Did Trump manage to run "a close race?"


Sadly, he pretty much did: On the whole, we agree with the general thrust of Matthew Yglesias' essay from the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post.

We disagree with one thing Yglesias said—and we think the point is important.  We were surprised when Yglesias said the race between Biden and Trump "wasn't even close:"

YGLESIAS (11/30/20): Incumbents don’t often lose, and for Trump to do so while a majority of voters told Gallup they were better off than they were four years ago is extraordinary. Despite Trump’s post-election antics, the race wasn’t even close. Biden scored a larger share of the popular vote than any challenger since Franklin D. Roosevelt facing down Herbert Hoover, and his moderation was almost certainly key to that success.

The race "wasn't even close?" Sadly, we disagree. Consider:

Liberals and Democrats have all agreed that Trump won a narrow victory over Clinton in 2016. The standard talking-point has been reasonable:

The difference was a mere 78,000 votes in three midwestern states.

That actually was pretty close. That said, the difference as Biden defeated Trump this year was a mere 44,000 votes in three scattered states:

Approximate victory margins for Biden:
Arizona: 10,500 votes
Georgia: 12,700 votes
Wisconsin: 20,600 votes

Those were narrow wins. If Trump had managed to win those states, the Electoral College vote would stand at 269-269—and under the rules of our creaking system, we'd have called that advantage Trump. 

Meanwhile, Biden won Nebraska District 2's one electoral vote by 22,000 votes. That means that Biden managed to win the election by a margin of (roughly) 66,000 votes in three states and one congressional district.

There's one major difference here, of course. On the other hand, you might call it the major difference which isn't:

At present, Biden leads the national popular vote by 6.1 million votes. On the other hand, Biden's current vote total represents just 51.1% of the national vote—and roughly five million of his six million vote margin are "wasted votes" from California.

Under our creaking election system, we don't award the presidency on the basis of the national popular vote. Given the massive number of "wasted votes" for Democrats in California and New York, Republicans may continue to win the White House in future years while losing the popular vote.

In truth, this election was scarily close. The margins were narrow in three decisive states, as was true in 2016.

Our election system creaks badly. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates will continue to pile up tons of "wasted votes" in two of our largest states. 

This helps define the mess we're in. It seems to us that we ought to be clear about the shape of that ongoing problem.

The Other 49: To his credit, Biden managed to win the popular vote in "The Other 49." As matters stand, he won California by 5.1 million votes—but his nationwide lead is 6.1 million votes.

That means that he won the popular vote in the other 49 states. But even there, it was close. He won by well less than one point.



Also, Stelter on lies and delusions: Isabel Sawhill is 83. Morgan Welch is three years out of college (American University, class of 2017).

We're sure they're both good people. On the other hand, they co-authored an opinion column in this morning's New York Times. 

The column appears in the paper's print editions. Unsurprisingly, the column is full of fuzzy claims which go undefended and unexplained. 

The column is full of fuzzy but familiar claims. Perhaps for that very reason, the New York Times chose to run it. 

The analytical skills of our war-inclined species are extremely slight. Most strikingly, our own deeply tribal, war-inclined team just can't seem to stop doing things like this, principal headline included:

SAWHILL AND WELCH (11/30/20): Will White Women in Georgia Put Family or Culture War First?


In 2004, Thomas Frank published his best-selling book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” which argued that his fellow Kansans were voting against their economic self-interest because of hot-button cultural issues. Perhaps now we should be asking, “What’s the Matter With White Women?” Are they voting on cultural rather than economic issues? Are many simply following their husbands’ lead? For some, it would seem so.

According to the pair of seers, some white women "are simply following their husbands' leads" when they cast their votes in presidential elections!

How many "white women" are behaving this way? The seers don't try to say. But so continues the rank, dim-witted condescension which flows from our failing tribe in much the way that mighty rivers run  downhill toward the sea. 

The authors seem to say that "white women" shouldn't be "voting on cultural rather than economic issues." How much simpler the world would be if we simply let tribal eggheads like these cast everybody's votes for them!

What’s the Matter With White Women? At this point, the eggheads say we should perhaps be asking that question.

In fairness, based upon an (imprecise) exit poll result they've already cited in their column, their question should really be this:

        What’s the Matter With 55 Percent of White Women? 

It may turn out that Candidate Trump got fewer than 55% of "white women's" votes in the recent election. In the end, there's no way to produce a precise measure of such matters.

That said, the dumbness of our liberal tribe suffuses this morning's column. And for us, this weekend was a struggle to come to terms with the variables animating our nation's ongoing decline.

For starters, how should we regard Donald J. Trump and his ongoing wild west claims? Should we primarily regard him as a liar? Or should we possibly regard him as being mentally ill?

Yesterday, CNN's Brian Stelter spent the better part of an hour struggling with these concepts. For the transcript of his weekly Reliable Sources program, you can just click here.

Stelter and several guests were serially defeated by the logic of "lying" versus "delusion." Chalk this up to the analytical and intellectual deficits which suffuse our deeply unimpressive journalistic and academic elites.

Is Trump a liar, or is he nuts? At one point, Stelter acknowledged that he tries to avoid  that question.

Our journalists also avoid such questions when it comes to high-ranking Trump supporters. We think, for example, of South Dakota's governor, Kristi Noem. 

Question! Did Noem believe the things she said in this November 18 press event, or was she possibly lying? Starting tomorrow, we'll be poking at this basic question all through the course of the week.

Such ruminations involve psychological / psychiatric questions. They go to the question of "psychopathologies," and to what we should think about such psychiatric concepts.

A related question involves the psychological forces which may drive us humans to believe the various claims our tribal leaders make. As a general matter, we humans can see such forces at work among others, but not among ourselves.

Tomorrow, a case study! We'll start to look at what Noem said in her recent press event. By the end of the week, we'll be looking at the way the AP reported her presser.

Along the way, we'll look at the difficulties our own tribe's leaders have had as they've tried to report the basic Covid statistics involved in Noem claims. In truth, the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans just aren't super-sharp.

Today, we confess one other way we spent a dispiriting holiday weekend. For the first time, we watched (parts of) several Melissa McCarthy films.

We were triggered by this New York Times listicle, in which Scott and Dargis named McCarthy as the 22nd best actor of the 21st century (to date).  Somewhat surprised by this assessment, we decided to take a look.

Two of McCarthy's films, including one which was cited by Scott, were available through On Demand. For the very first time, we clicked and tried to watch.

Two weeks ago, we told the somewhat comical story of the cognitive/cultural decline of  basic cable. In one instance after another, the nation's basic cable channels announced lofty aims at the start of life, then devolved into various forms of "World's Dumbest."

Over the weekend, we watched parts of Tammy (2014) and Life of the Party (2018). (According to Scott, McCarthy displays "a fast and furiously aggressive verbal wit" in the earlier film.) 

On YouTube, we even watched a scene with a great deal of aural humor from the big smash hit, Bridesmaids (2011).

We also read some god-awful analysis pieces by woke writers at major sites—essays which were substantially dumber and less self-aware than the column by Sawhill and Welch. 

(To their credit, Sawhill and Welch didn't refer to "white women" as "Karens.")

Concerning all that, we'll simply say this. A nation with a "World's Dumbest" culture (and capability) can't sensibly hope to survive.  

In our view, the behavior of Trump, and of many Trump voters, constitutes a type of epistemic secession. That said, is our own vastly self-impressed tribe a whole lot better in any clear respect? Especially given how "educated" we constantly say we are?

As the week proceeds, we'll ponder the recent claims of Governor Noem. But we'll also ponder the work of Stelter and others within our own failing tribe.

