Quick snapshot: It happens every time!


Our Town's latest insight: What do we mean when we say it? When we say that we in Our Town aren't always especially sharp?

Concerning your understandable question, we offer a quick snapshot.

The Atlantic Culture Desk (clears throat) recently listed its 15 Best Books of 2020. Here's one of the capsule reviews:

Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, by Kate Manne

Because of (gestures frantically at everything), this year I’ve been craving books that explore the world’s invisible scaffolding: the assumptions and incentives and habits of mind that shape the way people treat one another. Entitled, from the Cornell philosopher Kate Manne, does that and more. A sequel of sorts to her 2017 blockbuster Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, this book expands on the argument Manne made in the earlier work: that misogyny is best understood not as a personal failing but as a cultural system that keeps women in their place. With wincing clarity, Manne explains how a society that organizes itself around the wants and whims of men will radiate that bias into every area of life (pop culture, reproductive rights, a presidential campaign that began with a relatively diverse field of candidates and ended as a contest between two white, straight, male septuagenarians). Her observations offer that rare brand of insight: the kind so ingenious that it quickly begins to seem obvious.

—Megan Garber

We haven't read the book in question. We have no opinion regarding its merits. 

In truth, we were struck by the review, not by the book itself. Here's the snapshot in question:

According to the review, a society that organizes itself around the wants and whims of men will radiate that bias into every area of life. As an example, we're offered this observation: 

The 2020 presidential field ended as a contest between two white men.

Plainly, that last observation is true. It's also true that this was the first presidential contest between two white men since 2004! 

The contests in 2008, 2012 and 2016 could have ended up that way. But, in fact, they didn't. How can we explain that?

We don't know if this strange example comes from Manne's book itself, or if it was supplied by Garber. But here in Our Town, this is the way we tend to reason when we want to push Storyline in the regions of gender and race.

The others can see us behaving this way. We seem to have a harder time seeing ourselves in Our Town.

With respect to Professor Manne: With respect to Professor Manne, the last time she came center stage was when she was saying that we all should believe Tara Reade's accusation against Candidate Biden. Several professors told us that, even though they had no apparent way to know if Reade's claims were true.

Question: When's the last time you saw Reade's name mentioned here in Our Town? What ever happened to all the certainty that was once being voiced about that?

The others can see us doing these things. Are we sometimes just a tiny bit like Donald J. Trump in Our Town?

SNAPSHOTS AT YEAR'S END: A wave of snapshots from Our Town!


A culture of condemnation: In the past day (give or take), a wave of unflattering snapshots have emerged from the streets of Our Town.

Some of these snapshots have captured our upper-end journalists' lack of basic competence. Other snapshots have seemed to capture the culture of condemnation widely observed in Our Town.

Concerning the competence, we were struck by the way Jake Tapper opened yesterday's 3 P.M. hour on CNN. 

Tapper is in fact perfectly competent. That said, his presentation captured the lack of adherence in Our Town to what might be called the culture of accurate statement:

TAPPER (12/30/20):  Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. And we begin this hour with our health lead. 

The chief adviser for Operation Warp Speed, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, predicting a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19, Slaoui saying that the FDA could authorize a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in February, and another one from Oxford/AstraZeneca in April.

This comes as the U.K. this morning off already authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the general public in that country.

Vaccine rollout in the U.S. is continuing to underperform predictions and promises previously made by the Trump administration...

All of this comes as one epidemiologist is warning that things are so bad, it's time to stop talking about surges and waves because we are inside a, quote, "viral tsunami."

Yesterday alone, the U.S. set two more devastating records, more than 3,700 deaths and nearly 125,000 people hospitalized from this virus...

Tapper is perfectly competent. Presumably, he could make accurate statements if he wanted to.

Instead, he offered a standard ambiguous claim about Tuesday's number of Covid deaths. As he did, he drove the fear and excitement along, and he emphasized Storyline.

According to Tapper, the U.S. had set a "devastating record" on Tuesday—"more than 3,700 deaths." This reinforced the claim that "things are so bad, it's time to stop talking about surges and waves" because we're inside a tsunami.

How bad were things as Tapper spoke? Matters like that are hard to measure, especially during an extended holiday season, in which the formal recording of cases and deaths is subject to large distortions.

How bad were things yesterday? According to the New York Times' data, the average number of (recorded) deaths in the previous week stood at 2,252 deaths per day. This represented a substantial drop from the corresponding numbers in previous weeks. Indeed, the 7-day average had risen as high as 2,710 (recorded) deaths per day as of December 22.

We keep including the key word "recorded" for an obvious reason. As Tapper surely knows, the thrillingly high number of deaths he was bruiting—"more than 3,700 deaths" on Tuesday alone—was not a record of the number of deaths which had occurred on that day.

Instead, that number represented the number of deaths which had been formally reported or recorded on that particular day. The number included a backlog of deaths which had occurred on earlier days. 

As Tapper excitedly spoke, there was no record of how many people had actually died on December 29. Almost surely, Tapper knew that. But journalists in Our Town feed on excitement and Storyline. They have amazingly little attraction to the culture of accurate statement. 

Just a few days before Tapper excitedly spoke, the New York Times had reported a mere 1,125 (recorded) deaths on December 25. On excitement-based networks like CNN, they don't mention such low totals on such days as that. 

Instead, they wait for a day when a backlog of deaths gets recorded. They let you think that this swollen number represents a new bone-chilling indication of where the pandemic is going.

Just for the record, people are dead all over the world because our journalists do this. Tapper's game won't matter that much. Other such episodes have mattered a great deal.

How many people have been dying these days? Especially during the holiday season, there's zero way to know that! 

It's not like this is some sort of mystery. At the Atlantic, the Covid Tracking Project itself has been publishing weekly essays explaining that the holiday season has vastly affected the utility of  all these  tracking numbers. For example, this is what The Project wrote on December 17:

COVID TRACKING PROJECT (12/17/20): At the national level, the good news this week is that cases haven’t risen that much above last week’s big increases—but at the regional level, the story is more complex. Before Thanksgiving, we predicted that case, test, and death reporting would be compromised by the holiday, first dropping during and immediately after the holiday weekend, and then rising sharply as backlogs resolved. We think tests and cases have now largely recovered from this period of erratic reporting.

Death reporting is a complex—and much lengthier—process that often results in backlogs that are opaque to members of the public, and it’s less clear that the death-reporting backlogs related to the holiday have been completely resolved. With Christmas a little over a week away and New Year’s Day a week after that, we are now heading into a doubly disruptive period in COVID-19 data. The actual patterns present in cases and deaths will eventually become clear when complete reporting by symptom onset and date of death becomes available from federal data sources, but through mid-January at least, we should view the daily and weekly movements in the data with extra caution.

"Through mid-January at least, we should view the daily and weekly movements in the data with extra caution?" Try telling that to Tapper! Death reporting seems to be opaque to people at CNN too!

At any rate, for a similar warning from The Project on December 24, you can just click here.  Yesterday, Whit Moser offered a similar assessment in the Atlantic even as Tapper was excitedly banging the drums. 

On CNN, they report the death counts when they seem high, ignore them when they seem low. As is true of statistics in general, averages are hard!

Nothing Tapper said yesterday will make any serious difference. But instead of using his time to explain how these numbers actually work, he used his time in the standard way—to create excitement, and a sense of peril, and to drive Storyline.

Surely, Tapper understands how these numbers actually work. That said, there's an amazingly low regard for the culture of accurate statement here in the streets of Our Town.

This trait becomes especially dangerous when it's joined to another of our cultural preferences. We refer to the culture of condescension and condemnation in the realms of gender and race.

We're committed, here in Our Town, to the practice of performative virtue with respect to these (very important) realms. Beyond that, we're very strongly inclined believe everything anyone says, just so long as whatever they said  furthers our favorite Storylines.

Along the way, we show little regard for the people who have improved our national and global culture. Instead, we journey back through the ages, but also across the current countryside, seeking people we can condemn for their retrograde ways. 

If you read the New York Times, this practice is widely observed on a daily basis.  Just last night, we were struck by a snapshot of this practice as we watched several crackpot discussions on Democracy Now.

Then too, on Tuesday night we watched the new "American Masters" PBS program about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wilder was born in 1867. It's possible, though not necessarily totally clear, that some of her attitudes about issues of ethnicity and "race" were less advanced than those we perform on a daily basis here in the streets of Our Town.

On Tuesday night, PBS debuted a 90-minute American Masters program about Wilder. The program included the remarkable and beautiful passage from one of the Little House books, These Happy Golden Years, in which Laura Ingalls, then seventeen or eighteen, accepts her future husband's proposal of marriage:

NARRATOR: Laura refused to say the word "obey" in the wedding vows. It would set the tone for their lifelong partnership.

VOICEOVER, READING FROM TEXT: She summoned all her courage and said, "Almanzo, I must ask you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?"

Soberly, he answered, "Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to."

