warriors in action, then watching a pick-up game at the local gym on the once-a-week Over-60 Seniors Night. On that tape, Dershowitz and Barro perform much like the NBA champs. Cable news presents endless discussions in which creaking participants display extremely little competence.

If you have an hour to spend, we recommend that C-Span tape. Right at the start, Dershowitz says this about his friend:
DERSHOWITZ (7/11/18): This [book] is not a brief for Donald Trump. In fact, if Donald Trump were to commit an impeachable offense, I'd be the first one calling for his impeachment...

Look, there are so many things this president did that I thoroughly disapprove of. I am against his immigration policy. I am against his separation of families. I am against his policies regarding abortion. I am against his tax policies.

I am against his health policies. And I am even against his opposition to women breast-feeding their children—the latest crazy thing this administration did is opposing an international policy.

So don't try to get me to defend Donald Trump, I'm not going to do that.
Two weeks later, Dershowitz was being snidely derided as a "friend of the president." Why would a liberal thought leader turned entrepeneur dumb down his readers like that?

Again, we'd have to say that that's what gossip looks like, that that's what gossips do. Marshall was sending a signal to readers—don't listen to what this man says.

Please note what Marshall was doing. Rather than argue against particular views Dershowitz is presenting, he was advising readers that they shouldn't listen to him at all. Of course, given the way "cable news" works, that is now an easy task for the liberal viewer.

To what extent are we liberals being shielded from debate and divergent views? Consider what happened on cable last night:

If you watched The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, you saw Lawrence deliver a six-minute monologue, then introduce a reliable three-member panel—Jill Wine-Banks, Harry Litman, Neera Tanden.

By "reliable," we mean the obvious. Each guest was guaranteed to agree with everything Lawrence said.

Because three panelists had been assembled to kill ten minutes of discussion time, no one had to say a lot or assemble an actual argument. That said, the number of panelists ensured the program against any down time. And there was no doubt that everyone would agree with the various things Lawrence said.

One hour later, Brian Williams began his show the same way. On this occasion, one of Brian's panelists illustrated a basic rule of MSNBC programming—as long as a panelist agrees with the group, there's nothing he can say that's so dumb that it won't be permitted to stand.

Tomorrow, with transcripts available, we'll show you what one of Brian's panelists said. For today, let's focus on this point:

Last night, liberal viewers were being protected from discussion, debate and dissent. They were being comforted within a womb of tribal agreement. This pitiful practice has virtually come to define MSNBC's method.

Liberal viewers are shielded from dissent. Elsewhere, a wider range of views will still sometimes prevail:

Last night, we saw Litman expressing his strongly anti-Trump views at 10 PM with Lawrence. One hour later, at 11 PM, we saw the very same Harry Litman expressing the very same views—this time on the Fox News Channel while being interviewed by Shannon Bream in a thoroughly professional manner.

Most liberals probably don't know that our own "corporate liberal" channel has become the champion of restricted TribalThink. But that's the impulse Marshall was serving with his pitiful "gossip gang" comment.

Gossiping has always been a way to establish trust among an in group. It has always been a way of conspiring to kill the pig.

There was Marshall, behaving in the age-old way and helping to dumb his readers down. Did his remark seem more like gossip, or did it seem more like journalism?

If you watch that C-Span tape, with Dershowitz being challenged by Barro, you'll see a level of discussion which makes the typical cable show look like a first grade play. We aren't exposed to discussions like that on our "corporate liberal" channel. The owners have decided we want it only one way, and the hosts are giving that to us.

Marshall behaved in the age-old way, telling his readers to kill the pig. Was he behaving like a journo? We'd say it came closer to gossip.

Tomorrow: There's nothing too ridiculous within our tribal tents

For the record: As best we can tell from a Nexis search, Dershowitz has appeared on MSNBC nighttime programming twice in the past six months. (Daytime programming doesn't get transcribed.)

On April 17, he guested with Ari Melber on The Beat. On July 10, he appeared with Paul Butler on Hardball, producing a useful discussion.

In the main, to an astounding degree, MSNBC serves tapioca. You see the same people say the same things, night after night after night.

BREAKING: Mathews on results of the Common Core!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2018

Nobody cares about this:
Has it really been eight years since the Common Core State Standards became "a hot trend?"

So says Jay Mathews in his weekly education column for the Washington Post. Mathews is describing a new report on the way the Common Core has changed, or failed to change, various classroom behaviors.

Mathews is the rarest of all known birds—the long-term education reporter. As we've noted in the past, we share the old school system tie. We went to Aragon, he to our rival school Hillsdale, at the same point in time.

(We had Bob Bazell, the future NBC science reporter. NAME WITHHELD's parents made him go to Serra.)

Mathews reports today on the Common Core, surely knowing that nobody cares. You see, the Common Core isn't The Chase, and that's the sole topic of interest within the fraternal/sororal order we still describe as a "press corps."

The Chase lets the children gossip about an exciting true crime drama; plus, it offers the hope of putting despised people in jail. Public schools affect tens of millions of children, but who give a fig about them? Our pundit corps can;t even focus on what the Trump Admin did at the southern border! They want their tales of The Chase up straight, with no distractions.

Continuing to work in his garden, Mathews starts like this:
MATHEWS (7/30/18): When I try to learn more about schools, I often feel as if I am struggling to get inside a black box—the mysterious classroom. I can get data on what goes into the box, such as the backgrounds of teachers and students. I can measure what comes out of the box—test scores, graduation rates and student work.

But what happens inside the classroom is hard to quantify.

This is particularly true of the major educational reform of this era, the Common Core State Standards.
The project of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers was designed to use research results to remake K-12 teaching. It recommended more lessons about the real world, more nonfiction reading and writing, and more unified math instruction.

How has this changed what is actually going on in the classroom? The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has given us answers with a survey of 1,237 teachers in fourth through 10th grades: “Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools.”
Jay has been "trying to learn more about schools" for the past many years. We love his basic demeanor because it's so different from ours.

(He was a native Californian. We were shipped in from the east.)

Today, Jay is reporting on a report about the Common Core. In the next few days, we'll try to stare into the face of the total indifference and discuss what he has said.

It has also been two weeks since David Leonhardt's first column in the New York Times about the New Orleans schools. Over the course of the next few days, we'll try to return to what Leonhardt said in spite of the total indifference.

Truthfully, though, nobody cares! That's the ultimate secret about our failing society, and of course about our "press corps" and the rise of Donald J. Trump.

GOSSIP OR JOURNO? That pretty much isn't what CNN said!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2018

Part 1—Embellishment, gossip, group fiction:
It's one of the most endearing traits of our not-quite-"human" species.

And sure enough! There it was, this very morning, in the very first item we read!

Our first perusal took us through this new op-ed column by the New York Times' Charles Blow. Midway through his predictable piece, Blow made the inevitable inaccurate statement:
BLOW (7/30/18): CNN reported on Friday that “sources with knowledge” told the network that Trump knew of the infamous Trump Tower meeting during the campaign in which Russians promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Except that isn't what CNN reported on Friday in this online report by Sciutto, Bernstein and (Marshall) Cohen.

Beyond that, it isn't what CNN reported at 9 PM Eastern the night before, in the bombshell report which touched off three hours of gossip and speculation by the nation's "cable news" stars.

According to CNN, did "sources with knowledge" tell CNN that Trump knew (in advance) about the infamous meeting?

Actually, no. That isn't what CNN said. According to Friday's report by CNN, "sources with knowledge" told its reporters something different.

According to CNN, "sources with knowledge" told CNN that Michael Cohen is claiming that Trump knew in advance. According to CNN, sources with knowledge" say that's what Cohen is claiming, though he "does not have evidence, such as audio recordings, to corroborate his claim."

According to CNN, that's what "sources with knowledge" told them. According to CNN, its sources have knowledge have knowledge of what Cohen is claiming, not of what Trump knew.

That differs from Blow's embellished account, in which CNN seems to be saying that sources (plural) who know what they're talking about have said that Trump knew in advance.

CNN has never claimed that its unnamed, undescribed sources have personal knowledge of what Trump knew. CNN has only claimed that its sources have knowledge of what Cohen is claiming.

Those are very different things. Blow's account of what CNN reported jumped ahead of the facts a bit, as does a great deal of what we read and hear from our mainstream press corps.

We "humans!" If we might borrow from Professor Harari, we love our "gossip" and our "fictions," which we tend to adopt and assert as a group, especially when we're engaged in gossip.

According to Harari's best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, our unreliable species, Homo sapiens, gained control of the planet when a set of chance mutations gave our ancestors the ability to "gossip" and to create group "fictions." These new abilities allowed our ancestors to cooperate in much larger groups, driving all other human species into extinction.

It seems to us that these all-too-human traits dominate our upper-end journalism today. Just consider our floundering nation's recent political history:

It could sensibly be said that the political journalism of the past thirty years has been dominated by gossip about the two Clintons and Gore. Also, by the widespread adoption of "fictions" about these major players.

It could sensibly be said that twenty months of such gossip sent George W. Bush to the White House through his amazingly narrow "win" in the 2000 election.