Drawing on extensive consultations with top major anthropologists, we'll suggest this overview: 

Our warring tribes are perhaps more alike than different. 

Our warring tribes are more alike? Carlotta Valdes keeps telling us that it's been this way all along!

Tomorrow: Case study begins! Noem's assortment of claims

AMERICAN (COGNITIVE) CARNAGE: Commander in chief decides to share!


The complexity of our nation's prevailing state of affairs: Commander-in-chief Donald J. Trump had finally decided to share.

On Wednesday, he spent ten minutes on the phone, speaking to a large public meeting chaired by His Cousin Rudy. Yesterday, the commander-in-chief added to the set of claims he made that day.

Yesterday, the commander spoke at length in a press event held within the White House. At one point, he made the sort of claim he very much tends to make:

TRUMP (11/26/20): I read this morning where Stacey Abrams has 850,000 ballots accumulated. Now, that’s called "harvesting." You’re not allowed to harvest, but I understand the Secretary of State who is really, he’s an enemy of the people. The Secretary of State, and whether he’s Republican or not, this man, what he’s done, supposedly he made a deal, and you’ll have to check this, where she’s allowed to harvest, but in other areas they’re not allowed. What kind of a deal is that? They’re not allowed to harvest during the presidential.

But how can she say she has 850,000 ballots? That would mean that she’s got 850,000 ballots for her. That’s not supposed to be happening.

As he continued, the commander shared his thoughts about the ideal form of an election. "You know, an election should be a one-day deal," he thoughtfully said. "You walk in and you vote."

Strikingly, the commander called Georgia's secretary of state—a conservative Republican—"an enemy of the people" during this presentation.

"Supposedly, he made a deal," the commander thoughtfully said. There will even be some within the Fake News who will say that such statements are dangerous! (It only takes one crazy person to act on statements like this.)

That said, the commander's principal claim in that presentation concerned the conduct of Stacey Abrams. Let's take a minute to consider what the commander said.

For starters, the commander sourced his claims about Abrams to something "I read this morning." 

The commander didn't specify what he had allegedly read, or where he'd allegedly read it. Even assuming that some such material actually exists, he didn't say why he, or anyone else, should believe that what he allegedly read is actually true.

At any rate, the commander seemed to be claiming that Abrams is personally holding 850,000 ballots for the upcoming Georgia runoff Senate elections. If true, that would be a very strange state of affairs—but he gave no reason to believe that any such claim is true.

Because the commander didn't name his alleged source, there's no way to examine its contents—even to confirm that some such source exists. 

We'll admit that we were unable, in a quick Google search, to turn up any such pre-existing source. We did turn up about three million published reports in which Abrams was quoted saying this (headline included):

Stacey Abrams says 750K Georgians have requested ballots for runoff

Stacey Abrams, the influential Georgia Democrat, took to Twitter on Monday to report that more than 750,000 Georgians have requested their ballots for the state’s January 5 runoff election that could determine who controls the U.S. Senate.

Abrams linked her tweet to Georgia’s online Absentee Ballot Request form and urged voters to, “Let’s get it done…again,” an apparent reference to Joe Biden’s victory in the Peach State. (President Trump’s legal team has challenged the results in the state and another recount is expected to begin sometime Tuesday.)

Officials from Georgia said that as of Monday morning there have been 762,000 requests for these ballots, which is three times the number requested for the 2018 election.

As you can see if you click this link, we're quoting a report from Fox News. But many other news orgs reported the same set of facts. 

According to the Fox report, Abrams had made an accurate statement about the number of Georgia residents who have requested an absentee ballot for the upcoming elections. According to the Fox report, Abrams wasn't holding any of these ballots herself. 

According to the Fox report, the statement Abrams made was accurate. There was nothing wrong with any part of what she'd done—until the commander spoke.

Yesterday's appearance by the commander illustrates the complex situation into which our failing nation has fallen as a type of cultural secession proceeds. 

Yesterday's White House event lasted 43 minutes in all. In the first 18 minutes of the event, the commander spoke by phone with military personnel who showered him with praise. 

The commander then spent 25 minutes making claims about the recent presidential election. Thanks to the invaluable Rev, you can read the transcript and watch the tape of the full 43 minutes.

Concerning the complexity of our situation, our first few observations are psychological in nature.

First, the commander speaks with total certainty throughout that 25 minutes. One thinks of the much-quoted lines from Yeats, in which:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand...

Simple story! Any time an authority figure is "full of passionate intensity." his presentations will seem convincing to many. This will be true whether his statements are accurate or well-founded, or even if his statements aren't based on any foundation at all.

Psychologically, passionate intensity tends to be convincing. To listen to phone calls from many people who are strongly inclined to believe the things the commander says, we'll suggest that you click this link:

It takes you to the first hour of Thursday morning's Washington Journal. You'll hear many C-Span callers making it clear that they're strongly inclined to believe every word this commander-in-chief may say.

(We humans tend to be like that! As we'll start to explore next week, that's even true Over Here.)

Meanwhile, here's another question from the general realm of psychology:

Does Donald J. Trump believe the wide array of claims he made in those 25 minutes? We kept asking ourselves that question as we watched the videotape of his angry performance.

In truth, the commander seemed to believe every word he said, no matter how compromised his angry claims seemed to be. Is it possible that he really does believe his various claims?

Psychological experts might be consulted on this puzzling point. But as part of our nation's ongoing cognitive shortfall or fail, our major upper-end Hamptons-based news orgs have agreed that such questions must never be asked, that such specialists must never be consulted,

With that, we come to one last major element in this complex state of affairs.  We consider the skills our major news orgs bring to this ongoing chase. 

As we've told you again and again, the upper-end press corps' skill level is remarkably low. 

Our upper-end press corps is not highly skilled. In this morning's Washington Post, Josh Dawsey offers this assessment of other claims the commander made during yesterday's session:

DAWSEY (11/27/20): Trump continued to falsely claim that there had been widespread voter fraud in his election, without offering proof. And he again falsely said Republican poll watchers were not allowed to observe in Pennsylvania, though his lawyers have said in court that some were allowed to observe.

On a somewhat simple-minded basis, that first sentence doesn't parse especially well. How could someone "offer proof" for a claim which is "false?" 

In fairness, that's a nitpicker's formal objection compared to the problems lodged in Dawsey's second statement—a statement which, on its face, simply doesn't make sense.

According to Dawsey, Trump falsely said that Republican poll watchers were not allowed to observe in Pennsylvania. His refutation of that claim went exactly like this:

"[Trump's] lawyers have said in court that some were allowed to observe."

Sad! The fact that some poll watchers were allowed to observe can't and doesn't refute a claim that many other observers were illegally barred. Who wouldn't instantly see such an obvious point?

Dawsey's presentation is the refutation which wasn't! And yet, this was Dawsey's only attempt to challenge the commander-in-chief's 25 minutes of claims. 

To appearances, people like Dawsey, and his editors, have decided that simply adding "false" and "falsely" is refutation enough.  For our tribe, such weak tea may tend to suffice. For the other tribe, it won't.

The commander is full of intensity; he has been for some time. He may even believe his angry claims. The press corps has agreed not to ask medical experts whether this could be the case.

For many observers, the commander's intensity will strongly suggest that "some revelation is at hand." There is no way that a mainstream news org can be expected to eliminate false belief, but the skills of our nation's elite are remarkably few, in the press corps and the academy.

For decades, our elites have seemed to "lack all conviction." They may not know this about themselves, just as the commander-in-chief may even believe his wild claims. 

Tomorrow: Joyeux Noem!

