TRIBAL FICTIONS: Cauterucci gets it right!


Maddow gets it wrong:
This morning, we come to praise the new piece in Slate by Christina Cauterucci.

This morning, Cauterucci's aim is true. She writes beneath these headlines:
There Will Never Be an Honest Conversation About Nancy Pelosi as a Political Leader
Sexism doesn’t just harm women in politics. It also poisons political analysis.
We don't necessarily agree with every word or with every implication. But Cauterucci—she describes herself as "a writer on the women and gender beat"—starts in a very unusual way, criticizing types of work done within both major tribes, naming names as she does:
CAUTERUCCI (11/29/18): It’s been frustrating to watch members of both parties do battle over who Pelosi is, what she’s done, and whether she deserves another term as speaker, because there seems to be little room for nuance. Republicans have long made her out to be a cartoonish villain, a morally bankrupt banshee with an insatiable thirst for power. They’ve spent millions, if not billions, attacking her with ad campaigns in congressional districts she has no connection to, even as she held relatively little power as House minority leader. They’ve used her name as shorthand for sharp-elbowed ambition and her image, usually a photo with teeth bared and eyes bulging, as a dog whistle for conservatives who gag at the sight of a woman asserting her dominance in the public sphere.

To counter that narrative, some Democratic supporters have made Pelosi out to be a feminist savior, a groundbreaking role model who can translate the momentum of this year’s surge of female candidates and activism into a new era of progressive legislative accomplishments. In a recent New York Times piece by Kate Zernike that explores how Pelosi navigates her distorted public image, one Pelosi fan in Philadelphia notes that aging men in politics are perceived as experienced, while aging women are seen as “expired.” “If I think about who we need as a leader, it’s a woman who’s raised five children,” she said. In the same piece, another woman addresses an audience at an organization that trains female Democratic candidates, calling Pelosi “our style icon and political fairy godmother.”

It’s not just political allies who are hailing Pelosi as a feminist superhero. Journalists looking for vivid, accessible ways to illustrate her unflagging work ethic have latched onto gendered clichés...
As she continues, Cauterucci quotes some pro-Pelosi "gendered clichés" advanced by major journalists—by Zernike herself and by HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn. This sort of thing is never done within our tribe. In our view, this is superlative all the way down.

In this groaningly tribalized time, it's rare to find someone who's able to see the way the public discourse is ruled by cliché—by narrative, story-line, novelization and script—even on the side of the aisle where her own views may tend to hold sway. As noted, Cauterucci even names names from the New York Times, one of the news orgs which typically mustn't be named, presumably for career reasons.

Cauterucci is saying good-bye to all that! This personal jailbreak permits her to offer these excellent points:
CAUTERUCCI: As a writer on the women and gender beat, it’s my job to take notice when narratives like these emerge, as they do just about every time a woman vies for political power. I’m starting to think, though, that viewing female leaders through a gendered lens can be at once tiresome and self-defeating. When I write about male politicians, I scrutinize their policy proposals, messaging, personal histories, and alliances. When I write about female ones, I do all that, plus untangle all the gendered biases that attach themselves to their public personas. But it’s not just that the sexist rhetoric that’s billowed around Pelosi since her entrée into national leadership is an extra line item to ponder and write about. It’s that this sexist rhetoric, and conversations about the rhetoric, can make it impossible to have a fair, honest discussion about her political leadership.
We'll note that Cauterucci, being youngish (Georgetown, class of 2010), is writing about a decades-long story which began well before her time. She may not recall the poisonous, dimwitted "gendered cliches" which rained down on the heads of many major male Democrats in the era of Maureen Dowd, for whom every Democratic man was a woman and every Democratic woman was a man. (That first group included John Edwards, "the Breck Girl," but also Barack Obama, the "diffident debutante.")

These cliches rained down on many heads, but especially on the head of Candidate Gore, with Chris Matthews assuring the world, again and again, that Gore was "today's man-woman," and with every hack from here to eternity repeating the prehistoric claim that Candidate Gore had "hired a woman [Naomi Wolf] to teach him how to be a man." What explains these atrophied brains? We can't tell you that!

Cauterucci was still extremely young when this stupid behavior occurred. She was also very young when "the continued smearing" she cites at the end of this passage got its stupid and ugly start:
CAUTERUCCI: There’s a good argument to be made that any Democrat with Pelosi’s visibility and long history of leadership would get branded a villain. Democrats rag on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and outgoing Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan plenty, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s mug (usually wearing a stern look, very withering and fatherly) has appeared on a few pro-GOP mailers. But there’s something obsessive, almost feral, about the way Republicans sink their teeth into Democratic women, especially women of color, regardless of how much power they actually wield. You can see it in Republicans’ fixation on Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has never held political office; in the proliferation of Rep. Maxine Waters’ image in the sort of right-wing memes that populated mail bomber Cesar Sayoc’s Twitter feed; and in the continued smearing of Hillary Clinton.
Just as the mindless sliming of Gore sent George W. Bush to the White House (and children in Iraq to their deaths), "the continued smearing of Hillary Clinton" sent Donald J. Trump to the Oval. There's no way to know where that dangerous experiment will end, but vast amounts of the smearing of Hillary Clinton was done on Cauterucci's side of the tribal aisle.

This brings us to a tribal fiction which got brief play last week:

For one brief shining glorious evening, the corporate clowns of cable TV got the glorious chance to discuss Ivanka Trump's email practices. The children quickly invented cliches built around memories of Hillary Clinton's email travails. This led CNN's Jeffrey Toobin to insult the public's intelligence in the following manner:
TOOBIN (11/20/18): [Ivanka Trump's email behavior] underlines how the Trump family recognizes what a bogus issue this whole thing was. That it was just minor. That—

You know, people in government have—sometimes have two e-mail addresses. Sometimes they mix and match what they do. It is done routinely; it is no big deal.

Hillary Clinton did it. Ivanka Trump did it. By the way, her husband, Jared Kushner, there were earlier reports he did it, too. It is not a big deal when Ivanka and Jared do it. It was not a big deal when Hillary Clinton did it.

And I feel some personal responsibility, having spoken a lot about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, that I at least—I don't speak for anyone but myself—spent too much time talking about a minor issue in the 2016 campaign.

And I think this recognizes—this shows that Trump has never cared about this issue. It was just a political [attack].
Toobin repeated this "good guy" mea culpa through the course of CNN's day. In this casual way, he absolved himself for the kind of mainstream conduct which, repeated from 1992 on, has ended with a deeply disordered man in the White House.

Toobin never explained why he "spent too much time talking about a minor issue in the 2016 campaign," especially after decades of general "smearing of Hillary Clinton." Why on earth did Toobin get drawn in again?

No one will ever ask.

No one will ever go back to see what Toobin actually said and did regarding Clinton's emails. No one will ever ask him to explain why he did what he did.

Like earth girls, we liberals are easy! We're ready to swallow whatever we're served by our designated tribal leaders. Toobin thus refashioned himself as a good guy this day, with no further questions asked.

That same night, there was Maddow.

This past Monday, we started to show you one of the pleasing, tribalized tales Maddow spoonfed viewers that night.

On Tuesday, we showed you another tribal fiction from that same evening's entertainment. As we noted, there were others that night.

In thrall to the twin gods Snark and Snide, Maddow told her latest tale that night about former Trump aide Don McGahn. By rereading Monday's report, you can revisit that mountain of snark and snide. But then, as we showed you on Monday, Maddow ended by telling you this:
MADDOW (11/20/18): What is amazing about this New York Times piece that is published tonight, though, is the whole first part of the story is about Trump saying he wants to order these prosecutions, right? He wants to order the prosecution of Comey and Clinton, and McGahn heroically explains to the president, and puts in writing, that that would be a terrible idea.

But then, eight paragraphs into this story, there is this sort of parenthetical reference
—oh, by the way, also some time last year, quote, "Mr. Trump's lawyers did privately ask the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Comey. Law enforcement officials declined their requests."

OK. So here we have, you know, a Superman story, short of a cape, in which White House counsel Don McGahn is stopping Trump from doing this terrible thing, stopping Trump from injecting himself into law enforcement matters to try to start an investigation into Clinton and Comey.

But also we should also mention, eight paragraphs in, that Don McGahn did go to the Justice Department and tell them to start investigating Comey.


So, huh?
That's the pleasing, tribalized story this chuckling corporate hack told us. Her story went like this:

According to Maddow, Don McGahn's minions had told the Times that McGahn heroically intervened to stop Trump from ordering prosecution of Comey and Clinton. (Inevitably, she grossly misstated what these unnamed sources reportedly told the Times.)

But then, "also last year," McGahn did go to the Justice Department and tell them to start investigating Comey! Ha ha ha ha ha! Or so Maddow said.

As usual, this was pleasing but wrong. As you can see if you read the Times report and click the appropriate links, the Times had reported something quite different. Enjoyable though it may have been, Maddow's tribalized fiction was wrong.

In point of fact, the Times had reported this:

In the spring of 2018, Trump wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute Comey and Clinton. McGahn persuaded him not to do that.