More recemtly, it could sensibly be said that twenty-five years of such gossip about Hillary Clinton sent Donald J. Trump to the White House through his narrow "win" in the 2016 campaign.

(Clinton won the popular vote by roughly 2.1 percentage points—by 2.87 million votes.)

Our journalists—quite frequently, they're "all-too-human"—gossiped about the Clintons, and then about Gore, from January 1992 on. This gossiping was largely conducted by the mainstream press, even by members and orgs which are perceived to be liberal.

These demonizations continued through the fall of 2016. "Corporate liberal" journalists stood by in general silence as decades-old themes were revived and as new themes developed. Whatever a person may think of her 2016 campaign, does anyone doubt that the demonizations of Hillary Clinton let Commander in Chief Donald J. Trump achieve his amazingly narrow "win?"

Harari has ventured into prehistory to deliver his remarks about gossip and group fictions. Even in the way he defines them, these group fictions are closely related to the age-old stuff of gossip.

We can't assess the statements Harari makes about our species' evolution in the distant past. But his claims about gossip and the adoption of fictions serve as a helpful heuristic—as a useful descriptive shortcut—for those who seek a useful general account of the way our press corps functions.

With that in mind, let's establish parameters for a week-long discussion:

Long ago and far away, Bobby Vee had a problem. He was only 18 years old—roughly the age of the typical modern journalist.

That said, Vee was troubled. He articulated his concern through the lyrics of a 1961 hit:
Bobby Vee's rumination:
Devil or angel, I can't make up my mind
Which one you are, I'd like to wake up and find
Devil or angel? Dear, whichever you are
I miss you, I miss you, I-I mi-i-iss you...
Vee couldn't decide if his girl friend was a devil or an angel! Almost surely, she was neither. But Vee's emotions had perhaps overwhelmed his rational faculties.

This week, we'll walk a similar path. Are people like Blow best seen as gossips or as journalists? In the main, are they gossips devoted to adopting and promotion group fictions? Or are they the smoothly functioning "rational animals" we humans have long claimed to be?

In the paragraph we've posted above, Blow did what the gossip will typically do. He took something CNN reported and he embellished the story a bit.

All over the mainstream American press, our journalists took this approach to both Clintons and to Gore. Often, they went well beyond mere embellishment. Often, they simply invented their fictions.

That's largely the way they worked, from January 1992 on, concerning the Clintons and Gore. Now their target is Donald J. Trump, a deeply disordered person.

Their target today is Donald J. Trump, but it isn't altogether clear that their methods have changed. Gossip or journo? Do they mainly function as gossips, or are they mainly journalists?

Do they mainly work through preferred group fictions? Or do they apply the rational tests which play such a prominent role when we silly, gossiping humans start describing ourselves?

Harari mordantly notes the way we humans tend to overstate our own greatness. Since it's all anthropology now, we'll be asking a basic question this week:

These players say they're journalists. Are they actually gossips?

Tomorrow: What Natasha said—but also, Kessler, Marshall and Marcus

BREAKING: Miller raises the obvious point!


A world of gossip and narrative:
For ourselves, we finally saw it happen yesterday afternoon, around 4:15 PM Eastern.

We saw it happen on Deadline White House, the popular show where the doyenne of Iraq and the torture regime now chuckles and laughs and entertains herself, and our grateful liberal world, on a daily basis.

She wanted to know who had put out the claim about Michael Cohen—and Matt Miller finally did it! Finally, we saw someone note the fact that it doesn't exactly make obvious sense to speculate that Trump folk were the source for Thursday night's BREAKING NEWS:
MILLER (7/27/18): We don't know who this came from. We don't know if it came from Michael Cohen, where you would presume it came, or whether somehow Donald Trump's team put it out there. There was some allegation last night from Lanny Davis that it was the Trump people that were behind this, that they [the Cohen team] hadn't put it out. They then seemed to back off from that allegation.

I'm actually kind of suspicious how the Trump-how the Trump team would know that Michael Cohen was ready to testify to this, unless Michael Cohen's attorneys had gone to Trump, or Cohen himself had gone to Trump, and threatened that testimony in exchnage for something, you would presume a pardon, so that would raise even more questions?
Finally, someone noted the fact that "narrative" of the previous evening didn't exactly make sense. If anything, though, he undersold the point.

You'd presume that the report about Cohen's thinking came from Cohen, Miller said. That said, he then imagined a way in which the Trump team might have known what Cohen was thinking and planning to do.

Everything is always possible! That said, this wasn't simply a question of what someone in the Trump camp might imaginably know about Cohen's thinking.

This was a question about journalism. The question goes like this:

Would CNN's Sciutto and Bernstein really let people in the Trump orbit serve as the source for a report about what Cohen was thinking, and for what Cohen knew? Would they really report what Cohen was thinking based on what Trumpsters had said?

Everything is possible! That said, Miller was the first person we saw who noted the basic problem with the previous night's instant "narrative," which had thrilled and perplexed the children for hours.

(A further point: NBC confirmed the CNN report within about fifteen minutes. Could they have confirmed the report that quickly unless it came from Cohen himself, or from Cohen's people? Would they really have credited a report from the Trump camp that fast?)

Everything is possible! That said, let's talk about a new paradigm. If we adopt this new paradigm, we'll provisionally see cable news, and upper-end news coverage generally, as a form of gossip rather than as a form of journalism. Much like Harari says!

How does the world start to look if we adopt that heuristic? We'll plan to discuss that question next week. That said, what happened Thursday is easy to see as a form of gossip:

An unsourced bit of BREAKING NEWS appeared at 9 PM Eastern. In truth, it wasn't exactly "news." Instead, it was an unsourced report about a claim which a rather unreliable person was now said to be making—a claim that person couldn't corroborate.

An unsourced report about a claim by an unreliable person who couldn't corroborate his claim! As "news," that's a slender reed. But sure enough! The children spent the rest of the evening gossiping about it.

More specifically, they gossiped about the source of the report, creating a "narrative" which didn't exactly seem to make sense. That said, no one called attention to the problem with their instant narrative. Instead, as they engaged in their instant chatter, they did what they love most:

They wiped all other actual news topics off the face of the Earth. In particular, the Trump administration's astonishing conduct at the border went almost wholly undiscussed, despite the fact that there was actual information to report.

This is what the children like; the children like to gossip. When they do, they'll typically gossip about their latest Official Approved Standard Group Story—about their latest "narrative," as Brian Williams put it. And yes—these "narratives" strongly resemble Harari's description of widely-adopted group "fictions."

In the "narrative" they adopted on Thursday night, they quickly agreed to imagine that Trump people had been the source of the report about what Cohen was thinking and saying. This let them shade the Trump people in an unattractive way. This is something they want to do as Cohen, a former official bete noire, starts to join their team.

Trump's behavior at the border has been little short of astounding. Rather plainly, the children don't want to discuss it.

Instead, they want to pursue The Chase against Trump in its simplest form. They very much want to talk about who has had sex with whom in the past. They want to speculate about two rival camps jousting for position.

Rather plainly, the children who got stolen away from their parents don't interest this gang. Neither did the children of Flint, who Rachel scared half to death through her long chase after Rick Snyder.

Thursday night was gossip all the way down. Might this be a revealing paradigm through which to approach the work of these deeply primitive people?

Over here in our liberal tents, do we care about those kids at the border? Did we care about the children of Flint?

Did we care about the dead of Iraq? We played a very good game at the time. Today, we let ourselves be entertained by the laughing, happy-hour "cable news" host who helped take them down.

Was Thursday night gossip or journalism? We'll let you decide!

BREAKING: Another fine BREAKING NEWS discussion!

FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2018

Did this question even make sense?
At 9 PM Eastern, CNN broke it.

Under terms of current Hard Pundit Law, every weeknight evening must involve some type of BREAKING NEWS. Last night, this was it:
CUOMO (7/26/18): We have a Cuomo Prime Time exclusive tonight...

We have CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein and Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent for CNN. Jimmy, what do we know now?

SCIUTTO: Well, Chris, tonight, sources with knowledge tell myself and Carl that Michael Cohen claims that then-candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 26 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. Crucially, these sources tell us that Cohen is willing to make that assertion to the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Cohen alleges as well that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians' offer. He was informed by Donald Trump Jr. about that offer. By Cohen's account, Trump approved going ahead with that meeting with the Russians.

Now, we should note that our sources said Cohen does not have evidence such as audio recordings to corroborate his claim. A source familiar with Cohen's House testimony said he did not testify that Trump had advance knowledge. Cohen's claims were not mentioned as well in separate reports issued by both Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
There it was! "Sources with knowledge" had told CNN what Michael Cohen was saying. Cohen was saying that he had bad campaign dirt on Herr Trump.

"Crucially," Cohen was saying that he was willing to make his assertions to Robert Mueller! Also, the sources said that Cohen doesn't have audio recordings to corroborate his claims.

That went on the air at 9 PM Eastern. Needless to say, the usual happened.