"Well, I am not going to say I will obey you," said Laura. "I cannot make a promise that I will not keep, and Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgment."

"I'd never expect you to," he told her.

We'd describe that a a thrilling example of progressive gender relations. Wilder published that account in 1943, for girls and boys to gain from.

There are also parts of the Little House books which no one would publish today, especially in books designed for children. That said, these parts are few and far between, and we were struck by the priggish condescension as various members of Our Town dropped our favorite nuclear weapons on Wilder's head during the PBS program.

When we looked at the PBS program's web site, we had to shake our heads. The punishing essay by Lizzie Skurnick is very hard to reconcile with the events which actually occur in Little House On The Prairie.

Throughout that book, Pa is favorably disposed to the Osage Indians among whom the family is living. Laura, then maybe 7, is envious of the cultural freedom she sees being bestowed on the Osage children.

In the language now widely employed in Our Town, we're weirdly told, during the PBS program, that little Laura was "fetishizing" the Osage children when she reacted that way—that this is where the myth of the noble savage came from. In all honesty, you can't get dumber than we are on a daily basis.

Donald J. Trump has long been visibly crazy. Increasingly, we in Our Town almost seem able to match him, especially when our self-adoring instincts are joined to our very casual relationship to the culture of accurate statement.

Elementary claims in Skurnick's essay are very hard to reconcile with the actual text of Little House On The Prairie (and at least one other Wilder book). Crazily, though, her essay says this early on:

SKURNICK (12/23/20): It was only as an adult that I learned the series was not a faithful recollection. Rather, it was Wilder’s fragmented memories, coaxed into a narrative by daughter Rose Wilder Lane. This mother-and-daughter team had a vigorous agenda, excising, embroidering, and inventing events entirely. Which meant that the “savages” and the minstrels were not a product of the 1800s. They were the creation of two adult women living in New Deal America.

And what these women created was one of the most successful campaigns in publishing history: a campaign for the myth of white self-sufficiency. Over the course of nine novels, that myth justifies the taking of land, goods, and power. Its bigotry is not isolated, or incidental. It is the driving force of the narrative.

As Skurnick frets and rails, a fictionalized, written-for-children version of an author's childhood becomes "fragmented memories, coaxed into a narrative" by two scheming women.  

Most crazily, Skurnick says the "bigotry" of Wilder's books is "the driving force of the narrative." Truly, that's what the essay says!

Unless you've lived for a while in Our Town, it may be hard to understand why PBS would publish such a puzzling essay. Is PBS planning to produce an American Masters program about David Duke next?

Much like people found elsewhere, we simply aren't especially sharp over here in Our Town. We're quick to posture, quick to condemn, often in very dumb ways. 

Everyone else can see this about us. We can't see it ourselves.

Wilder was born in 1867. Skurnick came along a great deal later, set up shop in Our Town. In her essay, she performs in a highly familiar way, one we'd call "all too human." 

Why was November's election so close, with our team losing a bunch of seats in the House, even after four solid years of Donald Trump's manifest lunacy? 

We think you're asking a very good question. More on that puzzle next year!

Still coming: Snapshots of Norris and Shields 

Snapshot! Three weeks to go, with fingers crossed!


Mister Trump's (still possible) War: Within the past week, we read an essay by Tom Nichols which we thought was almost completely undiscerning.

We can't recall what the essay was about. We can't recall where we read it. We're still battling with our computer, so we don't plan to seek it out now.

That said, we just clicked over to The Atlantic and we found this new essay by Nichols. Based on the headlines atop his piece, he's thinking about the potential disaster we've long been warned about:

Trump Could Still Start a Last-Ditch War With Iran
A final grand distraction before the president is forced to relinquish his office is a real danger that deserves serious attention.

Those are the gentleman's headlines. Highly disconsolate major experts have warned us about such possibilities over the past several years.

For ourselves, we breathed a substantial sigh of relief when Trump stood down from his threat to undermine the Covid relief deal. Based on that behavior, it seemed to us that Trump may not be planning, like Samson of old, to pull the temple down around him on his way out the door.

We retain that sense from the way Trump, like Achilles before him, chose to beat back his great anger. That said, disastrous behavior could still occur—or at least, so says Nichols in this piece, as he discusses his fears. 

Given the fact that no one is, we don't regard Nichols as a seer. That doesn't mean that Nichols is wrong about this point of concern.

Nichols says this possibility "deserves serious discussion." Alas! The upper-end press corps agreed, long ago, that major aspects of our horrible ongoing situation simply cannot be discussed. 

Repeat: Large parts of this matter cannot be discussed, under terms of Hard Pundit Law! 

For ourselves, we breathed a significant sigh of relief when Trump sighed the Covid relief deal. We offer this as another snapshot, delivered right here at year's end.

SNAPSHOTS AT YEAR'S END: How many people have been shot and killed...


...by police officers this year?: How many people have been shot and killed by police officers this year?

As a general matter, the general topic has received limited attention in the press of late. For obvious reasons, press attention has been focused on the ongoing pandemic. 

Also, on the presidential election, along with the latest absurd misstatements and absurd behaviors of our reigning commander in chief.

In the past few days, a fleeting statement by Benjamin Crump sent us to the Washington Post's invaluable Fatal Force web site. As of this very morning, these are some basic results of a year-end review:

According to the Fatal Force site, 972 people have been shot and killed by police officers this year (as of December 23). That closely matches the number of fatal shootings recorded in each year since the invaluable site was launched in 2014.

(Important note: The Fatal Force site makes no attempt to judge which fatal shootings were justified, perhaps even life-saving and meritorious, and which fatal shootings were not.)

As is typically the case, white victims outnumber black victims by a roughly two-to-one ratio. As of this morning, the Post site calls the roll as shown:

People shot and killed by police officers, 2020
White: 430
Black: 221
Hispanic: 152
Other: 22
Unknown: 147

For the record, that represents quite a few "unknowns." As we've noted in the past. the site has increasingly failed to identify the race of the decedents in recent years.

Who has been shot and killed lately? As of this morning, these were the four most recent capsule accounts at the Fatal Force site:

Joseph Tanner Casten, a 19-year-old White man with a toy weapon, was shot on Dec. 23, 2020 on a street in Joliet, Ill.

Mark Clermont, a 45-year-old [white] man armed with a gun, was shot on Dec. 23, 2020, in a vehicle in Dalton, N.H.

Christopher Cuevas, a 45-year-old Hispanic man armed with a metal object, was shot on Dec. 22, 2020, in a yard in Glendale, Ariz.

Andre Maurice Hill, an unarmed 47-year-old Black man, was shot on Dec. 22, 2020 in Columbus Ohio.

Because he was unarmed, the fatal shooting of Hill has generated criticism and commentary in the past week. Based on a 30-second Google search, we've added Clermont's race to the Fatal Force capsule account, in which he's been left as an unknown.

Why do people get shot and killed when they are unarmed? As with many things, there's no single explanation. For what it's worth, Fatal Force lists forty such fatal shootings this year. Unarmed decedents break down as shown:

17 white, 13 black, 6 Hispanic, 1 other, 3 unknown

Now for some full disclosure. When we went to the Fatal Force site, we took note of the most recent listing, in which a 19-year-old "white" man was shot and killed while in possession of a "toy weapon."

The Fatal Force site lists such decedents as having been armed. The site lists twenty-five such fatal shootings this year:

10 white, 6 black, 3 Hispanic, 5 other, 1 unknown

Why does Fatal Force list such decedents as armed? Presumably, because the "toy weapons" in question are often completely indistinguishable from actual weapons, and because such toy guns are sometimes deliberately used to aid the commission of crimes. 

Yesterday, we pondered the recent death of that 19-year-old man who was armed with a toy gun. Based upon this report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the incident may have been the latest case of so-called "suicide by cop."

Yesterday, we took note of that incident, thinking of the 2014 shooting death of Tamir Rice as we did. This morning, the Tamir Rice case was back in the news—for example, in this news report in the Washington Post.

Wikipedia provides a detailed account of this particular incident. For our money, the most remarkable misconduct in the case involves the remarkable way the officer who fired the fatal shots had been hired, less than a year before, by the Cleveland Police Department.

Wikipedia provides a detailed account of this incident, in which a 12-year-old boy who intended no harm to anyone was shot and killed by a police officer who should never have been hired in the first place. In fairness, it has always seemed to us that the other police officer—the more experienced officer who was driving the car—was more at fault in this wholly avoidable shooting death, for reasons we won't go into today.

Here's something else we'll note. In our view, even Wikipedia omits a basic fact about this tragic, wholly avoidable incident. 

What fact does Wikipedia omit? We won't go there today. That said, as we in Our Town have begun to direct attention to such shooting deaths, disappeared, invented and irrelevant facts have played remarkably outsized roles in the way we discuss such events.

This era began with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. National coverage of that event began with a howling factual error in the New York Times.