On September 1, 2017, Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, had "asked the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Comey for mishandling sensitive government information and for his role in the Clinton email investigation."

That earlier request had come from John Dowd; McGahn had nothing to do with it. Also, these events occurred in two different years, not in rapid succession in the same year, the way Maddow seemed to frame it.

This was only one of the many tribal fictions Maddow served viewers that night. It was slathered with heavy doses of snark, the way we liberals have come to expect.

Both tribes are rank with simpering apes who dumb their viewers way, way down. At Slate, Cauterucci starts to suggest this very thing, very much getting it right.

Tomorrow: Maddow does it again:
MADDOW (11/28/18): The reason I'm being a little snarky is because all this comes just as Nancy Pelosi led her party to an electoral victory that will return them to power in the House with the largest margin victory in the popular vote of any party ever in the midterm election. No party ever in the history of the country has won a midterm election by a larger margin than Pelosi's Democrats just did in the House.
Maddow was prepared to admit this night that she was being snarky. That said, by any rational standard, her pleasing claim was thoroughly bogus. In a rational world, we'd basically call it "false."

This occurs on both sides of the tribal aisle. It's the way corporate ratings and salaries grow, with the public's collective IQ being driven lower and lower.

Our wars have always started this way. We're in a very dangerous time, but the corporate hacks keep clowning.

The suffering of the innocent


Drop by drop, upon the heart:
This news report in the Washington Post describes the terrible suffering which can be visited upon the innocent, both here and around the world.

Within the modern American context, the details of this terrible story activate an array of themes. Included is the earlier suffering, and damage, visited upon the aggressor.

We thought this local news report was well worth considering today. We'll include the famous passage from Aeschylus, which we've been considering lately:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
"Despite ourselves, wisdom grows." That's how we've always remembered it.

TRIBAL FICTIONS: Inquiring cable mind wanted to know!


Don Lemon fashions an ask:
For all we know, Don Lemon may be the world's nicest person.

If so, he'll have to settle for a tie. There are a lot of the world's nicest people. They're found all over the globe.

That said, Lemon received a bad break in recent years. Some years back, CNN moved him from his regular weekend afternoon spots into his current role as a weeknight prime-time anchor.

Given the wealth and fame involved, this sort of thing can have temporary unhelpful effects. This brings us to the discussion Lemon launched on Friday evening, November 16, during the 11 PM Eastern hour.

Midway through that hour, Lemon had already conducted one of his standard discussions concerning the rather obvious racism of pretty much everyone else.

Long ago and far away, Lemon used to get in trouble by adopting the less judgmental stance concerning the racial dispute of the day. That has changed since he's gone to prime time. In prime time, we'd say that he tends to err in the other direction.

Midway through that 11 PM hour, Lemon conducted a thoroughly pointless discussion of a thoroughly pointless remark which had been made, during a videotaped public meeting, by a relatively insignificant county commissioner in Leavenworth County, a not especially gigantic county in Kansas (population in 2010, 81,000).

The commissioner's comment had seemed rather odd. That said, it wasn't entirely clear that he had been referring to "race" in the black/white sense, based in part on similar odd remarks he'd made about gap-toothed people like himself in the distant, irrelevant past.

Still, it seemed to some that Commissioner Klemp had made an offenseive racial remark. By the current rules of the game, this meant that Charles Blow had to be called on the air to conduct an unsparing analysis of the racism of the relatively insignificant public official who had made the odd remark during the lightly-attended meeting.

Blow thundered pointlessly on demand, largely supported by Scott Jennings, a CNN conservative who is generally somewhat pro-Trump.

By now, this is a thoroughly standard type of cable news tribal discussion. As it ended, Lemon teased his next topic. After a commercial break, he proceeded to fashion his ask in a clearer way:
LEMON (11/16/18): Yeah. Thank you both. I appreciate it. So we're going to take a closer look at women who voted for President Trump. Who are they? Why they support his policies? That's next.


LEMON: So, white women supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. He won 52 percent of their votes. Though when you look at all women including women of color, Hillary Clinton had more support. She got 54 percent. Now, a wave of women, white, black and brown are sweeping into office after the 2018 election.

Does Donald Trump still have the support of a majority of white women and if so, why is that? Let's talk about it.
To peruse the full transcript, click here.

Before the break, Lemon slightly misstated his topic. After the break, he more specifically fashioned his ask:

He wasn't going to ask about women in general who voted for Trump. He wanted to know why so many white women—52 percent, he said—had cast a vote for Candidate Trump back in 2016.

Why did white women vote for Trump? If we ignore the unfortunate effects of constantly slicing and dicing the population by ethnicity, gender and "race," that strikes us as an important question.

Trump lost the popular vote in 2016, but he got enough votes in enough places to squeeze into the White House. Why did those people vote for Trump? That strikes us as an extremely important question even though, in current tribal terms, we liberals are supposed to get angry when news orgs try to find out.

Why did people vote for Trump? We liberals are supposed to complain when journalists fashion this ask. That said, it's tribally fine to fashion this ask if you fashion it as Lemon did this night. First, a minor digression:

Why did white women vote for Trump! The analysts leaned forward at their cramped study carrels, happy and expectant.

You see, the analysts are young and inexperienced. When they heard Lemon voice this ask, they assumed he was going to interview a bunch of white women who voted for Trump and ask them why they did it!

That's how "raw" these youngsters are! Lemon had a more pleasing method, one which would serve the tribe:
LEMON (continuing directly): Here to discuss, Kirsten Powers, Alice Stewart and Stephanie Jones-Rogers. She is a professor of history at UC Berkeley and the author of "They Were Her Property."

Hello, one and all. This is a very important conversation. I'm sure it's going to stir up controversy in a number of different quarters. Be prepared for that. So thank you for joining us.

Kirsten, let me start with you. There's been a lot of talk about why white women support President Trump despite of or perhaps because of his policies and his tone. What's your take on this?
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Before a single word had been spoken, Lemon told us he was sure that the discussion was going to stir up controversy.

He told us to buckle up for the outrage! This approach is big business on cable news, where heat-not-light is often the way to attract the numbers which justify the fat, undisclosed salaries of corporate stars like Lemon.

Already, the analysts' shoulders had started to slump when Lemon offered his pledge of plenty of controversy. Beyond that, though, would come the hard play:

Before any "white woman who voted for Trump" would get a chance to say why she did, Powers and the Cal professor would pre-explain that these women had done so because they were snarling racists!

Lemon started with Powers. For years, Powers has been one of the brightest liberal pundits in cable news, including during the many years when she did a weekly appearance on the Fox News Channel, her home base, with Mr. O—Bill O'Reilly.

Powers fled Fox in the aftermath of that channel's gruesome sex assault scandal, concerning which she had apparently heard nothing at all during her many years at the channel. Now she launched a long jargon- and cant-driven harangue about the motives of tens of millions of people she had never met.

For years, Powers had offered the best advice, not unlike Homer's Nestor. That said, she has adapted to the tribal scriptings now required of cable liberals. As she started, she established one point very fast:
POWERS (continuing directly): Well, I think there's a lot of different ways to look at this. I think one of the first things is that people will say that they support him for reasons other than his racist language, which we don't have time to go through, but there's all sorts of things starting from the launch of his campaign all the way up until the latest campaign, the way he demonized people trying to come to our country on the caravan.

And they'll say, "Well, I'm not racist, I just voted for him because I didn't like Hillary Clinton." And I just want to say that that's not—

That doesn't make you not racist. It actually makes you racist. If you support somebody who does racist things, that makes you racist. I just want to establish that.
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! As it's been written in tribal hymnals, Powers had quickly established the fact that the women in question were racist!

"If you support somebody who does racist things, that makes you racist," Powers true-believingly said.

Luckily, she'd never heard about the sexual assaults occurring at Fox when she kept supporting the program there. Otherwise, someone might think that, if you work with people who are committing sexual assaults, you might be an [INSERT BOMB] yourself!

Powers hadn't known anything about that when she was being overpaid at Fox. But now that she's being overpaid by CNN, she seems to know the tribal rules of the road.

What have they done with the real Kirsten Powers? As she continued, she sounded like an Onion parody of a college sophomore drowning in the less intelligent forms of "critical theory," at least as applied in this context:
POWERS (continuing directly): As for why white women do it, I think we have to recognize that white men are doing it as well, but I think sometimes we would hope that we would get better behavior from white women because white women are themselves oppressed, and that they would therefore be able to align themselves with other oppressed people.

But I think we have to remember that the white patriarchal system actually benefits white women in a lot of the ways and they're attached to white men who are benefiting from the system that was created by them, for them. And their fathers and their husbands and their brothers are benefiting from the system, and so they are also benefiting.
Did that come out of Powers' head, or out of a Waring blender?

As we've said, Powers was an extremely bright pundit for many years. But now, as Elliott said to E.T., "Look at what they've done to you!"