A little more than two hours later, at 11:07 PM, Brian Williams was talking turkey to a pundit guest, Robert Costa. Brian floated a question to Bob. But did his question make sense?
WILLIAMS (7/26/18): Let's talk turkey here, and that is, a lot of reporters are both pushing and chasing down a narrative that—

Here is news that Cohen can put Donald Trump in possession of knowledge about that meeting. The narrative is that the Trump camp leaked the story because it's bad to own it in advance. What it also does, it diminishes the value of Mr. Cohen as a potential "flip" target for the feds, the Southern District of New York. Can you speak to that possible strategy?
Let's be fair to Brian! By 11 o'clock, there was a widespread pundit narrative according to which the Trump camp had been the source for the evening's exciting report.

Many reporters really were floating that exciting idea. But did Brian's question make sense?

Did Brian's question make sense? How could the Trump camp have been the source of the evening's report?

The report concerned what Michael Cohen wanted to say to Mueller; it concerned what sort of evidence Cohen had. Who in the orbit of Donald J. Trump could have been a credible source for a report like that?

The "narrative" to which Williams referred didn't much seem to make sense. That said, at thrilling moments like these, the excitable children of Cable News County rarely feel obliged to make sense.

When breaking news has started to break, the emphasis is on excitement and storyline. The children were very excited last night as they suggested the Trump folk did it. As usual, they didn't seem bothered by the fact that the claim didn't seem to make sense.

In fairness, Williams wasn't kidding as he "talked turkey" with Costa. At 10 PM, the always excited Lawrence O'Donnell had opened his program with his mandated chat with Rachel Maddow. Along the way, Lawrence said this:
LAWRENCE (7/26/18): And Rachel, with every one of these stories that comes out and breaks very dramatically, as they have for us for several months, there is always that very strange part of it which is, Why is this happening?


LAWRENCE: Why is this becoming public? Who has an incentive anywhere in this story, from Michael Cohen to the president's side, to make this public, and I can never figure it out. I never get a satisfactory answer to why did this happen? Why did this get revealed?
Lawrence can never figure it out! He also didn't seem to see that one of his speculations this night didn't much seem to make sense.

Who within the Trump campaign could have spoken to Sciutto and Bernstein and served as a source for what Cohen wanted to do? The notion didn't seem to make sense. But Williams was right on one point:

By the time he got on the air, it truly had become a "narrative." The speculation was widely bruited, with no one seeming to see that it didn't much seem to make sense.

The children tend to be less than super-sharp even when they're at their best. On evenings like last night, they get dragged out to speculate about BREAKING NEWS without any possible prep.

They turned to a favorite speculation; someone in the Trump camp had been the source of the BREAKING NEWS. It didn't seem to make much sense, but it gave them something to wonder about, and it cast the Trump camp in a slippery light.

This is the sort of thing the children of cable news love. All major news topics got shoved aside last night so this pleasing pseudo-discussion could burn up entire hours.

Kids at the border? Who cares? Rachel got to the topic at 9:55, saying she was "desperate" to discuss it. She did so for three minutes.

Long ago, our species triumphed through mastery of gossip and belief in group fictions. So says Professor Harari. We suspect that the gent could be right.

ANTHROPOLOGY NOW: Extinction of the Neanderthals!

FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2018

Part 4—The skills which let our species triumph:
In a column in today's New York Times, Emily Yoffe refers to what Donald J. Trump has done at the southern border.

She refers to the "national revulsion" occasioned by those truly remarkable acts, which seem almost medieval:

"There is nothing like audio of terrified children, accounts of their deplorable detention conditions and the realization some families may never be reunited to cause national revulsion at this iteration of the Trump administration’s touted zero-tolerance stance."

So says Yoffe, in a column discussing the general inutility of the concept of "zero tolerance."

Reports this week have further described the administration's astounding behavior. But has this occasioned "national revulsion?"

Not on the channels we watch.

On the channels we watch, this astonishing conduct has received short shrift all week. Actual news about this astonishing conduct has been pushed aside, again and again, in favor of endless speculation about "breaking news"—"breaking news" involving The Chase.

Last night, Rachel Maddow raised the topic at 9:55 PM, having burned the previous hour in the pursuit of the night's "breaking news." These nightly pursuits, on all such programs, are generally composed of pointless, uninformed speculation and highly selective analysis.

How uninformed are these gossip sessions? Last night, CNN instantly reported, at 9 PM, that Michael Cohen doesn't have audiotape of the alleged meeting at which he says he heard the latest Big Thing occur. Ninety minutes later, pundits were speculating, on Lawrence's show, about the exciting possibility that Cohen maybe does hold such a tape.

That's the way these instant, largely uninformed discussions tend to work. Indeed, we just saw Barbara McQuade raise the same exciting possibility. It was 10:30 AM, more than thirteen hours later.

This is the way these sessions tend to go. As we noted yesterday, one week's excitement is quickly cast aside, and forgotten, in pursuit of the next "breaking news."

Our tribal leaders love The Chase; in their deference to that topic, they've largely abandoned the children who were taken from their parents at the southern border. As we watch this rather obvious lack of revulsion unfold, we think of what Yuval Noah Harari says in his acclaimed best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

Yesterday, as we left Harari's story, a major mystery loomed. How did our ancestors, Homo sapiens all, manage to drive all other human populations to extinction, starting roughly 70,000 years ago?

We were human, but they were too. The Neanderthals had bigger muscles—and they even had bigger brains!

Still, we drove them all to extinction. How did we manage to do that? And how does this history relate to the corporate-sponsored manifest bullshit now seen on TV every night?

Somewhat counterintuitively, Harari attributes our species' success to its ability 1) to engage in "gossip" and 2) to adopt group "fictions." Harari says the whole thing began with a chance mutation:
HARARI (page 21): [B]eginning about 70,000 years ago, Homo sapiens started doing very special things. Around that date Sapiens bands left Africa for a second time. This time they drove the Neanderthals and all other human species not only from the Middle East, but from the face of the earth...

Most researchers believe that these unprecedented accomplishments were the product of a revolution in Sapiens’ cognitive abilities. They maintain that the people who drove the Neanderthals to extinction, settled Australia, and carved the Stadel lion-man were as intelligent, creative and sensitive as we are. If we were to come across the artists of the Stadel Cave, we could learn their language and they ours. We’d be able to explain to them everything we know—from the adventures of Alice in Wonderland to the paradoxes of quantum physics—and they could teach us how their people view the world.

The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, constitutes the Cognitive Revolution. What caused it? We’re not sure. The most commonly believed theory argues that accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using an altogether new type of language. We might call it the Tree of Knowledge mutation. Why did it occur in Sapiens DNA rather than in that of Neanderthals? It was a matter of pure chance, as far as we can tell.
The people who drove the Neanderthals to extinction "were as intelligent and sensitive as we are?" That may be our favorite line! Meanwhile, could we explain "the paradoxes of quantum physics" to these earliest artists? Presumably no, since we still can't explain them today.

We'll give Harari a pass on that second point. But if he's right in his basic claim, the ascendance of Homo sapiens, among all other human species, was "a matter of pure chance."

Our ancestors were able to drive all other humans into the sea because "accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring" of their brains. According to Harari, these accidental mutations produced the sleek analytical giants found on cable today.

That last assessment becomes less ironic if you understand what those chance mutations allowed our ancestors to do. For starters, they allowed our ancestors to engage in gossip! Indeed, "our language evolved as a way of gossiping," Harari says in a part of his analysis which is rather poorly explained.

What's so good about being able to gossip? It let us work together in larger bands, Harari says:
HARARI (page 23): The amount of information that one must obtain and store in order to track the ever-changing relationships of a few dozen individuals is staggering...All apes show a keen interest in such social information, but they have trouble gossiping effectively. Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens probably also had a hard time talking behind each other’s backs—a much maligned ability which is in fact essential for cooperation in large numbers. The new linguistic skills that modern Sapiens acquired about seventy millennia ago enabled them to gossip for hours on end. Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that small bands could expand into larger bands, and Sapiens could develop tighter and more sophisticated types of cooperation.
Why couldn't our ancestors gossip effectively before these chance mutations occurred? Harari doesn't seem to explain that.

Still, he says that the ability to gossip allowed post-mutation Homo sapiens to work in much larger groups. This gave them the advantage over the Neanderthals, whose bigger brains still didn't permit them to work in such large bands.

"The gossip theory might sound like a joke, but numerous studies support it," Harari claims. "Even today the vast majority of human communication—whether in the form of emails, phone calls or newspaper columns—is gossip."

Say what? Is the vast majority of newspaper columns simply a matter of gossip? That too might sound like a joke. But that's certainly true of the vast amount of pseudo-discussion on our "cable news" speculationfests, which resemble gossip much more closely than information-gathering or analysis.

That said, the second result of those chance mutations will be familiar too. Purely by chance, Homo sapiens developed the ability to invent and share group "fictions," Harari says. We've been writing about this trait for the past twenty years:
HARARI (page 24): [T]he truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. Rather, it’s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled.

Legends, myths, gods and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say, "Careful! A lion!" Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens acquired the ability to say, "The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe." This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.
What's the advantage in being to invent, and believe, group fictions? According to Harari, the ability to weave common myths—common myths such as "the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states"—allowed Homo sapiens to cooperate in much larger groups.

