A gruesome report on American Dirt!


We consider the culture of blurbing:
In this morning's Washington Post, book critic Ron Charles tells a horrible story about the new novel, American Dirt.

The story ends with the cancellation of a book tour in the face of reported death threats. Some of these reported threats have been directed at the novel's author, some at the author's critics.

That part of the story is very instructive. But the part of the story we want to discuss concerns the culture of blurbing.

In Charles' view, the novel in question is "mediocre." That said, here's his account of the way the book was promoted and blurbed:
CHARLES (1/31/20): [American Dirt is] just a melodramatic thriller tarted up with flowery ornaments and freighted with earnest political relevance. The book might have fallen unremarked into the great vat of sentimental suspense fiction that New York pumps out every year, except for an unprecedented collision of promotion and denunciation.

Early on, the publisher, Flatiron, a division of Macmillan, decided to aim for the stars. It reportedly paid more than a million dollars for “American Dirt,” which isn’t so much an estimate of its value as an investment in the future publicity that such an absurd advance inevitably generates in Places That Matter. Flatiron determined that “American Dirt” would not just be another thriller; it would be the defining novel of the immigrant experience—an emotional story powerful enough to galvanize the sympathy of a nation. An Olympian field of blurbers was assembled, including John Grisham, Stephen King, Ann Patchett, Julia Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros. Don Winslow called it “a ‘Grapes of Wrath’ for our time,” which is ludicrous but hardly out of bounds in the make-believe realm of blurbs. Movie rights were sold. Barnes & Noble picked it for the chain’s national book club. And finally, Oprah announced that “American Dirt” was her next book club pick.
Charles was describing a gong-show corporate culture. According to Charles, it was an instance of blurbs gone wild—not excluding the effort by the blurber still known as Stephen King.

Should American Dirt be seen as "a Grapes of Wrath for our time?" According to Charles, the claim is ludicrous; the book itself is "just a melodramatic thriller...freighted with earnest political relevance."

Along the way, Charles also said that the aforementioned blurb, while ludicrous, was almost par for the course, given the current make-believe culture of publisher-supported blurbs.

According to Charles, ludicrous conduct of this type is hardly unknown within the modern world of high-level corporate pimping. According to Charles, "an Olympian field of blurbers" sallied forth to praise a novel which was in fact deeply flawed.

Charles goes on to describe critical pushback against the book—critical pushback he praises as the way "the cultural system is supposed to work." Unfortunately, he also describes those reported death threats against the author of American Dirt, and also against her critics.

Let's set those death threats to the side. Of what were we briefly reminded when we read that passage about corporate blurbing? Ever so briefly, we thought of the way Tinseltown studios have always pimped favored films for Oscar consideration.

Ever so briefly, we also thought of this. For background, see this morning's report:
BREZNICAN (12/17/19): The first public screenings of Little Women were filled to capacity, but the distributors and awards-season strategists behind Greta Gerwig’s new film were worried nonetheless. The audience was overwhelmingly comprised of women—and the voting memberships of various Hollywood awards ceremonies are obviously not.

That trend may account for why the critically beloved adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel had an underwhelming showing in last week’s awards nominations.
The team behind the film hopes to reverse that by the time Oscar nomination voting opens on January 2.

“It’s a completely unconscious bias. I don’t think it’s anything like a malicious rejection,” said producer Amy Pascal. Still, she doesn’t believe men gave the movie a shot. RSVPs for the first screening in October, as well as many others that Sony Pictures hosted around Los Angeles in recent weeks, were skewed about two to one in favor of women. ”I don’t think that [men] came to the screenings in droves, let me put it that way,” Pascal said. “And I’m not sure when they got their [screener] DVDs that they watched them.”
Greta Gerwig's well-reviewed film has been pushed and promoted by an army of virtual blurbers. It's very much the current "it film" Over Here within the tents of our rapidly failing "liberal/progressive" tribe.

Next week, we'll be exploring some of the places this virtual blurbing has gone. For today, we'll ask you this:

To what extent was Pascal hoping to win some Oscar nominations by floating the notion that Little Women was being disregarded by sexist/misogynist men?

We don't have the slightest idea how to answer that question. The answer may be very simple. It may be that Pascal had no such motive at all. She may have been completely sincere in every word she said.

That said, the culture war around this film has been fascinating and also depressing. We say that for this reason:

Our failing tribe's only current toy involves fiery claims about discrimination on the basis of race and gender. It's the only play we currently know. Surely, everyone knows this.

The Screen Actors Guild didn't nominate Little Women for an ensemble acting award. Did that happen because "men didn't give the movie a shot?" Or could it be that SAG voters simply thought that five other casts did a better job overall last year?

Freud said it first and best! Sometimes the lack of a SAG nomination is just the lack of a nomination.

That said, you can't go wrong, within our tribe, making claims like the one Pascal lodged. Next week, we'll continue to show you where this cultural impulse has led—and as we do, Donald J. Trump will still be in the Oval Office:

Did our undisciplined tribal culture help put this big crackpot there? Does it continue to aid him?

Blurbers stampeded to heap praise on American Dirt. One of the blurbers was Stephen King. Just yesterday, he was shouting self-serving praise for Little Women too.

"Progressive" pundits have stampeded in the past two months, heaping praise on Gerwig's Little Women. Is there anything we can learn from the way these people have sometimes behaved?

Ron Charles' report about American Dirt concerns a badly broken culture. Again and again, we've almost thought we were seeing something similar as we've read about Gerwig's new film.

Our tribe is dying on the vine. Our spectacular dumbness is hard to miss.

We're so dumb that we virtually squeak—and do they love it over at Fox! Is it possibly time for a bit of reform? Could our failing tribe do better?

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: New film said to have "man problem"...


...as logical problems arise:
How good a film in the new Little Women?

Presumably, opinions differ. But even before the film was released on Christmas Day, we were told it was facing a problem.

The report appeared in Vanity Fair, with Anthony Breznican doing the honors. The "public screenings" to which he refers seem to have been industry screenings.

Headline included:
BREZNICAN (12/17/19): Little Women Has a Little Man Problem

The first public screenings of Little Women were filled to capacity, but the distributors and awards-season strategists behind Greta Gerwig’s new film were worried nonetheless. The audience was overwhelmingly comprised of women—and the voting memberships of various Hollywood awards ceremonies are obviously not.

That trend may account for why the critically beloved adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel had an underwhelming showing in last week’s awards nominations. The team behind the film hopes to reverse that by the time Oscar nomination voting opens on January 2.

“It’s a completely unconscious bias. I don’t think it’s anything like a malicious rejection,” said producer Amy Pascal.
Still, she doesn’t believe men gave the movie a shot. RSVPs for the first screening in October, as well as many others that Sony Pictures hosted around Los Angeles in recent weeks, were skewed about two to one in favor of women. ”I don’t think that [men] came to the screenings in droves, let me put it that way,” Pascal said. “And I’m not sure when they got their [screener] DVDs that they watched them.”
Pascal was doing a lot of mind-reading, but also perhaps a bit of selling. Vanity Fair played along.

At that time, Little Women hadn't done especially well in the early award nomination chase—specifically, in nominations by the Golden Globes and by the Screen Actors Guild.

A few weeks later, the film would do much better in the Oscar nominations, where it racked up nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards.

How poorly was Little Women doing when Breznican wrote his piece? Consider its total shutout among the SAG nominations.

The Screen Actors Guild only gives acting awards. That said, it didn't nominate any individuals from Little Women, and it didn't nominate the cast of the film for its ensemble acting award.

Did this result from the gender bias Pascal described as "completely unconscious?" Or is it possible that SAG members simply thought that five other casts had done a better job overall?

In these latter days of our nation's experiment, such questions are no longer asked. Instead, the children take numbers and stand in line, waiting to repeat the highly speculative bias claims which routinely emerge from us on the floundering cultural left.

Panic invaded our tribal ranks in the wake of Pascal's complaints. On December 21, Janet Maslin tweeted a call to arms.

Maslin said she knew three men who didn't want to see Gerwig's film. The alarm went exactly like this:
MASLIN (12/21/19): The “Little Women” problem with men is very real. I don’t say that lightly and am very alarmed.

In the past day have been told by 3 male friends who usually trust me that they either refuse to see it or probably won’t have time. Despite my saying it’s tied for #1 of 2019.
So read Maslin's first tweet. Given the dumbness of our tribe, three no longer seemed like a comically tiny "N."

Inevitably, the New York Times jumped into the fray with its own report about the film's alleged man problem. Inevitably, the internal logic of the Times report may have been even dumber than Maslin's.

The essay was written by Kristy Eldredge. Online, it appears beneath these headlines:
Men Are Dismissing ‘Little Women.’ What a Surprise.
The rejection of the latest screen adaptation of the beloved novel echoes a long-held sentiment toward women-centered narratives.
Who but the Times writes piddle like that, in which "men" are said to have "dismissed" and "rejected" Gerwig's film?

Who but the Times writes such foofaw? And sure enough! In the body of Eldredge's piece, Times subscribers were soon invited to swallow logic like this as Eldredge advanced Maslin's claim:
ELDREDGE (12/27/19): One of its producers, Amy Pascal, told the magazine she believes many male voters have avoided it because of an “unconscious bias.”

While the box office numbers following its release on Wednesday suggest the movie has found a decent audience—it placed third, behind the new “Star Wars” and the latest “Jumanji,” on opening day—that unconscious bias has seemed to trickle down to the casual male viewer as well, if Twitter is any indication. The New York Times critic Janet Maslin recently tweeted her surprise at the “active hostility about ‘Little Women’ from men I know, love and respect.”