Lemon broke in at this point, then threw to the Cal professor. Please note:

Powers is a "white" woman who didn't vote for Trump. Jones-Rogers is a "black" woman who didn't vote for Trump.

On CNN, you ask the women who didn't vote for Trump to plumb the souls of the tens of millions of women who did. Jones-Rogers issued a mountain of script, then made a statistical mistake, which Lemon waved away:
LEMON: Stephanie, you're quoted in this Vox article as saying, "For centuries, white women have invested in white supremacy because their whiteness affords them a particular kind of power that their gender does not. Explain what you mean by that.

JONES-ROGERS: So, as a historian, I explore white women's economic investments in the institution of slavery. And what that has led me to understand is that there was this broader historical context that we need to keep in mind when we're looking at white women's voting patterns today, and as we look at their support, their overwhelming support of Donald Trump.

And so what I meant was that we tend to think of white women as primarily focusing on their gendered oppression, that because they are oppressed as women, that that oppression will allow for them to ally and to sympathize with other dispossessed and disempowered people in the nation. But my research actually shows that they long had a deep investment in white supremacy, and not only did they benefit from it, but they participated in its construction and its perpetuation, not just in the context of slavery or the colonial period but well after slavery was over.

LEMON: You said that it was overwhelming. It's 52 percent. It is a majority, but it's 52 percent. It's not overwhelming, but it is a majority.

JONES-ROGERS: Well, what I meant by "overwhelming" was emotionally overwhelming.

LEMON: Yeah. Got it. Got it.
Jones-Rogers said the same things Powers had said, with a few additions:

To Jones-Rogers, the voters in question aren't racist; they actually have "a deep investment in white supremacy," perhaps even in "the institution of slavery." She then talked away a silly statistical mistake, with Lemon helping out.

Why did roughly half of white women vote for Candidate Trump? According to the white woman who didn't vote for Trump, they did so because they're racist. According to the black woman who didn't vote for Trump, they did so because they're deeply invested in white supremacy.

Increasingly, this is the way Lemon plays. In the sense of the term employed by Professor Harari in Sapiens, he strongly tends to pleasure his viewers with hard-core tribal "fictions."

Now that the tribal groundwork had been laid, Lemon finally threw to a white woman who did vote for Trump. He spoke with CNN pundit Alice Stewart, whose values by now had been fully explained. Here's what Stewart said:
LEMON (continuing directly): Alice, why do you think that white women support President Trump? Do you think they identify more with being, as she said, white than they do with being female? She just said that.

STEWART: I think when we're talking about the political arena, voters, women and men, identify themselves as either Republican, Democrat, independent or whatever their political party. And I strongly disagree with the characterization that women are oppressed and by nature of that oppression they should naturally vote for another group of people that are oppressed. I think that's not that's just not how politics works.

I think, as a Republican or a Democrat or whatever your political leaning is, you should vote for people that represent those policies. I'm a Republican. I support this president. I voted for this president. I did so because of his policies. I do not agree with his tone and tenor.

Don, I've been on your show dozens and dozens of times discounting his behavior, his tone, his tactics, the things he as a about women, his denigrating women, and I don't tolerate that, but his policies are what I stand for.


Look, I worked really hard for a candidate that had the character befitting of this office. Unfortunately, he didn't win the will of the Republican Party to become the nominee and I supported Donald Trump's policies over Hillary Clinton's.

And let me just say this. Kirsten is a dear friend of mine, but I resent she says I'm racist because Donald Trump says racist things. I support this president because of his policies, and the things that he says that are disparaging and disgusting, which I've said many times, those don't represent me.
Stewart said she preferred Trump's policies! Where do they get this sh*t?

How weird! Stewart wouldn't even admit that she's a victim of gendered oppression! Hopelessly locked in this form of denial, she said she voted for Trump because she supported his policies, as opposed to Hillary Clinton's.

She also said that she resented her dear friend Kirsten calling her a racist. All across America, Donald J. Trump is still gaining votes for very similar reasons.

This was one of the dumbest discussions we've ever seen on cable. It's very, very hard to get dumber than Powers and Rogers-Jones were this night.

Not long ago, Lemon performed on the milder, more moderate side. Now, he authors "controversy" of this type on a pitifully regular basis.

This may be good for corporate ratings. How tribal fictions have changed!

One final word about this remark by Stewart: "I supported Donald Trump's policies over Hillary Clinton's."

Powers had started her oration by rejecting such ridiculous claims. We'll only add this:

Many people voted for Trump because Hillary Clinton had been demonized over the previous 25 years, as was Candidate Gore before her. People like Powers and Lemon never challenged this ugly, stupid, decades-long rhetorical war, which was largely conducted by the upper-end mainstream press—by their employers and friends.

Children are dead due to Powers' silence. We can only hope that these people have fully enjoyed all the cable news checks they've cashed.

Tomorrow: Toobin issues mea culpa; Maddow misstates RE McGahn

A final note on Stewart: She didn't say that her dear friend Powers was a misogynist because of all the years when she supported the assault regime over at Fox.

The rules forbid that on CNN. It just isn't done Over Here.

BREAKING: Purity of heart is to will one thing!


We hope to return to full expo:
Long ago and far away, we needed the help of logicians.

In fact, the time of which we're thinking wasn't that long ago. We're thinking back to the 1990s, when Bill Clinton sat in the White House.

We needed the help of logicians during the great, inane Medicare debate which began in 1995. A few years later, we needed the help of logicians when our upper-end journalists began engaging in "creative paraphrase" aimed at Candidate Gore.

What is the "logic of paraphrase?" What counts as a sensible and fair paraphrase? What counts as an invention? We needed logicians to help us with that, but our culture's greatest alleged logicians had long been involved in pure perfect bullshit like this:
HOLT (page 8): Gödel entered the University of Vienna in 1924. He had intended to study physics, but he was soon seduced by the beauties of mathematics, and especially by the notion that abstractions like numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind. This doctrine, which is called Platonism, because it descends from Plato’s theory of ideas, has always been popular among mathematicians. In the philosophical world of nineteen-twenties Vienna, however, it was considered distinctly old-fashioned. Among the many intellectual movements that flourished in the city’s rich café culture, one of the most prominent was the Vienna Circle, a group of thinkers united in their belief that philosophy must be cleansed of metaphysics and made over in the image of science. Under the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein, their reluctant guru, the members of the Vienna Circle regarded mathematics as a game played with symbols, a more intricate version of chess. What made a proposition like “2 + 2 = 4” true, they held, was not that it correctly described some abstract world of numbers but that it could be derived in a logical system according to certain rules.
We're quoting here from a recent collection of essays by Jim Holt.

Holt's previous book was chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2012. The essay from which we're quoting originally appeared in The New Yorker, a well-known upper-end mag.

In this essay, Holt was discussing Kurt Godel, "who has often been called the greatest logician since Aristotle." As you can see, Godel was obsessed with the task of explaining how we can possibly know that 2 + 2 = 4. We encountered a similar very deep question as a mere college freshman.

We live in a world whose greatest logicians have invested themselves in manifest bullshit of this embarrassing type. Children are dead all over Iraq because these alleged intellectual leaders have comported themselves in this manner.

You're right—we covered all this in September! It was the craziness of the Kavanaugh hearings which "drew us back in." This week, we're all the way back to a dead-end topic like TRIBAL FICTIONS.

Let's face it! The inanity of "cable news" pseudo-journalism is never going to end. With that in mind, we're going to finish our current topic this week. But in future weeks, we hope to return to the end-times topics which can change nothing but can at least explain the demented way we managed to get to this, the era of Trump.

Professor Harari is part of that story. There's little that's "rational" in this sad tale, a great deal of "gossip" and "fiction."

TRIBAL FICTIONS: Purity of heart is to know one thing!


Creating a front-page report:
"Purity of heart is to will one thing." A well-known writer said that.

In modern upper-end journalism, front-page reporting often consists in having been told one thing. The journalists must then add filler to that one thing until they've burned 1500 words.

So it goes, above the fold, on the front page of today's New York Times.

Last night, the Times report was discussed all over "cable news." Hard-copy headline included, the report starts off like this:
SCHMIDT, LAFRANIERE AND HABERMAN (11/2/8/18): Manafort Lawyer Briefs Trump Team on Inquiry

A lawyer for Paul Manafort,
the president’s onetime campaign chairman, repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations.

The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago, the people said. Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in hopes of a lighter sentence.
Purity of journalistic transmission is to have been told one thing! In that opening paragraph, the Times reporters report the one lone thing they've been told:
Manafort's lawyer briefed Trump's lawyers about Manafort's discussions with Mueller even after Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller.
That seems to be the one lone thing the three reporters were told. They were told this by "one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations."

(The Trump lawyer to whom they refer turns out to be Rudy Giuliani. The other two people are never identified further. This leads to several attributions which are comically vague, including "the people said" and "according to the people.")

At any rate, how strange! Manafort's lawyer kept briefing Trump's lawyers about his conversations with Mueller! That does seem like a significant fact—but the Times reporters seem to know nothing else.