Instead of trusting only the people you knew, you could now trust much large numbers of people. If you yourself had put your faith in some national or tribal myth / narrative / pleasing story, you'd be willing to work with total strangers who displayed a similar belief. Onward and forward our large bands marched, with bracing results such as these:
HARARI (page 17): [I]f the Neanderthals, Denisovans and other human species didn’t merge with Sapiens, why did they vanish? One possibility is that Homo sapiens drove them to extinction. Imagine a Sapiens band reaching a Balkan valley where Neanderthals had lived for hundreds of thousands of years. The newcomers began to hunt the deer and gather the nuts and berries that were the Neanderthals’ traditional staples. Sapiens were more proficient hunters and gatherers—thanks to better technology and superior social skills—so they multiplied and spread. The less resourceful Neanderthals found it increasingly difficult to feed themselves. Their population dwindled and they slowly died out, except perhaps for one or two members who joined their Sapiens neighbours.

Another possibility is that competition for resources flared up into violence and genocide. Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species? It may well be that when Sapiens encountered Neanderthals, the result was the first and most significant ethnic-cleansing campaign in history.
Oof. You can set aside the lofty idea that our species, by pure chance, developed some powerful analytical skills which let our ancestors prosper.

Harari explains it differently. Given our "superior social skills"—our ability to work in much larger groups—we may have starved The Others out, or engaged in "ethnic cleansing."

"Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark," Harari mordantly says. Presumably, you already understood that fact if you watch much cable.

We don't know what kinds of "studies" support the gossip theory. Beyond that, we can't judge Harari as a prehistorian—though his book is blurbed by Bill Gates on the front, by Obama on the back.

We do know this: Harari's emphasis on gossip and the adoption of vast group fictions describes the functioning of modern journalistic elites to a T.

Right here at this award-winning site, we've spent the past twenty years describing the upper-end press corps' penchant for low-IQ, brain-dead gossip. Also, its endless desire to memorize and recite standard official group "scripts." Remember when everyone agreed to say that Comey the God was the world's most upright person?

The children have spent the past thirty years marching to war in these ways. And alas! In November 2016, thirty years of this standard group bullshit sent Donald J. Trump to the White House.

According to Harari, our ancestors developed the ability to gossip. They also developed the ability to subscribe to group "fictions"—to vast social myths which can't be supported by facts.

Thanks to these less than impressive skills, they were able to work in very large bands. "Rabbi, this is where we cam in," one of the analysts grumbled.

BREAKING: Avenatti for commander in chief!


Whatever became of that thug:
Now he belongs to the ages.

According to the Washington Post, Michael Avenatti is parlaying his ownership of Lawrence O'Donnell into a run for the White House.

He'll be speaking in Iowa next month. Meanwhile, whatever became of that thug?

Back in March, Stephanie Clifford told the world that she'd been threatened by a thug in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011. Some people even believed this.

In mid-April, Avenatti released a forensic artist's sketch of the allegedly frightening alleged thug. Remember how great that was? Avenatti seemed to suggest that an apprehension was right around the corner. Even before the sketch was released, the future president said his team had "made progress" in the search for the thug.

"We may not need to release the sketch," the brash, brassy barrister blustered. He said he had "some pretty good ideas" about the identity of the recently remembered thug.

That was then, and this is now. In fact, it's late July! For whatever reason, no one has heard a word about the extremely frightening putative thug from that great day in April right on up to this.

Avenatti has been forced to deal with his three thousand personal business scams. But he has retained the admiration of Lawrence, who's sometimes described as "Michael's poodle," and all the evidence seems to suggest that he'll soon belong to the ages.

As we've been telling you, our nation's political culture is an utterly rock-bottom joke. Remember when he was pimping that sketch? For the course of maybe a week, remember how thrilling that was?

ANTHROPOLOGY NOW: Homo sapiens siezes control!


Part 3—Also, creates current chaos:
Forget about yesterday's ten thousand talkers, the ones whose tongues were all broken. What's it like to see a whole nation misfiring wildly, despite its alleged "massive brains?"

For starters, consider the latest in-house attack on the New York Times' many readers. On this morning's page A3, an unnamed editor leaks the identity of yesterday's most read article:
The Conversation

1. Spotting CNN on a TV Aboard Air Force One, Trump Fights Against Reality
Wednesday's most read article opens with an anecdote describing "a bit of a stir" aboard Air Force One caused by President Trump's insistence that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox.
It was yesterday's most read article! Just for the record, the third post on today's "The Conversation" list involves a photo of a mother duck swimming with fifty ducklings.

The fourth item on today's list concerns a review of a book "that explains how eating patterns that disrupt circadian rhythms may be detrimental to health." That was "[yesterday's] most emailed" article.

When we use our "massive brains" in the pursuit of topics like these, is it any surprise that Donald J. Trump currently sits in the White House? That said, it's important to note the real reason why that piece about Air Force One gained so much attention yesterday.

That "anecdote" about Air Force One—the one which starts the libretto by Rogers and Haberman—involved first lady Melania Trump! Attendant schadenfreude apparently set our big pseudoliberal brains whirring.

Last night, Lawrence moved in on the topic. He offered a long and slimy opening monologue built around garbage like this:
LAWRENCE (7/25/18): You are not alone tonight if you believe Stormy Daniels' story about her having sex with Donald Trump a few months after Donald Trump's third wife gave birth to his fifth child.

And you are not alone if you believe former Playboy model Karen McDougal is telling the truth when she says she had a yearlong sexual affair with Donald Trump around the same time.

If you believe Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, you are part of an overwhelming majority of the American people. A CNN poll shows that 63 percent of Americans believe the women, and only 21 percent believe that did not have sex with those women...

Now, we don't know if first lady Melania Trump was in the 21 percent who believed Donald Trump. And we don't know if her mind was changed by hearing her husband talking to Michael Cohen on an audio recording that made its worldwide debut last night on what is reportedly Melania Trump's favorite cable news network.

Under the headline "Trump rages against reality," the New York Times reported Monday night, "On the first couple’s recent trip overseas, Melania Trump’s television aboard Air Force One was tuned to CNN. President Trump was not pleased. He raged at his staff for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox."

That same New York Times report says the White House is ordering additional television equipment so that Mr. and Mrs. Trump can watch the TV shows of their choice while traveling.

The new equipment is, quote, "to make sure the president and first lady could both watch TV [PAUSE] in their separate hotel rooms when they travel."

Now, "separate hotel rooms" might be an indicator of whether Melania Trump believed that Donald Trump had sexual adventures with at least two other women shortly after Melania Trump gave birth. But we have no idea what the first lady of the United States actually thinks about the president of the United States being caught on tape discussing a payoff to one of those two women, because the first ladt of the United States has said absolutely nothing about her husband today.
She has not rushed to his defense. She has not denied creating tension for the president and his staff on Aur Force One by refusing to watch Fox News.


It would seem, among the people least likely to believe Donald Trump's denials are the three Mrs. Trumps, who know him so well.
Lawrence is one of those men who can't stay out of the bedrooms of other men and women. He likes to go on TV and discuss other people having sex, especially when they've done this without his permission.

He kicks sand in the face of the wretched of the earth as he pleasures himself in this way. And as he pleasures Us.

Sure enough! For the second straight night, Lawrence skipped this astonishing news report about the Trump Admin's new admission that "more than 450 immigrant parents"—not the previously cited twelve—"whose children were separated from them are no longer in the United States," raising questions about whether they'll ever see their children again.

Yesterday, New York Times readers blew past that report to examine Melania's TV set, along with her separate bedroom. Last night, Lawrence rewarded pseudoliberal viewers with intrusive, antique schadenfreude as his corporate owners smiled.

Last evening, Chris Hayes did a full segment on the "more than 450 immigrant parents," explicitly saying that their children had been "kidnapped" by the United States government.

By way of contrast, Lawrence has avoided the topic for two straight nights; Rachel got to it last night for roughly one minute, at 9:56 PM, having blown all sorts of time on her latest bizarre dramatic reading of absurdly pointless court transcripts concerning the sexy-time adventures of Maria Butina, the super-sexy post-Soviet extremely sexy sex spy.

Lawrence and Rachel are badly disordered, fallen. At the same time, New York Times readers are emailing pictures of a large number of ducks. In these ways, we modern members of Homo sapiens are employing our "massive brains"—but then, we liberals have been behaving like this for the past three decades.

Is it really any wonder that Donald Trump sits where he does?

(In mid-October 2000, Lawrence went on the widely-viewed McLaughlin Report and offered the latest claim designed to show that Candidate Gore was the world's biggest liar. To do so, he baldly mischaracterized an 11-month-old statement by Gore about the proposed expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

(Back then, Lawrence behaved that way because he didn't like the fact that Bill Clinton had engaged in sex without prior written permission. As punishment, Lawrence and a cast of thousands took his chosen successor down.

(Today, Lawrence is one of our favorite corporate stars! These are the ways we modern liberals have been using our massive brains during the era which—or so we've been told—will eventually lead to Mister Trump's Fully Dispositive War.)

Given the size of our "massive brains," how can our "highly intelligent" species possibly be so small-minded, so venal? Let's return to Professor Harari's story, which we left after Tuesday's report, about 100,000 years ago.