She also described the movie’s “problem with men” as “very real.” Someone tweeted in response: “It’s not a ‘problem.’ We just don’t care.”
Pascal had diagnosed an "unconscious bias" in industry types. On what basis was Eldredge now willing to say that this bias had "seemed to trickle down to the casual male viewer?"

On what basis did Eldredge make that statement? Simple! That seemed to be true, Eldredge said, "if Twitter is any indication." And then, explaining what she meant, she cited a single tweet in response to Maslin, in which one person had said that men "just don't care" about the new film.

Maslin had employed an "N" of three. The New York Times was now willing to roll with an "N" of one! The sheer stupidity put on display exemplifies the "very stable dumbness" to which future anthropologists now routinely refer as they describe the events which led to the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.

Sad! Liberal and mainstream reporters and pundits have been behaving this way for decades. When cultural guardians are routinely this dumb, can a Trump be far behind?

Experts insist that this exquisite dumbness stems from a basic longing of the so-called rational animal. At times of tribal conflict, these celebrated experts say, we humans wanted to tell the simplest possible stories—stories in which members of our own group or guild were pitiable innocent victims, and The Others were just extremely bad.

Future experts say we descended into an "identity Babel" during the decades which eventually led to our Trump. Strange as it seems, they say the punditry surrounding Little Women offers a window into the way these identity bubbles worked.

The dumbness was general, these experts all say. And it wasn't all found Over There!

Next week, we'll turn to the pixels of Vox to explore the rational animal's values. Scribes at Vox have gone all in on the greatness of Gerwig's well-reviewed film. Their logic, and the values they've revealed in the process, give us a look at the era's brainpower, and at the era's soul.

Coming next week: Marmee's anger, Professor Bhaer's girth and the cultural values of Vox

Along with an N of two: Maslin ran with an N of 3. Eldredge went with an N of 1 as she diagnosed the mistreated film's man problem.

Yesterday, we discussed a somewhat similar report in the Washington Post. How did Ellen McCarthy know that female candidates pay a price for employing humor?

Simple! She scrolled through a list of YouTube comments, then went with an N of 2! She had found two (2) different men making critical comments about a joke one (1) candidate told!

At the upper end of our national press, rational animals have been playing the game this way for a very long time. According to despondent future experts, this left us with no lines of defense against the appearance of Trump.

Should Candidate Warren have told those jokes?


Tater Tots jump the shark:
Last Tuesday, the Washington Post discussed some jokes which Candidate Warren told as part of a high-profile event last fall.

The jokes were delivered during a town hall forum broadcast by CNN. In last Tuesday's report, the Post brushed by a striking bit of information—the exchange, which seemed to be spontaneous, had in fact been pre-planned.

That said, should Warren have told the jokes at all? They possessed a Dowdian type of inverted sexual politics, the kind which affirms traditional ridicule when aimed in other directions.

More broadly, the jokes ridiculed the millions of people who hold a particular view which major Democrats widely held right through the last election.

Should Warren have told those jokes? In real time, Ruth Marcus said she shouldn't have. Marcus said that Warren's "good zingers" made for "bad politics."

We're inclined to agree with that view. To peruse her column, click here.

Meanwhile, as previously noted:

In yesterday's New York Times, readers were handed a dispiriting front-page report about a type of identity Babel within the Buttigieg campaign. One of the sachems whose views were ignored is one year out of college.

On the "Times readers just wanna have fun" side of town, the paper led its National section with this lengthy report about several candidates' dogs.

As a kindness, we didn't mention a third report in yesterday's Times—but the report apparently went over big with subscribers. On this morning's page A3 (print editions only), we learned how big it was:
The Conversation


3. A Classic Midwestern Dish Becomes a Talking Point in Iowa
Parties hosted by the presidential campaign of Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have been featuring a local favorite from her home state, Taconite Tater Tot Hot Dish.
This too was a front-page report. In this case, it was the featured front-page report in yesterday morning's Food section. The report about the candidates' dogs was the featured front-page report in yesterday's National section.

Because of its placement in Food, we didn't mention the featured report about the Tater Tot Hot Dish. But you can't keep a failed electorate down!

According to today's A3, the report about the tater tot dish became one of the most discussed reports in the whole New York Times empire! Inquiring minds wanted to read, discuss and share!

Alas! We've been encouraging you to process the claim that "it's all anthropology now." The decades-long dumbness of our national discourse has taken us past the point where the River Styx flows to the sea. All that's left is the anthropology—the attempt to explain the source of the cascading stupidities which have left us with Donald J. Trump.

Might we suggest one more possible exhibit? We take you to New York magazine, where two reporters debated this topic today:
Could Elizabeth Warren’s Ground Game Propel Her to an Iowa Victory?
Their conversation may have been sharp. We didn't bother to read it.

That said, we can answer the question that headline poses. The answer to that question is yes!

Yes, her ground game could propel her to victory—but also, it might not. It's also true that we'll all find out if we simply wait a few days.

That said, rational animals love to speculate. They love to sift through polls.

They love to waste large chunks of time making useless predictions. When we say it's all anthropology now, this is yet another part of what we incomparably mean.

Full disclosure RE sources and methods: This report was prepared in consultation with Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves, a disconsolate group of future scholars who report to us from the years which follow the global conflagration to which they refer only as Mister Trump's War.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: Candidate punished for telling a joke!


And other unverified tales:
Should Greta Gerwig have received an Oscar nomination for Best Director?

We have no real idea. Like most people you'll see answering this question with total certainty, we have no real idea how to judge performances by directors.

Meanwhile, only five such nominations are given. Is it possible that Gerwig's direction of Little Women was the year's sixth best?

As modern conventional pseudo-liberals, let's not bother ourselves with any such question as that. As liberals, we're currently sounding off about the way the director was wronged—about the way she was snubbed because she's a woman who directed a female-oriented film.

At present, every modern conventional pseudo-liberal knows that we must say such things. In this morning's Washington Post, Stephen King even joins the crowd, as he tries to get himself off the hook for a recent remark which has apparently been criticized on Twitter.

Seeking to prove his tribal good faith, King says that Gerwig's Little Women isn't just good, it's "astoundingly good." On balance, we thought the chronologically jumbled film was deeply confusing and, in that sense, a bit of a mess. But these are always subjective judgments, until tribal script comes along.

Why did King proceed today to the claim that the film is astoundingly good? As we've often noted, in various contexts:

When everyone has agreed that they will all Say The Same Thing, the only way to distinguish oneself is by embellishing the preapproved script. In this way, Candidate Gore was eventually said (by Arianna) to be wearing suit jackets with four buttons, not just the constantly ridiculed three.

King now says that the new Little Women is astoundingly good. As he does, he also says that his first published novel, Carrie, was a paean to female empowerment, apparently assuming that gullible readers will be willing to buy even that.

Alas! Major anthropologists insist that members of our failing species were wired to behave in such ways.

We're not sure if these future experts are right, but the sheer stupidity surrounding the Gerwig question has been hard to miss. Once again, consider:

Gerwig has now directed two films—Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019). Out in Tinseltown, each film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Gerwig received a Best Screenplay nomination for each film.

Also, Gerwig received a Best Director nomination for Lady Bird. But when the same directors' branch of the Academy didn't nominate her this year, we're told that she has experienced a snub, a snub caused by their sexism.

They nominated her for Best Director for her first female-oriented film. But when they failed to nominate her for her second female-oriented film, this proved that they're sexist!

You can't get a whole lot dumber than that. Experts point to scripts of this type as proof of our failing species' hard-wired sub-rational essence.

Tomorrow, we'll return to the scripted claims being made about Little Women. Today, let's consider the way our tribe's latest toy is being employed in a much wider arena.

At present, our liberal tribe owns only one toy. It's the only toy we have. For that reason, we take it out, and play with the toy, in every possible circumstance.

The toy to which we refer is our newly-discovered opposition to racism and sexism, with misogyny thrown in as well. At present, this is our failing tribe's only known toy. We rarely leave home without it.

We rarely leave home without it! Presumably, this explains the transparently silly piece which dominated the front page of the Washington Post's Style section last Tuesday morning.

The heartfelt piece was straight outta script. In print editions, it appeared beneath these headlines:
Why female candidates' attempts at humor are judged differently
The humorous headline said "wit," not "with!" Things spiraled downward from there.

We'll start with the obvious question. Is it true? Are attempts at humor by female candidates judged differently than similar attempts by men?

We have no idea—but then, we have an excuse. You see, we read the Post's lengthy piece, in which Ellen McCarthy essentially offered zero evidence in support of this pleasing claim.

Frankly, it gets even worse. Late in the piece, McCarthy noted that "two of the women still in the 2020 presidential race"—Candidates Klobuchar and Warren—"have routinely deployed humor throughout their campaigns."

She then quotes former candidate Hillary Clinton saying she wishes she had employed more humor during his 2016 run.

McCarthy also notes that Gretchen Whitmire, the current governor of Michigan, chose to employ a type of humor at one point during her successful 2018 campaign. Earlier, she quotes a political consultant recalling the way the late Ann Richards was famous for her wit:
MCCARTHY (1/21/20): It is possible for women to pull this off, he says. Neffinger points to former Texas governor Ann Richards—who once quipped that George H.W. Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth—as an example of a woman who wielded humor to great effect. The fact that she was older and white-haired may have made her barbs more palatable, he speculates, and she did it with “the big ol’ Texas grin to take the edge off it.”
Luckily, Richards' white hair and big ol' grin allow us to dismiss her success with humor. Still and all, a question arises:

Given the premise of this essay, how dumb must Klobuchar, Warren and Clinton be? The first two are still trying to use humor out on the trail in the face of societal prejudice. The third is so dumb that she's willing to say she should have used humor more!