The Times backed away from this howling error in the days which followed. But the paper has failed to correct its howling error right to this very day.

The howling error in question rather plainly seemed to track back to the legal team assembled by Benjamin Crump. Yesterday, it was Crump's presentation about the latest fatal shooting which occasioned our year-end review.

In his most recent column, Paul Krugman describes the way the conservative world has toyed with economic facts over the past many years. 

Over in the conservative town, they've behaved that way forever. Over here, in the streets of Our Town, we tend to put our thumbs on the scale when it comes to matters of gender and race.

We plan to focus on this tendency in the coming year. Beyond the borders of Our Town, we townies aren't always well-liked. It seems to us that the aforementioned tendency here in Our Town plays a very large role in that profoundly counterproductive state of affairs.

As we walk the streets of Our Town, we sometimes get an uneasy feeling. We get the feeling that if it weren't for all the performative virtue in Our Town, there would be no virtue at all.

Surely, that impression can't be correct. Still, the impression can, at times, be strong.

Still coming, tomorrow and Saturday: Performative Virtue On the Prairie; the proximate cause of Norris' howler; what Mark Shields once said

SNAPSHOTS AT YEAR'S END: How many people were already there?


An allegation concerning the role of Storyline: At one time, every schoolchild knew the doggerel verse:

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Well, maybe not every child. But what did Columbus actually find when he arrived at the island known today as Hispaniola—the island which is shared today by Haiti and the Dominican Republic?

More specifically, how many people were already living there? How many people were already there when Columbus arrived?

In last Saturday's New York Times, two scholars presented a fascinating new estimate of that pre-Columbian population. For our money, their fleeting portrait of Storyline may have been even more striking.

What role does Storyline play in human affairs? At one point, the professors offer a striking observation on that very point.

Storyline is powerful! First, though, here's the way Professors Reich and Patterson started last Saturday's column:

REICH AND PATTERSON (12/26/20): In 1492, Christopher Columbus touched land for the first time in the Americas, reaching the Bahamas, Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and eastern Cuba. After he returned to Spain he reported that he had encountered islands rich in gold. A few years later his brother Bartholomew, who also traveled to the Americas, reported that Hispaniola had a large population whose labor and land could be put to the advantage of the Spanish crown. He estimated the population at 1.1 million people.

Was this figure accurate? It soon was a matter of dispute. Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish monk and colonist who became the first chronicler of the human disaster that unfolded in the Americas after the arrival of Europeans, estimated a far larger number: three million to four million.

The population size of “pre-contact” Hispaniola would continue to be a contested issue until the present day, not least because of its profound emotional and moral resonance in light of the destruction of that world. Modern scholars have generally estimated the population at 250,000 to a million people.

According to Reich and Patterson, modern scholars have made a range of estimates which fit within that range. At the low end of the scale, they've estimated the population at a quarter million people.

As they continue, Reich and Patterson explain the methodology which has led them to believe that the population was actually a great deal smaller than that. First, though, they offer this overview of the previous scholarly discussion:

REICH AND PATTERSON (continuing directly): Some of the arguments for large population numbers in the pre-contact Americas have been motivated by an attempt to counter a myth, perpetuated by apologists for colonialism like the philosopher John Locke, that the Americas were a vast “vacuum domicilium,” or empty dwelling, populated by a handful of Indigenous groups whose displacement could be readily justified. In a similar vein, some of the arguments for large population sizes have been motivated by a desire to underscore how disastrous the arrival of Europeans was for Indigenous people.

By any measure, the arrival of Europeans was catastrophic for Indigenous Americans. This is true whether the numbers of people were in the hundreds of thousands or millions—or for that matter, the tens of thousands. It is questionable to pin our judgments of human atrocities to a specific number. To learn from the past, it is crucial to be willing to accept new and compelling data when they become available.

In the case of the pre-contact population of Hispaniola, such data have arrived. By analyzing the DNA of ancient Indigenous Caribbean people, a study published in Nature on Wednesday by one of us (Professor Reich) makes clear that the population of Hispaniola was no more than a few tens of thousands of people. Almost all prior estimates have been at least tenfold too large.

Reich and Patterson are well-regarded scholars. According to the New York Times, "Dr. Reich is a geneticist at Harvard who specializes in the study of ancient DNA. Dr. Patterson is a sociologist at Harvard with expertise in the Caribbean."

Reich and Patterson are now saying that the population of Hispaniola was "no more than a few tens of thousands of people" when Columbus arrived. As described in the rest of their column, their methodology sounds strong to us, but we have no way of knowing if their new estimate is correct.

What we were most struck by was their account of the genesis of those larger estimates. The professors say that earlier, much larger estimates were driven by "motivated reasoning"—by love of Storyline.

Where did those earlier, allegedly erroneous estimates comes from? According to Reich and Patterson, some scholars wanted to counter a myth in which European colonialism was OK because the Americas had been largely uninhabited.

Other scholars wanted to drive a related point. They wanted to emphasize the obvious fact that the arrival of Europeans tended to be disastrous for indigenous people.

In these throw-away comments, Reich and Patterson say that their scholarly colleagues were driven by Storyline as they composed their population estimates. Wanting to tell a certain story, they put their thumbs on the scale.

How many people were already there when Columbus arrived? Was the number as large as one million? Or was the number as low as nine thousand to eighty thousand, the range of possibilities which seems to be implied by another part of this column?

We don't know how many people were already there. But as we read this fascinating essay, we were struck by the portrait the professors drew of the role of Storyline.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal," Aristotle is widely said to have said. Our work of the past twenty years has suggested an alternate anthropology:

We humans are the animal which put its thumbs on the scale.

This behavior is widely observed, even here in Our Town. In modern times, we in Our Town are especially inclined to behave this way with respect to matters of gender and race.

We don't think that this is a wise or winning play. We don't think this tendency serves progressive interests and human values. We expect to discuss this tendency at length in the coming year.

Millions were already here: As far as we know, many millions of people were already living in the Americas before Columbus arrived. 

Charles Mann told this paradigm-shattering story in his acclaimed book, 1491. It's one of the two or three most fascinating books we've read in the past twenty years.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, we don't know whether earlier scholars were right or wrong in their population estimates. If they were wrong, we don't know if any form of "motivated reasoning"—devotion to Storyline—helps explain their errors.

On what basis do Reich and Patterson feel they can say that earlier estimates were influenced by attraction to Storyline? We have no idea.

That said, we were struck by the ease with which this suggestion was made, even on the highest academic level. We should have noted the difficulties which attend such ascriptions of motive, but we were battling our failing computer every step of the way.

Storyline seems to drive much of what we humans do, even over here in Our Town. That's especially true of the way we approach race and gender over here. We expect to explore such important matters in the year ahead.

SNAPSHOTS AT YEAR'S END: Two sources of (temporary) relief!


With plans for the coming year: Frankly, we don't get it.

Our computer seems to have self-corrected, possibly with an assist from us. (For Sunday's discussion, click here.)

The same thing happened at some point over the summer, causing us to buy a new computer. But before we took the new computer out of the box, the old computer self-corrected, possibly with the same assist from us.

Yesterday, we finally took the new computer out of the box. We may install it, or attempt to install it, over the coming weekend. 

Meanwhile, according to our calendrical team, a new year is about to begin. It may be time fro a new computer, and for a new focus here.

That new focus at this site would concern the current views within Our Town concerning matters of gender and race. Rather, concerning matters of gender and "race," or perhaps "so-called race." 

(Within the brutal history of our nation and globe, it's a very important matter.)

This week, we plan to lower our output a bit, taking a semi-sabbatical. In part, this will be a nod to our computer woes, which could always return, but also to the end of the year, a time which may call for reflection.

For today, we'll offer this first year-end snapshot:

Samson chose not to strike over the weekend. More metaphorically, he chose not to pull the temple down around him. 

As with our computer's apparent self-correction, this decision by our modern-day Samson was a source of temporary relief. The background goes like this:

Years ago, Samson is said to have pulled the temple down around him. The leading authority on his conduct describes that conduct like this:

The Biblical account states that Samson was a Nazirite, and that he was given immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including slaying a lion with his bare hands and massacring an entire army of Philistines using only the jawbone of a donkey. However, if Samson's long hair were cut, then his Nazirite vow would be violated and he would lose his strength.

Samson was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who, sent by the Philistines officials to entice him, ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies, who gouged out his eyes and forced him to grind grain in a mill at Gaza. While there, his hair began to regrow. When the Philistines took Samson into their temple of Dagon, Samson asked to rest against one of the support pillars. After being granted permission, he prayed to God and miraculously recovered his strength, allowing him to bring down the columns, collapsing the temple and killing himself as well as all of the Philistines.

Way to go, Delilah! At any rate, shorn of his liberty though not of his locks, Samson pulled the temple down around him, vanquishing those he loathed.