Also thanks to Rev: Also thanks to the invaluable Rev, you can review the transcript and tape of the commander's ten-minute phone call on Wednesday—his own Gettysburg Address.

He effusively thanked His Cousin Rudy. To peruse the whole thing, click here.

Stacey Abrams is interviewed!


Improbably, Abrams did something: In 2018, Stacey Abrams narrowly lost her race to serve as governor of Georgia.

At that point, she did what no one ever does. She went out and actually did something.

In an interview with the New York Times, Abrams tells the story of what she did. The story she tells dates back to 2010. 

Given the current state of our national culture, it's very, very, very unusual to see someone go out and do something. We especially recommend this part of the doer's tale:

ABRAMS (11/25/20): I traveled around the country raising money for House races, and getting people to invest was nearly impossible, people didn’t see the validity of a Georgia victory. They pointed to the 2008 election when the Obama campaign determined that we weren’t viable yet, so there was no investment. In 2012, I couldn’t leverage that there was going to be investment from the campaign as a hook for getting donors to come in. So it was a really small cadre of donors, largely philanthropists that I’d taken myself to meet. I’d say, “I know you don’t believe Georgia is real, but let me tell you what it can look like.”

Each cycle, I would take that same deck and update it and say: “Here’s where we were. And here’s where we going. And while this thing feels incremental, let me tell you what’s different now.”

I have always loved those lines, “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world.” Well, give me a place to stand and I can convince you Georgia is real.

When's the last time you saw someone at this level go out and accomplish something? As best we can tell, Abrams selected a place to stand and moved one part of the world.

(No one had to go to prison. She had a deeper idea.) 

AMERICAN (COGNITIVE) CARNAGE: We humans believe the darnedest things!


Place our faith in the darnedest people: Art Linkletter would constantly say it, though only in private.

"Humans believe the darnedest things," he would constantly tell us. Thoughtfully, we'd always advise him to throw a "we" in there.

We people do believe the darnedest things; this fact has rarely been more apparent. Consider the example which arose during Obama's second term.

During Obama's second term, a remarkably large percentage of Republican adults told a wide array of pollsters that they believed that the gentleman had been born in Kenya.

The evidence tilted, rather strongly, in a different direction. But Donald J. Trump was making such claims during repeated sessions on Fox, and a wide array of Republican adults had decided to trust him.

For the record, Greta von Susteren had been assigned to serve as Trump's enabler on Fox during these long, ridiculous years. Later, we learned that she had been Rachel's drinking buddy during the long, stupid years in which she served as The Donald's official birther caddie.

We learned this fact because Rachel herself bruited it on the air. When Greta was hired by MSNBC, Rachel aggressively pimped her pal's journalistic greatness. We humans tend to put our faith in the darnedest people!

We people believe the darnedest things and trust the darnedest people. Again and again, modern media, such as they are, help spread the bogus beliefs around. 

How do bogus ideas spread? Consider something which happened on C-Span's Washington Journal, early this past Sunday morning.

Greta Brawner was hosting the program this day. During the 7 A.M. hour, she fielded calls from the program's famously well-informed viewers. She asked them how well they thought their state's governor was handling the pandemic.

At 7:27, Robert from Clearwater came on the air. Possibly puzzling Brawner a bit, he shared a shaky belief:

BRAWNER (11/22/20): Robert in Florida, what do you think of the job Republican governor DeSantis is doing?

ROBERT IN FLORIDA: I think he, the governor is doing pretty good, you know, he's doing his job. I also think there's a O-positive that doesn't even get the disease.

BRAWNER: You think there's what?

To our ear, Brawner sounded puzzled. 

To hear the full exchange, click here. Robert continued as shown:

ROBERT (continuing directly): O-positive. If you have O-positive blood, you won't even get it. I mean, my whole family's got O-positive, and none of them, they're not even near getting it. I asked other people who have O-positive blood, they're not getting it either. I mean--

BRAWNER: Are you taking precautions nonetheless, Robert, or are you, think that you're immune?

ROBERT: Yeah, I'm immune from it. I won't even get it. I mean, I wear a mask if I'm in a crowd or something like that, sure, save other people from getting it. But my family, and other families that I talk to who have O-positive, don't even get it. 

BRAWNER (perhaps a bit sadly): O.K.

ROBERT: So, you know, I think that's pretty good...

Robert's logic concerning his use of masks was perhaps unclear. If he can't get the virus himself, how can he give it to others?

That said, C-Span lets its callers speak without fear of critique or challenge. Possibly for that reason, Robert's logic wasn't questioned this day.

Robert went on to restate his positive appraisal of Governor DeSantis. He complained that President Biden would probably "shut down the whole country for a month or whatever," even though Robert himself "will not get it."

"That's not going to do any good," Robert said as he continued. Concerning the delivery of vaccinations, he expressed this further view:

ROBERT: Why don't they just start giving them out now? Why wait two, three months from now? I mean, I would take it immediately, but I don't even need it, because I'm not going to get it. Period.

Concerning his basic finding, Robert seemed very sure.

Across the nation, C-Span viewers with O-positive blood were breathing sighs of relief. Robert had told them they couldn't contract the virus, and his statement was based on extensive research he'd conducted in the community.

Through such transmissions, we humans often end up believing the darnedest things. Such transmissions occur all day long, day after day, in a wide assortment of venues.

Sometimes the transmissions come from President Trump, whose extensive alleged "psychopathologies" are off-limits to the press. (We're citing the assessment of his niece, Mary L. Trump, a clinical psychologist.) 

Sometimes the transmissions come from C-Span callers, whose logic and facts are very unlikely to be subjected to scrutiny.

Concerning Robert's factual claim, let's take a look at the record! Such as it is, the (still extremely limited) record suggests that people with type O blood may be somewhat less likely than others to "get it." But "get it" they very much can!

Last month, a report from CNN described the results of two recent studies. According to CNN's Hunt and Howard, one of the studies found this:

HUNT AND HOWARD (10/14/20): A Danish study found that among 7,422 people who tested positive for Covid-19, only 38.4% were blood type O—even though, among a group of 2.2 million people who were not tested, that blood type made up 41.7% of the population.

Uh-oh! According to this Danish study, 38.4% of people who got it were in fact blood type O! On the brighter side, this compared to a slightly larger percentage of type O people in the relevant population.

People with type O blood were 42% of the population, but constituted only 38% of people who tested positive. These findings were less definitive than those which Robert would later report—but report his findings he did.

We humans believe the darnedest things and trust the darnedest people. On some occasions, and in some settings, elite institutions make little attempt to challenge these darnedest beliefs.

Our logic may also tend to be shaky. According to an array of major top experts, we humans have always been like this.

In this morning's report, we've spoken of shaky or bogus beliefs which have come from Over There, from those in the other tribe. We've spoken of shaky or bogus beliefs which are held by others.

Starting next week, we'll be asking award-wining questions:

Over Here in our own liberal / progressive / woke tents, do we sometimes display an inclination to believe the darnedest things too?

Can our logic be shaky too? Also, how about this:

How often have our own darnedest beliefs come to us, live and direct, from the upper-end mainstream press, even from our self-impressed tribe's most honored sachems and warriors?

Are people like us inclined to believe the darnedest things and trust the darnedest people too? We almost expect The Ghost of Linkletter Past to opine on this matter tonight.

Friday:  When The Person of Kristi Noem speaks, the AP (politely) listens

Two points to ponder in today's Times!


Also, you've been Schwedeled: The current state of our failing culture raises basic anthropological questions—questions about the basic intellectual and emotional functioning of our floundering, war-inclined species.

With that in mind, we'll direct you to a pair of points found in today's New York Times.