According to major experts, so it goes when we humans take out our favorite toys and tell the stories we like. Our longing for a simpler world leads us to offer the types of claims which are pleasing within the tribe, but may seem, to everyone else, like artifacts of a "very stable dumbness."

Are these credentialed experts right? We can't tell you that. Nor can we tell you whether female candidates really do pay a price, on average, as opposed to men, when they use humor on the trail. We can't tell you if the price is large, if there's a price at all.

It's certainly possible that women pay a price for using humor—but it's also possible that they don't! Having said that, let's turn to the ugly episode which triggered the piece which dominated the front page of Style.

Elizabeth Warren was cast as the victim in McCarthy's tale. She'd offered a wondrously humorous set of remarks—and she'd been punished for it!

McCarthy started her piece by recalling Warren's remarks. Her full account went like this:
MCCARTHY: It played like a well-rehearsed stand-up routine.

“Let’s say you’re on the campaign trail . . .,” the audience member begins.

“I have been, yeah, uh-huh,” Elizabeth Warren nods, affecting exhaustion. The crowd at the televised CNN town hall titters with laughter.

The man asking the question continues: “A supporter approaches you and says, ‘Senator, I am old-fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman.’ What is your response?”

“Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” parries Warren, the senator from Massachusetts and presidential candidate. (More chuckles.) “And I’m going to say: ‘Then just marry one woman! I’m cool with that!’ ”

Laughter and whooping fills the room.
Warren leaves space for the laugh, coolly shrugging and cocking her head and resting for a few beats before twisting the knife:

“Assuming you can find one.”
Despite the societal prejudice, laughter and whooping filled the room as Warren advanced the kinds of assumptions Others will inevitably see as elite condescension.

Warren assumed that only men would hold the old-fashioned view of marriage she was mocking. This of course is false.

She then proceeded to suggest that the kind of man who held that view could never get a woman to marry him. In fact, many such men are married to women who hold the exact same view.

Indeed, President Obama still held that view as of 2012. The aforementioned Hillary Clinton didn't support marriage equality until her 2016 campaign. Our own tribe has come to accept marriage equality roughly in the last ten minutes, but people like Warren are out on the trail mocking the millions of laggards.

People like Warren produce "laughter and whooping" when they mock people who hold the views our own stars held until quite recently. With that in mind, if Warren's jibes produced all that laughter and whooping, what makes McCarthy say that female candidates are punished for using humor?

What made McCarthy express that view? Prepare to encounter a very stable dumbness:
MCCARTHY (continuing directly): Forget that the joke had been teed up—the person asking the question, Morgan Cox, was chair of the board of directors at the Human Rights Campaign and a donor to Warren’s 2018 Senate campaign—it was a well-performed series of zingers, and many of the people who watched the exchange on YouTube after it happened in October seemed to agree.

Scroll down far enough, though, and you see a different kind of response.

“What a (preplanned) snarky, mean-spirited response she made,” wrote one commenter.

“Scorn,” wrote another, “mockery, contempt, self-congratulation . . . but hey, worked for Hillary, amIright?”

The list of double standards women face on their path to public office is plenty long...
Yes, she actually did it!

McCarthy skipped past some actual news—this whole exchange in this CNN town hall had been planned, pre-packaged! She then scrolled through some comments on YouTube—and after scrolling "far enough," she found two (2) comments critical of Warren.

McCarthy looked through comments on line; she found two which were critical! On this basis, she assembled her lengthy piece, and the Post was willing to print it.

The evening after this essay appeared, representatives of Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves despairingly held their heads in the hands as they appeared before us. (They communicate with us through puzzling nocturnal submissions which the haters deride as mere dreams.)

"Our species was wired for this type of dumbness," the glum future experts explained. On this occasion, we could think of no way to tell them they were wrong.

Tomorrow: The vast stable dumbness, it burns!

As the liberal and mainstream worlds implode...


...what happens if Bernie wins?:
As we watch the liberal and mainstream worlds implode, we don't know which is sadder:

Is it this front-page report
in the New York Times about the identity Babel within the Buttigieg campaign?

(As best we can tell, Katrina Smith is one year out of college.)

Or is it the pitiful report which leads this morning's National section—the sprawling report about several candidates' dogs?

So far, the Times hasn't gotten wround to profiling the various candidates' hairdressers, as was done, on the paper's front page, in the case of Candidate Romney. But as we bumble toward The End, can those reports be far behind?

Whatever! Today, we recommend a series of reports about the possible perils associated with Candidate Sanders.

What will happen in the general election if Bernie wins nomination? WE can't tell you that.

It was always hard to make predictions, especially about the future. Given the way all norms have crashed, we'd say it can barely be done at all at this point.

We can't tell you what will happen if Sanders wins the nomination. But in The Atlantic, David Frum makes a significant point:
FRUM (1/27/20): Bernie Sanders is a fragile candidate. He has never fought a race in which he had to face serious personal scrutiny. None of his Democratic rivals is subjecting him to such scrutiny in 2020. Hillary Clinton refrained from scrutinizing Sanders in 2016. It did not happen, either, in his many races in Vermont. A Politico profile in 2015 by Michael Kruse argued that Sanders had benefited from “an unwritten compact between Sanders, his supporters, and local reporters who have steered clear” of writing about Sanders’s personal history “rather than risk lectures about the twisted priorities of the press.”

The Trump campaign will not steer clear. It will hit him with everything it’s got. It will depict him as a Communist in the grip of twisted sexual fantasies, a useless career politician who oversaw a culture of sexual harassment in his 2016 campaign...
Sanders' foibles have never been frisked. Candidate Trump won't be like that.

Frum goes on from there, detailing some of the candidate's vulnerabilities—and some of them, by traditional norms, are, without question, quite daunting.

And Frum is hardly alone. Time has passed and now it seems everybody is having those dreams! That includes Jonathan Chait at New York; William Saletan at Slate; and Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times.

Everyone's listing the potential list of horribles available to Herr Trump. That said, we'll recommend the analysis Goldberg offered back in 2016, when she was still at Slate.

What will happen when Trump goes wild? Four years ago, Goldberg mentioned these points, among others:
GOLDBERG (5/2/16): [T]here’s been only scattered excavation of Sanders’ radical connections. He has never been asked to account for his relationship with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, for which he served as a presidential elector in 1980. At the time, the party’s platform called for abolishing the U.S. military budget and proclaimed “solidarity” with revolutionary Iran. (This was in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis.) There’s been little cable news chatter about Sanders’ 1985 trip to Nicaragua, where he reportedly joined a Sandinista rally with a crowd chanting, “Here, there, everywhere/ The Yankee will die.”...

The Clinton campaign has also ignored Sanders’ youthful sex writings. Republicans are unlikely to be so decorous. Imagine an ad drawing from the old Sanders essay “The Revolution Is Life Versus Death.” First it might quote the candidate mocking taboos on child nudity: “Now, if children go around naked, they are liable to see each others [sic] sexual organs, and maybe even touch them. Terrible thing!” Then it would quote him celebrating girls who defy their mothers and have sex with their boyfriends: “The revolution comes … when a girl pushes aside all that her mother has ‘taught’ her and accepts her boyfriends [sic] love.”...It takes no special political insight to see that Republicans will try to make Sanders seem like a sexual weirdo. Will it work? I have no idea, but there’s no shorter route to the frightened lizard brain of the American electorate than dark talk about children and sex.
Goldberg continued from there. So Goldberg wrote, even before we all came to see how crazy Trump is willing to be. (As we all know, the word "reportedly" has little meaning to him.)

In fairness, Candidate Warren's past claims about being an American Indian would also beg for revival. The liberal world has shown amazingly little awareness of the way that matter might play if Trump chose to revive it. And how about Biden's wayward son? Surely everyone understands that he never should have been in Ukraine.

Could Trump ride such matters to re-election? We can't tell you that. But even in kinder and gentler times, Candidate Dukakis went down because Dems weren't prepared to deal with the Willie Horton matter. Later, along came Candidate Kerry, seemingly unprepared for the inevitable Swift boat attacks.

Donald Trump is out of his mind; our liberal world is fading away in a descent into Babel. Our public discourse has long been characterized by a very stable dumbness.

Future anthropologists keep insisting that it's too late to attend to such matters. Our president is out of his mind, they say, and our liberal and mainstream factions have never been more helpless.

That's what despondent future experts have glumly been saying to us. They communicate through the nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as dreams.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: Does Jo say yes to Professor Bhaer?


But also, My Brilliant Career:
Does Jo March marry Professor Bhaer at the end of the new Little Women?

Perhaps at Marienbad! Over at Slate, Martinelli and Schwedel debated the question on Christmas morning, the very day the new film was released.

The two "superfans" couldn't settle the question. This very day, at The Guardian, it seems that Laura Snapes has:
SNAPES (1/29/20): In her biggest change to Alcott’s narrative, Gerwig reconciles the unease between Jo’s teenage passions and grownup reality by having her refuse to marry Professor Bhaer or to wed the heroine in the story she sells: she has said she wanted viewers to feel the same thrill over “girl gets book” as they usually would when “girl gets boy”. Her decision has been praised for recognising Alcott’s feminist intentions and for validating a woman’s mind over her romantic potential; it’s also been criticised for perpetuating lean-in feminism and, in its own way, devaluing the original text.
There's a bit of fuzz in the sentence in question. But Snapes seems to say that Jo doesn't simply remain unmarried at the end of the film.