In the past four or five days, our current Samson, Commander Trump, had been displaying instincts which made us think of the original Samson. The theory on the current commander has always gone like this:

He hailed from Queens—and the swells in Manhattan never accepted him as one of their own. Over the years, he'd developed a (possibly murderous) sense of resentment and rage.

Now that he'd been turned out of office, would the commander, in his fury,  go so far as to bring the temple down around him? In our view, the worst manifestation of this impulse would involve an act of war, possibly involving the use of nukes.

Needless to say, the commander could still take that approach between now and January 20. But he's now withdrawn from the threat that he would pull the budgetary temple down, harming millions of people in the process.

In the past few days, it seemed to us that we might be entering the period of temple destruction.  At this point, it seems that the commander may have drawn back from that threat.

We still have more than three weeks before the commander-in-chief  is scheduled to leave office. In our view, there's no obvious way to know what this highly disordered person may yet decide to do.

For today, our computer seems to have self-corrected, as has our highly disordered commander-in-chief. We wish a computer technician could examine our faltering machine—and we'd still like to see upper-end mainstream journalists speak to (carefully selected) medical experts about the possible state of the commander's mental health.

It seems to us that the commander is some version of "ill." We normally feel sympathy for such people, after removing their ability to harm others and/or themselves. (We "pity the poor immigrant," as Bob Dylan metaphorically wrote.)

In Nashville, it seems that someone pulled the temple down around himself on Christmas morning. At least for now, it seems that our commander-in-chief may be pulling back from such thoughts, though there's more than three weeks to go.

Coming this week: Additional year-end snapshots, computer willing

Doggone it!


Possible interruption of service: We may need to replace our complex computer apparatus. If we miss a day or two, that's where we will be.

According to legend, it's always something.


Entire staff

UPDATE! Possibly with our last few viable clicks: As we try to squeeze the last few clicks out of our dying computer systems, we offer some thoughts about we in Our Town just aren't hugely well-liked. 

(In our recent victorious election, our margin in the House seems to have shrunk to a mere three seats.)

Why aren't we better-liked? At a time when people are dying all over the world; at a time when people are dying all over the country; at a time when people are facing terrible economic difficulty, with Trump continuing to act our his growing madness:

At a time like that, we think the Sunday Review section in today's New York Times is astoundingly upper-class/bougie. Why are we doing less well with working-class voters, even now in a wider range of demographics? Take a look at the things we care about at the moment of truth!

Also, this:

We recommend the front-page report in the Sunday Times about the Virginia high school senior who lost her spot in college because of something she said, on one occasion, when she was a high school freshman.

It isn't exactly clear what she said, or who she said it to, or whether that person was offended, or why she said whatever it is she said. But good God! Check out the way we in Our Town set about the mission of killing this particular pig! Based on something she said, on one occasion, when she was a freshman in high school!

In this matter, we fell in line behind the views of another high school kid; he cast himself in the role of the Grand Inquisitor. In our view, his judgment was impossibly bad in this circumstance, but who expects a high school kid to exercise perfect judgment?

Why aren't we better-liked in Our Town? All too often, we're silly and stupid and nobody like us! We've been noting this basic fact all year. Donald J. Trump is completely deranged, but the failures aren't all Over There.

UPDATE: Concerning the hoarding of Covid vaccines!


The way the world works, continued: We didn't see the news report when it appeared in the New York Times.

In print editions, the report was published on page A6 on Wednesday, December 16. In this morning's editions, it's linked to in this front-page report.

The original report concerns the hoarding of the world's supply of Covid vaccines. Earlier this week, we wrote about this very topic. The Times report from December 16 fleshes out the information we were able to provide. 

Below, we'll even mention what we thought when he first encountered the little-discussed facts involved in this report. For now, headline included, here's the start of the Times report from December 16:

TWOHEY ET AL (12/16/20): Rush by Rich Countries To Reserve Early Doses Leaves the Poor Behind

As a growing number of coronavirus vaccines advance through clinical trials, wealthy countries are fueling an extraordinary gap in access around the world, laying claim to more than half the doses that could come on the market by the end of next year.

While many poor nations may be able to vaccinate at most 20 percent of their populations in 2021, some of the world’s richest countries have reserved enough doses to immunize their own multiple times over.

With no guarantee that any particular vaccine would come through, these countries hedged their bets on a number of candidates. But if all the doses they have claimed are delivered, the European Union could inoculate its residents twice, Britain and the United States could do so four times over, and Canada six times over, according to a New York Times analysis of data on vaccine contracts collected by Duke University, Unicef and Airfinity, a science analytics company.

“The high-income countries have gotten to the front of the line and cleared the shelves,” said Andrea Taylor, a Duke researcher who is studying the contracts.

So the report began. Here in the United States, we'll be able to inoculate our residents four times over. In Canada, they're even better supplied than that!

Meanwhile, the rest of the world will just have to wait. The lovely shall be choosers, much as the poet said!

Is something wrong with this behavior on a moral basis? The Times reports, you decide! Meanwhile, the paper's portrait of the haves and the have-nots continued as shown:

TWOHEY ET AL (continuing directly): The United States has provided billions of dollars to back the research, development and manufacturing of five of the most promising vaccines against Covid-19, pushing them forward at a speed and scale that would otherwise have been impossible. But the support came with a condition: that Americans would get priority access to doses made in their country.

Other wealthy nations joined the United States in placing large preorders, often with options to expand the deals and acquire even more—undermining many countries’ ability to make timely purchases.


But the outlook for most of the developing world is dire. Because of manufacturing limits, it could take until 2024 for many low-income countries to obtain enough vaccines to fully immunize their populations.

Is this inevitably the way the world works? Nations like ours will buy up the supply? The wretched of the earth will just have to wait their turn in a very long, very slow line?

We're not suggesting that some such fact should necessarily be shocking.  We are inviting you to notice that this state of affairs isn't being discussed on our favorite "cable news" programs, or by our favorite pundits.

Should some nations be hoarding the world's vaccines while the rest of the world has to wait? In this morning's front-page report, the Times discusses the economic effects this may have on the world's less wealthy nations.

Should Rachel stop fantasizing about locking Rudy up, if only  to devote a few minutes to this state of affairs?  It's pretty much as you like it! 

But as these unfortunate facts were unfolding, largely in silence, what was being discussed at New York magazine? At New York magazine, they were urging us to think about this:

Living With Karens
A white woman calls the police on her neighbors. Six months later, they still share a property line.

"Living With Karens!" No really, that's what it says—and it was the cover story of the magazine's print edition!

At New York magazine, we were being urged to think, at great length, about an apparent foolish neighbor-on-neighbor dispute which occurred in Montclair, New Jersey. 

To make it even more exciting, the headline came complete with a reference to the Karens, a newly-coined term of racial / gender stereotype and denigration. These are the kinds of stereotypical denigration the others used to dream up!

For the record, inane next-door neighbor disputes occur all over the United States, among all demographics. You may have heard about the time Rand Paul's neighbor almost killed him in a neighbor-on-neighbor dispute concerning the alleged placement of a pile of old sticks and cut grass.

The writer of the report about the Montclair Karen may have had the best intentions. So too for her editors at New York.

Indeed, the incident was used to drive a Storyline which is currently extremely popular here in the streets of Our Town. Our question:

Will that writer, or her editors, be concerned with the way their own vaccinations will take place even as their lessers, all over the world, are being told that they'll just have to wait? Will New York magazine ever get around to spending its time on that?

A so-called Joshua generation has emerged within Our Town. They're successors to people like Rosa Parks and Dr. King and a great many others.

Mrs. Parks and Dr. King put their lives on the line, day after day. Their successors have heart attacks about a bit of stupid behavior by one person in Montclair—by one person who may need a bit of help. 

Adding to the sense of outrage, the people whose time she seems to have wasted own a six-bedroom suburban house!

Increasingly, the Joshuas and the rest of us are proving Dr. King's original point. In the end, we're all a great deal alike. Once we get a few legs up, we're all pretty much the same!

There's no evil person in this tale. That said, the story may help us see the possible limitations of the values and presumptions now widely held in Our Town.

Our posturing is quite impressive. But who have we ever helped?

Christmas Eve, way down under!


Aussies combat the plague: Are you kidding? Today being Christmas Eve, we're suspending our current reports, which are too negative for such a day. We plan to finish on Saturday.

In their place, we offer a quick look at The Practices of Christmas Eve Present as being performed Down Under. 

Lindsay Knaak-Stuart is an American, but she married an Aussie. In an essay for the Washington Post, she describes the hoops she and her children had to jump through when they fled the plague by joining her husband Down There.

According to Knaak-Stuart, the Aussies don't play! Here's a sample of the way the Aussies are fighting the virus:

KNAAK-STUART (12/22/20): Getting to Australia wasn’t easy. There were many months of waiting for my partner visa to come through, canceled and rescheduled flights and, finally, a mandatory government hotel quarantine upon landing...