At that time, various human species lived in different parts of the Earth. Our own species. Homo sapiens, tried to venture outside our neighborhood, but that first attempt failed:
HARARI (page 20): In fact, in the first recorded encounter between Sapiens and Neanderthals, the Neanderthals won. About 100,000 years ago, some Sapiens groups migrated north to the Levant, which was Neanderthal territory, but failed to secure a firm footing. It might have been due to nasty natives, an inclement climate, or unfamiliar local parasites. Whatever the reason, the Sapiens eventually retreated, leaving the Neanderthals as masters of the Middle East.
It may not seem all that surprising that the Neanderthals won. As we've seen Harari explain, the Neanderthals were more muscular than Homo sapiens, and they had bigger brains!

According to Harari's account, thirty thousand years went by, and then our team tried it again. This time around, we were better equipped in a certain way—and this time around, we won:
HARARI (page 14): [M]ost scientists agree that by 150,000 years ago, East Africa was populated by Sapiens that looked just like us...[T]hey had smaller teeth and jaws than their ancestors, whereas they had massive brains, equal in size to ours.

Scientists also agree that about 70,000 years ago, Sapiens from East Africa spread into the Arabian peninsula, and from there they quickly overran the entire Eurasian landmass.

When Homo sapiens landed in Arabia, most of Eurasia was already settled by other humans. What happened to them? There are two conflicting theories...
We'll touch on those conflicting theories tomorrow.

For today, we'll only note that, despite the earlier failure to expand, our brilliant species, Homo sapiens, would now prove to be hard to stop. All those other human species were on their way to extinction:
HARARI (page 18): Whether Sapiens are to blame or not, no sooner had they arrived at a new location than the native population became extinct. The last remains of Homo soloensis are dated to about 50,000 years ago. Homo denisova disappeared shortly thereafter. Neanderthals made their exit roughly 30,000 years ago. The last dwarflike humans vanished from Flores Island about 12,000 years ago. They left behind some bones, stone tools, a few genes in our DNA and a lot of unanswered questions. They also left behind us, Homo sapiens, the last human species.

What was the Sapiens’ secret of success? How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically different habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion? Why couldn’t even the strong, brainy, coldproof Neanderthals survive our onslaught? The debate continues to rage.
How did it happen? How did our expansionist ancestors manage to drive all other human species to extinction? That includes the Neanderthals, whose brains were larger than ours and who were also more muscular!

At this point, Harari lays out "the most likely answer." We'll explore that answer tomorrow; it involves a chance mutation affecting certain aspects of language.

We'll explore that answer tomorrow. Having said that, let us also say this—we won't be painting a pretty picture of our big-brained species, which was hard at work, dishing the slime, on "cable news" last night.

"Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark," Harari mordantly says at one point. Not long after, he even mordantly says this:

"It may well be that when Sapiens encountered Neanderthals, the result was the first and most significant ethnic-cleansing campaign in history."

How did it happen? A chance mutation have us the ability to "gossip," Harari says. It also gave us the ability to adopt potent types of group "fictions." These new abilities were the fuel which let us overcome the Others, despite their larger brains.

We'll visit that theory tomorrow. For now, we'll only note that Harari's book is endorsed by Bill Gates on the front, and by Obama on the back! Meanwhile, to see the gossip and the lack of tolerance to which Harari refers, you need only have watched Lawrence last night, or in October 2000. People are dead all over the world because of his conduct back then.

The One True Channel is deeply invested in delivering "gossip" and "fictions" of the type Harari describes. Last night, Lawrence was pleasingly fingering Mrs. Trump, while Rachel was lost in sexy-time play with her Butina, her favorite new toy.

How did it ever get this far? Did you see Lawrence in October 2000? Did you take in his garbage last night?

Tomorrow: A chance mutation—and Us

BREAKING: Did Carter Page meet with the Igors?


Top blogger says he knows:
Did Carter Page actually meet with the Igors? Did he meet with Igor Sechin, president of a Russian energy company and a close associate of Putin? Did he meet with Igor Divyekin, an even more menacing figure?

In his famous dossier, Christopher Steele alleged that Page met with each of the Igors during his trip to Moscow in July 2016. This claim was prominent in the FISA application which was released last week—the application which led to surveillance of Page starting in the fall of 2016.

Did Page meet with these two fellows? Page was denied the claim up and down, including in a letter last fall to the FBI itself. He even denied the claim last Sunday, to Jake Tapper, right on TV!

Did Page actually meet with the Igors? For ourselves, we have no way of knowing. A top blogger feels that he does.

In his review of the FISA application, this blogger quotes a part of the FISA application which makes this allegation. For reasons which he doesn't explain, he seems to regards that allegation as an established fact:
BLOGGER (7/24/18): This is key information. Page denied the meetings with Sechin and Divyekin, but Steele confirmed them. Quite possibly there’s other confirmation in the redacted portions of the FISA application. The fact that Page lied about this is central to the FBI’s desire to surveil him further.
Is our chronology clear in this matter? As we understand it, Steele didn't confirm the allegations; he's the one who made them. Were those allegations correct? At this point, we don't know.

How does the blogger know that Page's denials have been a "lie?" The blogger doesn't say. Near the end of his review, he refers again to Page's "lie about his meetings with Sechin and Divyekin," once again without explaining how he knows the denial to the FBI was false.

We don't know if Page's denial was false. For what it's worth, the last time the New York Times had referred to the two Igors by name, Jason Zengerle had offered this assessment:
ZENGERLE (2/6/18): [M]aking Page into a conservative martyr will probably test Fox’s considerable powers of propaganda. For one thing, there are Page’s views on Russia and Vladimir Putin, which are more sympathetic and outside the American foreign-policy mainstream than even Trump’s. Page has absolved Putin of responsibility for the Ukraine conflict, blaming instead the United States’ “smack-down” approach toward Russia, and has echoed Putin in criticizing the United States and other Western countries for “their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.”

There are also Page’s murky relationships with Russian business and political leaders. Although Page has repeatedly (and believably) denied the allegations made in the Steele dossier that during a July 2016 trip to Moscow he met with Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who is now chief executive of the Russian oil conglomerate Rosneft, and Igor Diveykin, a top Russian intelligence official, he has been squirrelly and inconsistent about his relationships and interactions with a range of other Russians—including the deputy prime minister, Arkady Dvorkovich, and two Russian spies who tried to recruit Page in 2013. While the Nunes memo argues that the Steele dossier was used to improperly secure a warrant to wiretap Page, House Democrats maintain that there was far more evidence against Page in the warrant application.
According to Zengerle, Page has "believably denied the allegations" concerning Sechin and Diveykin. How did Zengerle reach that conclusion?

We have no idea. Given the way our journalism works, attention is focused on the latest shiny object, like last night's thrilling inaudible audiotape. Little effort is made to sort out such basic matters as this.

Now for a confession. We don't have the slightest idea whether Page met with Sechin and/or Diveykin! One top blogger feels he does, but seems to feel no giant need to explain.

For ourselves, we prefer to stand with fundamental fairness and the suspension of judgment. We'll add this basic point:

There was a time when kneejerk liberals were strongly disinclined to believe claims by the FBI and the CIA. Today, in the current climate, we tend to be strongly inclined to affirm the claims they've made.

In some ways, this is odd. James Comey's grotesque behavior in 2016 ought to remind us that godlike officials of these agencies can exercise terrible judgment, just like everyone else. Andrew McCabe may not have showered himself with glory along the way either, though we're less clear on his case.

We don't know if Carter Page met with those two Russkies. We do know that intelligence agencies can get out over their skis.

Did Carter Page meet with one or both Igors? Oddly, we can't say!

Additional point: Here and elsewhere, Zengerle's claims about Page and Dvorkovich make amazingly little sense. We may go over this familiar, bewildering matter again before the week is through.

ANTHROPOLOGY NOW: Ten thousand talkers whose tongues are all broken!


Interlude—What Bob Dylan heard:
"I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken."

Bob Dylan reported the sighting—in 1962! Visitations from the future may have been involved.

We offer that speculation for an obvious reason. At that time, it was much, much harder to see so many broken-tongued talkers.

Today, such talkers are all around; they're all over cable news and talk. Their cousins are widely found at print publications, where they can be found composing headline sets like this:
Can Richard Carranza Integrate the Most Segregated School System in the Country?
A new chancellor is talking a big game about making New York City’s schools more equal—but that’s the easy part.
Are the New York City Public Schools "the most segregated school system in the country?"

The academic study from which this claim derives actually makes no such claim. And sure enough! By the second paragraph of the Atlantic essay found beneath that set of headlines, it's clear that the author of the essay understands this fact.

That said, so what? The inaccurate claim is becoming quite popular among us on the pseudo left. So is the puzzling insinuation at the start of this op-ed column in today's New York Times, headline included:
How Elite Schools Stay So White

Who deserves to get an elite education?

That question is being debated in Massachusetts, where court papers argue over Harvard’s use of race in its “holistic” admissions process, and in New York City, where politicians are trying to increase the number of black and Latino students at top public high schools.