According to Snapes, Jo refuses to marry Herr Bhaer!

Whatever! As we've noted before, there's nothing "wrong" with so much confusion, or for that matter with so much "adaptation," unless you decide that there is.

Regarding the thrill of "girl gets book," Gillian Armstrong has already provided that thrill in My Brilliant Career, the 1979 Aussie film which has long been one of our three favorite films.

My Brilliant Career won six (Australian) Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. Up Here, it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.

Later, Armstrong directed the 1994 version of Little Women. We liked it a lot when we stumbled upon it, though nowhere near as much.

In related news, Gerwig seems to pay musical homage to My Brilliant Career at two points in her new Little Women. It's a fact you'll learn nowhere else!

At two different points in Gerwig's film, two different characters play the piano in the March home. On each occasion, out comes Schumann's Of Foreign Lands and People, the musical theme of the utterly brilliant My Brilliant Career.

Is My Brilliant Career utterly brilliant—an utterly brilliant film? Such things are matters of judgment! That said, its young heroine does in fact refuse to marry at the end of the film, breaking the hearts of the bulk of the audience, along with that of Sam Neill.

The film's young heroine, played by Judy Davis, is determined to finish the book she is writing—a book about her own challenging life. Sam Neill is utterly good, and wholly devoted, but their exchange, near the end, goes exactly like this:
JUDY DAVIS: Can't you see? The last thing I want is, is to be a wife out in the bush, having a baby every year.

SAM NEILL: You can have anything you want. We can go to the city as much as you like.

JUDY DAVIS: Dear, dear Harry. Maybe I'm ambitious, selfish. But I can't lose myself in somebody else's life when I haven't lived my own yet.

I want to be a writer. At least I'm going to try.
But I've got to do it now, and I've got to do it alone.

Please try and understand.

SAM NEILL: I thought you loved me. Don't you love me even a little?

JUDY DAVIS: Oh, Harry. I'm so near loving you. But I'd destroy you, and I can't do that.
Harry is utterly crestfallen. It's one of the greatest scenes we've ever seen, in large part because the audience wants so strongly to see her say yes, she will.

At any rate, and as you can see, the lead character in My Brilliant Career does all the things Jo March doesn't do at the end of Little Women. Unless you "adapt" the famous book, sailing to Byzantium by way of Marienbad.

Sybylla does all the things Jo March doesn't do. Maybe Gerwig should have done a remake of My Brilliant Career! Except you can't get rich and famous, commanding an army of silly fanpersons, if you decide to remake a film which lacks an army of superfans—a film which would be very hard to improve on.

We treasure the night when we heard the audience gasp when Judy said no to Sam! It's very rare see an audience so deeply involved in a story.

Today, we get to read debates about whether Jo does or doesn't marry Bhaer in the new adaptation. This is presented as feminism—and it could be that it actually is, depending on how you score it.

As our nation slides toward the sea, the feminism—like everything else—has sometimes displayed what the experts now widely describe as "a very stable dumbness."

The claims that Gerwig got "snubbed" by the Oscars have, quite routinely, been dogmatic and dumb beyond all human belief. So, of course, is a great deal we read these days in our leading newspapers, including this recent complaint in the Washington Post concerning what happened one candidate told a joke.

We have miles to go before we sleep regarding the punditry which has surrounded Gerwig's well-reviewed film. We now realize that our explorations will continue into next week—Oscar week itself!.

That said, the punditry has often been amazingly strange—and we'd have to say it has sometimes put "progressive" values on display which are less than wholly impressive.

Anthropologists keep telling us about the longings of our failing species. We long for the simplest possibles story, these credentialed experts despondently say—for a story in which we can reduce the world to the simplest possible formula.

Was Professor Bhaer too "stout," but also too poor and too "unattractive," for Dear Jo to marry? So they're saying over at Vox, in a remarkable series of reports about Gerwig's film.

The professor was too stout, too unattractive. But oh, what kinds of values are these, which keep going from bad to worse?

Tomorrow: The candidate tells a joke

One of the great political jokes!


Morning Joe puts the "wit" back in Wittes:
We're willing to agree with Kenneth Starr on one point. As our political norms melt down, we have begun to flirt with life inside an "age of impeachment."

Two of the nation's last four presidents have now been impeached. That's out of a total of three in all of American history!

Back when Starr was the Javert doggedly tracking Bill Clinton, people sometimes said that a Clinton impeachment might tend to lead to future impeachments. That struck us as far-fetched at the time. But whatever one thinks of the Trump impeachment, it seems less far-fetched now.

That said, it was odd to see Ken Starr, of all apparent people, wringing his hands yesterday about the age of impeachment. On this morning's Morning Joe, this led to one of the best political jokes we've ever seen.

Joe Scarborough started the program by staging an epic rant about the dunce-like behavior of the Trump lawyers at yesterday's hearing.

Below, you see part of what Scarborough said about Starr. Then you see the dry-as-dust reply from Benjamin Wittes, a legal journalist and the cofounder of Lawfare:
SCARBOROUGH (1/28/20): This is a man who put in the impeachment report allegations of "oral, anal contact." That’s what Ken Starr did. That’s what a [potential] Supreme Court justice did. That’s what they put in their impeachment report.

And we’re talking now about a president who’s not only asking a foreign power to interfere, he then goes on national TV a week later and asks China to interfere in America’s democratic elections, a risk that Donald Trump’s own intel agencies say is the greatest threat to American democracy. And Ken Starr is lecturing America about taking impeachment too lightly? When I told you what he filled his impeachment report with?

It's just—it's preposterous...

WITTES: Yeah, so I was sitting with a colleague yesterday watching Ken Starr’s presentation. And she turned to me and said, "Does Ken Starr know he’s Ken Starr?"
Does Ken Starr know he's Ken Starr? It was Wittes' dry delivery which totally sold the remark. You can watch the award-winning quip at this link, just after the three-minute mark.

The Morning Joe panel broke for laughter after Wittes relayed his colleague's remark. "I think that kind of, you know, captured the whole thing, that there was so little self-awareness," Wittes finally said when he continued speaking.

In fairness, a certain lack of self-awareness can perhaps be spotted at various present-day venues. That said:

Does Ken Starr know he's Ken Starr? Even as our systems melt down all around us, scholars say there's no reason to avoid the occasional mordant quip!

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: Is the new Little Women confusing?


And other heretical tales:
We'll start with a bit of full disclosure—we've seen Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Little Women three (3) separate times.

On Friday, December 26—it was one day after Christmas—we tried to see the well-reviewed film. We headed off with our sister, our niece and our niece's two transplendent daughters, ages 13 and 7.

Alas! Despite the well-documented refusal of men to attend the film, the theater was sold out—and we were on the train for home the very next day.

After returning to our sprawling campus, we attended the film the following Monday. We're forced to admit that we found it confusing, due to its many flashbacks, flashforwards and memory insertions.

Since then, we've seen the film two more times, and we may go yet again. We never haven't found it confusing, which doesn't necessarily mean that it actually is.

Critical judgments differ. Some people thought Proust went on too long; some found Ulysses confusing! It's said that there's no accounting for taste, and critical judgments are, in the end, inevitably subjective.

Is Little Women confusing? In chopping the narrative up into bits, did Gerwig's screenplay turn Little Women into Les Demoiselles d'Avignon?

Inevitably, assessments will differ! That said, it turns pout that we aren't alone in our reaction. Consider what happened when the New York Times blew the whistle on the instant boycott of the film—a boycott quickly put in place by angry American men.

Kristy Eldredge based her whistle-blowing on some rather shaky evidence. Most remarkable was the tweet by Janet Maslin, the long-time New York Times film and book reviewer, in which Maslin set off an angry stampede by reporting that she knew three men who weren't planning on attending the film.

You'd almost think that three (3) would seem like a rather small "N," even to a career Timesperson. In this case, that bit of caution was bypassed. Maslin's tweet touched off an angry panic, with the Eldredge exposé not real far behind.

According to major anthropologists, when the rational animal has a point to make, almost any evidence will do! In reaction to Eldredge's essay, waves of Times readers appended comments in which they explained what "men" will and won't do.

Like so many other colloquies, the foolishness of this discussion surpassed all standard understanding. That said, quite a few comments to Eldredge's piece came from people who had seen the new film and said they'd found it confusing. Just the way we had!

Most of Eldredge's three million commenters hadn't yet seen the new film. (Actual number: 1,390.) Some who had seen it said that they loved it. But also, just in the early going, others made comments like these:
COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I saw it at an awards screening where Ms. Gerwig spoke for an hour afterwards. I found her much more interesting than the film.

There's nothing wrong with this adaptation of LW. It's well done and beautifully shot. Like many others who have commented here, I found the back and forth narratives confusing and don't think it embellished the storytelling.

COMMENT FROM RALEIGH: I saw it. It was a beautiful film. But the jumping back and forth in time was unnecessarily confusing.

COMMENT FROM WESTERN MASS: I recently watched the 3-part series on PBS and liked it more than the new film. I thought the time-shift, out-of-book-sequence production was confusing and ruined the delicious tension of the major plot lines.

COMMENT FROM CALAIS, VT: I didn't like all the time-jumping. 1994's version was—to me, a boomer white male—the finest of all. The girls were actually seemed like girls and not obviously-20-somethings trying to act younger and visibly un-changed throughout the entire film...My female wife agrees!