Example: When did Mueller's team learn about this peculiar practice? Apparently, the three reporters don't know.

Throughout their 1500 words, the Times reporters never say when the Mueller team found out. For that reason, they're already repeating themselves in the second paragraph of their report, saying, for the second time, that Manafort's cooperation deal began "two months ago."

Prosecutors discovered that Manafort was doing this "after he began cooperating two months ago?" When else could they have learned it?

This repetition is utterly pointless—but it may give readers the false impression that they've been told when the Mueller team found out. In fact, the reporters never say when, or how, Mueller's team learned that Manafort was blabbing to Trump. There's no sign that they know.

Purity of heart is to repeat the one thing you've been told! In this morning's report, the reporters transmit the one thing they know in their first paragraph. It's largely filler from there.

How empty can the calories get as the reporters dispense the filler? As they continue, they offer this absurd "example" of a "valuable insight" Giuliani supposedly gained from this surprising arrangement:
SCHMIDT, LAFRANIERE AND HABERMAN (continuing directly): Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office.

For example, Mr. Giuliani said, Mr. Manafort’s lawyer Kevin M. Downing told him that prosecutors hammered away at whether the president knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton to his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The president has long denied knowing about the meeting in advance. “He wants Manafort to incriminate Trump,” Mr. Giuliani declared of Mr. Mueller.
That marshmallow fluff appears today, above the fold, on the front page of the Times! In that utterly ludicrous passage, the reporters quote Giuliani describing one of the "valuable insights" he supposedly gained from Manafort's blabbing.

That said, what valuable insight did Trump's lawyers gain? They gained this valuable insight:
Mueller wants to know if Trump knew about that famous Trump Tower meeting!
According to the Times reporters, that's one of the "valuable insights" Trump's lawyers were able to gain! That said, could anything be less significant than that silly "example?"

Wouldn't every American, from preschool up, already have assumed that Mueller was trying to learn if Trump knew about that meeting? After all, pundits have discussed little else over the past year.

Everybody would have assumed that Mueller was chasing that point. But in today's Times, we're asked to believe that Giuliani regarded it as a "valuable insight" when Manafort's lawyer told them, at some in the last two months, that Manafort had asked about this!

We'd rank that with the "valuable insight" that Mueller is working indoors.

This ludicrous filler is being employed by paragraph 4 of this "story." And as they continue, the scribes keep fudging the existence of the basic facts they don't seem to know:
SCHMIDT, LAFRANIERE AND HABERMAN (continuing directly): While Mr. Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors, who accused Mr. Manafort of holding out on them despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant, according to the people. That conflict spilled into public view on Monday when the prosecutors took the rare step of declaring that Mr. Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying to them about a variety of subjects.
"According to the people," Manafort's blabbing to Trump "helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between" Manafort and Mueller.

That said, we aren't told when this deterioration started, or how Mueller's team learned about the Trump-Manafort discussions. Did Manafort convey any important facts to Trump? The scribes don't seem to know that either.

Soon, we're handed another prime example of pseudo-reporting. In paragraphs 7-9, the three reporters say this:
SCHMIDT, LAFRANIERE AND HABERMAN: Mr. Giuliani, who has taken an aggressive posture against the Russia investigation since Mr. Trump hired him in April, seized on Mr. Downing’s information to unleash lines of attack onto the special counsel.

In asserting that investigators were unnecessarily targeting Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani accused the prosecutor overseeing the Manafort investigation, Andrew Weissmann, of keeping Mr. Manafort in solitary confinement simply in the hopes of forcing him to give false testimony about the president.

But detention officials decide whether inmates serve in solitary confinement, according to law enforcement officials, and allies of Mr. Manafort have said he is there for his own safety.
We're told that Giuliani used Manafort's information to launch lines of attack against Mueller. But does that passage make any real sense? we'd have to say it doesn't.

Did Giuliani need Manafort's lawyer to tell him that Manafort was being held in solitary confinement? Of course he didn't!

Presumably, Giuliani would have attacked the Mueller team in the manner described if he'd never heard a word from Manafort. At any rate, the reporters never say that this negative interpretation of Weissmann's motives was somehow conveyed by Manafort's lawyer. This passage seems to describe another "valuable insight" which was really no "insight" at all.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with knowing just one thing. That said, the Times has created a virtual art form in the past year, an art form in which they take some single thing they've been told and turn it into a lengthy front-page report.

In today's example, the three reporters have been told exactly one thing; everything else is filler. They never acknowledge the things they don't know. The things they don't know include these:
1) When did Mueller's team find out?
2) How did Mueller's team find out?
3) Was anything important conveyed to Trump?
4) Did Mueller's agreement with Manafort prohibit this sort of thing?
5) If it didn't, why not? Did Mueller's team make a mistake?
Someone got on the phone and told the reporters one thing. The reporters went to work, adding plenty of filler.

Subscribers to the New York Times are asked to swallow this sort of thing whole. Cable stars scan the report, then start to "speculate." That's a journalistically shaky term—a term which dominates the second paragraph of today's report.

Today's report conveys one fact. It's followed by mountains of filler.

Some of the filler is utterly daft. Borrowing from Professor Harari, this may be the way we "apes" roll.

Still coming: Maddow misstates about Don McGahn; Don Lemon launches a probe

TRIBAL FICTIONS: Rachel Maddow visits the past!


True belief informs her:
Through the miracle of On Demand, we watched last Tuesday night's Maddow Show after returning from Thanksgiving.

We were struck by the string of tribal pleasures provided in the opening segment. We'll return to one such pleasure tomorrow. First, though, let's consider Henry Petersen.

Maddow pounded Petersen pretty good during her opening segment, then in an interview session. Petersen was a ranking member of the Justice Department during the Nixon presidency, and Maddow is committed to the tribalized otherization of everything that moved during that ancient regime.

She won't stoop to talking about the children taken from their parents at the border this year. Instead, she offers podcasts about Spiro Agnew, humblebragging and posturing as she goes.

In such ways, she continues her project, which is well disguised, of convincing us that the world consists of a highly moral Us opposed by a deeply immoral Them. We "rationals" have always behaved this way as we've formed our wars.

Maddow is deeply invested in this form of true belief, which tends to be highly destructive. She's also extremely good at disguising this part of her inner world—that is, at "selling the car."

Why was Maddow talking about Henry Petersen last Tuesday night? At the influential legal web site Lawfare, Jim Baker and Sarah Grant had published a lengthy account of the way President Nixon tried to use access to Justice officials to learn about the progress of the Watergate investigation.

Until recently, Baker was general counsel at the FBI. What Nixon did in this matter was inappropriate, and it has obvious relevance to the current situation, in which Donald J. Trump has installed a fairly obvious stooge as acting Attorney General.

Petersen was one of the Justice officials from whom Nixon gleaned information. In their lengthy Lawfare report, Baker and Grant offered this general assessment of Petersen's role in this affair, in which Nixon was trying to gather information he basically shouldn't have had:
BAKER AND GRANT (11/19/18): Petersen is a figure of some reverence in the Justice Department as evidenced by the fact that the Criminal Division named one of its major awards after him. His close contacts with President Nixon over a pending investigation that—at that time—implicated the president’s own staff may raise eyebrows regarding Justice Department contacts with the White House on certain types of investigative matters.

In particular, we focused on the facts that the road map and related documents reveal regarding the nature and scope of the interactions between President Nixon and Petersen. This portrait is not complete. Watergate is a vast and complex topic, and we are not Watergate historians. Moreover, we do not purport to provide a comprehensive review of the Nixon-Petersen interactions nor how they may have impacted the investigation. Additional facts may be important to a complete understanding of this story.


Notably, it appears that Petersen genuinely did not understand fully President Nixon’s role in the Watergate affair at the time he consented to have the numerous interactions with the president that are outlined in the road map and related documents. A fair assessment of the role that Petersen played would require additional research and is beyond the scope of this post. So we make no effort to pass judgment on Petersen or his actions.
Baker and Grant specifically said that they weren't judging Petersen's actions. For ourselves, we, like Maddow, don't have the first freaking idea how to assess the actions of this man, who "is a figure of some reverence in the Justice Department."

That said, at times of tribal war, tribal true believers will stage true believing stampedes. Maddow is skilled at hiding her true belief, but it runs remarkably deep.

If you watch her lengthy introduction of this topic,
you will see her go perhaps a thousand miles beyond the agnosticism about Petersen's actions voiced by Baker and Grant. As we've told you for many years, Maddow secretly wants to see all the others in jail.

She loves to play the telephone tapes in which they tell their romantic partners that they love to touch their bodies. (Clownishly, she pretends to be embarrassed as she does this again and again.)

She's inclined to go through medicine chests to embarrass the people she knows to be vile. She likes to drag the children of her various targets in.

In our view, she had her thumbs on the scale rather hard as she introduced this topic last Tuesday night. By definition, Petersen had to be one of Them.

