DEATH BY NOVEL: These are a few of our favorite texts!


The worst we've ever seen:
What do Joe and Jane Lunchbucket think? You know? The "average" people?

Once in a while, the nation's elites stop to ponder such questions. And sure enough! In this morning's New York Times, an intriguing new fact has appeared.

This intriguing fact appears in a somewhat confusing report by Nate Cohn. His report emerges from the Times' recent survey of voters in seven swing states.

We'll plan to discuss Cohn's fuller effort tomorrow. For today, we'll restrict ourselves to this one finding:

Among Democratic voters surveyed in those six of those states, 61 percent said they believe that "political correctness has gone too far."

Remember—those people are Democrats, and they're people who voted. Even so, 61 percent agreed with the statement in question. Beyond that, 68 percent of nonvoters who lean Democratic stated the same view.

What do these Biff Lunchpail types mean when they state such a view? We can't necessarily answer your question. If would be interesting to see a selection of these run-of-the-mill people asked.

Having said that, full disclosure! For ourselves, we wouldn't have answered that question. We would have taken a pass.

Dating back at least two decades, we've never engaged with the language of "political correctness." We've always regarded that term as essentially propagandistic—as a term destined, or perhaps designed, to shed much more heat than light.

We wouldn't have affirmed that statement ourselves. But a wide swath of "Jill Average" types do—and they're allowed to vote!

What do Sluggo and Daisy Mae think they mean by that statement? We'll now take a wild guess. Some may be thinking of cases like the so-called "Stanford rape case," in which, in terms of California law, no rape ever occurred. (We can of course be thankful for that.)

More precisely, some may be thinking of the way this case, and others like it, have been described in the upper-end press and have been handled on college campuses. This brings us back to Chanel Miller's well-received new book, about which we'll make a confession:

Let's be candid! A unanimous jury found that Miller was the victim of a sexual assault.

As we've noted, their verdict seemed to work on a rather slender thread of logic. But no one wants to heap abuse on a young person whose case has been so adjudged, and who seems to have had a very tough time recovering from the experience and its aftermath.

Sensible people will naturally want to cut such a person some slack. Having said that, we now make that confession:

If we weren't grading on such a curve, we'd have to say that Miller's text is, on balance, one of the worst we've ever encountered.

Don't get us wrong—we love poorly-reasoned texts! We love them for the light they shed on the human condition.

In Annie Hall, Alvy Singer's books were the ones which all had "death" in the title. Our own favorite books would be the ones which, in the end, make no apparent sense.

More widely, this would be true of our favorite texts. To wit:

Fondly, we think of Nova's attempt to explain Einstein's seminal claim that "there is no absolute time." But then, we think of Einstein's attempt to explain the same point in his own "Einstein made easy" book, a project at which even the great Einstein failed.

We think of Professor Goldstein's attempt, a hundred years after the fact, to justify Lord Russell's eternally comical views concerning "the set of all sets not members of themselves," the foundation of Russell's Paradox. This was part of Goldstein's "Godel made easy" book, a project at which she failed.

Descending to a less lofty realm, we think of Maureen Dowd's last column before Election Day 2000, the column which opened with Candidate Gore exploring his bald spot in the mirror while singing "I Feel Pretty."

(Full disclosure: Children are dead all over Iraq because of columns like that!)

We think of Chris Matthews trashing Hillary Clinton, calling her Evita Peron and Nurse Ratched, after she announced her run for the Senate from New York.

We think of Matthews' vast love for Gennifer Flowers and Kathleen Willey, so widely expressed on the TV machine. We think of the time when Matthews and Willey came this close to getting a journalist killed, thanks to a flatly false statement which brought a disordered person with a gun to the journalist's home.

We think of Matthews' crazy faux attempts to explain the Buddhist temple, a clear forerunner of three thousand such episodes from President Donald J. Trump. We think of the appalling columns in which Dowd slimed Howard Dean's physician wife, who wasn't sufficiently coiffed.