COMMENT FROM OTTAWA: I saw it last night with my adult daughter and we enjoyed it. It looks beautiful. The cast is good, (though I think Amy and Beth should be played by adolescents in scenes from the early years of the story.) But it’s not a great adaptation. Gerwig’s choice not to be chronological in her story telling was VERY confusing and this is coming from someone who has re-read the novel and seen every movie adaptation multiple times. It is not a flawless film by any means.

COMMENT FROM NIAGARA FALLS: We saw it at a special preview, and you’d be hard-pressed to explain to me, who loves the book and loves movies, why a story set during the 1860s needs to feel like a busy contemporary romantic-comedy. Additionally, the flashbacks and flashforwards were annoying and distracting.

...All that plot jumping around was a mistake on the part of the director, who should have let Louisa May Alcott’s writer’s voice carry along the moviegoer.

COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I adore the book "Little Women." I have read and re-read it many times over my 60+ years. I am a full-time working woman with three adult daughters. I have seen many of the previous film and television versions... I saw this movie.

And I didn't like it.

Certainly it is beautiful, with much attention to detail in clothing and location. But the back and forth of time is a style that I personally find unlikable: sure, I know the narrative and the actual timeline of events. But was this film made only for devotees of Louisa May Alcott?

COMMENT FROM ALASKA: Both my wife and I were quite disappointed with this latest film version of Little Women. Perhaps our disappointment was compounded by the generally glowing reviews the film has received; so, we had high expectations...[T]he rapid fire flash forwards and flashbacks were often at least briefly confusing. The confusion was due, in part, to the fact that the very young March girls were played by the same actresses as the March women in their later years...
We haven't read through all the comments to Eldredge's piece, or even through most of the comments. But these early commenters gave us our self-esteem back!

We weren't the only ones who found the film's chronological slicing-and-dicing confusing! That said, we also tended to agree with comments which suggested that the casting added to the problem.

In our view, the oldest sister looked like the youngest, and the youngest sister seemed like the oldest. At least for us, this added to the difficulty in managing the confusion brought on by the endless time shifts.

In fairness, we've learned, since then, that you're supposed to know what year the film is in by noting the length of Amy's bangs. These and other tips have come from the many devoted fans of the film found among our liberal journalists in these wild west journalistic years.

At any rate, how about it? Is the new Little Women confusing?

Left on our own, we would have thought that Gerwig was a perhaps bit over-ambitious with her screenplay, and that the screenplay basically failed. Plainly, though, that doesn't seem to be the view of Gerwig's professional peers.

Out in Tinseltown, the full academy gave Little Women an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, one of nine such nominations this year. The academy's screenwriters gave Gerwig a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, one of ten screenplay nominations overall.

That said, the academy's directors denied Gerwig a Best Director nomination, a category in which only five nominations are given. This was widely denounced as a sexist "snub." Within a journalistic realm in which the comments of three (3) men can touch off a furious tribal stampede, the mathematics of ten nominations versus five will inevitably be too hard to ponder or to parse.

We now live in the world of Donald J. Trump. According to leading anthropologists, "a vast stable dumbness" helped bring us to this perilous place.

These experts claim that this remarkably stable dumbness isn't all found Over There, They claim that the remarkable flaps about Gerwig's film have often been embarrassing, tilting over toward comical. But in that sense, these experts say, the flaps have been highly instructive.

Tribal longings serpentine though the volumes of punditry surrounding this well-reviewed film. As we all sit here "on the beach," awaiting the outbreak of Mister Trump's War, we think there may be a lot to learn from the frequently comical pundit wars surrounding the latest Little Women, and from an array of current claims concerning related matters.

How do tribal longings drive the rational animal's conduct? Tomorrow, with expert scholars on hand to help, we'll consider a few of the ways Gerwig changed her source material.

Tomorrow, we'll start with Professor Bhaer. In the book, he marries Jo March. Jo even marries him!

Jo March marries Professor Bhaer. But was the fat fellow too "stout?"

Tomorrow: Also, too "unattractive"

By the end of the week: The transplendent My Brilliant Career, with all its ties to Gerwig's new film. With great pleasure, "we recall the night the audience gasped when Judy said no to Sam."

Three recent dispatches from Slate!


Plus, the world's many teen-aged victims:
Just to keep you up to date, here are three more recent posts from Slate:
FRED KAPLAN / JAN. 26, 2020 / 7:00 PM
Let's Not Forget: Donald Trump Still Has the Power to Destroy the World

HEATHER SCHWEDEL / JAN. 27, 2020 / 12:10 AM
What, Exactly, Did Nick Jonas Have in His Teeth?

RICH JUZWIAK / JAN. 27, 2020 / 5:54 AM
I’m a Heterosexual Woman Who’s Politically Opposed to Heterosexuality
Three recent posts from Slate. People, we're just saying!

Kaplan's piece is adapted from his new book, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War. As you may recall, the entire liberal world, including Rachel and all her colleagues, disappeared Kaplan when he offered this instant critique of Comey the God back in July 2016.

Kaplan's critique was highly relevant, but it went unmentioned, and Kaplan himself went uninterviewed. In those days, careerists didn't mess with Comey the God, a "made man" inside Establishment Washington. This helps explain why Donald J. Trump has the power described in that new headline.

As for the other two posts, you can probably pick up our point.

We'll also note this post about the late Kobe Bryant's daughter, who lost her life yesterday. Our comment would be this:

When we stage our various wars, 13-year-old children all over the world end up dying beside their parents. This happened all over Iraq not long ago because the people we still revere and copy on Our Own Cable Channel spent several years punishing Candidate Gore for the perceived sins of President Clinton.

Before that, upper-end journalists hid in the bushes outside Gary Hart's home to see if he maybe did have a girl friend. Anthropologically speaking, these are key facts about the wiring of our currently flailing species.

The dying to which we've referred goes on all over the world. Our world has a long way to go, and our tribal stars helped arrange to send Trump to the White House.

Also in The Autumn of '99: It was during this time that our biggest stars began referring to Hillary Clinton as Evita Peron, as Nurse Ratched, and as someone who reminded them of their first wives.

This continued for quite a few years before anyone so much as said boo. People wanted to get on Hardball, and Olbermann was a new star.

Our tribal leaders are ostentatiously MeToo now, but they kept their traps shut then. This too helps explain how Donald Trump got to the Oval.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: Reinventing Professor Bhaer...


...while fixing Little Women:
Does Jo March marry Professor Bhaer at the end of Little Women?

If we're speaking about Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, then yes, she plainly does. You can confirm this fact in the Project Gutenberg text, which appears online, free of charge.

Because it was published so long ago, Little Women is now in the public domain. Anyone can publish the book, or borrow its name, or change its events all around.

That said, in the actual book which Alcott published, Jo March does marry Bhaer. It happens in the book's final chapter—and the lovebirds are even said to have two children before the chapter ends!

Briefly, let's take a look at the record concerning these fictional facts.

In the penultimate chapter (Chapter 46), the aforementioned fictional persons do agree to marry. According to Alcott's narrator, the fictional Jo, newly engaged, "was very far gone indeed, and quite regardless of everything but her own happiness."

The professor was said to be happy as well. The moment when he and Jo agreed to marry "was the crowning moment of both their lives." Or so Alcott fictitiously wrote.

In the book's final chapter (Chapter 47), an engagement of several years takes place. Eventually, Aunt March dies and leaves her Plumfield, her sprawling estate, to Jo. Jo decides to turn into "a school for little lads."

Things move rather quickly from there. The book's fictional values seem clear:
ALCOTT (Chapter 47): It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed to happen in an unusually rapid and delightful manner. Almost before she knew where she was, Jo found herself married and settled at Plumfield. Then a family of six or seven boys sprung up like mushrooms, and flourished surprisingly, poor boys as well as rich, for Mr. Laurence was continually finding some touching case of destitution, and begging the Bhaers to take pity on the child, and he would gladly pay a trifle for its support. In this way, the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo, and furnished her with the style of boy in which she most delighted.

Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer mistakes, but the wise Professor steered her safely into calmer waters...
Thank God for Professor Bhaer! Or so Alcott had it, for better or for worse.

That's the way things actually went in the actual fiction. Alcott notes that Jo did no more writing at this point, although she'd already written a novel, receiving payment of $300, facts which had been conveyed to readers way back in Chapter 27.

Jo does no more writing? For better or worse, for whatever reason, that's what Alcott devised at the end of her book.

Two books later, in Jo's Boys (see chapter 3), we learn that things have changed. Jo, now a mature women, has returned to writing and has published a highly successful novel based upon her own life.

"A book for girls being wanted by a certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and sisters," Alcott fictitiously writes. "The fame she never did quite accept...The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be."

Quite a few years later, Mrs. Bhaer has returned to writing, but nothing of this kind occurs at the end of Little Women. The successful book about her own life is published many years later—and, as Professor Matteson notes, "the Professor not only tolerates Jo's writing, but creates conditions under which it can flourish."

(We'll hear more from Matteson before our week is done.)

The book Little Women ends with a marriage and with the creation of a school. For better or worse, and for whatever reason or reasons, those are the fictitious events which occur in the actual book.

Also for better or worse, those events suggest the values, however dull or disappointing, which the actual book seems to endorse.

That said, the book is now in the public domain. Anyone who wants to change it around can do so without the kind of legal fight which descended on Aaron Sorkin's head when he decided to transform To Kill A Mockingbird, based in large part on some crazy ideas.