Seventy-two hours before flying to Australia, we were required to answer questions about our health and dietary restrictions. This info would be used to plan our quarantine stay—a “privilege” for which our family of four would pay $3,800. After the 22-hour trip from NYC to Sydney—thankfully on a flight with only 36 passengers, due to weekly passenger arrival caps—we landed like hot-spot covid celebrities, ushered in by local police to start a process with the vibes of an episode of “Homeland.”

We were first directed through a series of health and border checkpoints, then were greeted at baggage claim by additional police and members of the Australian Defense Force. They had been waiting for us, and so had the bus that was going to take us to our undisclosed quarantine location. Families were on one bus, couples and singles on another. We snaked through Sydney, our police motorcade leading the way, and finally arrived at a nondescript full-service hotel/apartments where we would be locked for 14 days and would later emerge a few pounds heavier but feeling a lot more hopeful. It was clear Australia was taking things seriously; the guards placed outside our door reinforced that message.

It was all an impressive display of high-level coordination among federal, state and local governments. We got tested on Day 2 and on Day 10. We received three meals a day, designed to be well balanced and nutritious, although they seemed to have missed the memo on taste and variety. A team of on-site doctors, nurses and psychologists called us daily to check in on our health and mental state, and when on Day 8 our 6-year-old son started struggling with it all, we received advice from the psychologist on how to help him...

Knaak-Stuart continues from there. She isn't exactly trying to make a point, and so we will:

This column made us think of a recent conversation we had with a close relative who lives in Ireland. Along the way, he stated his view of why the Covid death rate has been so high in Belgium, western Europe's overall "sick man" during the bulk of this year's pandemic.

We'll save his offhand guess about Belgium's struggle for another time. For today, we'll offer this:

Knaak-Stuart describes a massive national effort to combat the virus. In the part of the essay we've posted, she even describes "high-level coordination among federal, state and local governments." Just try to imagine that!

Knaak-Stuart describes a full-blown national effort. Her description of that nationwide effort stands in stark contrast with the jumble of approaches and non-approaches which have been taken Up Here. 

Up Here, we've seen no such thing, and this may help explain the numbers. At present, a few of the numbers actually look like this:

Covid deaths per day, per million population
Week ending December 21:
United States: 8.1
Germany: 7.8
European Union: 7.6
United Kingdom: 7.3
Australia: Less than 0.1

Amazingly, Germany's daily death rate almost equals our own at this point. Down Under, the death rate is so low that it can barely be expressed in numbers.

For what it's worth, here are a few other numbers. It seems that Belgium, at long last, has gotten things a bit more under control:

Covid deaths per day, per million population
Week ending December 21:

Slovenia: 22.0 
Bulgaria: 17.9
Belgium: 5.9
Canada: 3.0

At present, Slovenia and Bulgaria are Europe's "sick men." Canada's death rate is well less than half our own, but it's still at least thirty times the size of Australia's.

How has Australia been able to do this? As we've noted in the past, our upper-end news orgs have shown little interest in addressing such obvious questions. Up Here, statistics are extremely hard, and information is boring.

Can those Aussie numbers really be real? Does Knaak-Stuart's essay start to explain Australia's very low numbers?

Also, what enables certain nations to function on a nationwide basis? Very much in passing, our relative offered his idea. We may go there next week.

We offer one last Christmas Eve thought. Wouldn't this be the perfect year to subscribe to The Dublin Review?

Where do howlers come from, continued!


Four researchers' slippery text: Way, way back in 2016, a group of four researchers conducted an alleged study. They asked a bunch of (white) medical students and residents to evaluate the accuracy of fifteen different statements. 

As we noted yesterday, it seems to us that the problem began with certain aspects of the study's basic design. But the problem got much worse with the slippery text of the researchers' Abstract.

You can see the full text of the study here. The Abstract starts like this:


Black Americans are systematically undertreated for pain relative to white Americans. We examine whether this racial bias is related to false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites (e.g., “black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s skin”). Study 1 documented these beliefs among white laypersons and revealed that participants who more strongly endorsed false beliefs about biological differences reported lower pain ratings for a black (vs. white) target. Study 2 extended these findings to the medical context and found that half of a sample of white medical students and residents endorsed these beliefs...

"Half of a sample of white medical students and residents endorsed these [false] beliefs?" Unless we're dealing with simple incompetence, that's first-class slippery work! 

From the highlighted statement, a reader might get the impression that half the "medical students and residents" had endorsed all the inaccurate statements. As we saw yesterday, such an impression would be grossly inaccurate. 

In fact, very few of these medical students and residents "endorsed" the false statement concerning tolerance of pain among black patients. As we noted yesterday, the (false) statement in question was this:

"Black people’s nerve-endings are less sensitive than White people’s nerve-endings."

As we saw yesterday, only 16 out of the 222 (white) medical students and residents rated that false statement true. Indeed, given the slippery way the study was conducted, some or all of those 16 subjects may only have said that the statement was possibly true.

It gets worse—or in this case, better—among (white) respondents who had completed at least two years of medical school. Of third-year students and residents, only one (1) respondent out of 87 in all rated that false statement true, and that one person might have said that the statement was possibly true! 

In short, very few of these (white) respondents rated that false statement true. That said, given the slippery way the researchers' abstract had been written, a careless reader might have gotten the impression that half the (white) medical students and residents had rated the false statement true. 

That impression would be grossly inaccurate. But given the slippery language of the abstract, a gullible reader could easily be so misled.

Back on December 10, the Washington Post's Michele Norris conveyed that grossly false impression to her readers. In the column in question, Norris wrote this about These White People Today:

NORRIS (12/10/20): We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain [than white patients] and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.

Norris' statement was grossly inaccurate. On the brighter side, it coincided with current preferred Storyline. 

Where do egregious howlers come from? As a guess, we'll guess that Norris never saw that slippery Abstract. We'll guess that she never looked at the original study at all.

Tomorrow, we'll show you where the relevant link in Norris' column led. We'll show you where she probably got the false impression she then conveyed to Post readers.

Nothing will turn on the error Norris published that day—an error which will go uncorrected down through the annals of time. That said, Norris should have examined the original study before composing her groaner. Her editors should have fact-checked her claim before they put it in print.

That said, where do howlers come from? In the case of a groaner like this, we thought it was worth letting you know.

We've looked at the original study's design. We've looked at the original study's grossly misleading Abstract.

Tomorrow, we'll show you where the link in Norris' column led. Can anybody here play this game? Or again and again, is our nation's upper-end journalism really just Storyline?

EMANATIONS FROM THE EDGE: Who knows where the purity goes?


The Joshuas, plus Parks and King: "Purity of heart is to will one thing." We believe Abraham Lincoln said that!

Concerning our nation's moral purity, we return to the unfortunate claim we cited in yesterday's report. 

The claim was made by Shamus Khan, a Princeton sociology professor. Khan's statement appeared in a column in the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post.

Khan was discussing the unattractive ways of the hugely advantaged. Along the way, largely in passing, he offered this:

KHAN (12/20/20): Wealthy countries representing just 14 percent of the world’s population have used their resources and influence to capture 96 percent of Pfizer’s vaccine and 100 percent of Moderna’s, according to a report by Oxfam and other human rights organizations. These nations are even planning on stockpiling extra, just in case. And because of this, it’s estimated that billions of poorer people in less-advantaged nations will not receive the vaccine for years. This isn’t just a profound moral failure. It also means that as those poorer workers move around the world to do work like farming that keeps us all alive, the risk of localized outbreaks will increase.

Say what? Are wealthy nations hoarding the world's vaccine supply? Is our own country, the United States, one of those wealthy nations? 

Will people in other countries die while we argue about which of our own demographic groups should get vaccinated first? Skillfully, we clicked Khan's links in search of more detail.

Khan cited Oxfam in his piece. At the first link Khan provided, we encountered this:

OXFAM INTERNATIONAL (12/9/20): Nearly 70 poor countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people against COVID-19 next year unless urgent action is taken by governments and the pharmaceutical industry to make sure enough doses are produced, a group of campaigning organisations warned today. 

By contrast, wealthier nations have bought up enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over by the end of 2021 if those currently in clinical trials are all approved for use. Canada tops the chart with enough vaccines to vaccinate each Canadian five times. Updated data shows that rich nations representing just 14 per cent of the world’s population have bought up 53 per cent of all the most promising vaccines so far.

The organizations, including Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam...found that 67 low and lower middle-income countries risk being left behind as rich countries move towards their escape route from this pandemic. 

That "53 percent" figure made it sound like the situation isn't as bad as Khan may have suggested. That said, Khan also linked to a report from ABC News. Dual headline included:

SCHUMAKER (12/9/20): Rich countries are hoarding the COVID vaccine: Report / The poorest countries are getting trampled in the vaccine race.

While rich countries have purchased enough coronavirus vaccine doses to inoculate their populations three times over next year, 90% of people in poor countries won't be able to get the vaccine in 2021, according to a new report.