We think of Amy Chozick's lengthy pseudo-discussion of the possibility that Candidate Obama was too skinny to get elected president. We think of Rachel Maddow's heroic attempt to pretend she didn't know why she'd been challenged on Meet the Press concerning the gender wage gap.

So many favorite texts, so little time! So many deaths around the world because of the ways our journalists, being human, tend to play such games!

In the end, we include every "Einstein made easy" book ever attempted, from Einstein's own through the later attempts by Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene. And today, we add Chanel Miller's book to the list of those favorite texts.

It's natural to cut Miller some slack as an adjudicated victim of a sexual assault. In the end, though, her book is so god-awful bad judged as a text that attention must be paid, lest the truth be dismissed.

At the New York Times and at The New Yorker, reporters and editors will ignore the comically awful elements found on so many pages of Miller's lengthy book. In an ultimate bit of amusement, they'll even do what The New Yorker did in this passage:
ST. FELIX (10/11/19): In 2015, Miller was a recent college graduate, working at a startup and living at home with her parents in the Bay Area. We meet her artful mother, a writer who wins awards for works that she publishes in China; her younger sister, Tiffany, who Miller feels a bracing need to protect; her gentle father, who cooks a meal of broccoli and quinoa for Tiffany, Miller, and Tiffany’s friend Julia, on January 17th, 2015, the night they decided to attend a party at the fraternity Kappa Alpha at Stanford. “I, to this day, believe none of what I did that evening is important, a handful of disposable memories. But these events will be relentlessly raked over, again and again and again,” Miller writes.
Too funny! After meeting her artful mother, her younger sister and her caring father, we're told that Miller believes that nothing she did that night is important.

Since she can't remember what she did that night, it's hard to be entirely sure how she draws this conclusion. But this is the comical logic with which we're often asked to live in this best of all possible press corps—and since The New Yorker eliminates all reference to any drinking that night at all, its readers will have no idea what type of conduct Miller is disavowing.

(For herself, Miller says, again and again, that she was drunk that night. She refers to herself as having been "drunk" four different times in just her first five pages. Coming along behind her, The New Yorker cleaned that up.)

What does any of this have to do with the views of the Less-Than-Ivy crowd concerning "political correctness?" Just this:

As similar cases have emerged from college campuses, the occasional observer—one thinks of Emily Yoffe when she was still at Slate—has drawn one possible lesson: young people should perhaps avoid getting massively drunk in certain types of social settings.

People should perhaps avoid getting blackout drunk. People should perhaps avoid getting so drunk that they end us passing out. People should perhaps avoid getting so drunk in public settings that they would register at more than three times the legal limit.

As advice, this is blindingly obvious. But when people like Yoffe have breathed any such word, they have been assailed for slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

Seeking the logic of fairy tale, our tiny minds tend to function this way. By the time these cases reach The New Yorker, no drinking occurred at all!

The New Yorker's account of Miller's book is comically thus wonderfully awful in various ways. When we stop grading on the curve, Miller's book is wonderfully awful too, viewed simply as a text.

We'd list Einstein's "Einstein made easy" book as one of our favorite failed texts. Having wrestled with it for the past four weeks, we'd put Miller's remarkably writerly book on the shelf next to his.

One sad note. The Lunchbucket crowd may not understand the lofty way we highly educated elites react to such texts, and to other such matters.

Our insights tend to fly over the heads of these average types. This makes them more likely to vote for Donald J. Trump, and perhaps for his straight-talking son after that.

On page after page after page after page, this young person's book is deliciously flawed, unless we review on the curve. And in truth, our tribe is going to react on the curve to many things, again and again and again.

The bulk of our crowd even seems to think that this impulse has gone too far. Even in some tiny way, could it be that they aren't wholly wrong?


  1. "We've always regarded that term as essentially propagandistic—as a term destined, or perhaps designed, to shed much more heat than light."

    It's so very politically correct (and dembotty) of you to say this, dear Bob...