Along the way, Maddow said these things. The comic relief is highlighted at the end:
MADDOW (11/20/18): Well, now, as I mentioned, Jim Baker is here tonight. He'll be on the show in just a moment. And that's because has just done something for Lawfare that I think we should pay attention to. Mr. Baker is essentially resurfacing and sort of pointing a big red arrow at a very specific thing in American legal history, and it involves this man.


His name is Henry Petersen.


As Jim Baker puts it in this new piece, he says, quote, "The president, in short, was using a senior Justice Department official to gather intelligence about an ongoing criminal investigation in which he was personally implicated." Quote, "When the president sought information from Petersen, provided his views to Petersen on the various matters that they discussed and discussed Petersen's future, he was not merely exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution to supervise the executive branch and trying to get the facts necessary to do so. No. The president of the United States was also acting in this instance as a criminal co-conspirator, trying to obstruct lawful investigative activity of the Justice Department."

And that ultimately is the big hairy point here, right? I mean, Jim Baker, former general counsel of the FBI, after he lays out all of this history from the Watergate era, all of this information about contacts during the Watergate investigation between the president and a senior official at the Justice Department who was involved in supervising the investigation, who Nixon's pumping for information about the investigation, who he's trying to influence in terms of how the investigation is going, where does that all end up ultimately? What's the bottom line here? What`s the end of this story?

Well, for Henry Petersen, that Justice Department official, it ends with unsettling questions
about why he was so willing to provide all of that information about an ongoing open investigation to the White House that was being investigated. Those were hard questions for Henry Petersen at the time when some of this stuff was first exposed. Those are hard questions for Henry Petersen now. We can talk about that in more detail later on.
We can talk about it later on! You can read the full transcript here.

For Maddow, it wasn't enough to finger President Nixon. Moving light years beyond what Baker and Grant had said, it had to be Petersen too.

"Those were hard questions for Henry Petersen at the time," Maddow tribally said. Also, "Those are hard questions for Henry Petersen now."

That was the comic relief! You see, Petersen died in 1991. These are impossible questions for him to speak to now!

How weird does a person have to be to go on the air and say things like that? Benevolently, we allowed the analysts to chuckle softly as they watched Maddow extend her "performance of the Rachel figure" (an admiring Janet Malcolm) in this amusing way.

That said, that was just the comic relief. The intriguing part of the presentation involves the way Maddow leaped beyond the agnosticism expressed by Baker and Grant.

Sheepishly, Aristotle came to our sleeping quarters after we watched this program. He appeared to us in a manifestation some will compare to a dream.

"How rational are the animals now?" we gently yet thoughtfully asked.

The greatest logician before Kurt Godel skillfully cleared his throat. Pointing out that he wrote in Greek, he sheepishly said that hadn't quite been what he actually meant.

Tomorrow: Maddow's groaning misstatement (back to Don McGahn)

Still coming: Lemon explains

BREAKING: If we could talk to the animals!


Consciousness, soul on ice:
How do you feel about being an "animal?" Early in his acclaimed book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Professor Harari keeps dropping that particular A-bomb right on our fine-feathered heads.

We pondered one part of the following passage in Saturday's post. Today, we'll focus on that one type of name-calling:
HARARI (pages 3-4): There were humans long before there was history. Animals much like modern humans first appeared about 2.5 million years ago. But for countless generations they did not stand out from the myriad other organisms with which they shared their habitats.

On a hike in East Africa 2 million years ago, you might well have encountered a familiar cast of human characters: anxious mothers cuddling their babies and clutches of carefree children playing in the mud; temperamental youths chafing against the dictates of society and weary elders who just wanted to be left in peace; chest-thumping machos trying to impress the local beauty and wise old matriarchs who had already seen it all. These archaic humans loved, played, formed close friendships and competed for status and power—but so did chimpanzees, baboons and elephants. There was nothing special about them. Nobody, least of all humans themselves, had any inkling that their descendants would one day walk on the moon, split the atom, fathom the genetic code and write history books. The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.
"Animals much like modern humans" first appeared a long time ago. Before too long, the cheeky professor is explicitly calling us modern humans "animals," with all ambiguity gone:
HARARI (page 5): Homo sapiens long preferred to view itself as set apart from animals, an orphan bereft of family, lacking siblings or cousins, and most importantly, without parents. But that’s just not the case. Like it or not, we are members of a large and particularly noisy family called the great apes. Our closest living relatives include chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.
"Like it or not," we're "animals" too. Or so says Professor Harari.

Many people understand that we are technically "animals." By that, we mean that these people will agree to this point when asked. But to what extent does this fact truly inform our world view?

As Harari says, we humans, at least in the western world, have tended to view ourselves "as set apart from animals." We possess a soul and the animals don't. Or we alone possess consciousness. Or maybe it's our rational faculty which plainly sets us apart.

After all, aren't we humans "the rational animal," as Aristotle is said to have said?

We're perusing that passage from Harari's book on a lazy, rainy day in which we're still recovering from the joys, and yet from the rigors, of a week of competitive Shopkins. But to what extent does some rational faculty truly set us apart? Are we possibly "seeing ourselves from afar" when we praise this part of our game?

In his latest piece at Slate,
William Saletan works very hard to construct the latest Others. We humans have done this through the annals of time, as we prepare for our tribally-driven wars.

We met Will once long ago; he seems like the nicest guy out there. That said, we thought he was working a bit too hard today, torturing underwhelming groups of statistics to construct an Us and a Them.

We humans seem inclined to do this in much the same way we're inclined to breathe. Does our "rationality" drive such ruminations, or is it some "animal" instinct?

Does rationality lead us to pummel statistics? Could it be something more primal?

TRIBAL FICTIONS: More specifically, fictions delivered to us Over Here!


Maddow and Lemon and Toobin:
Last Tuesday evening, as Thanksgiving approached, Rachel Maddow was at it again.

Already, she'd floated several loaded claims in the course of her opening segment. In the course of the hour, she'd go on to offer an unfounded condemnation of a major figure from the Justice Department of the Nixon era.

Now, midway through her opening segment, she turned to a new topic. As she did, she returned to a favorite master narrative. This pleasing narrative involves former Trump aide Don McGahn:
MADDOW (11/20/18): The New York Times also made news tonight with a sort of odd story about President Trump attempting to order the Justice Department to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey and President Trump's 2016 presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The headline and the whole lead section of this article tonight in the Times details an episode that reportedly happened this spring in which President Trump is said to have told his White House counsel Don McGahn that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute both James Comey and Hillary Clinton.

According to this new reporting in the New York Times, the White House counsel Don McGahn responded to that by creating a memo for the president that spelled out for him all the reasons why such an order would be a bad idea.

And so once again, this is another one of these stories, and there have been dozens of them, where Trump White House counsel Don McGahn has saved the day. Trump wanted to do a terrible thing. Don McGahn made sure terrible thing did not happen.

Sources close to Don McGahn say he doesn't want your accolades. He doesn't want your thanks. It`s enough for him. It`s reward in itself to be a loyal American who's always trying to do what's right. I mean, this is a whole genre of weird Trump White House reporting:

Sources close to Don McGahn say Don McGahn did heroic thing.

To watch Maddow's full presentation of this topic, you can just click here. Her performance style will let you enjoy a whole lot of good solid fun.

Let's be fair! So far, Maddow's account of this Times news report was, at least, factually accurate.

As Maddow spoke, the news report she was describing could only be seen online. But the Times report would appear on the front page of Wednesday morning's print editions—and it did report that Donald J. Trump, at some point in the spring of 2018, told Don McGahn that he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute Comey and Clinton.

That is what the news report said. It also said that McGahn told Trump that this was a bad idea—that it would even be a bad idea to order a mere investigation of Comey and Clinton.

For ourselves, we can't tell you if those events actually happened. But so far, Maddow was right about what the Times report said.

As you can see for yourself at this link, that's what the Times report said. So far, Maddow's account of the news report was, at least, factually accurate.

That said:

In the passage we've posted, you can see where Maddow took things from there. She let us enjoy some familiar snark about news reports (she calls them "stories") in which "sources close to Don McGahn say Don McGahn did a heroic thing."

This has been a favorite storyline for Maddow for at least the past year. Presumably, she was suggesting that those "sources close to McGahn" were embellishing their tale about the way McGahn performed his "heroic" service.

Maddow loves this pleasing tale, to which she often returns. But this is where her tribally pleasing performance last Tuesday did in fact start breaking down.

Go ahead! Read the actual news report, the report which appeared in the Times. See if you think that Maddow's mocking account of those unnamed sources comports with what they're quoted saying in the actual Times report.

Sadly, no! Maddow's mocking account (it continues below) can't be squared with the actual comments by those "sources close to McGahn." Already, Maddow was treating us viewers like fools. But as she continued, she advanced from mockery and embellishment to flat-out, groaning misstatement.

Let's be fair! The multimillionaire corporate star's account did remain tribally pleasing. But in the passage shown below, her account stops being factually accurate. Her account is now groaningly false:
MADDOW (continuing directly): What is amazing about this New York Times piece that is published tonight, though, is the whole first part of the story is about Trump saying he wants to order these prosecutions, right? He wants to order the prosecution of Comey and Clinton, and McGahn heroically explains to the president, and puts in writing, that that would be a terrible idea.