Our first citation comes from a guest column by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychology professor at Northeastern. Headline included, the column starts like this:

Your Brain Is Not for Thinking

Five hundred million years ago, a tiny sea creature changed the course of history: It became the first predator. It somehow sensed the presence of another creature nearby, propelled or wiggled its way over, and deliberately ate it.

This new activity of hunting started an evolutionary arms race. Over millions of years, both predators and prey evolved more complex bodies that could sense and move more effectively to catch or elude other creatures.

Eventually, some creatures evolved a command center to run those complex bodies. We call it a brain.

This story of how brains evolved, while admittedly just a sketch, draws attention to a key insight about human beings that is too often overlooked. Your brain’s most important job isn’t thinking; it’s running the systems of your body to keep you alive and well...

According to Barrett, her "story of how brains evolved" is actually "just a sketch." We assume that means that her story is vastly oversimplified, or something roughly like that.

Set that to the side. Barrett says your brain exists (has evolved) "to keep you alive and well." It doesn't exist to produce pure thought.

(Working from that framework, the modern American brain can be said to be functioning well.)

Barrett takes her basic observation in one direction. We'll suggest a different application: 

Does your brain exist to make you feel well? Say hello to tribal thought, to tribal true belief.

In his regular column in today's Times, Bret Stephens covers somewhat similar ground. In the following passage, he's discussing the "stab-in-the-back myth" which was sold to Germans to explain their nation's defeat in World War I:

[The story] claimed that the German Army, though in retreat in the fall of 1918, could have kept up the fight had it not been betrayed by defeatist and scheming politicians who agreed to an armistice that November.

This was, of course, a self-serving lie: Germany’s armies were being routed, its strategic situation was hopeless, its sailors were mutinying, its people were approaching starvation and only the armistice (which the kaiser’s generals asked for) spared it from a much more painful defeat.

But the nature of the myth wasn’t that it should be believable. It’s that it should be believed.

Question: If the story wasn't believable, why in the world was the story believed?

Answer: Our species' brain has not (primarily or necessarily) evolved for thinking—for rational thought! At times of great societal stress, our brain is designed to produce tribal true belief.

(At present, do our own tribe's brains behave in some such ways? We expect to address that question in the next few weeks.)

Completing the rule of three, we close by directing you to this new piece at Slate. The mysterious, inscrutable Heather Schwedel wrote the analysis piece in question. The headline atop it says this:

The Absolute Dirtiest Lines on Megan Thee Stallion’s New Album, Ranked

Slate began its life in the Clinton years as a source of intelligent mainstream center-left journalism. Our question—should it be surprising that Slate now seems to run on such rocket fuel?

We can offer no absolute answer to that sensible question. We can advance this one conjecture:

 If you click that link and travel to Slate, you may find that you've been Schwedeled!

Our brains are not designed for thinking? Can that even be true of the brains over here, within our superior tribe?


AMERICAN (COGNITIVE) CARNAGE: His Cousin Rudy seemed underinformed!


Attention C-Span callers!: How dumb can our public discourse get?

It can get extremely dumb. You might even say it resembles the "world's dumbest" possible discourse, with apologies to the wonderful basic cable programming which carries that very name.

"Nothing gold can stay," Frost once alleged—but the dumbness tends to stick around. Indeed, the dumbness tends to spread. Consider what Rudy Giuliani said, right at the start of last Thursday's so-called "mascara dump:"

GIULIANI (11/19/20): Well, this is representative of our legal team. We’re representing President Trump and we’re representing the Trump campaign. When I finish, Sidney Powell and then Jenna Ellis will follow me. And we will present in brief the evidence that we’ve collected over the last, I guess it is two weeks. Also, Joseph diGenova, Victoria Toensing are here with me. There are a lot more lawyers working on this, but I guess, we’re the senior lawyers. And Boris Epshteyn.

So I guess the best way to describe this is, when we began our representation of the president, we certainly were confronted with a very anomalous set of results. The president way ahead on election night, seven or 800,000 in Pennsylvania. Somehow, he lost Pennsylvania. 

We have statisticians willing to testify that that’s almost statistically impossible to have happened in the period of time that it happened. But of course, that’s just speculation.

"That’s just speculation," the barrister said. For transcript and tape, click here, thanks of course to Rev.

In fairness, everything's (technically) possible. You can of course imagine an election in which Candidate A emerges with a large lead, only to have minions from Candidate B introduce a vast number of fraudulent ballots.

As he continued, Giuliani quickly suggested that something like that had taken place in other states, not just in Pennsylvania. 

"This pattern repeats itself in a number of states," the barrister thoughtfully said. "Almost exactly the same pattern, which to any experienced investigator, prosecutor would suggest that there was a plan from a centralized place to execute these various acts of voter fraud."

Needless to say, election fraud has occurred in the past. It happens all over the globe. 

In theory, it could have happened in Pennsylvania. It's just that Giuliani and the rest of the gang never produced any credible evidence to show or suggest that it had.

As far as we know, the statisticians were never produced. Soon, the barrister Powell was making claims which may have been even crazier, hard as they were to summarize, parse or follow.

How dumb can our public discourse get? It can get this dumb:

The pattern Giuliani described had been widely pre-explained. The explanation made perfect sense. 

The explanation had been offered, in advance, again and again and again. It wasn't especially hard to follow. The perfectly logical pre-explanation had gone something like this:

In states like Pennsylvania, Biden voters had been much more likely to vote by mail. In large part due to Trump's Covid denial importunings, Trump voters had been much more likely to vote in person on November 3.

Also this:

The Republican legislature of Pennsylvania had refused to let the state's election officials count mail ballots as they arrived. This meant that November 3's in-person votes would be counted and reported first. 

This would produce an early lead for Trump. This lead would dissipate, to whatever extent,  as the mail ballots were counted later.

This pre-explanation had been offered about a million times. Amazingly, the fellow now known as "His Cousin Rudy" didn't seem to have heard it!

Even as late as November 19, why was Giuliani still  unaware of this rather obvious explanation? Almost surely, he'd spent too much time listening to C-Span callers!


On Sunday morning, November 15, Bill Scanlan had been in the saddle at C-Span's Washington Journal. During the 7 A.M. hour, he'd fielded calls from the program's famously well-informed viewers.

(Full disclosure: In 1999 and 2000, we guested on Washington Journal three times. On two of these occasions, we were hosted by Brian Lamb. We regard this as an honor.) 

At 7:39 AM, it finally happened. Calling on the Democrats line, John from Pennsylvania angrily weighed in.

Eventually, John explained what had happened in his state. We'd have to guess that Giuliani may have been listening in.

John from Pennsylvania went on at length this day. To review the tape, click here. 

"When have we ever had to wait this long to find the results of an election?" he agonizingly asked, early on. Eventually, this exchange occurred:

SCANLAN (11/15/20): What have the investigations yielded so far in Pennsylvania on allegations of dead people voting, things like that? Has that turned any votes for the president?

JOHN: Here's the thing. We were winning Pennsylvania Wednesday morning, OK?  After the election. He was up by almost 700,000 votes. Can you tell me how they erased 700,000 votes legitimately, OK? 

At this point, John voiced a complaint about CNN's Christiane Amanpour. But the damage had already been done.

How dumb can our public discourse get? It can get prehistorically dumb. 

It seemed that John had never heard the perfectly sensible pre-explanation concerning the way his state's vote totals were going to change as ballots kept being counted. Nor did Scanlan mention this point. As a general matter, C-Span lets us the people speak without fear of correction or comment.