  2. "Our insights tend to fly over the heads of these average types. This makes them more likely to vote for Donald J. Trump, and perhaps for his straight-talking son after that."

    Ha-ha, well said, dear Bob.

    Tsk. Yes, your (and your zombie comrades) remarkable intelligence is the cause of all your troubles.

    If only you zombies could somehow get rid of us, average types, and replace us with the types more appreciative of your wisdom...

  3. I'm left wing, and I'M getting sick of all this peevish "political correctness." Wish there were a better left-wing word for it.

  4. Though he pretends to speak for "Joe Lunchbucket" (who we're supposed to believe Somerby respects!), Somerby and others who invoke the dreaded "political correctness" end up condescending to these folks much more than liberals ever did.

    Regular people couldn't be expected to understand why Turner would be convicted for penetrating a passed-out person on the ground, outside, in public, Somerby says. Only liberal ditto-heads trying to impose their illogical values on everyone else have decided that behavior's wrong.

    That's why Trump won! Because regular people think drunk women only get what's coming to them — and after it's done, they should just shut up about it. Unless, that is, they can tell their stories in a way that satisfies Bob Somerby.

  5. Who was on the jury for People v Turner? Were there any Joe and Jane Lunchbuckets, or were they all a bunch of failed elite liberals looking to create a fable? They heard the testimony and saw the evidence and found Turner guilty. The judge agreed, as did the appeals court.

    Somerby charges the jury with engaging in slender logic, and liberals who do not voice this opinion of his, and who furthermore do not place any responsibility on Miller as complicit in creating a fairy tale.

    He claims he rejects using the term “political correctness”, but then wades in anyway to assume what it might mean, thereby using the term. People who question Miller’s actions are honest average Lunchbucket types, but people who criticize these critics, and who do not feel Miller is in any way responsible for what happened to her are liberal elites engaging in “political correctness”, according to Somerby’s assumption of what Joe and Jane Lunchbucket might feel. Are there perhaps any Joe and Jane Lunchbuckets whose daughter was sexually assaulted who might not appreciate critics attacking her?

    Perhaps he does need to engage with the language of “political correctness” if he’s just going to assign it a meaning that pretty much accords with the conservative usage of the term.

  6. “We think of Professor Goldstein's attempt, a hundred years after the fact, to justify Lord Russell's eternally comical views concerning "the set of all sets not members of themselves," the foundation of Russell's Paradox.”

    This has nothing to do with political correctness or Trump or politics or journalists.

    It does show how Somerby seems to criticize a latter-day explainer like Goldstein, but then also ridicules the person Goldstein is trying to explain, “Lord” Russell with his “comical” views.

    It also shows Somerby’s inability to recognize his own limitations. He has never understood Russell’s paradox or its implications, so he thinks it is comical.

    His argumentation has consisted of: “the set of all sets not members of themselves: Friend, do you have any idea what that means? All you Joe Lunchbuckets know it’s crazy. Amirite?”

  7. Bob.
    It's a crisis re: political correctness.
    Why can't you and your fellow travelers call black people "niggers".
    Life is just not fair.
    Maybe Einstein can explain.

  8. Well maybe not.
    Einstein ain't that smart.

  9. As we've noted, their [the Turner jury’s] verdict seemed to work on a rather slender thread of logic.

    What TDH seems to believe here is that the jury rejected the following logical line of reasoning: Miller voluntarily drank enough alcohol to become unconscious and was thus legally unable to consent to sexual activity; Turner voluntarily drank enough alcohol to be actually unable to determine whether Miller was unconscious. The law says Miller wasn’t conscious enough to give consent, but the law also says that Turner had to be aware of that fact. Turner was likely too drunk to be any more aware of things than Miller, thus the prosecution couldn’t have established that element of the crime.

    But the law follows another set of premises:

    - Legally competent people generally intend to do what they end up doing. (This avoids solipsistic defenses like “Sure, the video shows I robbed the bank, but you can’t prove I intended to rob the bank because you can’t get inside my head.”)