The book Little Women ends with a marriage and also with a school—but for better or worse, Greta Gerwig seems to have had a better, or at least a different, idea. When Jessica Bennett discussed Gerwig's Oscar-nominated yet Oscar-snubbed film in the New York Times, she quoted Amy Pascal, one of the film's producers, telling a tale out of school:
BENNETT (1/2/20): “One of the first things Greta said to me was, ‘You know we can’t actually have her marry Professor Bhaer,’ ” said Pascal.
Say what? We can't have her marry the professor? Why the Sam Hill not?

We'll answer your understandable question as the week proceeds. But this resolution apparently led to the ending, or the meta-ending, of Gerwig's film, in which some viewers think the pair of lovebirds get married and some folk feel sure that they don't.

Whichever! In the hands of Gerwig's many admirers, the ending to her film presents an analytical challenge which matches that confronting Mayor Pete when he decided to tackle Finnegan's Wake in the original middle Norwegian.

At Slate, two observers argued over whether a marriage does or doesn't take place. Warning though:

If you decide to click this link, you may end up feeling Schwedeled!

Did Gerwig really make that statement to Pascal? We have no way of knowing! But Gerwig's improvements on Alcott's book help us ponder the longings of the rational animal at this dangerous point in time.

Gerwig is hardly alone in her desire for change. In his Broadway adaptation, Sorkin improved To Kill A Mockingbird in endless ways, based in part on the crazy idea that Harper Lee's famous book actually ends with a murder.

Some tribal changes are brought to old texts; some contemporary changes are being brought to mere facts. Out in Tinseltown, Tarantino has dreamed a better world in which the Tate-LaBianca murders funnily didn't take place. We refer to his current Oscar-nominated film, an apparent Dumb and Dumber prequel and in that sense an homage.

Why should we tether ourselves to mere facts when we can let ourselves dream? In another Oscar-nominated film, Martin Scorsese built a very long drama about a character named "Jimmy Hoffa" out of a book everyone knows to be bogus.

Along the same lines, we recently watched The Imitation Game, an Oscar-nominated film, for the first time. Though the film was supposed to be "based on" real events, it seems the film was larded with factual readjustments.

Judged as a drama, we can say this—it had all the verisimilitude of a film in which Homer Price saves the western world thanks to his doughnut machine. It got very dumb as it went along, but nobody noticed or cared.

As Donald Trump destroys the known world, the rational animal almost seems to be lost in a type of longing. We seem to be living in Michael Moore's fictitious world, rather than a world anchored in facts and in texts.

Let's be clear! There's nothing "wrong" with what Gerwig has done, unless you think there is. There is something wrong with the silly dreams we liberals keep dreaming as Donald Trump takes down the world. Also, with our inability to come to terms with even the simplest current facts.

Gerwig changes Professor Bhaer. She also reinvents Marmee.

She changes the way the story ends, with other pleasing flips. She does retain the various characters' famous names, and she keeps the famous book's title.

As with Sorkin, so too here. Whatever else a person might think, this is surely a sound business practice. But as the wealth and fame roll in, is our society going down in the face of our childish longings?

Gerwig's fans know what to say about the various changes Gerwig has made to the famous book. They also know what to say about Gerwig's Oscar snubs, which have resulted from sexism, as with just about everything else.

Nietzche wrote about the dreamer who just wanted to go on dreaming. As we'll be noting all this week, we're currently surrounded by dreams, some of which may even be silly, Over Here in our liberal tents as our world goes down.

Tomorrow: Longings, dreams, tribal scripts

Commander's approval soars, Post says!


Our own top concern goes missing:
Fearlessly, we decided to take The Top Policy Issue Challenge.

It was a bit of a throwaway by our favorite blogger. In fairness, the project was capsuled as shown:
DRUM (1/24/20): Here’s a little weekend survey for you. I’m just curious about which things are most important to you in this election cycle. It’s limited to policy issues, so it doesn’t include things like “beat Trump” or “elect a woman.”

The choices are presented in random order. You may select up to five.
Drum listed 27 policy issues from which survey-takers could choose. That said, the "thing [which is] most important to [us] in this election cycle" didn't appear on the list. It didn't even make his list of the two things which aren't policy issues!

What's most important to us in this depressing election cycle? It isn't exactly a policy issue, but it comes fairly close.

We're most concerned with the nation's increasing tribal schism, an artifact which can also be described as our "partisan divide." An unknown, highly talented young politician discussed a form of this massive cultural problem way back in The Summer of '04:
OBAMA (7/27/04): The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about.
Four years later, this unknown pol was himself the Democratic nominee. But on that first encounter, he was discussing a form of the most important problem we currently face.

We don't see an obvious way out of this terrible problem. Obama blamed it on "the pundits," and to a certain extent he was right. It's hard to see a way out of this mess when major corporate interests are selling Pure Tribal Belief at our three cable news channels and all over the Internet.

Social media doesn't help. It helps us see how badly we within our floundering species have always needed guidance from capable "thought leaders." Absent them, the deluge!

Within our own liberal tribe, we can see the deceptions Over There, and we love to discuss them. On the other hand, we have a very hard time seeing the way we ourselves are being propagandized by the multimillionaire corporate hirelings who present as cable news stars.

For us, it's hard to see a way out of this mess as long as this highly profitable communication system remains in place. That said, this problem is almost never discussed, except in the form of complaints about what's being said by The Others.

Major experts keep telling us that this is simply the way our species' brain is wired. Throughout human history, this unfortunate wiring has led on to war, or so these experts have said.

These scholars may well be right! In the current context, these hard-wired impulses may have helped produce this troubling news report in this morning's Washington Post.

Hard-copy headline included:
Post-ABC poll: Trump's approval rating matches highest of his presidency

President Trump’s approval rating has climbed to match the highest of his presidency
, boosted by majority approval of his economic stewardship even as Americans remain deeply divided on whether the Senate should remove him from office, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The Post-ABC poll finds 44 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s overall job performance and 51 percent disapprove. While views of Trump remain negative, Trump’s approval rating is significantly improved from his 38 percent mark in late October.

A 56 percent majority approves of Trump’s handling of the economy, up 10 percentage points from September and his strongest rating on his marquee issue since entering office. By contrast, 39 percent approve of Trump’s handling of his impeachment, while 50 percent disapprove.

The findings suggest the country’s strong economy and heightened support from men and independents are helping Trump weather an impeachment trial
in which Democrats have argued Trump abused his presidential powers and obstructed a congressional investigation of his actions. Trump’s 44 percent approval mark is similar to other recent national polls, though other polls have shown Trump’s rating stable or increasing slightly.
How strange! In this one particular poll, the commander's approval rating has "significantly improved" since impeachment started in earnest!

It's true that this is just one poll. None of its numbers can be regarded as "accurate," though that's the way the jugglers and clowns treat every new poll out of Iowa as they kill time and entertain us on cable.

It's also true that 44 percent isn't a high approval rating as judged by traditional standards. That said, traditional standards and norms are almost certainly gone—and the commander's approval is bumping up even as we, Over Here in our own tents, feel most sure that his deviant behavior is being most fully exposed.

Why would Those numbers bump up at a juncture like this? Also, why does anyone approve of the commander at all?

As we enjoy the blandishments of our multimillionaire corporate stars, we liberals rarely ask such questions. When we do, we quickly provide memorized versions of our standard answers.

The mugging and clowning of our tribal stars can be quite entertaining! Along the way, we're rarely asked to wonder about this part of the Post's report:
The poll also finds a 57 percent majority of men approve of Trump, up 12 percentage points from October to the highest level of his presidency. By contrast, 33 percent of women approve of Trump’s performance, little changed from 31 percent in the fall. The 24-percentage-point gender gap in Trump’s approval rating is the largest in Post-ABC polls since he took office.
None of those numbers can be regarded as "accurate." But why might the gender gap be so large? We liberals tend to have our standard answers and the cable stars we love rarely take us beyond them.

Drum listed 27 policy issues which may be "most important" to the individual reader. That said, nothing will change in those policy areas as long as this tribal division continues to widen and harden.

Everyone knows this, and nobody cares. Experts say we're wired that way as well. As always, they could be right. (Their credentials are in order.)

That said, the outcome of such divisions tends to take a common form. As our most astonishing talent from nowhere once said:

"...And the war came."

It's always easy to see what's going wrong Over There. It's harder to see the limitations within one's own harbor and tribe.

Our analysts cheered Ed Kilgore a few days ago as he noted a few of the flaws with some of our current tribal constructions. But we don't see a good way out of our current partisan mess, and we rarely see anyone describe this mess as our nation's growing ur-problem.

We scanned that List of 27 for our own current greatest concern. It isn't exactly a "policy issue," but then too, it wasn't included.

A VERY STABLE DUMBNESS: How did AOC get where she is?


She spills with remarkable talent:
Did the New York Times editorial board really do "Mayo Pete" wrong?

That's a matter of judgment! For ourselves, we were surprised by the interview snippets which aired during Sunday's hour-long TV show, in which the board pretended to clue us in on how their most recent sausage was hatched.

For ourselves, we were embarrassed by the dumbness of the "Mayo Pete" snippet. Also, we were surprised by Binyamin Applebaum's remarkably hostile tone.

Later, should we have been surprised by the board's full interview with Buttigieg? Should we have been surprised to see that the interview started off like this?
KINGSBURY (1/19/20): Thank you for coming. So, we have heard you obviously talk about health care and climate and the Middle East a lot in the debates, so we’re going to try to ask you some questions we haven’t heard you answer in the past, and you will be shocked to hear that we’d like to start with your time at McKinsey.