Doses of two of the most promising vaccines have been almost completely bought up by wealthy nations, with 96% of Pfizer's vaccine and 100% of Moderna's vaccine acquired by the rich, the report found.


While Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ukraine have more than 1.4 million COVID-19 cases between them, according to Johns Hopkins University, they'll only have access to vaccines through COVAX, the global vaccine sharing program.

Canada, on the other hand, which has only reported 432,870 infections, has cut direct deals with vaccine makers and purchased enough doses to vaccinate each Canadian citizen five times, the report found.

Canada was positioned as the villain in each of these reports. Our own country wasn't mentioned as one of the hoarder nations, but we're willing to take a wild guess.

Has Canada actually "purchased enough doses [from Pfizer and Moderna] to vaccinate each Canadian citizen five times?" Are we one of the other hoarder nations?

How accurate is Khan's presentation overall? We can't answer your perfectly sensible questions. 

Concerning Canada's alleged over-purchase, one thinks of past reports about our nation's ability, thanks to nuclear overkill, to obliterate various nations many times over. That said, we can't vouch for the claims in these reports, in large part for the reason we mentioned yesterday:

Most likely, we aren't going to see this topic discussed by our favorite news orgs. Even in Sunday's column, Khan mentioned this matter in passing. 

Khan was mainly concerned with the way wealthy parties in this country may try to crowd to the front of the vaccination line in this country. He's afraid this will happen as we all get vaccinated here, while the wretched around the globe are forced to sit and wait their turn.

Yesterday, we mentioned the fact that this state of affairs reminded us of a certain conversation we had a  long time ago. In fact, the conversation took place in the spring of 1965, at the end of our senior year in high school. 

The conversation involved the death of Dr. Tom Dooley, a medical missionary in Laos,  at the age of 34. More broadly, the conversation concerned our moral obligation, or lack of same, to the wretched of the earth—to less advantaged, suffering people found all over the world.

The other party in this conversation was wiser and saner than we were. That said, we've decided to skip the details of that conversation. The conversation was too personal, and the recollection of that conversation is a prized possession here.

That said, the suggestion that our failing nation may be hoarding the world's vaccine supply stands in contrast to the silly, solipsistic discussions we encounter, day after day, here in the streets of Our Town. 

We're very self-impressed in Our Town. Also, quite self-involved.

Without attempting to challenge the intentions of the writer, we'd say that one such discussion can be found right here, in the pages of New York magazine.  It involves ridiculous conduct by someone's across-the-back-fence neighbor—the kind of conduct which occurs, in various demographic settings, every single day of the week and sometimes twice on Sundays.

Other types of unwise conduct occur on a regular basis. It all depends on which examples of unwise conduct we choose to discuss in Our Town.

According to the New York report, a dispute was triggered this spring by an unwise neighbor in Montclair, New Jersey. Long ago and far away, we had a college roommate from that very town, though that's neither here nor there.

("Not only was John a great athlete, but he was always thinking out of the box, with great ideas on how to better society and the world at large.”)

As our nation was hoarding the vaccine supply, New York magazine was all wrapped up in that  dispute in Montclair. We thought about something Dr. King once said, even after his house had been firebombed. 

We thought about the moral and intellectual greatness of the astonishing Rosa Parks.

We thought about Barack Obama's comments on the Joshua generation. We thought about an enduring anthropological fact—we humans are all the same.

We humans! When we gain too much advantage, we tend to wallow in ourselves. In this respect, we're so-called "black and white together"—rather, black and white alike.

Even here within Our Town, our favorite stars aren't likely to talk about the hoarding of the world's vaccine supply and the concomitant dispensing of global death. Instead, our youngsters sometimes seem eager to set out in search of localized outrage:

Pretty much any outrage will do, as long as it serves Storyline.

We're silly and stupid and nobody likes us? We've been telling you that all year!

However one might judge that claim, the solipsism has perhaps been general here in Our Town of late. It seems to us that this helps explain why we in our frequently self-involved town just aren't hugely well liked.

Tomorrow: "Even their ministers..."

Where do unfortunate howlers come from?


Step One looked like this: Where do unfortunate howlers come from? Let's consider this unfortunate race-involved groaner recently put in print by the Washington Post's Michele Norris:

NORRIS (12/10/20): We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain [than white patients] and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.

These White People Today! In fact, the recent study to which Norris linked includes no such finding. It  includes no finding anything like the one which Norris described. 

Almost none of the (white) medical students involved in the study said that black patients had a higher tolerance for pain. By our reckoning, it isn't entirely clear that any of the (white) medical students did.

What was the source of Norris' howler? Let's start with two aspects of the original study.

In the study in question, medical students—all of them "white"—were shown a list of 15 statements. They were asked if the various statements were true or false. 

Well—that isn't exactly what they were asked. In fact, they were asked to rank each statement based on "a six-point scale:" Here were the six assessments from which they were asked to choose:

1) The statement is definitely true.
2) The statement is probably true.
3) The statement is possibly true. 
4) The statement is possibly false.
5) The statement is probably false.
6) The statement is definitely false.

Is this a normal way to conduct a survey of this type? We ask for an obvious reason—it's hard to say what the difference is between assessments 3 and 4.

If a statement is "possibly true," it follows that the statement is also "possibly false!" Would it possibly make more sense to ask respondents to choose from these five assessments?

1) The statement is definitely true.
2) The statement is probably true.
3) I don't know whether the statement is true or false.
4) The statement is probably false.
5) The statement is definitely false.

There's a problem with survey design of that type. When respondents are given the chance to say that they don't know (or have no opinion), respondents often take it. In the design of this study, respondents were required to state an assessment, with possible answers 3 and 4 in a curious state of overlap / equivalence.

As noted, respondents were asked to assess 15 different statements. The statement in question in Norris' howler is the following statement:

"Black people’s nerve-endings are less sensitive than White people’s nerve-endings."

In the study to which Norris refers, 87 third- and fourth-year medical students were asked to evaluate that particular statement. In fact, only one (1) of the 87 was recorded calling it "true."

As you know, one out of 87 is well less than half! And in that one case, the  medical student may have said only that the statement was "possibly true!" 

That's the way responses were scored in this particular study. To us, this seems like a slightly peculiar way to run a survey like this.

A somewhat larger number of first- and second-year medical students were asked to assess that same statement. In that group, 15 out of 135 students (11 percent) were recorded as rating the statement true.

Overall, that means that 16 out of 222 students were recorded as rating the statement true. That's 7.2% of all the students, and there's no way to know how many of those  hapless white people merely said that the statement was "possibly" true.

At any rate, seven percent of the medical students were recorded as having rated the statement true. The percentage drops to roughly one percent (one out of 87)  if we restrict ourselves to the various white boys and Karens who had completed two years of medical training.

Somehow, Norris ended up saying that half of These White Medical Students Today held the noxious racial belief in question. Tomorrow, we'll continue with our study of where her howler came from.

For today, one final note about the structure of this study. We note that zero (0) black medical students were asked to evaluate the 15 statements. 

How many black medical students, especially those in their first year of study, might have offered the wrong assessments of the fifteen statements? There's no way to know; the lofty folk who conducted the study were careful not to ask any such students.

On occasion, we come away from studies like this with a certain suspicion. Because our suspicion is less than charitable, we won't state it here.

Tomorrow: How did Norris (and her editor)  get fooled?

EMANATIONS FROM THE EDGE: The hoarding of the world's vaccines!


The wretched will just have to wait: The most interesting thing we read this morning was Michelle Goldberg's new column.

Goldberg has small children; we don't. We've often wondered how hard it must be for parents of small kids at this extremely difficult time. Early on, Goldberg tells us:

GOLDBERG (12/21/20): If, before this year, I felt for a day the way I now feel all the time, I’d consider it an emergency and do anything I could to fix it. Now that I’m waiting out a pandemic in a small apartment with small kids and winter closing in, most things I’d need to do to be less miserable are proscribed, though sometimes by suggestion rather than decree.

If you're able to care about other people, that isn't a good thing to read. Later, Goldberg offers a surprising flashback concerning the pandemic's early days:

GOLDBERG: In April, when the pandemic was still new, I interviewed a community leader in a particularly hard-hit Brooklyn housing project who told me, frankly, that she and her friends weren’t social distancing because they needed each other too much, especially in apocalyptic times. “You don’t want to know that your friends and family are going to lock you out because there’s zombies outside,” she said.

I couldn’t help but sympathize. At the time my family, vastly more privileged, had moved in with friends at a remote country house, hoping to wait out a disaster we expected to end in a month.

We’re alone now, but I understand people who decide they can’t be, even if these decisions are collectively calamitous...

Really? In April, "privileged" people thought the pandemic disaster was going to end in a month? It makes no difference at this point, but we find that comment surprising.