But then, eight paragraphs into this story, there is this sort of parenthetical reference—oh, by the way, also some time last year, quote, "Mr. Trump's lawyers did privately ask the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Comey. Law enforcement officials declined their requests."

OK. So here we have, you know, a Superman story, short of a cape, in which White House counsel Don McGahn is stopping Trump from doing this terrible thing, stopping Trump from injecting himself into law enforcement matters to try to start an investigation into Clinton and Comey. But also we should also mention, eight paragraphs in, that Don McGahn did go to the Justice Department and tell them to start investigating Comey.


So, huh?
Before she was done, this tribal lion went on to snark, one last time, about "the ersatz heroism of Don McGahn and the sources near him." For a corporate money-maker like Maddow, this is just good solid fun.

That said, alas! In the last two paragraphs we've posted, Maddow has made one blatant factual error, and she has seemed to massively bungle her basic time line. Her account of the Times news report has now become flatly false—though, in fairness, her account and her performance did remain tribally pleasing.

"Cable news" is a big corporate business. Much of what you're handed there is bogus, misleading or false.

That is true on the Fox News Channel. But it's also true Over Here.

We humans! Because we're tribal animals, we're strongly inclined to put our faith in our own tribe's anointed leaders. We believe that The Others are peddling falsehoods. We're strongly disinclined to consider the possibility that we're getting hustled too.

We're wired to trust our own tribal gods. All week long, we'll show you the way those gods—Maddow and Lemon and Toobin and such—have kept finding ways to fail.

Tomorrow: What the Times report actually says

Same old same-old: If MSNBC ever gets around to posting last Tuesday's transcript, they will post it here.

BREAKING: "But so did baboons," Harari says!


How many among us believe this?
We returned last night from several days of competitive Shopkins. We've gained a great deal over the years from the two youngsters, ages 12 and 6, with whom we lustily competed, and of course from their parents.

For today, we'll only invite you to take an early Harari Challenge. The passage in question bridges the first two pages of text in Professor Harari's widely-acclaimed best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

The passage in question takes us back several million years. It goes exactly like this:
HARARI (pages 3-4): There were humans long before there was history. Animals much like modern humans first appeared about 2.5 million years ago. But for countless generations they did not stand out from the myriad other organisms with which they shared their habitats.

On a hike in East Africa 2 million years ago, you might well have encountered a familiar cast of human characters: anxious mothers cuddling their babies and clutches of carefree children playing in the mud; temperamental youths chafing against the dictates of society and weary elders who just wanted to be left in peace; chest-thumping machos trying to impress the local beauty and wise old matriarchs who had already seen it all. These archaic humans loved, played, formed close friendships and competed for status and power—but so did chimpanzees, baboons and elephants. There was nothing special about them.
For ourselves, we would have skipped the "gendered" part about the "local beauty." That said, the challenge goes like this:

Do you believe what Harari says? He says those archaic humans loved and played and formed close friendships. But so did that era's baboons, he also says.

Do you believe that second claim, the part about the baboons? Can you see the world that way? Can you see that claim making sense?

At the start of the year, we said, "It's all anthropology now." With that in mind, can you see those ancient baboons being something like us? And as you watch cable news of an evening, can you flip that script around?

Can you possibly see that alleged resemblance running in the other direction? Can you even see the resemblance among those who vote the same way you do? Can you possibly see the less rational strain in those who traffic our own tribe's favored scripts?

Do you believe the part about the baboons? We'll call that an early "Harari Challenge." In the new year, we hope to go much further in this direction in this dangerous era of the Trumps, including the Trumps Over Here.

Eventually, we'll get to the work of the later You-Know-Who. Our question will be this:

Where have the logicians been? Have they been on holiday all these years? And are children dead all over the world because our logicians have done this?

Monday: Lemon's ask

Promises made, promises broken!


No fish today:
We're rushing to catch a train with a bit less time than anticipated.

For this reason, we'll have no fish today. We expect to post again on Saturday.

THE DANIEL DALE EXPERIENCE: The coronation of Daniel Dale!


Childish, embarrassing work:
The critics insisted that we were wrong when we held "The Daniel Dale Experience" over for a second week, as we did last Monday.

In truth, we'd stumbled into the decision. That said, the rolling coronation of Dale became official this past week. From that, we think we can derive some anthropology lessons.

The rolling coronation of Dale continued in the past week. Last Thursday evening, on The Last Word, Dale was hailed as an "invaluable" servant to "future historians" by none other than Lawrence O'Donnell.

Yesterday morning, the official coronation took place in the Washington Post's Outlook section.

There's a great deal to learn from the rolling group judgment now being expressed concerning Dale's current work. And yes! In part, these anthropology lessons will take us back to the work of Professor Harari concerning the actual dominant traits of our warlike species.

Yesterday's ceremony took place on page 2 of Outlook. In essence, Dale broke a bottle of champagne over the bow of his own ship. In hard copy, his essay ran beneath this across-the-page headline:
It’s easy to fact check Trump’s lies. He tells the same ones all the time.
As we've said several times, it seems to us that Daniel Dale is completely sincere in his ongoing work about Trump's "lies." That said, the best among us may have their heads turned when they get turned into gods.

In that headline, Dale seems to be humble-bragging about his own ongoing work. The bragging ceases to be disguised as his essay starts.

Dale strikes us as completely sincere, but just how sharp is his work? This is the way he began:
DALE (11/18/18): It’s easy to fact check Trump’s lies. He tells the same ones all the time.

I’ve made it my mission to fact-check every word Donald Trump utters as president.
That means trying to watch every speech, read every transcript, decipher every tweet. I’ve accidentally established a reputation for using Twitter to point out that he’s lying within seconds of him telling a lie.

People sometimes ask in response how I can blast out these corrections so quickly. But I have no special talent. My secret is that Trump tells the same lies over and over.
Forgive us if we suspect that the lionization has started to go to Dale's head.

As he starts, Dale ceases to be a journalist; instead, he fashions himself as a man with a "mission." He says the public is stupefied by the speed with which he can work.

Dale then proceeds to offer examples of Donald Trump's "lies." At this point, we're forced to raise a question about the level of intellectual skill at work within our upper-end press.

Let's be clear on one basic point. Fact-checking Donald J. Trump is indeed important work. There is no doubt that Trump utters an endless array of false and/or misleading statements. He makes a lot of unfounded claims. He exaggerates routinely.

Over the weekend, Trump gave the impression that he knows how prevention of forest fires works. Almost surely, he didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. As people with cognitive impairments may do, he makes such baldly ridiculous statements on a routine basis.

Does Donald J. Trump really believe that he understands the way "raking" the forest floor would prevent forest fires? Over the weekend, he gave that gonzo impression. In truth, this disordered man may be so far gone that he did believe what he said.

At any rate, let's state the obvious. Not every false, misleading or unfounded statement is in fact a lie. Beyond that, it's hard for an observer to know when an actual lie actually is a lie. (You can tell when you are telling a lie. It's harder with somebody else.)

Did Person X just tell a lie? Making that judgment requires a type of knowledge that's hard to obtain about other people, especially about disordered people like Trump. Traditionally, American journalism has operated on that basic understanding.

Traditionally, journalists have been very slow to say a false claim is a lie. In yesterday's sprawling essay, Dale walks away from such traditional understandings. As with O'Donnell, so too here:

Everything is a lie to Dale. These are his first examples:
DALE: On his fifth day in office, Trump baselessly alleged widespread voter fraud. He did the same thing this past week. In his third month in office, Trump falsely claimed that the United States has a $500 billion trade deficit with China. He has said the same thing more than 80 times since.

Listen to this president long enough, and you can almost sense when a lie is coming. If Trump tells a story in which an unnamed person calls him “sir,” it’s probably invented. If Trump claims he has set a record, he probably hasn’t. If Trump cites any number at all, the real number is usually smaller.
To Dale, every false, unfounded or annoying statement now qualifies as a "lie."

We're supposed to assume that a disordered man like Trump knows how large the trade deficit with China is. We're supposed to feel sure that this disordered man didn't believe the various claims he has made about voter fraud.

Most embarrassingly, every time Trump tells a story in which someone addresses him as "sir," we're apparently supposed to regard that as a lie!

"You can almost sense it," Dale says. He's speaking there as a novelist; he's a journalist no more. In this way, modern tribal journalism sinks into a childish morass on the level of something invented by Donald J. Trump.

Not every false claim is a lie. Not every lie can be reliably identified as such by an external party. That said, the liberal and mainstream press corps have fallen in love with the claim that targeted pols are "lying." No other locution will do.

Those paragraphs by Daniel Dale constitute remarkably childish work. When journalists work with such limited skills, democratic government is further endangered.