How dumb can our discourse get? It seemed that John had never heard the perfectly plausible pre-explanation for the melting away of Donald J. Trump's early lead.

He also received no critique from Scanlan. Instead, Scanlan turned to Dwight from Pennsylvania, who instantly offered this

DWIGHT FROM PENNSYLVANIA: I think all the wrote-in ballots should not be no more. It should all be people go to the polling place or they don't vote. And I also think that, after this is through the court, Trump will win.

So it went on C-Span this day. Was Rudy listening in?

Was Giuliani perhaps misled by John this day? Or is it possible that John had  been misled by Giuliani, or by other people just like him, at some earlier point?

Whichever way the cluelessness flowed, there was Rudy, four days later, making a presentation which could have aired on cable's World's Dumbest. Statisticians were eager to speak, but they were never called in.

Given the role of modern technologies, the dumbness is everywhere now in our clownish discourse. If you want the honest truth, (we) the American people aren't always all that sharp.

Indeed, Washington Journal routinely produces tsunamis of misinformation. On November 15, vast amounts of the tsunami were coming from Over There.

That said, the dumbness comes from our own tribe too, even from our most exalted intellectual leaders. Over the past four decades, the dumbness and the misinformation have also rather frequently come from our upper-end, mainstream news orgs.

The dumbness comes from our tribe too, even from our tribe's top leaders! At present, we plan to start on that grim topic this Friday morning.

Tomorrow: The AP and Governor Noem

It's time for the barrister Powell to go!


How should we understand such peculiar behavior?: Last Thursday, at RNC headquarters, Sidney Powell was a key part of His Cousin Rudy's mascara runoff presser.

Over the weekend, Barrister Powell went too far. Without fully parsing the likely logic, the New York Times says this:

HABERMAN AND FEUER (11/23/20): President Trump’s campaign on Sunday disavowed Sidney Powell, one of his lawyers who has pushed false claims of voter fraud, after she made wild accusations that Republican officials had been involved in a payoff scheme to manipulate voting machines.


Appearing on the conservative network Newsmax on Saturday night, Ms. Powell further pushed the conspiracy theory, saying that two top Republicans in Georgia—Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—were taking payoffs as part of the scheme, and that Representative Doug Collins of Georgia had in fact won his race for Senate against Senator Kelly Loeffler. (He did not; Ms. Loeffler’s race is heading to a runoff without Mr. Collins.) Ms. Powell said she planned to file a “biblical” suit in the state.

Why did this mean that it was time for the barrister Powell to go? Presumably, she had to go for the following reason:

The horrible Loeffler is on the ballot as one of the Republican nominees in January's Senate runoffs. But in her remarks to Newsmax, the barrister Powell turned Candidate Loeffler into one of the demon figures. 

According to Powell, Loeffler is only on the ballot because Collins, her Republican opponent, was cheated out of his rightful victory on November 3. Presumably, this would make Republican voters less likely to want to vote for Loeffler.

For that reason, Powell had to go. Or so it makes sense to assume.

Past lunacies, including some involving QAnon, weren't enough to disqualify Powell from her spot on the legal team. But now, she was undermining a Republican candidate. Presumably, this led to her cancellation.

Meanwhile, how are we to understand the extremely strange behavior of a person like Powell? In fairness, such craziness has been general from the Trump legal team.

To what extent might psychiatric issues be involved when someone like Powell makes crazy statements and claims? Of one thing, you can feel certain:

Within the obsessively careful upper-end press corps, no one is going to ask! 

Is something "wrong" with Sidney Powell? Within the upper-end mainstream press, questions like those violate clearly-established guild rules. It's a fairly obvious question, but no one is going to ask it. 

Within the larger societal / cultural context, this is a cognitive fail. Our society hasn't evolved to the point where questions like those can be asked.

STARTING TOMORROW: American (cognitive) chaos!


The failures cross tribal lines: The Bulwark is a major site of the never-Trump Republican world.

Jonathan Last, late of The Weekly Standards, is the site's executive editor.  When he penned this recent piece, he was asking a very good question.

Last's essay appears behind a pay wall, so we can't excerpt its contents. Earlier today, we saw a lengthy passage from the essay quoted on Morning Joe, but MSNBC no longer produces transcripts, and the channel has cut way back on its video postings.

Essentially, Last did this in his essay: 

First, he listed the various crazy behaviors in which the Trump team has engaged since November 3. Then, he staged a thought experiment.

Suppose that some pundit, one year ago, had predicted that Trump and his followers would engage in these crazy behaviors. How would such a prediction have been treated, Last now skillfully asked.

This morning, Joe Scarborough answered Last's question for him. Any such pundit would have been attacked for being insane, Scarborough now surmised.

Almost surely, that assessment is largely correct. In truth, the lunacy of the Trump team's behavior has reached a point which it would have been hard to predict.

Then too, of course, there's this:

Our major mainstream press elite has had a very hard time spotting lunacy over the past forty years. 

In many instances, the lunacy was coming from within. But this failure has been a major cognitive fail—an act of American (cognitive) carnage.

It's easy to spot the cognitive failures emitting from Trump and his team, and from the voters who believe the the things they tell them. This afternoon, we'll visit the latest craziness of Sidney Powell—the craziness which got so crazy over the weekend that it could no longer be tolerated by the Trump team itself.

In a world which enjoyed greater cognitive health, the odd behaviors of Trump and his team would have created a discussion of certain psychiatric / psychological topics. That said, our society's upper-end cognitive shortfalls are such that the mainstream press corps has agreed that such discussions must never occur.

During this holiday-shortened week, we'll discuss the obvious cognitive failures displayed by many of the regular people who voted for Donald J. Trump. That said, the cognitive failures which have led to American carnage have also been quite widespread Over Here in our own liberal tents. 

Anthropologically speaking, these cognitive failures are also part of the nation's headlong decline.

That headlong decline has been occurring over (let's say) the past forty years. Psychiatric issues are involved, but so is basic human cognition, such as it is and has been.

On a simple cognitive basis, are we liberals up to the task we now face? In this morning's Washington Post, Hugh Hewitt sketches the challenge with which liberals and progressives, and the press corps elite, are now confronted. 

When last we looked in on Hewitt, he was serving as a panelist in a 2016 Republican debate—and he was applauding one of the answers given by Candidate Trump.

You really can't get dumber than that, but the Post has kept Hewitt on. This morning, his column describes a serious problem:

HEWITT (11/23/20): [L]ike an unseen riptide, this year’s results just handed the GOP an advantage many never thought possible. And it carried far away from shore Democratic hopes and dreams.

“Wait,” you say, “Trump lost the presidency.”

Yes, he did. But Trump, even as he lost, engineered a huge win for the GOP this month, and one that will echo through American politics as our once-a-decade reapportionment fights begin.

“On the eve of reapportionment, Republicans are now in a better position than they were after 2010,” Noah Rothman noted in Commentary. “Following those elections, Republicans controlled 54 of 99 state legislative chambers.” (Nebraska’s legislature is unicameral.)

That number is now 61.

If anything, Rothman understates the impact of the GOP domination of state legislatures...

A certain percentage of Republican voters refused to vote for Trump. To appearances, this helps explain why, even though Trump has apparently lost, no "blue wave" swept away a range of other Republican candidates.

For the record, Trump himself didn't lose by all that much, given the way our system works.  Hewitt adds this, not incorrectly:

HEWITT: It is ironic that Trump’s narrow losses in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin kept him from a second consecutive term. It wasn’t a conspiracy that cost Trump the White House but a terrible combination of bad timing—the vaccines he promised were announced a fortnight too late for them to impact voting—and bad polling. Polling directs resources, locates rallies, energizes or depresses turnout. If polling tells you Wisconsin is lost, Pennsylvania is competitive and other states are safe, when none of that is accurate, the consequences are disastrous.