Goldberg's column provides a glimpse of the personal pain involved in social isolation. For ourselves, we're inclined to dislike the use of the term "privileged" which is now widely found within Our Town's woke culture. It involves a type of self-flagellation which strikes us as hugely unhelpful and not very instructive. 

That said, performative virtue is now the rage in the streets of our own failing town. This helps explain the problem described in this recent post by Kevin Drum.

"Democrats Have a Problem With the Working Class"—or so Drum's headline claims. He links to reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times—reports which suggest that even the black and Hispanic working class has begun to drift in the direction of the GOP.

Dems did fine with the "college-educated" class in November's election. At the same time, a puzzling drift was observed in the non-college segment of the electorate, which is twice as large. Trump's lunacy may have saved the Dems this time, but this trend should be a point of concern.

Why has the black and Hispanic working class been drifting toward the GOP, even toward Donald J. Trump? Our Town's noxious performative virtue, mixed with our world-class generational dumbness, is surely one part of the problem.

In the next few days, we'll wander among some examples. But even as our own woke class announces its virtue to the world, what are we actually like, or a moral basis, as a giant nation? 

What are we really like as world citizens? What are we like as a people? Consider this throw-away passage from an essay in the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post:

KHAN (12/20/20): Wealthy countries representing just 14 percent of the world’s population have used their resources and influence to capture 96 percent of Pfizer’s vaccine and 100 percent of Moderna’s, according to a report by Oxfam and other human rights organizations. These nations are even planning on stockpiling extra, just in case. And because of this, it’s estimated that billions of poorer people in less-advantaged nations will not receive the vaccine for years. 

Say what? We're part of an international cabal which is hoarding the world's vaccine supply?  Assuming that statement is accurate, the wretched of the earth will just have to wait—we're getting our shots first! 

Assuming that statement is accurate, we'll admit that we've seen no other discussion of this remarkable state of affairs. Assuming that statement is accurate, it says something about our moral standing as a people, even as the political class within Our Town performs its virtue far and wide, for everyone to admire.

The piece in the Post was written by Shamus Khan, a sociology professor who's on the move from Columbia down to Princeton. Khan refers to this hoarding of vaccine as "a profound moral failure," but he mentions it only in passing in his Outlook piece.

His real concern is the way elites in this country may crowd to the head of our nation's vaccine line, even as the wretched of the earth have to wait for us to access our safety first. 

(For what it's worth, Khan's essay includes one of those "links to nowhere," in which a source to which he links fails to support the particular claim he's making about These Better-Off People Today. This is one of the ways our own elite academic / journalistic class exercises one of its own types of "privilege.")

Are we part of a worldwide cabal which is hoarding the planet's vaccines? If so, you aren't likely to read a whole lot about it. Nor are you likely to hear about it when you watch cable TV. 

In Our Town, our tribunes are strongly inclined to reinforce a prevailing tribal notion, in which we in Our Town are demonstrably moral and pure. It's all about getting Rudy locked up. The wretched of the earth can just go hang in the yard.

The belief that we in Our Town are moral and pure is now played out on a daily basis in our favorite journals. We'd have to assume that this rancid, remarkably dumb behavior is moving the others toward the candidates found over there in Their Town. 

In the next two days, we'll move on to examples. Elsewhere, some of the others can surely see that our tribal claims of spectacular virtue just ain't necessarily so. 

Are we hoarding the world's vaccines in the clinics of  Our Town? If so, why aren't Our Town's multimillionaire cable stars telling us all about it? 

Night after night after night after night, why is it all about locking up Rudy? Is it possibly part of our "privilege" that we aren't being told?

Tomorrow: A conversation remembered from high school. Two years later, a roommate from Montclair...

Anatomy of an instructive howler!


These White People Today: It was an unvarnished howler—even, perhaps, a groaner. That said, the error in question strikes us as highly instructive.

We've mentioned this item twice before. The error belongs to the Washington Post's Michele Norris—and yes, everyone makes them. 

At any rate, in a recent column about vaccine aversion, Norris penned this highly instructive misstatement:

NORRIS (9/10/20):  We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain [than white patients] and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.

These White People Today!

In the past, we've learned that you can't necessarily believe the things you read in major newspapers. When we clicked Norris' link, then clicked again, we found that the recent study in question didn't say any such thing at all.

Everybody makes mistakes! This mistake involved a highly invidious racial claim. And it isn't just that Norris' statement was wrong. Depending on how you want to score it, her statement was wrong by a factor of fifty or possibly more.

These "Racial" Misstatements Today! In this case, there's a lot to learn from the chain of slippery behaviors which led to Norris' groaning misstatement. Tomorrow, we'll start with the original study itself—with two structural components of the study which strike us as perhaps a bit strange.

Do These Liberal Researchers Today sometimes place their thumbs on the scales in search of more pleasing outcomes? Down through the years, we've occasionally received that impression. For the record, we have no way of knowing if any such motive was involved in the study whose findings Norris misstated. 

At any rate, tomorrow we'll start with the study itself. After that, we'll move on to the way the study was reported, in the body of its text and then again in synopsis. 

The final error belonged to Norris—and to her unnamed editors, who certainly should have checked her claim before they put it in print.

These Upper-End Journalists Today—how cavalier they can be! Meanwhile, over at Slate, a different breed of journalist is working hard, around the clock, to keep us well-informed. 

As a bit of comic relief, here are some of the journal's recent hard-hitting headlines or headline pairs or front-page teaser links:

December 11: Colonel Sanders was very horny

December 14: Help! My Wife Needs to Stop Treating This Toy Like It’s Our Baby.

December 15: How To Get Your Dog to Stop Eating Your Daughters’ Underwear With Jenny Slate / My dog—and my kids—are both to blame for this embarrassing habit.

December 15: My Boyfriend’s Job Makes It Impossible for Him to Do My Favorite Sex Act

December 19: Help! My Son Keeps Stealing My Flavored Condoms / He thinks they’re candy and trades them for his friends’ lunches at school.

December 20: Jenny Slate’s Dog Ate Five Used Tampons / It could happen to you too.

December 21: Grading Jon Ossoff’s Old-Guy Attempts to Use TikTok to Win Over the Youngest Georgia Voters / *He’s 33.

But seriously though, folks! So it goes in various realms at Slate. 

Meanwhile, for people who clicked the teaser to today's contribution, congratulations! You went in search of political news. As it turned out, you'd been Schwedeled!

Delicious instant update: After publishing this post, we returned one email, then turned to New York magazine's Intelligencer site. We found this hard-hitting report by Irina Carmon:

The Story Behind the Story of Martin Shkreli’s Romance With a Reporter

It takes a lot to get everyone on the Internet to read the same thing—especially in Trump and plague times—but on Sunday night, “The Journalist and the Pharma Bro” did it. Published in Elle magazine, it’s a reported account of Bloomberg News reporter Christie Smythe giving up her career and her marriage for a now-scuttled relationship with reviled hedge-funder Martin Shkreli, who is serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison for fraud. The story includes a kiss in a room redolent of chicken wings. The reaction came as something of a surprise to its author, Stephanie Clifford, who said she is now fielding requests from Hollywood for adaptations. Smythe, who had already sold the film rights to her book proposal about her relationship with Shkreli, has been gamely tweeting through the chatter. On Monday morning, Clifford got on the phone with Intelligencer to discuss how the story came to be published, whether she believes Smythe is delusional, and what was up with that fashion shoot.

To peruse the interview, you can just click here.  Meanwhile, "it takes a lot"—or maybe a little—to get everyone to read the same thing! 

In this case, it took a kiss involving some chicken wings. Tinseltown, here it (allegedly) comes!

EMANATIONS FROM THE EDGE: Mika still isn't permitted to speak!


Thirty days from the end: We probably won't ever be able to link you to any videotape. We probably won't ever be able to provide a full transcript.

Aping the culture of Fox News Channel, MSNBC eliminated transcripts a few months back. The channel also cut way back on the amount of videotape it posts. 

That said, the channel never did produce transcripts for Morning Joe, its most unusual program. 

Morning Joe has walked a long and winding road since 2015. Midway through that year, we began to watch its opening segment on a daily basis because of the way Mika and Joe seemed to be fawning over Candidate Trump, with whom it turned out they were friends. 

By our reckoning, they executed a full 180 with respect to Trump in early 2016, in reaction to the candidate's claim that he didn't know who David Duke was.  As of now, the program produces the most instructive discussions across the sweep of MSNBC—and so it was this very morning when, at 6:18 A.M. Eastern, Mika offered this:

[The mental or psychiatric state of the current commander-in-chief is] "not something I should say on television yet."

So said Mika Brzezinski, this very morning. Translating, she was telling us this:

In her opinion, Donald J. Trump, the commander-in-chief, seems to be mentally ill. But the corporate suits who are her owners still won't let her say so.

Along with the rest of the network's employees, Mika and Joe are paid millions of dollars per year to do what the corporate suits tell them. (You aren't allowed to know how many millions of dollars per year.)