Let us share some news:

The fact that our journalists are no sharper than this helps explain many of our the disasters of the past thirty years. If our journalists possess such childish intellects, it's hardly surprising that they were willing, for several years, to assure the world that Candidate Gore was the world's biggest liar, the bomb they now throw at Trump.

(Beyond that, those journalists "could almost sense" that Candidate Gore had "hired a woman to teach him how to be a man." They said it over and over and over again. Children are dead all over the world because these idiots behaved this way. Thanks to the press corps' codes of silence, you're still not permitted to know this.)

Why do people like Dale and O'Donnell think no word but "lie" will suffice? We can't answer that question, but the intellectual level of their work comes right off the part of the playground where the 7-year-olds are fighting about who gets to use which swing.

Is something wrong with speaking with a bit more precision than our "journalists" are willing to do? With saying that President Trump constantly makes statements which are blatantly false; with saying that he constantly repeats such claims even after they've been corrected; with saying that he constantly issues sweeping claims which seem to be completely unfounded; with saying that he acts like he knows what he's talking about when he plainly doesn't?

Would something be wrong with using the term "apparent lie" in appropriate situations? Would something be wrong in exercising the kind of judgment one would expect at the highest levels of a major elite in the world's most powerful nation, the one with the most nuclear bombs and the most disordered commander in chief?

When our press corps behaves in the manner of O'Donnell and Dale, very bad things start to happen. Among those bad effects is this:

The Others look at work like this and see that it really is "fake." They see that the Washington Post is publishing silly, childish crap in its most visible weekly section. This reinforces the view, Over There, that nothing else should be listened to or believed in mainstream critiques of Trump.

Dale's essay in yesterday's Outlook section is baldly embarrassing work. It's embarrassing to see such work published in the Washington Post, lauded on The Last Word.

Can we talk? Anthropologically, this isn't the work of us the rational animal. This is "gossip" and "fiction"-fueled tribal war of the kind Professor Harari has described.

Tomorrow, before running to catch a train, we'll show you what several major journalists said when Dale made the same type of presentation on CNN's Reliable Sources. How bad was the overall discussion that day? We'll quote two other participants in that discussion to show you the utterly fatuous level of current upper-end press corps work.

People die around the world under presidents like Trump. Over the past thirty years, childish work by our upper-end press has enabled these many deaths too.

Tomorrow: Pure piffle from Marvin Kalb

BREAKING: Lucid and concise, the blurbs said!


By page 4, the truth had emerged:
Anthony Kenny's book about Wittgenstein was published by Harvard University Press in 1973.

Did we purchase our copy that year? We're not sure, but we'll guess that we probably did.

If we did, 1973 was the year in which we finished our fourth year teaching fifth grade in the Baltimore City Schools. We were continuing to study topics like Kenny's on the side, from deep inside a painful exile, with two more exiles to follow.

People who purchased Kenny's book may have read a set of upbeat blurbs about the book's vast greatness. On the back of the book's dust jacket, that famous university's press had published excerpts from four reviews. As we look today at our hardback edition, the first blurb reads like this:
From the reviews:
"Dr. Kenny is a first-rate philosophical scholar, and he explains lucidly the motives and reasoning that lie behind Wittgenstein's often surprising but influential teachings."
The Economist
According to The Economist, Kenny's book was lucid. The reviewer also seemed to think that Wittgenstein's teachings had been influential, though that somewhat peculiar belief went unexplained.

The other blurbs on the back of the book agreed with The Economist's general view:

According to the Times [of London] Higher Education Supplement, "Few commentators offer such a comprehensive survey of Wittgenstein's writings as does Kenny."

According to the Jewish Chronicle, Kenny's book was "an excellent and lucid guide through the labyrinth of Wittgenstein's thought." The fourth blurb came from The Guardian. That blurb told book buyers this:
"Dr. Kenny does the job as well as one can imagine it being done; there are no gratuitous obstacles for the reader to surmount."
The Guardian
According to The Guardian, "the reader" would be well served by this book, and the publisher seemed to agree. On the front inside flap of that same dust jacket, potential buyers received these assurances as part of a longer profile:
HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS (1973): Dr. Kenny has succeeded in being unusually comprehensive as well as concise...

Dr. Kenny's book will be of value mot only to students of philosophy but also to general readers with no special knowledge of the subject. He has endeavored to explain...enough of the background of modern logic to enable the reader to confront Wittgenstein's works without bafflement.
The general reader needed to fear no bafflement if he or she purchased Kenny's new book. Due to the lucidity of the concise new book, it would be a sensible choice for "general readers."

That's what book buyers were told. But by the time the general reader had reached pages 4 and 5, he or she would be confronting the incoherent material we've puzzled over this week. Indeed, by the time the reader reached page 5, the reader was reading this:
KENNY (pages 4-5): However, even in ordinary language, there is a perceptibly pictorial element. Take the sentence 'My fork is to the left of my knife.' This sentence says something quite different from another sentence containing exactly the same words, namely 'My knife is to the left of my fork.' What makes the first sentence, but not the second, mean that the fork is to the left of the knife? It is the fact that the words 'my fork' appear to the left of the words 'my knife' in the context of the of the first sentence but not in that of the second. So here we have a spatial relationship between words symbolizing a spatial relationship between things. Such spatial representation of spatial relationships is pictorial in a quite straightforward way (TLP 4.012).
Take that sentence, please! Mix with strange observations.

On Monday, we'll continue to the next two paragraphs in this book's lucid text. But as we noted in Thursday's post, the first few pages of this book—the passages in which Kenny provides an overview of Wittgenstein's "famous picture theory of meaning"—are almost comically incoherent.

Things get no better in Chapter 4, which bears this chapter title:
Chapter 4: The Picture Theory of Meaning
We plan to show you parts of that chapter after a Thanksgiving excursion. To our ear, the chapter reads like an exposition of academic "philosophy" as written by Forrest Gump.

As we emerge from our third and final exile, we're offering these ruminations as a way of raising certain "anthropological" questions. We're asking you to consider a basic question:

Was Aristotle essentially right in what he is famously said to have said—in the widely-bruited alleged claim that "man [sic] is the rational animal?" Or is it possible that Professor Harari is more nearly correct when he says that our warlike species, Homo sapiens, came to rule the planet when our ancestors, through the magic of chance mutation, acquired two highly adaptive abilities—the ability to engage in "gossip" and the ability to promulgate sweeping group "fictions?"

Which heuristic is more nearly correct? We're also asking you to consider a basic question about the silence of the logicians:

Where have the logicians been as our broken public discourse has sunk into the sea? By now, the process has gifted us with a deeply disordered (and dangerous) president. But this process has been underway for decades, and no logicians have ever stepped forward to help us find our way out of the various journalistic swamps which have led to this terrible place.

Where have the "philosophers" and logicians been? As we reread Kenny's "lucid" book, we're asking one more basic question:

Aristotle's assessment to the side, has our comically self-impressed species ever produced any logicians at all?

Have we ever produced any philosophers or logicians? It seems to us that the later Wittgenstein suggested an answer:


BREAKING: Every time a box of Meuslix is sold...!


Chuck Todd earns his wings:
We've fallen into several "time passages" around here of late.

In a previous post, we reported the time passage into which we tumbled upon rereading Norman Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir after perhaps forty years. Yesterday, along came Chuck Todd!

Chuck's work has been better and better on MTP Daily. Yesterday, though, he came into his own, thoughtfully offering this (emphasis at the end):
TODD (11/16/18): Welcome back. Tonight I'm obsessed with America's elections because they're apparently part of a complete breakfast.

In that interview with The Daily Caller we mentioned earlier, President Trump called for more voter I.D. laws in this country, saying, "if you buy a box of cereal, you have a voter I.D."

So the president apparently thinks you need identification to buy breakfast cereal, which is honey bunches of nonsense. But honestly, if you think about it, perhaps we can really should I.D. people if they are going to buy cereal.

To misquote Hunter S. Thompson, the cereal aisle is a cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the supermarket. A long plastic hallway where Cheerios and marshmallows run free. Who knows what could be inside those boxes? Is it even from natural ingredients?

Grape Nuts. Can Grape Nuts be fermented and turned into Wine Nuts? By the way, you need an I.D. to buy alcohol. Did you ever notice there are no grapes or nuts in that?

Shredded Wheat. So violent, gruesome. Shouldn't it be rated "M" for mature? Shredded wheat. And who knows what makes Special K so special. What aren't they telling us?

Maybe they should check I.D.s to see who is buying this stuff. Why stop there? How about tuna fish with its practically endless shelf life? Are people stockpiling it? Maybe we should keep track of the people that buy too much tuna fish.

Why? Do they know something we don't? Is it in their bunkers with vinegar and baking soda, the ingredients to homemade volcanoes? The foamy unfathomable horror of pre-washed salad. How do you wash salad before you wash the salad? All very suspicious.

So I say let's check I.D.s for everything at the grocery store. People will fall in line as long as it's 10 items or less.