But the answer has always been obvious: only the elite.
The "top public high schools" to which that passage refers are currently 52% Asian-American—and Asian-Americans reportedly have the highest poverty rate of any group in New York City.

On that basis, it's puzzling to see the operation of those top public high schools lumped in with the authors' claims about the way "elite schools stay so white." But those claims are popular among our tribe, and the New York Times is inclined to promote them. On that basis, a column appeared which didn't exactly seem to make perfect sense.

It's very, very easy today to find talkers whose tongues may seem broken. They're found all over "cable news." They even exist in print.

Sometimes, their efforts provide bits of comic relief. At the top of page A3 in today's New York Times, some unnamed editor has listed seven of today's "Noteworthy Facts."

Three of those noteworthy facts would be these. No, we aren't making this up:
Of Interest

The Leadenhall Building in London is known as the Cheesegrater.

Many good historians believe that Bills in Sydney, which opened in 1993, was the first restaurant to serve avocado toast.

In 1984, Bernard Hinault, a five-time winner of the Tour de France, punched a shipyard worker who was part of a protest over layoffs that stopped the early season Paris-Nice cycling race.
Dylan didn't report seeing talkers whose efforts seemed naively parodic. But those are three of today's seven "Noteworthy Facts."

It isn't that the New York Times includes no accurate facts. Right next to the column about the way Asian-majority schools show that elite education has always been designed to favor whites, a regular columnist tells Times readers about a recent poll:
BRUNI (7/25/18): On Sunday, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal released a poll that took place mostly after Helsinki. It showed that Donald Trump’s approval rating, which usually hovers around 40 percent, had risen to 45—still bad but, bafflingly, better than before. Republicans were why. They gave him an approval rating of 88 percent, which is positively alpine and higher than the one that Democrats gave Barack Obama at the same point in his presidency eight years ago.
Trump's approval rating did indeed stand at 45 percent in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll—unless you watched a pair of talkers on Monday evening "cable news!" The pair of talkers said this:
O'DONNELL (7/23/18): And, John, a new poll, NBC/Wall Street Journal, shows that the president's approval rating is far below a majority. But 88 percent of Republicans say they support the president. And unfortunately, in most of the media, they never do the math on what that actually means, since only 26 percent of voters are Republicans.

HEILEMANN: Here we go.

O'DONNELL: Eighty-eight percent of 26 percent is something like 23 percent of voters support Donald Trump.

HEILEMANN: Yes. The Republican Party is shrinking.
That's what the talkers actually said—and no, nothing they went on to say corrected the bizarre misimpression they'd given. Injecting a note of comic relief, Lawrence complained that the rest of the press corps refuses to do the math!

(Just for the record, that approval rating—45 percent—is almost exactly where Obama stood at this point in his own first term, in July 2010. USA Today/Gallup had him at 41!)

Bruni seemed to say he's "baffled" by Trump's approval number. That said, many talkers insist that no one should ask Trump supporters why they feel as they do. Heilemann voiced a related bit of pique as he spoke with O'Donnell.

When Dylan won the Nobel Prize in 2016, Patti Smith sang his 1962 song at the formal ceremony. Listening to her performance, we were struck by the prophetic quality of his claim about the talkers.

Today, they're all around! From the White House over to Fox and then on to The One True Channel, it seems to us that tongues are broken all over the American discourse. For the past several years, we've been wondering if anthropology can explain our transparently broken culture, which didn't start with Trump.

This culture didn't start with Trump? Just for the record:

The lunacy didn't start with Trump, but it always ran through him. In April 1990, Diane Sawyer scored the big interview with Marla Maples for her dim-witted ABC magazine program, PrimeTime Live.

“All right, was it really the best sex you ever had?” That's what Sawyer thoughtfully asked, letting us see the types of things she'd do to acquire her wealth and her fame. (At the time, her salary was reported to be $3 million per year.)

Nine years later, Sawyer scored the big interview with Candidate Gore when he announced his race for the White House. She hit him with a brain-dead, broken-souled "pop quiz" designed to show that he'd never been anywhere near a farm, one of the ten thousand broken-tongued lines of attack being aimed at Bill Clinton's chosen successor by the mainstream press.

In June 2014, when Sawyer interviewed Candidate Hillary Clinton, this wealthy goddess of TV faux "news" attacked Clinton for her unseemly wealth! That said, people like Sawyer have dragged us down all across the past three or four decades. We liberals have luvvved them every step of the way—and their ugly parodies of public discourse have always run through the inanities and the disorders of Donald J. Trump, who was excitingly said to have given Maples the best sex she ever had.

Diane Sawyer is Donald Trump. So are quite a few others. Somehow or other, Dylan heard their tongues a-talkin' all the way back in 1962!

What can anthropologists tell us about all this broken-tongued talking? At this point, we feel the discourse has fallen apart to such a degree that this is pretty much the only real question left.

The question won't make sense to you unless you're willing and able to see the depth of the nonsense which surrounds us. The tongues are broken inside the White House, but quite a few tongues are also broken inside our own failing tribe.

Some of us can't make out that second fact, but it's true nonetheless. As we wait for Mister Trump's Ultimate Fully Dispositive War, we've asked Professor Harari to explain how we got to this place.

Given our "massive brains," how has our "highly intelligent" species managed to create such a mess? Tomorrow, we'll resume Harari's account, 100,000 years in the past.

According to Professor Harari, our species drove all other humans to extinction. "Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark," he mordantly says at one point.

Can Harari explain how we managed to reach this brain-dead place? As we wait for Mister Trump's War, what sort of enlightenment can we derive from the story he tells?

Tomorrow: Toward that chance mutation

ANTHROPOLOGY NOW: Quantifying the size of our massive brains!

TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2018

Part 2—Our massive brains misfire:
Everywhere Franklin D. Roosevelt looked, he saw "a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources."

He also saw "one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." He described this during his second inaugural, in 1937.

Everywhere we look these days, we seem to see something different. Everywhere we look, we see "massive brains" misfiring.

We saw that on last evening's Last Word, when Lawrence offered a bizarre account of Trump's approval rating. (Transcript below.) We saw that in the headline of this new Atlantic essay, where some headline writer seems to say that the New York City Public Schools is "the most segregated school system in the country."

(It's clear in paragraph 2 of the essay that its author has made no such claim. Still, we liberals love the claim, and so, once again, there it is.)

We saw that in today's Washington Post, where David Kris gives a misleading account of those meetings Carter Page is said to have held with those two Russian officials. We saw it on last night's Maddow Show, whose host was again conducting utterly pointless public readings from utterly pointless court transcripts. (After wasting time in this way, she finally mentioned those separated immigrant families at 9:57 PM.)

Granted, we watch a fair amount of cable news. That said, it seems to us that our massive brains are misfiring a great deal of the time, even aside from what you see at the White House or over at Fox.

Just how big are our massive brains? Early on, Harari traffics in quantification. This is what he says:
HARARI (page 8): Despite their many differences, all human species share several defining characteristics. Most notably, humans have extraordinarily large brains compared to other animals. Mammals weighing 130 pounds have an average brain size of 12 cubic inches. The earliest men and women, 2.5 million years ago, had brains of about 36 cubic inches. Modern Sapiens sport a brain averaging 73-83 cubic inches. Neanderthal brains were even bigger.
We've got those mammals whipped! At any rate, based upon observations of cable news, we'd draw a basic conclusion from that passage:

Brains of 73-83 cubic inches may function quite well in certain respects while misfiring wildly in others.

In that passage, Harari can't resist citing the Neanderthal brain, which was even larger than ours. As we showed you yesterday, the gentleman plays the same mean trick just a few pages later:
HARARI (page 14): [W]hen Sapiens reached the Middle East and Europe, they encountered the Neanderthals. These humans were more muscular than Sapiens, had larger brains, and were better adapted to cold climes. They used tools and fire, were good hunters, and apparently took care of their sick and infirm...Neanderthals are often depicted in caricatures as the archetypical brutish and stupid ‘cave people’, but recent evidence has changed their image.
How many times does he have to say it? On page 13, Harari says that the earliest members of Homo sapiens had brains as large as our own—and that the Neanderthals of that same period had larger brains than that! This may help explain why those massive brains misfire so often on cable.

Having reviewed the numbers, let's return to yesterday's question. If Neanderthal brains were bigger than ours; if Neanderthals were more muscular than us; then why did Homo sapiens rid the earth of Neanderthals? Why did our species survive?

Harari gives a provisional answer, though we won't get there today. For today, let's describe the lay of the land when our species, Homo sapiens, first arose in East Africa.

Harari says the magic began something like 200,000 years ago. Other human species had existed for well over two million years at that point. But our own species, Homo sapiens, finally appeared at this date.

We were the new kids on the block; other human species were already well established. For today, let's review who those species were. That includes the Neanderthals, who we somehow drove from the Earth.

"We are used to thinking about ourselves as the only humans," Harari writes, "because for the last 10,000 years, our species has indeed been the only human species around. Yet the real meaning of the word human is 'an animal belonging to the genus Homo', and there used to be many other species of this genus besides Homo sapiens."

Harari says we've been the sole humans for only the last ten thousand years. We'd have to say that doesn't take us all that far back!