    - Reasonable people know reasonable things, including the law. (I once watched a speeder in LA traffic court try to mitigate her ticket on the grounds that the speed limit wasn’t posted so how was she supposed to know the limit. The commissioner said, “You’re supposed to know that the speed limit in any residential area is no more than 30. And in any case, you were clocked at 60.”)

    - Voluntarily drunk persons will be judged by the standards of reasonable persons. (Otherwise getting drunk would be an all-purpose pass for illegality.)

    This is a fairly sturdy chain of logic that would lead a jury to convict Turner. Sure, it ends up with an unsymmetric outcome, but isn’t that desirable? Shouldn’t we care more for the personal integrity of a drunk woman than we do for the freedom of others (drunk or sober) to take advantage of her?

    Warning: the general rules above have exceptions that don’t apply to the Turner case. The law is messy.

    And another thing: TDH has said several times that in getting drunk Miller had done nothing wrong, but for values of wrong equal to illegal, Miller was certainly guilty of public intoxication because she couldn’t take care for her own safety. This doesn’t help Turner one iota, of course.

    Let’s be candid! TDH needs to get his facts straight so his logic is too.

  10. Fondly, we think of Nova's attempt to explain Einstein's seminal claim that "there is no absolute time.”

    Uh, oh. The slowest boy in science class is back again.

    It is intuitively reasonable to assume, as Newton did, that the universe runs on a single clock, one that ticks at the reliable rate of one second per second, and that everyone can synchronize their watches with this master clock. If this were possible, then everyone, everywhere, no matter their state of motion, could determine the “natural” and invariant order of events.

    It turns out that this intuition is wrong, and some simply-explained experiments demonstrate that this intuition is faulty.

    What’s so hard about this?

    But then, we think of Einstein's attempt to explain the same point in his own "Einstein made easy" book, a project at which even the great Einstein failed.

    You mean that you, the biggest numpty in science class, failed. A deep understanding of general relativity requires tensor calculus, which nobody tasks you with. The concepts really aren’t that difficult. They just require giving up your intuition based on our low-speed, small-mass existence.

    1. I haven’t read Einstein’s book, but I never could grok (and I mean that in the Heinleinian way) the idea of acceleration being equal to gravity. And the fact that, presumably, when any mass archives light speed, it will become infinitely massive. Apparently, only math can explain that. Plus, I may be wrong about everything I’ve just written.

      But if I ever need a lawyer, deadrat, I’ll come a-knockin’!


    2. I never could grok … the idea of acceleration being equal to gravity.

      Probably because gravity (the force) isn’t equal to the acceleration of an object. It’s equal to the mass of the object times its acceleration.

      But if I ever need a lawyer, deadrat, I’ll come a-knockin’!

      Then what you’ll get will be worth exactly what I could legally charge you for legal advice.

      I’m not a lawyer.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. deadrat,

      “[Gravity is] equal to the mass of the object times its acceleration.”

      That doesn’t sound like gravity as I experience the phenomenon. Am I accelerating, sitting in my chair? That’s the thing I don’t get. Mass x acceleration equals “gravity.” Even if what you wrote is true, I just don’t get it. What’s the relationship between mass and acceleration? What are we talking about when we use those terms?

      Does it mean that we’re accelerating around our sun, perhaps combined with our entire solar system’s eventual drop into the center of the galaxy, that allows me to sit in a chair, and not drift away? How is the acceleration occurring? Wait, I forgot, gravity causes acceleration in the Newtonian universe! Like, if an apple bonked you in the head. Or if a parachutist jumps out into the sky. Or if I sit in my chair.

      My intuitive take? It seems more likely that mass=acceleration, but how? I don’t know. I could only prove it through mathematics, the scope of which I’m only dimly aware. Hell, maybe we’re all holographic images, according to some “thought leaders.”

      “I’m not a lawyer.” Well, perhaps I might solicit your advice as a barrister instead, if the need ever arises. Hehe. You never know!


  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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