For ourselves, we have no idea if Biden will ever be president. Until we see Biden take the oath, we won't assume that Trump's machinations won't somehow prevail.

That said, as matters stand at present, is it true that "Trump’s narrow losses in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin kept him from a second consecutive term?"

As matters stand, that's probably true! If Trump had managed to win those states—each state was decided by less than one point—the Electoral College vote would stand at 269-269. 

Due to the structure of our creaky election system, it's likely that this would have produced a Trump win. For the third time since 2000, a Republican would have lost the popular vote while winning four years in the White House. 

Trump came very close to winning Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. (Note to Hewitt—given Biden's one-point win in Pennsylvania, that state was "competitive" too.)  

It's true that Republicans lost the House again. But around the various states, they made some substantial gains.

Cognitive carnage is everywhere as we review the Trump tribe's conduct. That said, our own tribe is fraught with cognitive failure too.

This is an anthropological story. We'll review the cognitive shortfalls on various sides as the week moves along.

The human mind don't work real good. This is even true at the top of our own brilliant pile!

Tomorrow: Attention C-Span callers!

Predictable conduct generates shock!


Surprising name gets dropped: At present, Donald J. Trump is making no apparent effort to deal with the rapidly expanding public health crisis.

He has stopped pretending to care. It seems fairly clear that he actually doesn't.

Cable stars and cable pundits continue to act like this behavior is shocking, perhaps inexplicable. They continue to be "shocked, shocked" by Trump's peculiar conduct. 

For today, we offer only one point. As far as we know, Donald J. Trump is behaving exactly the way a "sociopath" likely would. 

Is Donald J. Trump a "sociopath?" We can't answer your question.  According to everything we've read, that isn't even a formal diagnostic term. 

Still and all, in her best-selling book, Mary Trump  referred to Trump's father, Fred Trump, as a "high-functioning sociopath." More significantly, she suggested that Donald Trump's array of "psychopathologies" may make a "sociopath" too—or may make him even worse.

We mention this because we heard an unusual name mentioned on cable last night. Joy Reid was interviewing Steven Hassan, a "cult and authoritarian control expert" who has written a book about followers of Trump. 

Mary Trump also appeared as a guest. At one point, Hassan said this:

HASSAN (11/20/20): People don't knowingly join a cult, but they get deceived. And the pathological lying that Trump does, and the conspiracy of the media and the right-wing authoritarian cults that are part of the cult of Trump, is what's driving the mess that we're in right now. 

I just hope that Americans can step back and get past the "I can't believe he's doing this" phase into "Yes, he's very predictable."

Michael Cohen has predicted it, Mary Trump has predicted it, Bandy Lee has predicted it. So the point is, we need to do everything within our power to reach out to people who have been under the spell of Donald Trump, explain hypnosis, explain the authoritarian control mechanisms that are being used...

Good God! Did someone mention Bandy X. Lee? Did we actually hear her name, spoken right there on cable?

Later last night, Brian Williams interviewed John McWhorter concerning Donald J. Trump. Because he doesn't work from tribal scripts, we're generally a fan of McWhorter's work.

In this case, he was the wrong guest to interview. He discussed Trump in standard upper-end pundit terms. As we watched, we wondered why Williams wasn't speaking with Lee instead.

Is Donald J. Trump a sociopath? If so, what might he actually decide to do in the next seventy days?

These strike us as very important questions. But as part of our society's upper-end cognitive fail, our major pundits are still unwilling to ask.

What might this badly disordered man actually end up doing? By the rules of the mainstream press, the question still can't be asked of (carefully selected) medical experts.

Dr. Lee is a Yale psychiatrist. When she published her own best-selling book (as editor) in 2017, she called it The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. She said that Trump was dangerous, and that his condition would only get worse under the pressure of office.

As Hassan suggested last night, Trump is now doing the sorts of thing Dr. Lee predicted. But as part of our basic cognitive fail, our pundits refuse to move past what Hassan called "the 'I can't believe he's doing this' phase."

As far as we know, Trump is behaving exactly the way a sociopath likely would. That said, our pundits continue to play a game. That unhelpful pundit game goes by this name:

"Shocked, shocked."

We'd like to link you: We'd like to link you to the text of McWhorter's discussion with Williams.

We can't offer you that link. Aping the culture of Fox News, MSNBC no longer prepares and posts transcripts. The channel has even disappeared the ghosts of transcripts past.

Why should we care about Eurodeath?


Who lost (track of) Europe?: Cable pundits keep insisting that we're tops in covid deaths.

In fact, after adjusting for population, current daily / weekly death rates in many European nations are plainly worse than ours. Yesterday, we cited this fact, linking to Kevin Drum's instructive "Chart of the Day."  

As Drum's chart shows, current death rates in many Euro nations are substantially worse than ours. 

Speaking extremely slowly, this doesn't mean that our own death rate is good. It simply means that their current death rates are worse. 

Today, we'll answer  a few questions about this state of affairs. To wit:

Why should anyone care about Europe? Who cares if their death rates are worse than ours?

Also, why should anyone care if pundits keep making an imprecise or inaccurate claim? If it helps us pile on Trump, why shouldn't we be grateful for their constant fuzzy or inaccurate statements?

Our answers go something like this:

No one has to care about Europe, or about anything else. It's fairly clear that nobody does. Such is the fairly obvious state of our failing culture.

That said:

Many of these European nations seemed to have the virus licked not too long ago. The fact that their situations have spun out of control so quickly could have served as a warning for us lunkheads Over Here.

Concerning persistent pundit misstatement, we'll only offer this:

It's stunning to see how few analytical tools our high-end journalists have. To wit:

As people have known for thousands of years, there's a difference between a "lie" and a "falsehood" or a "misstatement." Routinely, this blindingly obvious point seems to lie beyond the ken of our highest-paid media stars.

Simply put, they don't get it. Amazingly, such ancient distinctions lie beyond their ken.

Similarly, there's a difference between "total deaths to date" and "current daily or weekly death rate." And no, it doesn't make sense to draw certain comparisons between two countries without adjusting for the size of their differing populations.

If major journalists can't gasp such blindingly obvious points, what can they be expected to understand and explain? Routinely, they're left with one tool alone:

They're left with the tool of Standard Group Narrative. Memorize, orate, rinse and repeat. At the present time, it's pretty much all we have.

Our upper-end culture lies in a state of remarkably low cognition. Donald J. Trump is a lunatic, but he didn't invent this state of affairs. 

We'll be discussing this cognitive shortfall all through the course of next week. 

Psychiatric disorder also seems to be part of the mix. We'll be discussing that too. Needless to say, you'll see this nowhere else!

Meanwhile, west of Cali: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia?

They're sill experiencing very few deaths. That doesn't get talked about either!

THE BRAIN CELL MONOLOGUES: Bravo sets the opera aside!


Airs minstrel shows instead: The comical history of basic cable suggests a possible interpretation:

We the people may be less lofty than we may understand.

The history of basic cable involves a persistent, comical trip down the ladder of conventional notions of taste. Court TV makes way for "World's Dumbest." Comically, Arts and Entertainment (now A & E) treats the Olympian gods to this:

The network was originally founded in 1984 as the Arts & Entertainment Network, initially focusing on fine arts, documentaries (including its then-flagship series Biography), and dramas (including imported series from the United Kingdom). In 1995, the network rebranded as A&E, in an effort to downplay the negative perceptions of arts programming...

So says the leading authority on this comical transformation. How those great gods must laugh!