You graduated from Oxford with sterling credentials. You could have pursued any number of career paths from there, including the choice you ultimately made to join the military. Can you walk us through why you decided to go to McKinsey from there?

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, so the biggest thing was that I had a great academic education, but I was beginning to feel that there wasn’t as much real-world experience mixed in with it. That in particular, I was eager to do as many things as I could, touching as many fields as I could, and to understand business in particular, about how people and money and goods move around the world and how that works.

KINGSBURY: So you didn’t just want to make a lot of money?

BUTTIGIEG: What’s that?

KINGSBURY: You didn’t just want to make a lot of money?

BUTTIGIEG: I definitely noticed the paycheck and that was important, too. Yeah. I’m not going to pretend that that wasn’t on my mind, too.
At age 24, as he took his first job, was Pete just chasing the Benjamins? This strikes us as a very strange way to start an interview of this type.

That said, the board was perhaps a bit surprising again and again. This has often been the case, in the past thirty years, with the occasionally limited types who sit at the top of our press corps.

For the record, we aren't attempting to endorse the Mayonnaise Man. (He emerged from the session with a new handle: Rapmaster White 'n Bland.)

Our view? By normal standards, Buttigieg is too young, and too inexperienced, to be a viable candidate. On the brighter side, two of the other four front-runners are way too old by normal standards, and the fourth top contender spent several decades claiming to be Native American, which she plainly isn't and wasn't.

By normal standards, these top four contenders strike us as a highly beatable group. That said, the nominee, if there ever is one, will be running against the craziest person in political history. So at least there's that!

In our view, Buttigieg is way too young, but he's also transparently bright. He's so bright that he knew enough to answer The Question Posed to All The Hopefuls in the manner shown below:
KINGSBURY: We only have about half an hour left, so I want to turn to foreign policy, but before we do, I wanted to ask you one question which we are asking all of our candidates, which is, who has broken your heart?

BUTTIGIEG: I mean, Boston College. I was 11 years old. We were this close to the National Championship. And they came to South Bend, we were one game away, we had beaten Florida State, become No. 1. There wasn’t a B.C.S. back then, so when you finish the season undefeated, you’re the champion. And they came into our stadium, and they broke my little heart.
It's just as Mother always said: If you ask a silly question, you'll get a silly answer! So it went when Buttigieg had the smarts to stay away from the silly palaver the board had somehow dreamed up.

Did the Times editorial board have it in for Buttigieg? The interview seemed strange from the start, but he apparently ended up as one of the board's top four choices when they took an actual vote.

(On the TV show, the top four were said to be Warren, Klobuchar, Booker and Buttigieg, though not necessarily in that order. Ain't transparency grand?)

Someone apparently liked Mayor Pete; others did seem a bit hostile. Equally striking was a Buttigieg-themed piece which had appeared in the Sunday Times the same day the TV show aired.

The sprawling report to which we refer dominated the first page of Sunday's National section. The piece was written by Emma Goldberg, who's three years out of college.

(Yale, class of 2016. After that, she got a master's degree in gender studies at the University of Cambridge.)

Goldberg's piece involved the type of gender analysis the Times has (very) recently embraced. We'd say the topic is very important, but as with so many other topics, it's often pursued in the Times in the least insightful possible way.

The modern Times is rarely without a piece of this general type. Headline included, Goldberg started by repeating a Klobuchar complaint:
GOLDBERG (1/19/20): Would a 37-Year-Old Woman Be Where Pete Buttigieg Is?

Amy Klobuchar was 37 when she ran for Hennepin County district attorney. Her opponent, in a 1998 debate, labeled her “nothing but a street fighter”—to which Ms. Klobuchar responded, “thank you.” The image of a tough competitor is one that Ms. Klobuchar, who is now a Democratic senator from Minnesota and presidential candidate, has come to embrace. She swung a punch at a rival in her moderate ring during November’s Democratic debate, taking aim at Pete Buttigieg, then the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

“Do I think that we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience that he had?” Ms. Klobuchar said, speaking for her fellow female contenders. “No, I don’t. Maybe we’re held to a different standard.”

Ms. Klobuchar’s comment touched off conversations about whether a female version of Mr. Buttigieg—elected by fewer than 10,000 votes, with under a decade of experience—could have advanced so quickly in a crowded presidential field.
Klobuchar runs as a sensible centrist. In the instance cited by Goldberg, she was bellyaching hard.

Goldberg took the complaint and ran with it. By implication, sexism and misogyny were working against the female contenders again!

That said, we're able to answer Klobuchar's question, and the answer is largely no. In most cases, a 37-year-old woman would not have risen as fast as Buttigieg has. That said, the same is true of most 37-year-old men as well.

However Buttigieg might be judged overall, he's plainly a cut above the average political player in a type of pure intelligence. That said, has he only been permitted to rise because he's a talented man?

We'd have to say that the answer is no. Consider another rising star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

AOC is eight years younger than The Mayonnaise Man. Her rise to national prominence as a 29-year-old first-term member of the House was perhaps more remarkable than the rise of Mayo Pete.

Question: Would a 30-year-old man be where AOC is today? It's hard to imagine such a thing, but that's because it's hard to picture talent like hers until it comes along.

AOC has risen to prominence because she spills with political talent and appeal. In our view, her appeal may exceed that of Candidate Buttigieg—but he has plainly visible talent too, and so did Barack Obama in The Summer of '04.

Barack Obama was 43 in The Summer of '04. He was a little-known back-bencher in the Illinois state legislature—but the Democratic Party had already seen that he was massively talented.

(Back in 1991, both parties knew the same thing about the little-known Bill Clinton.)

Obama was chosen to give the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention—and when he did, he rocked the world. Less than three years later, he was was running for president, with major elements of the party and the upper-end press corps supporting him all along.

At the time, it was sometime asked: Could a very young, little-known white guy have risen as fast as Obama?

The answer, of course, was yes! But it's hard to picture such an unusually talented person until he comes along.

We like Candidate Klobuchar. We respect the type of person who comes up the traditional way, demonstrating that she can win local, then statewide, elections.

That said, Klobuchar doesn't have the kind of shooting-star political appeal of an AOC or an Obama. (She lacks "charisma," someone said on the TV show.) In our view, Buttigieg isn't on their level either—but he does possess a highly visible type of smarts which sets him apart from the field.

Goldberg may have been taught her critical theory well. Also, she's now at the New York Times, where a topic which isn't explored in a way which is perhaps somewhat scripted won't be examined at all.

Also, Goldberg is very young! Is it wise for the liberal world to cast its lot with such remarkably young and inexperienced journalistic leaders? It may save news orgs a couple of bucks, but is it a good idea?

The New York Times, an upper-class paper, has gone all in on race and gender in the past few years. The topics are very important, but the work may sometimes seem to tilt toward the scripted and the possibly somewhat dumb.

AOC has risen because she possesses highly unusual talent, as did Barack Obama. Speculation has already started about a White House race by AOC, once she's old enough to run.

Could a 30-year-old man be where AOC is? As a matter of fact, the answer is yes—if he had remarkable talent of the type she has.

If he had remarkable talent! Buttigieg is white and bland, the Times board thoughtfully told him. But he does possesses a type of visible talent. Just check out the smarts he displayed when asked who broke his heart!

Next week: Grievance Culture and Its (Scripted) Discontents

Wampanoags and Pilgrims in the Times once again!


A familiar type of reporting:
There they were in the New York Times again! We were alerted to the report in the list of NOTEWORTHY FACTS found on this morning's page A3 (print editions only).

Somewhat oddly, Farah Nayeri's news report carried a London dateline. Hard copy headline included, it started off like this:
NAYERI (1/23/20): A New Thread on the Mayflower Narrative

In 1970, the Native American leader Wamsutta Frank B. James was asked to give a speech at a state dinner in Plymouth, Mass.
It was 350 years since the arrival of the Mayflower, and Mr. James, a member of the Wampanoag tribe that has inhabited what is now Massachusetts for 12,000 years, was invited to participate in the commemorations.

“This is a time of celebration for you—celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America,” his speech began. “We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.”

But that speech was never delivered. The event’s organizers had asked to see an advance copy, and proposed an alternative text. Mr. James chose not to participate. He led a protest near Plymouth Rock instead.

Fifty years have passed, and commemorations for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower crossing are now approaching. This time, Native Americans—particularly the Wampanoag Nation—are actively shaping the programming of events in the United States and Britain.
This "new thread" wasn't necessarily new to regular New York Times readers. During Thanksgiving week, the Times ran two separate opinion columns on this very same topic.

Today, the topic was back again, this time reported from London.

For whatever reason, some British groups will be staging a 400th anniversary commemoration of the Mayflower's passage this fall. The Mayflower story has never been an especially big event in England, but this year, things will be different.

This time, the perspective of the Wampanoags will be included, Nayeri stresses in her report. With that in mind, maybe someone should tell Nayeri what that perspective is.

Nayeri began her report as shown above, quoting the 1970 speech which was never delivered, the speech about the way the Wampanoags welcomed the Pilgrims in 1620, only to lose their freedom.

It's an important part of American and world history. But just a couple of paragraphs later, Nayeri was offering this:
NAYERI: [T]he Mayflower is a more politically charged subject on one side of the Atlantic than it is on the other. In the United States, generations of schoolchildren have learned that the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower signed treaties with Native Americans and celebrated the first Thanksgiving with them—a sugarcoated version of events that many historians consider a misrepresentation. In Britain, the Mayflower is barely mentioned in the school curriculum.