Jesus Christ lived two thousand years ago; Plato "withdrew from the wickedness of the times" four hundred years before that! If there actually was a Trojan War, it may have happened in the twelfth century B.C. The start of the Bronze Age takes us half way back to the time when, Harari says, our (presumably) misfiring ancestors weren't ""the only human species around."

According to Harari, "it’s a common fallacy to envision [the various human] species as arranged in a straight line of descent," with each earlier human species evolving into the next.

No such thing, Harari says. Various species were all alive at the same time. He calls the roll like this:
HARARI (page 5): Humans first evolved in East Africa about 2.5 million years ago from an earlier genus of apes called Australopithecus, which means ‘Southern Ape’. About 2 million years ago, some of these archaic men and women left their homeland to journey through and settle vast areas of North Africa, Europe and Asia...

Humans in Europe and western Asia evolved into Homo neanderthalensis (‘Man from the Neander Valley), popularly referred to simply as ‘Neanderthals’. Neanderthals, bulkier and more muscular than us Sapiens, were well adapted to the cold climate of Ice Age western Eurasia. The more eastern regions of Asia were populated by Homo erectus, ‘Upright Man’, who survived there for close to 2 million years, making it the most durable human species ever...

On the island of Java, in Indonesia, lived Homo soloensis, ‘Man from the Solo Valley’, who was suited to life in the tropics. On another Indonesian island–the small island of Flores–archaic humans underwent a process of dwarfing...This unique species, known by scientists as Homo floresiensis, reached a maximum height of only 3.5 feet and weighed no more than fifty-five pounds.
According to Harari, remains of another human species, Homo denisova, were found in Siberia in 2010. Also this:
HARARI: While these humans were evolving in Europe and Asia, evolution in East Africa did not stop. The cradle of humanity continued to nurture numerous new species, such as Homo rudolfensis, ‘Man from Lake Rudolf’, Homo ergaster, ‘Working Man’, and eventually our own species, which we’ve immodestly named Homo sapiens, ‘Wise Man’.
Immodesty is us!

History is written by the victors; so are the names of species. At various points, Harari pokes fun at our kind for the way we stress our wisdom and intellectual brilliance. That said, for better or worse, little brilliance was on display on "cable news" last night.

When our species arose from the mist, other human species were already long established. Neanderthals had bigger brains. They also had larger muscles.

In a process Harari describes, semi-jokingly, as perhaps the first "ethnic cleansing," all these other species ceased to exist, Neanderthals included. Given that it's all anthropology now, how did our species outlast them?

Tomorrow: A chance mutation, he says

What Lawrence said: Lawrence was speaking with the ubiquitous John Heilemann. The gentlemen managed to fashion this account of the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, in which Trump's approval rating actually stands at 45 percent:
O'DONNELL (7/23/18): And, John, a new poll, NBC/Wall Street Journal, shows that the president's approval rating is far below a majority. But 88 percent of Republicans say they support the president. And unfortunately, in most of the media, they never do the math on what that actually means, since only 26 percent of voters are Republicans.

HEILEMANN: Here we go.

O'DONNELL: Eighty-eight percent of 26 percent is something like 23 percent of voters support Donald Trump.

HEILEMANN: Yes. The Republican Party is shrinking. Man, you talk about getting abused by Fox News. I'm going to get abused for saying that. The Republican Party is shrinking. The Republican coalition—

O'DONNELL: That's just a numerical fact.

HEILEMANN: It's just a numerical fact, right? So, we have, we spent—this will be the third time that they have said this. We spend a lot of time focused on the Trump voter. We spend a lot of time focused on Trump's base.

I don't think it's wrong that we focus because it is the way to try to understand what Trump is doing, shoring up that base, it explains a lot of his tactical maneuvers and his long-term plan to try to survive the onslaught that he is facing right now on a variety of legal fronts. But in the end, the country is not with Donald Trump.


HEILEMANN: And we normally, in every election I have ever covered, going back to 1988, we focus on independent voters, moderate voters, swing voters. We focus on all kinds of voters who make that difference in elections. Now, we don't talk about that anymore.

All we talk about is the Trump base, the Trump voters, how Republicans in a shrinking Republican coalition are with them. Instead of focusing on the fact that the ABC News poll today said 75 percent of the American people are against him attacking the intelligence agencies. Two thirds of the American people are against the—disprove of how he handled the Helsinki. The vast majority of American is against Trump on these major issues.

And, again, I think we have to focus on his supporters because it's so important to what he's doing in the White House. But we also have to focus on the bigger picture, which is that the country, on the important issues, and this has huge political salience for these midterms and for his reelection if he gets that far, the vast majority of the country is not with him.
In the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Trump's approval rating stood at 45 percent. Unless you listen to Lawrence's massive brain, in which case you may believe that "something like 23 percent of voters support Donald Trump."

It's far below a majority! Unfortunately, in most of the media, they never do the math! (The ABC poll to which Heileman refers didn't provide an overall hob approval rating.)

Our assessment? Two massive egos were functioning well. Massive brains possibly not!

For Drum's account of Trump's "steadily rising job approval rating," you can just click here. Drum presents the discouraging data. Anthropologically speaking, you can't go on cable with that!

BREAKING: At long last, the Times gets it right!

MONDAY, JULY 23, 2018

Rachel Maddow, Kevin Drum and the children and parents of Flint:
For starters, the New York Times should be saluted for what it has done.

On the other hand, a person must ask why it took so long. Also, why today's report appears in the form of an op-ed column, not as a front-page news report or as an analysis piece.

Today's report concerns blood lead levels in Flint. It provides the types of information which Kevin Drum offered all along, with the whole journalistic world refusing to watch.

Today's column is written by a pair of professors. "Flint Kids Were Not Poisoned," their hard-copy headline declares.

Wait a minute! Flint's kids weren't poisoned? Their belated report starts like this:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (7/23/18): Flint Kids Were Not 'Poisoned'

Words are toxic, too.
Labeling Flint’s children as “poisoned,” as many journalists and activists have done since the city’s water was found to be contaminated with lead in 2014, unjustly stigmatizes their generation.

Let’s be clear. It’s unacceptable that any child was exposed to drinking water with elevated lead concentrations. We know that lead is a powerful neurotoxicant, that there is no safe level, that the very young are particularly vulnerable and that long-term exposure to low to moderate levels of lead is associated with decreased I.Q.s and other cognitive and behavioral problems, including criminal behavior.

But there is no reason to expect that what happened for a year and a half in Flint will inevitably lead to such effects. The casual use of the word “poisoned,” which suggests that the affected children are irreparably brain-damaged, is grossly inaccurate. In a city that already battles high poverty and crime rates, this is particularly problematic.
Children in Flint weren't "poisoned," the two professors write. They complain about the way many journalists have used that poisonous term.

Language like that can be toxic, they say. Then they start providing the type of information Drum offered again and again:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (continuing directly): In the mid-1970s, the average American child under the age of 5 had a blood lead level of 14 micrograms per deciliter. The good news is that by 2014 it had fallen dramatically, to 0.84 micrograms per deciliter, largely because of the banning of lead in paint and the phaseout of lead in gasoline, among other measures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers a blood lead level in children of 5 micrograms per deciliter and higher to be a “reference level.” This measure is intended to identify children at higher risk and set off communitywide prevention activities.

It does not suggest that a child needs medical treatment. In fact, the C.D.C. recommends medical treatment only for blood lead levels at or above 45 micrograms per deciliter. Not a single child in Flint tested this high. This was a surprise for several visiting celebrities, who requested a visit to the “lead ward” of Hurley Children’s Hospital.

Nonetheless, the reference level has been misinterpreted by laypeople—and even public health officials—as a poisoning threshold.
Oof! As they take a shot at the celebrities who tend to infest and infect our own tribe, the professors start to put the unfortunate events in Flint into a wider perspective. Most importantly, they start replacing the hysteria and the propaganda with information and facts.

Drum presented this type of information again and again and again. But as we've long told you, it's virtually impossible to inject information into the modern American discourse.

Our discourse runs on narrative, excitement and propaganda, almost never on facts. So it was with the information Drum presented again and again, to virtually no effect.

As they continue, Gomez and Dietrich present the types of basic information which were disappeared during the height of this episode. For example, consider this:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: After Flint’s water was switched from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River, the annual percentage of Flint children whose blood lead levels surpassed the reference level did increase—but only from 2.2 percent to 3.7 percent. One of us, Dr. G√≥mez, along with fellow researchers, reported these findings in a study in the June issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, which raised questions about how risks and statistics have been communicated regarding this issue.


For comparison, consider the fact that just 20 years ago, nearly 45 percent of young children in Michigan had blood lead levels above the current reference level. If we are to be consistent in the labeling of Flint children as “poisoned,” what are we to make of the average American who was a child in the 1970s or earlier? Answer: He has been poisoned and is brain-damaged. And poisoned with lead levels far above, and for a greater period, than those observed in Flint.
According to the professors, the percentage of kids above the current "reference level" was massively higher just twenty years ago. This is the kind of information Drum presented again and again, putting a type of hysteria into a wider perspective.