Such transformations are  general in the vineyards of basic cable. Consider what happened to Bravo, no exclamation point added.

By way of background, the Italian people used to shout "Bravo!" after they'd sat through an opera. At its inception, the brave new channel tried to draft along behind this lofty cultural history:

Bravo is an American pay television network, launched on December 8, 1980. It is owned by the NBCUniversal Television and Streaming division of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The channel originally focused on programming related to fine arts and film. 


Performing arts programs seen on Bravo included the show Jazz Counterpoint. During the mid-1980s, Bravo converted from a premium service into a basic cable channel, although it remained a commercial-free service. Bravo signed an underwriting deal with Texaco in 1992 and within a month broadcast the first Texaco Showcase production, a stage adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. By the mid-1990s, Bravo began to incorporate more PBS-style underwriting sponsorships, and then began accepting traditional commercial advertising by 1998.

This was lofty stuff. For eighteen years, the founders refused to accept traditional ads. Instead, they favored lofty, PBS-flavored corporate sponsorship deals.

So deluded were they about what they could sell that they offered Shakespeare and jazz! Eventually, reality—and "reality"—came crashing down on the project and on their high-minded ambitions:

In the early 2000s, Bravo switched its format from focusing on performing arts, drama, and independent film to being focused on pop culture such as reality shows, fashion and makeover shows, and celebrities. Bravo's "makeover" occurred in 2003 with the reality series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which garnered 3.5 million viewers. Entertainment Weekly put "Bravo reality shows" on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "From Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Fab Five to Project Runway's fierce fashionistas to the kvetching, perma-tanned Real Housewives franchise, Bravo's quirky reality programming mixes high culture and low scruples to create deliciously addictive television."

It was all "entertainment" now! 

Today, Bravo retains its lofty name, but the fuel on which the channel runs is an endless succession of highly confected "Real Housewives" programs. As a general matter, the women in question are neither "housewives" nor are they observably "real." 

The leading authority on Bravo's decline describes the sprawling franchise as shown:

[Real Housewives] is critiqued as promoting consumerism through programming. It is also seen as perpetuating gender stereotypes by highlighting women as shoppers more so than career women. Their lavish lifestyles have also contributed to the misconception that financial wealth equals happiness. Feminist leader Gloria Steinem has vociferously criticized the "Housewives" franchise for "presenting women as rich, pampered, dependent and hateful towards each other." Steinem summed up her dislike of the show in 2013:

"It is women, all dressed up and inflated and plastic surgeried and false bosomed and incredible amount of money spent, not getting along with each other. Fighting with each other. It is a minstrel show for women. I don't believe it, I have to say. I feel like it's manufactured, that the fights between them are manufactured and they're supposed to go after each other in a kind of conflicting way."

It's a minstrel show for women! At least in this one observer's view, Bravo had brought us a long way from Dunsinane Castle, baby!

Inevitably, the New York Times delivered the final critical blow, complaining about the "segregation"  within this sprawling franchise. Truly, this is the only form of analysis this newspaper seems to know:

The New York Times ran an article in October 2019 criticizing how the casts of the different Housewives franchises are "segregated" by skin color. Author Tracie Egan Morrissey pointed to Potomac and Atlanta for their almost entirely African American casts, while the other iterations (Beverly Hills, Orange County, Dallas, New York, and New Jersey) are overwhelmingly white and have featured few women of color. Real Housewives of New York has never featured a woman of color as a "Housewife", while the addition of Kary Brittingham to Dallas in 2019 marked the show's first Hispanic cast member. Beverly Hills, with the exception of Season 4's Joyce Giraud, featured "a racially homogeneous cast throughout its run", until the addition of Garcelle Beauvais, also in 2019.

The essay was written by Tracie Egan Morrissey, author of Pot Psychology's How to Be: Lowbrow Advice from High People. In the present day, our Hamptons-based, upper-end culture tends to adopt this form. 

The history of our basic cable channels tends to follow the path from the sacred toward the profane. The Discovery Channel was highbrow too, until so-called reality hit:

Discovery Channel (known as The Discovery Channel from 1985 to 1995, and often referred to as simply Discovery) is an American multinational pay television network and flagship channel owned by Discovery, Inc., a publicly traded company run by CEO David Zaslav. As of June 2012, Discovery Channel [was] the third most widely distributed subscription channel in the United States, behind TBS and The Weather Channel...

It initially provided documentary television programming focused primarily on popular science, technology, and history, but by the 2010s had expanded into reality television and pseudo-scientific entertainment.

According to the leading authority, scientific discoveries had made way for pseudo-scientific entertainment. According to that same authority, the lofty channel had plainly slipped a bit by the year 2014:

Eaten Alive was a [Discovery Channel] television program in which wildlife filmmaker Paul Rosolie was purportedly going to be "eaten alive" by an anaconda. It aired on December 7, 2014. When the special aired, the anaconda attacked Rosolie but did not swallow him, as its title had implied, prompting numerous complaints of a bait and switch.

The American people are pretty sharp. We won't accept such blatant examples of bait and switch—presumably, no pun intended.

For the record, there's nothing "wrong" with watching such entertaining cable fare; beyond that, most people don't. Presumably, though, even fewer of us the people were willing to sit through programs about Shakespeare and jazz, or about the finer points of Newton's miracle year.

The comedy comes when you turn to The History Channel and find yourself sunk in a full day of Ancient Aliens. As a people, we may not be as sharp as our pundits tell us we are, but it's fairly clear that our corporate suits are ridiculous and incorrigible.

Excuse us while we watch the latest doo-wop retrospective on PBS, supported by "viewers like us." In closing, a quick review:

Stephen Brill launched Court TV in 1991. Before too long, the channel had given way to programming which was literally called World's Dumbest. 

Next week, we'll briefly consider Brill's subsequent magazine launch. In the main, we'll turn to the larger question about the  intellectual capacity of major elites in this, the age of Trumpism.

For now, a minor spoiler:

Trumpism wasn't invented by Donald J. Trump. Over the past three or four decades, Trumpism had spread all through our culture, not excluding our upper-end culture, long before its lunatic adoption by Donald J. Trump.

The devolution of basic cable is a comical example of this unmistakable cultural shift. Next week, we'll move to the realms where the apparent cognitive shortfalls have had serious consequences.

"I saw you from afar," the Bushmen of the Kalahari famously say or once said. As we'll start to note next week, The Family of Man [sic] is much alike wherever it's found in the world.

Next week: Cognitive shortfalls

Vanessa Friedman speaks for "us!"


Now they've even got Gupta: It's been a while since we visited the New York Times' reimagined page A3 (print editions only). 

Today, A3's daily "Of Interest" feature lists seven "noteworthy facts" from the Times. Below, you see three of the seven entries:

Of Interest

Roving Blazers has rereleased Princess Diana's famous black sheep sweater. Even at a cost of $295, it's available for order only and won't arrive until January at the earliest

Walmart operates six stories in Vermont.

Rihanna's Fenty Beauty makeup line generated as estimated $570 million in revenue in its first 15 months.

Such is the persistent culture of this dimwitted upper-class newspaper. So much to learn about, and yet so little time!

The noteworthy facts about Diana's sweater trace to an analysis piece by fashion editor Vanessa Friedman. Online, Friedman's report appears beneath these headlines:

Why Do We Care So Much About Diana’s Dresses? 
“The Crown,” Season 4, has raised the question again. The answer may not be what you expect.

"Right now, understandably, we can’t get enough of such vicarious fashion exposition, given our loungewear-limned reality," Friedman thoughtfully writes, adopting the "national we." Did we mention the  fact that Diana's famous black sweater won't arrive until January at the earliest?