“In the United States, I’m having to unravel the misconceptions that are put out there in history,” said Paula Peters, a member of the Wampanoag tribe who is on the advisory committee for the American and British events and working on an exhibition of Native American belts as part of the British commemorations. “There is the myth of the Thanksgiving holiday that brings to mind for just about everybody the idea that Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims.”
In paragraph 2, Nayeri encouraged readers to empathize with the story in which the Wampanoags welcomed the settlers. By paragraph 7, she was quoting a contemporary Wampanoag who seemed to call the welcoming story a myth.

Nayeri didn't seem to notice the apparent contradiction. Especially at orgs like the New York Times, reports of this type tend to go like this.

The Wampanoag population is very small today. It would be interesting to learn more about the contemporary lives and experiences of these people.

Do Wampanoags tend to feel like part of the American fabric? Do they tend to feel like a people set apart? We grew up in Massachusetts ourselves. We'd like to know more about this.

As she continues, Nayeri quotes an official at the British Museum saying, “It is important that groups like the Wampanoag are getting more involved in bringing their side of the story to this.”

Presumably, that is true. Nayeri then describes some of the program which is being planned in Britain, quoting an artist who's playing a central role:
NAYERI: The British arm of the commemorations, known as Mayflower 400, is a rich cultural program featuring public artworks, performances and exhibitions around England, and has been put together in collaboration with members of the Wampanoag Nation.

The program will have a strong visual component. “Settlement,” a monthlong series of displays and performances by Native American artists, will be held in a park in Plymouth, England, where the Mayflower set sail.

“The narrative of the romantic Indian on the plain with buckskin and feathers is not what we’re trying to present—and it’s what I’ve experienced every time I’ve come to Europe,” said the artist Cannupa Hanska Luger, who is leading the “Settlement” project. “There’s a prevailing notion of us trapped in an 18th-century or 19th-century experience, and then also limited to just a single vision of what that would be.”

Mr. Luger said he had learned more about the Mayflower from his research for the British project than he had growing up in the United States, where the version of history taught in school was “super abrasive, and there is a silencing.”
Luger is finally getting to learn about the Mayflower. Much later in the report, we learn that he grew up on a reservation in North Dakota—that he himself doesn't hail from the Wampanoag tribes.

Then again, do modern Wampanoag members know the history of those unfortunate distant years any better than anyone else? We found ourselves wondering about that last fall. Nayeri lets the question slide past.

It's possible that this all makes sense, though it's also possible that it doesn't. In theory, it's a good idea to teach America's tragic, frequently brutal history with more accuracy and more clarity.

It's also true that revisionist history may sometimes tend to misstate, as we saw the Times' Charles Blow clownishly do back at Thanksgiving. Heartfelt enthusiasm will sometimes undermine accuracy although, on the brighter side, it may also tend to excite.

Meanwhile, in this morning's New York Times, the Wampanoags welcomed the Pilgrims, except that story's a myth. This is the way these stories tend to get told in the Times, one of the most caring and thoughtful upper-class newspapers found anywhere on the earth.

A VERY STABLE DUMBNESS: "Remarkably transparent," Cillizza proclaims!


No talking point left behind:
Are the mainstream press, and the liberal world, possibly gripped, in some small tiny way, by the impulses future experts have called "a very stable dumbness?"

You're asking a wonderful question! We'd planned to examine that question this week, focusing on the burgeoning realm that's sometimes called "Death by Woke."

The New York Times' recent dual endorsement(s) threw that plan into disarray.

As we've skillfully noted, there's nothing automatically dumb about endorsing two candidates in a race only one hopeful can win. That's not the traditional way to play, but it could make a type of sense.

The TV show the New York Times aired was another story.

It reeked of dumbness in the way it aped the dumbest "reality shows." Beyond that, some of the interview snippets the Times chose to air did hint of that familiar dumbness. Even worse, some of the snippets struck us as highly misleading and journalistically unfair.

For one example, we would refer to a televised snippet involving Candidate Buttigieg, AKA "Mayo Pete." (The board had some good solid fun with that Internet meme, explaining to Buttigieg that the meme is based on the idea that he's both bland and white.)

Why doesn't the Mayo Man showcase more anger? In a snippet which appeared on the TV show, Binyamin Applebaum posed a remarkably prosecutorial question along this line in a strikingly hostile way:
APPLEBAUM (1/20/20): If I can put this question in a slightly different way, you’ve been on the front lines of corporate downsizing. You’ve been on the front lines of corporate price fixing.

BUTTIGIEG: Whoa, whoa whoa, that’s, that’s, I’m sorry, that’s—

APPLEBAUM: You’ve been on the front of our misadventures in foreign policy. You’ve had direct experience in many of the things that make a lot of young people very angry about the way that this country is operating right now. You don’t seem to embody that anger.

BUTTIGIEG: So the proposition that I’ve been on front lines of corporate price fixing is bullshit. Just to get that out of the way.
As it turned out, the Mayo Man had "been on the front lines of our misadventures in foreign policy!" Within this strikingly hostile line of questioning, this became the board's way of saying, "Thank you for your service."

In Tuesday morning's Times,
one letter writer complained about the board's interview with Buttigieg. We think his letter is worth presenting in full:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/21/20): I’ve been reading the transcripts of the interviews that the editorial board conducted with several of the major Democratic candidates for president. Until your interview with Pete Buttigieg, they were, for the most part, friendly and collegial. The interview with Mr. Buttigieg, which started with his stint at McKinsey & Company, was so hostile that it took my breath away. You would have thought his joining McKinsey as an entry-level employee was the equivalent of his traveling off to Syria to join ISIS.
We think that reader's reaction to the Buttigieg interview isn't far off base. In some ways, the snippets the Times chose to include in its TV show only made matters worse.

On balance, we thought the board's TV show was so silly as to be an embarrassment. In that sense, the program was painfully instructive.

That said, within the realm of the modern press, no silly claim, no matter how silly, will ever be left behind. So it went when CNN's Chris Cillizza critiqued the Times' "utterly confusing 2020 endorsement."

Cillizza scalded the board for endorsing two candidates. But he also offered these remarks, reinforcing a Times talking point:
CILLIZZA (1/21/20): [T]here's lots to praise the Times for in all of this. They took what is usually a totally secret process and made it remarkably transparent—releasing not only videos of their conversations with each of the candidates but also the deliberations of the editorial board after the interviews.
To their credit, the board had made the nomination process "remarkably transparent!" That claim strikes us as so absurd that we thought we'd spend one more day discussing what the board actually did.

Did the Times editorial board make their endorsement process "remarkably transparent?" Did they make the process transparent at all?

We think the claim is absurd. Again, we offer a set of questions which went completely unanswered:

Where in the world was James Bennet? James Bennet seems to be the head of the Times editorial board. But he seems to have played no role in any of the interviews or deliberations. Why not? No explanation was given.

Why did Kathleen Kingsbury make the final decision?
Throughout the TV show, Kathleen Kingsbury seemed to be in charge of the process. Here's how the end-game went down:

After the board's final deliberation, each board member was shown casting a vote for their top two choices. The top vote-getters, not necessarily in order, were said to be Warren, Klobuchar, Booker and Buttigieg (!). Kingsbury was then shown saying this:
KINGSBURY: I feel very torn. I don't know. I don't know what the answer is, but I actually—like, there's part of me that leaves this room like being a little bit terrified by the idea of choosing just one of them.

I have a few questions I want to ask to call the candidates specifically about and then I'll use that to make my final decision.
Why was the final decision left to Kingsbury? Despite the massive transparency, no one ever explained.

What were the vote totals? Viewers of the TV show saw "the silly high school canvas of votes" to which one letter writer referred (full text of her letter below). But viewers were never told what the final vote totals were. How transparent was that?

Did "the publisher" play any role? At one point in the TV show, we were told that Kingsbury made her decision, then shared it with "the publisher," a person who went unnamed. Did the publisher have any say in the final endorsements? Inquiring minds might sensibly want to know.

On what basis did Kingsbury make her decision? On what basis did Kingsbury make "[her] final decision?" Despite the vast transparency Cillizza spotted, this was never explained.

Somehow, Cillizza was able to watch this TV show and come away with the thought that the whole thing had been "remarkably transparent." In our view, the show was often remarkably silly, perhaps even tilting toward dumb.

That said, many questions about the endorsement process were left completely unaddressed. Cillizza's comments help us see that, within the world of the upper-end press, no simple-minded talking point is ever left behind.

Did Sunday evening's TV show perhaps expose us rubes to a surprising type of dumbness? One letter writer offered the take shown below.

In essence, her answer was yes. We think she was basically right.

Tomorrow: We return to our original scheduled programming

We think she was basically right:
In our view, the process wasn't hugely transparent, but it often seemed silly and dumb.

That said, what else is new? In our view, this letter writer basically got it right:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/21/20): Televising the editorial board’s Democratic primary endorsement decision on “The Weekly” on Sunday night turned out to be eye-opening—in all the wrong ways. From immaterial questions (“Who broke your heart?,” apparently asked of each candidate, and cruelly asked of Joe Biden) to the silly high school canvass of votes (“Write down your top two!”), the show had all the gravitas of bad reality TV. There was scant insight for those of us still deciding between Democrats.

Next time, please spare us the view of the sausage making and make a damn choice.
Upper-end journos just like to have fun! This has been true for a very long time, especially when they parade around covering White House elections.

Experts describe this as a vast "dumbness." However surprising that judgment may seem, we can't say that those experts are wrong.