By the way, big shout-out to my old friend Bob Somerby, the best cereal jokes known to man. It's Just Right.
Maybe a year ago, we received word that Chuck has been asking around to see if people remembered the words to our old Meuslix jokes. Basic premise: You get stuck, while playing Scrabble, with an unplayed 7-letter word. Who knew it was even a word?

Or words to that effect. We knew it by heart way back when.

Darn it all! Do you know how many old friends you have to recuse yourself from when you embark on a pointless project like this? How many years has it been since we bar-hopped with Matthews and Dowd?

Chuck is a very good guy; we go all the way back to the old Hotline days. But then, as we've often noted, the world is full of good, decent people. For the record, the Just Right joke goes something like this:

You hold up two different varieties of Just Right. Then, after the proper set-up, you skillfully say, with exasperation, "One of them has to be partially wrong!"

Can't quite recall the way that went. We've plainly been at this too long.

Very-special bonus presentation: We're not sure that Chuck (along with everyone else) got it right concerning what Trump so masterfully said. We suspect he likely meant this:

They're so lax about ID that if you just show them a cereal box, they'll happily wave you along.

We suspect that's what he meant. Where we vote, up Baltimore way, they ask for no ID at all.

THE DANIEL DALE EXPERIENCE: Lawrence O'Donnell's favorite word!


Lawrence [HEART] Daniel Dale:
Lawrence O'Donnell has conducted a long love affair with the tricky word, "lie."

He loves to accuse other people of lying. There's plainly a story behind this impulse. It's a story we've never heard told.

Whatever! Lawrence's backstory to the side, we've said that "lie" is a tricky word for several basic reasons:

On the merits, the claim that a statement is a "lie" implies that you know a speaker's intent and state of mind. As a general matter, you won't.

On the politics, the claim that a statement is a "lie" will often be self-defeating. The claim will open a distracting (and evasive) second debate, in which you'll be challenged to explain how you know that a certain statement is an actual lie.

Defenders of wildly inaccurate claims often escape in this manner.

For decades, it was conventional to avoid the tricky word "lie" in journalism and in politics. In our view, this was good practice. (In appropriate circumstances, we'd be more forgiving of the related term, "apparent lie.")

That said, we liberals have fallen in love with the thrilling word "lie" in this age of Trump. It's easy to see the reason. Donald Trump traffics in blatant misstatements in much the way other folk breathe.

That said, which of Trump's blatant misstatements are lies? How can we tell when a false claim is an actual lie, not just a statement of ignorance—or perhaps, in the case of Trump, an artifact of mental illness?

We liberals! We constantly marvel at Trump's ignorance, then accuse him of telling lies. This brings us to Lawrence O'Donnell's segment last night with the Toronto Star's full-time Trump fact-checker, the widely praised Daniel Dale.

In our view, Dale seems completely sincere in his various claims about Trump. Lawrence, though, seemed very careless as he profiled his guest.

First, Lawrence teased his upcoming segment. He said he would be interviewing the man "every future historian of the Trump era will depend on."

After a commercial break, out came Dale. Lawrence described his work:
O'DONNELL (11/15/18): Daniel Dale is writing a first draft of history. He is the Washington reporter who is keeping an invaluable record of Donald Trump's lying. All future historians of the Trump presidency will be reading Daniel Dale's work.

Daniel Dale's meticulous record of Trump lies shows us that during the campaign season, Donald Trump did the impossible, or at least what many of us would have thought was impossible. Donald Trump actually increased his lying.

Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, who has tirelessly fact-checked every single Trump lie, reports that in the month leading up to the midterm elections Donald Trump made 815 false claims. That's the same amount of lying told in his first 286 days in the presidency.

Daniel Dale reports that Trump made 664 false claims in October.
That was double his previous record for a calendar month, 320 in August.

Trump averaged 26.3 false claims per day
in the month leading up to the midterm election on November 6th. In 2017, he averaged 2.9 per day. Donald Trump made more false claims in the two months leading up to the midterms, 1,176, than he did in all of the previous year, all of 2017, 1,111.

The three most dishonest single days of the Donald Trump presidency were the three days leading up to the election:
74 on election eve, Nov 5; 58 on November 3; and 54 on November 4.

But the lying didn't work. The Democrats won back the House of Representatives, which means that special counsel Robert Mueller has at least the House of Representatives supporting his investigation. And so, of course, today Donald Trump resumed his relentless lying on Twitter about the Mueller investigation.

Joining our discussion now is, first draft of history, historian Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief at the Toronto Star.
At some point, the transcript will allegedly show up here.

We note just one point about that speech. Every step of the way, Lawrence equated "false claims" with "lies."

As we all know, that isn't smart. As everyone knows, some false claims are actually lies. Many other false claims are not.

In the case of a man as poorly informed as Trump, it may not always be easy to say which of his various blatant misstatements are lies. But our tribe has fallen in love with the L-bomb, and we love to deploy it.

(This actually started under President Bush, when David Corn wrote the book, The Lies of George W. Bush. In his preface, Corn presented a standard definition of "lies," then said that he was adopting a different, looser standard for misstatements by presidents. He had already produced a list of "lies" by President Clinton which stretched the traditional concept beyond recognition. Increasingly, we like to play the game this way in this, the age of the cable news bomb and the flamboyant pander to tribe.)

Last night, Lawrence seemed to be drawing no distinction between "false claims" and "lies." As his introduction continued, so did his use of this loose standard, along with a metric ton of overstatement about the future value of Dale's work:
O'DONNELL (continuing directly): Daniel Dale, I know you're not usually introduced as a historian, but that's the way I'm looking at your work.

DALE: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: I know it is going to be just an invaluable asset. I know what it's going to feel like 50 years from now for historians to be able to go through every one of these numbers.

What do the numbers tell us?
A lot of us read the words of the tweet. And I take all sorts of interpretations about the state of the president's mind and the collapse of the president's mind and what he's trying to accomplish with a tweet when I look at the words of the tweet.

But you're looking at something else. You're looking at the size of the whole lying system. What do the numbers tell us?
Our view? It's borderline silly to think that you can sensibly count the number of someone's "false claims." Beyond that, it's odd to talk about "the collapse of the president's mind" while insisting that his various false statements are lies.

A previous segment in O'Donnell's show ran under this signage: "Trump's 'level of insanity.' " But if a person is insane, should his wild misstatements be seen as lies?

A person whose mind has collapsed isn't necessarily a liar. That said, people like O'Donnell have tended to avoid the question of mental illness in favor of the use of the L-bomb.

Personally, we found O'Donnell's discussion with Dale depressing all the way through. The lack of nuance the two men displayed has ruled the press corps for decades now. In October 2000, this lack of nuance had O'Donnell going on The McLaughlin Group to reassert the standard beloved press corps claim that Candidate Gore was a vast troubling liar.

(To prove this point, O'Donnell misrepresented something Gore had said a year before. The point had been clarified long before. Was this damaging misstatement by Lawrence a lie? Children are dead all over Iraq because weirdos like Lawrence did this.)

Progressive interests have withered and died under the reign of these low-skilled corporate hacks. Dale strikes us as completely sincere, but in these highly perilous times, he doesn't strike us as sufficiently sharp. This is what he said as he continued:
DALE (continuing directly): I took a few things from this period. One, I think the sheer frequency tells us that the president and his team knew that he could not win this election campaigning honestly. It turns out he couldn't win it even campaigning dishonestly, but he knew that he couldn't do it telling the truth.

What also struck me about this period was that Trump's lying is often him going off-script. It's him ad-libbing, deviating from his prepared text.

In this case, many of the big lies were written into his rally speeches. These were deliberate. And so this was a strategic decision to lie as a campaign strategy.

I think it was also interesting what he was lying about.
Of these 815 in the 31 days leading up to the midterms, 201 of them had to do with immigration. And so these weren't his usual stretches or exaggerations or, you know, trivial little claims about crowd sizes. These were massive, massive fabrications.

You know, this was him saying Democrats are going to abolish the borders. Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote in this election. Democrats are going to give illegal immigrants free cars. So he was simply making big stuff up to scare his base and it turned out it didn't work.
What was Donald Trump lying about? Eventually, we got some examples. According to Dale, one such lie was this:

"Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote in this election."

Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote? Given Trump's apparent disorder; given the "collapse of his mind" and "the level of his insanity," does anyone really feel sure that this highly disordered man doesn't believe a statement like that? And if he believes a statement like that, in what way is it a lie?

Daniel Dale seems wholly sincere; we don't think he's sufficiently sharp for the times. That said, Lawrence has been flamboyantly unbalanced for many years. In fairness, overwrought flamboyance tends to be good for business.

Our society is under attack by deeply dangerous forces. Great skill is required to fight this war. Do Dale and O'Donnell have what it takes? How in the world do you think we liberals got into this mess in the first place?

Coming Monday: Dale spots a lie on Reliable Sources. Also, Marvin Kalb's speech

For extra credit: Which statement is easier to defend?
Donald Trump keeps telling lies.
Donald Trump keeps making blatant misstatements.
"Lies" reinforces tribal war. "Blatant misstatements" is just as potent, easier by far to defend.