People paid so many millions frequently do what they're told. This morning, those people were telling us, without actually telling us, that they think their former friend is dangerously mentally ill—and the key word there is "dangerous."

Two minutes after Mika spoke, so did Michael Schmidt, he of the New York Times. Schmidt said Trump is becoming "more convinced" that he really did win November's election.

"Early on, it was performative," the AP's Jonathan Lemire said, almost exactly one hour later, of such victory claims by Trump. As with Schmidt, so too here: 

Schmidt and Lemire seemed to be saying that Trump now actually believes that he won this year's election. They seemed to be saying that this growing conviction is fueling the growing lunacy of Trump's thinking and behavior.

We have no way to tell you if these assessments by Schmidt and Lemire are accurate.  Several weeks back, we noted that, at least by our lights, Trump increasingly seems to believe his various crazy claims. 

Is it possibly "dangerous" if Trump does believe his claims? Concerning that question, we transcribed a statement by Joe at roughly 7:20 A.M.:

"Without ay doubt, [it's] the most deeply disturbing political development of my lifetime. There's not even a close second."

So said Joe Scarborough, a thoroughly capable political observer, speaking of the situation which now obtains in the White House.

What were these people talking about on today's Morning Joe? They were talking about the recent reports about a White House meeting which reportedly happened last Friday.

On Saturday morning, the New York Times published its report about the meeting on page A28. The report was somewhat confusingly sourced to two or more people—apparently, more than two—who had been "briefed on the meeting." 

(There was no indication that the Times had spoken to anyone who actually attended the meeting.)

How accurate is the Times' account of the meeting? We weren't present there either! But as to the possibility that the commander's current state of mind is potentially dangerous, the most remarkable part of the Times report went exactly like this:

HABERMAN AND KANNO-YOUNGS (12/19/20): During an appearance on the conservative Newsmax channel this week, Mr. Flynn pushed for Mr. Trump to impose martial law and deploy the military to “rerun” the election. At one point in the meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump asked about that idea.

Flynn, who seems to be out of his mind, had suggested imposing martial law for the purpose of staging a new election. According to the Times report, Trump "asked about that idea" during the tumultuous meeting.

Did Trump actually "ask about that idea?" Has he actually considered the possibility of imposing martial law for whatever reason?

We have no way of knowing! After the New York Times report appeared, Politico filed its own report about the tumultuous meeting. We note that Politico didn't report that Trump had said anything about Flynn's earlier public statement, or about martial law in general.

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump is mentally ill? Is it possible that he's dangerously afflicted? 

Stating the obvious, of course it's possible! This morning, Morning Joe rocked and rolled with concerns about what may be happening. Quickly, we'll offer these points:

Three years ago, Dr. Bandy X. Lee put the word "dangerous" into the title of the best-selling book she edited, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Speaking as a medical expert, she explicitly said that Trump's condition would only get worse as his term of office continued. 

Here at this site, we've been suggesting for several years that danger lurks in Trump's possible reaction to an impending election defeat, to to an actual loss. In fairness, we based our assessments on the extensive reporting we've received from major future anthropologists, who report to us from the years which follow the global conflagration they refer to, despondently, only as Mister Trump's War.

Mister Trump still holds the nuclear codes. He'll do so for (at least) the next thirty days, depending on whatever Vladimir has recently done inside our cyber systems. 

As a matter of full disclosure, we don't exactly know what it means when people say that Donald J. Trump "holds the nuclear codes." 

Explanation of such matters plays little role in our highly primitive culture. But several years back, during a brief burst of explanatory reporting, major new orgs reported that there is no "fail-safe" protection against a sitting president's decision to stage a nuclear strike.

Could Donald J. Trump possibly be that crazy? We have no way of knowing. As Mika made clear today, major journalist are still being told that they can't even suggest such possibilities, let alone interview someone who might bring professional expertise to bear on such a discussion.

These latter days are producing troubling glimpses of who we actually are.  We human beings are deeply flawed, even over here in Our Town. 

We war-inclined humans are deeply flawed. More on this basic biological problem tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Hoarding the world's vaccines

Public schools return to the New York Times...


...and the same old patterns obtain: Ever since the first week of March, the public discourse has been dominated by two related topics:

1) The global pandemic
2) Donald J. Trump's lunatic statements about the global pandemic.

Round the decay of our colossal wreck, few other topics remained. In particular, the dull, boring topic of public schools disappeared from the New York Times.

This morning, the New York City Public Schools returns to the top of the Times' front page. Below, you see the headline which sits above the news report:

New York City Will Change Many Selective Schools to Address Segregation

Once again, the headline raises one of our favorite semantic questions. Are Gotham's public schools "segregated?" Does it make sense to describe the schools that way?

For ourselves, we would have rewritten that headline, along with the news report's opening paragraphs. 

We'd be inclined to replace the language of "segregation / desegregation" with the language of "racial imbalance" and "increased diversity." We'd be inclined to edit this morning's report in other ways as well.

Below, you see the way today's report begins. We'd be inclined to replace the phrase "long-simmering concerns" with the less exciting but more straightforward "long-standing claims:"

SHAPIRO (12/19/20): New York City Will Change Many Selective Schools to Address Segregation

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday major changes to the way hundreds of New York City’s selective middle and high schools admit their students, a move intended to address long-simmering concerns that admissions policies have discriminated against Black and Latino students and exacerbated segregation in the country’s largest school district.

New York is more reliant on high-stakes admissions requirements than any other district in the country, and the mayor has for years faced mounting pressure to take more forceful action to desegregate the city’s racially and socioeconomically divided public schools. Black and Latino students are significantly underrepresented in selective middle and high schools, though they represent nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students.

You may have noticed the strained or possibly bungled logic in the last sentence in that passage. We'd be inclined to rewrite that sentence too.

Today's report is a fascinating journalistic presentation. New York Times reporting on public schools almost always is.

Can anyone here play this game? Aside from the major conceptual issues involved, today's report even includes a classic "link to nowhere:"

SHAPIRO: The time frame for a final decision on whether to get rid of middle school screening for good—which will come shortly before Mr. de Blasio leaves office on New Year’s Day in 2022—instantly created a quandary for the phalanx of candidates vying to replace him.

The candidates are likely to be pressed on whether they would resume what has been a particularly contentious practice: measuring the academic achievements of fourth graders to determine if they can attend a selective middle school.

Say what? New York City's middle schools include grades 6-8. Why would admission be determined by academic achievement in fourth grade? (We're not saying there isn't an answer. We just don't know what it is.)

Within the statement we've highlighted, Eliza Shapiro includes a link to an earlier report—but that report describes no such practice, contentious or otherwise. The link is a classic link to nowhere! Can anyone here play this game?

We're fascinated by the way public schools get covered by the upper-end press in Our Town. Today, as always, the Times engages in a few standard practices:

Most significantly, the Times ignores the giant achievement gaps which seem to obtain, on average, between different demographic groups within the Gotham schools.  More specifically, the Times ignores the fact that those giant gaps seem to exist by fourth grade, when the first Naep testing occurs. 

Having ignored their very existence, the Times makes no attempt to ask what causes those apparently giant gaps, or how big those gaps really are, or how those apparently giant gaps could perhaps be reduced in the elementary grades, prior to the need to determine admission to middle school.

Briefly, let's be fair! In constantly pretending that those gaps simply don't exist, the Times is able to display its obvious moral greatness. In the process, it also throws black kids under a very old bus—but this is the way we're inclined to behave here in the streets of Our Town.

There's a great deal more to be said about this latest effort. We chuckled at the comment the Times decided to place at the top of its list of "NYT Picks:"

COMMENTER FROM BUFFALO: Thank you Mayor Bill DeBlasio. We must dismantle systemic racism and structures of oppression and supremacy. The first shall be last and the last shall be first!

Very few readers had recommended this comment. In the minds of the NYT, it belonged at the top of the pile!

How might we address those apparently giant gaps, which exist all over the nation? Citizens, please! For readers of the New York Times, those gaps don't even exist!

Having said that, we'll only add this:

All too often, we're inclined behave this way in the streets of Our Town. Elsewhere, even in Their Town, the others can sometimes see this.

For deep rumination only: We clicked two links as we tried to explore that statement about fourth-grade achievement. The first click took us to this earlier news report, a report which included this passage:

SHAPIRO (9/20/18): Mr. de Blasio, despite his usually soaring rhetoric on national progressive causes, has long refused to use the word “segregation” to describe entrenched racial and economic stratification in the city’s public schools. In June, he said that he wanted to change the admissions process at a group of the city’s most elite high schools, a plan that requires action by the State Legislature.

Should de Blasio use the term "segregation" to describe that "racial and economic stratification?" 

Does the admittedly pleasing term create more heat or more light? Compare and contrast. Discuss at length. Using examples, explain.

We'd go with "racial and ethnic imbalance." Compare and contrast. Explain.