We may feel inclined to say that what happened in Flint wasn't good. Everybody knows that! The professors stated that point right in paragraph 2.

Here's what else wasn't good: the conduct of people like Rachel Maddow, who yelled "poison" again and again and again, scaring everyone shitless. In this January 2017 report in The New Yorker, Sarah Stillman mentioned, in passing, the way children in Flint were giving up on themselves and their futures, so convinced were they that they had been deeply damaged.

We sent the Stillman excerpt to Drum. He posted yet another report, offering this overview:
DRUM (1/26/17): This is yet another tragedy. Children in Flint had mildly elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream for about a year or two. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but the effects of this are fairly modest. To put it in terms most people will recognize, it means that some children in Flint will lose about one IQ point. Maybe two. That’s a tragedy, but it’s an even bigger tragedy if kids and their parents respond to this by thinking their lives are permanently ruined. The truth is that in nearly all children, the effects will be only barely noticeable.
Eighteen months later, such basic, important information finally reaches the Times. It does so in an expert opinion column, not in a news report or an analysis piece.

Maddow was conducting one of her standard jihads when she scared all those parents and children shitless. She was chasing Michigan governor Rick Snyder, and she didn't have a telephone sex tape she could play again and again, all the while pretending to be embarrassed by what she was doing.

Instead, she yelled poison poison poison poison, scaring everyone shitless. As she did this night after night, she kept withholding the basic information which had animated Drum's reports.

Did Rachel care about those kids? Flint has of course disappeared from her playlist, along with lead in general. The focus of our tribal propaganda has by now moved on.

Rachel has stopped discussing lead. We don't know why she no longer cares because, in today's column, the professors say this:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: [T]he focus on Flint seems to be distracting the public from a far more widespread problem. Although blood lead levels have long been declining nationwide, there remain many trouble spots. Right now in Michigan, 8.8 percent of children in Detroit, 8.1 percent of children in Grand Rapids and an astounding 14 percent of children in Highland Park surpass the C.D.C. reference level. Flint is at 2.4 percent. A comprehensive analysis of blood lead levels across the United States reveals at least eight states with blood lead levels higher than Flint’s were during the water switch.
According to the professors, eight states have higher blood lead levels, on a statewide basis, than Flint did during the water switch! Then too, you have the children of Detroit, Grand Rapids and Highland Park. Why did we scream and yell about Flint while walking away from them?

What happened in Flint wasn't good. It also didn't involve the "poisoning of the entire city of Flint" (12/20/16), the appalling designation Rachel liked to excite us with as she tried to help us learn how to adore her more fully. Beyond that, we offer one final point:

In one of the passages quoted above, the professors call attention to the much higher levels of lead exposure from the 1970s and before. You may recall what they said:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: [C]onsider the fact that just 20 years ago, nearly 45 percent of young children in Michigan had blood lead levels above the current reference level. If we are to be consistent in the labeling of Flint children as “poisoned,” what are we to make of the average American who was a child in the 1970s or earlier? Answer: He has been poisoned and is brain-damaged. And poisoned with lead levels far above, and for a greater period, than those observed in Flint.
Warning! When we watch the press corps at work, we often think of those high lead levels from the 1970s and before. Increasingly, we find ourselves wondering if those very high levels of lead exposure help explain the way our "elite" press corps has functioned over the past thirty years.

Kids from earlier decades experienced much higher blood lead levels than the current children of Flint ever did. Are we sure that doesn't explain the behavior of unhinged cable screamers, like the Chris Matthews of the wars against Hillary Clinton and Gore? Are we sure it doesn't explain the existential mess we now find ourselves in?

The Times presented some real information today. Does lead exposure from earlier days explain why this rarely happens?

Tomorrow: Back to the New Orleans schools (postponed from today)

ANTHROPOLOGY NOW: He's got your humans right here!

MONDAY, JULY 23, 2018

Part 1—Surfin' Harari:
"Twenty years ago today / Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play."

So the ancients told us, in 1967. Starting in 2011, Yuval Noah Harari took us back even farther than that.

He did so in a widely-praised best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In its current paperback edition, it's endorsed by Bill Gates on the front of the book, by Barack Obama on the back.

We'll let you puzzle that out.

Early on, Harari describes a sacred event. Something like 200,000 years ago, our own species. Homo sapiens, emerged somewhere in East Africa.

Let's put that in perspective! Other humans had wandered the Earth for several million years at that point. (Harari places the rise of humans at 2.5 million years in the past.)

Those earlier humans had made a nice start, but they certainly weren't Homo sapiens! Early on, Harari offers a package of three-dimensional left-handed compliments concerning good looks and big brains:
HARARI (page 13): We don’t know exactly where and when animals that can be classified as Homo sapiens first evolved from some earlier type of humans, but most scientists agree that by 150,000 years ago, East Africa was populated by Sapiens that looked just like us. If one of them turned up in a modern morgue, the local pathologist would notice nothing peculiar. Thanks to the blessings of fire, they had smaller teeth and jaws than their ancestors, whereas they had massive brains, equal in size to ours.
Finally! After more than two million years, a species had appeared with humans who looked just like us!

Harari employs an interesting turn of language in this passage and elsewhere. He refers to these people, who looked just like us, as being both "humans" and "animals."

Again getting clear on the basic points, these were the first animals which could be classified as Homo sapiens. But other animals who were "humans" had been around for two million years.

These new animals looked just like us, Harari says. He also says they had "massive brains," equal in size to our own.

Elsewhere, Harari quantifies this somewhat boastful claim, describing the size of our brains in cubic centimeters. He also seems to say that Neanderthals, who were already prominent in Europe, had brains even larger than ours:
HARARI (page 14): [W]hen Sapiens reached the Middle East and Europe, they encountered the Neanderthals. These humans were more muscular than Sapiens, had larger brains, and were better adapted to cold climes. They used tools and fire, were good hunters, and apparently took care of their sick and infirm...Neanderthals are often depicted in caricatures as the archetypical brutish and stupid ‘cave people’, but recent evidence has changed their image.
According to Harari, such encounters first occurred about 100,000 years ago. Those first encounters went poorly for us. Later, we came back and conquered.

Whatever! Eventually, Homo sapiens eliminated the Neanderthals from the Earth, along with all other human species. If the Neanderthals had larger brains and bigger muscles, how did our forebears accomplish this task?

Harari explains that part of the story, though we won't get there today.

For today, we'll focus on the rise of our species, which Harari indelicately refers to as both human and animal. Along the way, Harari pokes fun at the way we tend to downplay or disappear the less elevated part of that dyad. For today, we'll only explain the use to which we hope to place Harari's book.

At least in the West, we surviving humans have long positioned ourselves as "the rational animal." (In the Judao-Christian tradition, we're the ones who are set apart by the possession of souls.)

In these ways, we elevate ourselves above the rest of brute creation. In the process, we make it hard to explain the current functioning of our species as we spin toward perdition in the form of Mister Trump's Onrushing Dispositive War.

We tend to elevate ourselves above the rest of creation. That said, the emphasis on our massive brains makes it hard to account for comical efforts like this:

Uusally, we call "real" the things that exist now, in the present. Not those which existed once, or that may do so in the future. We say that things in the past or the future "were" real or "will be" real, but we do not say that they "are" real.
Good God! Glumly, the analysts slumped in their chairs. "Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow," one of them sadly exclaimed.

That's Professor Rovelli, on page 105 of The Order of Time, starting Chapter 7 of his latest easy-to-understand book. Harari's talk of our "massive brains" leaves such comic relief unexplained, along with the tendency of reviewers to say they understood every word.

For ourselves, we sometimes have a hard time seeing how our species will escape its current plight. As individuals, we're basically nice. But as a group, we're slight.

Despite the massive size of our brains, decades of clownish behavior have emerged from new types of corporate media. This has given us an American president who responds to basic questions by saying such things as this:
JOURNALIST (7/16/18): My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe?

My second question is, would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin—Would you denounce what happened in 2016, and would you warn him to never do it again?

PRESIDENT: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server—haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?
Why didn't the FBI take the server? So this dodderer said.

The gentleman who flounders so possesses the nuclear codes. His massive brain doesn't seem to be functioning especially well. But then, rather frequently, neither do the massive brains of the American press.

Many such humans now work for corporate news orgs which live to embellish and entertain—and to proselytize. They do so through such new media as talk radio, cable news and the Net.

The craziness of this situation has been emerging for decades. Given the role of those nuclear codes, it can sometimes be hard to see how our big-brained species will find its way out of this mess.

Harari says we have massive brains, though not quite as big as the Neanderthals. Even as he extends this claim, the most powerful person on the planet emits constant strains of self-contradictory nonsense.

Journalists mug and clown in response, and, in bits of comic relief, swear that they understand fields. For Rovelli's discussion of fields, start on page 74.

At the start of the year, we told you that it's all anthropology now. By that, we meant that it no longer makes sense to suppose we'll find our way out of this mess. All that's left is the attempt to explain how our species' instincts, wiring and abilities got us to this point.

Harari's widely-praised book may help us see how this works. All this week, at least at this site, it will be Anthropology Now!

Tomorrow: A chance mutation occurs