Such foppishness is par for the course at this Hamptons-based newspaper. What we didn't expect is what we saw on CNN last night.

Sanjay Gupta was speaking with Anderson Cooper. In our view, Gupta's reporting on the pandemic has consistently been superb.

Cable news has come up with quite a few outstanding, and outstandingly sane, public health/medical specialists. We'd put Gupta high on that list. 

We think Gupta has been superb. Last night, even Gupta said this:

COOPER (11/18/20): I just want to get both your reactions tonight on this horrific milestone. A quarter of a million people in this country have died now. And the numbers are going up. Sanjay.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean that and counting, right? I mean, this is a milestone, but we blow by these milestones. And it's really sad. Anderson, it's I mean, it's really dispiriting. 

I mean, no matter how you look at it, I didn't really think we would get to this number. But here we are, and so many of the deaths that we talked about were preventable. And I know those families who watch your program every night who've lost loved ones, they don't like to hear that their loved ones death was preventable. But, you know, so many of these deaths were preventable. 

And if you look at the death rate in the United States, and you compare it to other countries around the world, I mean, we have the most deaths. We have the most deaths. I never imagined that the best we would be able to do in this country was to be the worst in the world. And yet, here we are.

As Gupta spoke, a graphic appeared showing the total number of deaths to date for the five "countries with most deaths." And it's true! The United States has recorded more deaths from coronavirus than any other country in the world.

The United States also has the world's third largest population. Beyond that, "deaths" and "death rate" are two different critters. 

Newsflash! When it comes to our current daily/weekly "death rate," we are nowhere near the worst in the world. If you simply click this link, you'll see a graphic by Kevin Drum which illustrates this amazingly simple point. 

After adjusting for population, our current daily/weekly death rate is dwarfed by those of Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, France, Portugal, Austria, the United Kingdom and Spain, among others. And Drum is merely comparing our current daily/weekly death rate to those of countries in Europe.

All of us are living inside a highly illiterate culture. Gupta's highly familiar remark, delivered from the top of the mainstream press corps, displayed a type of statistical illiteracy which is stunningly widespread.

There are certain kinds of financial comparisons which make no sense unless you adjust for inflation. Similarly, there are certain kinds of transnational comparisons which make no sense unless you adjust for the size of various countries' populations.

In the current circumstance, the children love to announce that we're the worst in the world. Even Our Own Rhodes Scholar persistently, dumbly does this.

We're silly and stupid and nobody likes us. Also, Princess Diana's famous sweater won't arrive till next year!

THE BRAIN CELL MONOLOGUES: History takes us for a ride!


They've got your Pawn Stars right here: In these difficult times, it might be a good idea to draw some solace from the lessons of history.

If so, it might be best to stay away from "History"—that is, from the former History Channel. The leading authority on this cable channel describes the way it began:

History (formerly The History Channel from 1995 to 2008 and stylized as HISTORY) is a pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by A&E Networks, a joint venture between Hearst Communications and the Disney Media Networks division of the Walt Disney Company.

The network was originally focused on history-based documentaries and historical fiction series...


The company indicated that plans for a history channel were in the works in 1993...The History Channel was launched on January 1, 1995 with its UK counterpart following on November 1 in partnership with British Sky Broadcasting. Its original format focused entirely on historical series and specials.

During the 1990s, History was jokingly referred to as "The Hitler Channel" for its extensive coverage of World War II.

"The network was originally focused on history-based documentaries," the leading authority says. Indeed, the channel stressed World War II to such an extent that it was once admiringly known as The Hitler Channel.

There's a lot the modern viewer can learn from a review of the Hitler era. Presumably for that reason, PBS is currently airing a somewhat heavy-handed new docudrama series, Rise of the Nazis.

As such, modern subscribers to basic cable might consider turning to History—it's no longer called The History Channel—for a bit of perspective, or even for solace. If they do, they might be surprised by the clownlike "historical" programming they will reliably find there.

Suppose the subscriber had started her search this Monday morning. She would have encountered a daylong blizzard of Pawn Stars broadcasts. The leading authority describes the program as shown:

Pawn Stars is an American reality television series, shown on History, and produced by Leftfield Pictures. The series is filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada, where it chronicles the daily activities at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, a 24-hour family business opened in 1989 and originally operated by patriarch Richard "Old Man" Harrison, his son Rick Harrison, Rick's son Corey "Big Hoss" Harrison, and Corey's childhood friend, Austin "Chumlee" Russell. The series, which became the network's highest rated show and the No. 2 reality show behind [MTV's] Jersey Shore, debuted on July 26, 2009.

The series depicts the staff's interactions with customers, who bring in a variety of artifacts to sell or pawn, and who are shown haggling over the price and discussing its historical background, with narration provided by either the Harrisons or Chumlee.

The series also follows the interpersonal conflicts among the cast...

It's hard to get a whole lot dumber, unless you turn to the program American Pickers, which ran all day and all night on Tuesday and will do so again today:

The show follows antique and collectible pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, who travel around the United States to buy or "pick" various items for resale, for clients, or for their personal collections. Danielle Colby runs the office of Wolfe's business, Antique Archaeology, from their home base in Le Claire, Iowa, and more recently at a second location in Nashville, Tennessee. They originally traveled in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van and now in a Ford Transit. Fritz sells his acquisitions at his own shop, and previously on his now-defunct website, Frank Fritz Finds, upriver in Savanna, Illinois. The men go on the road, not only following up leads that Colby has generated but also "freestyling"–stopping at places that look like they might hold items worth buying. They also pick some places more than once.


Mike and Frank explore people's homes, barns, sheds, outbuildings, and other places where they have stored antiques and collectibles. They call upon amateur and serious collectors, hoarders, and also people who have inherited overwhelming collections of items that they don't know what to do with. Wolfe, who has been picking since age four, has a particular interest in antique motorcycles, air-cooled Volkswagens (pronounced “votes-wagon” by Wolfe), old bicycles and penny-farthings, while Fritz has a fondness for antique toys, oil cans, and old Hondas, with a special love for peanut-related items.

There will be little World War II here. Herodotus and Thucydides aren't likely to appear. 

Tomorrow, the History subscriber will be treated to a full day of Ancient Aliens. The naysayers, nerds and know-it-alls have tended to find fault with this program:

Ancient Aliens is an American television series that premiered on April 20, 2010, on the History channel. Produced by Prometheus Entertainment in a documentary style, the program presents hypotheses of ancient astronauts and proposes that historical texts, archaeology, and legends contain evidence of past human-extraterrestrial contact. The show has been widely criticized by historians, cosmologists, archaeologists and other scientific circles for presenting and promoting pseudoscience, pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology.

On Sunday, the daylong binge will feature reruns of Ultimate Rides, a program about really cool cars. The channel will only turn to serious history  on Saturday, when it will let subscribers binge watch programs about two major historical events—the sinking of the Titanic, and the search for D.B. Cooper, the guy who jumped out of the plane.

In Tuesday's report, we recalled a sad but instructive bit of basic cable history. In 1991, Stephen Brill, a major mainstream figure, seemed to have a semi-serious venture in mind when he launched Court TV, a basic cable channel which would focus on legal issues.

Within a matter of years, the channel was known as TruTV, and it was airing programs literally called World's Dumbest. But so it has gone across the cable dial in the era during which Trumpism came to define the  state of our failing nation's failing national intellect.

Rather plainly, Trumpism was not invented by Donald J. Trump. In part, it was invented by the corporate clowns responsible for The History Channel. 

It was invented by the Reverend Falwell and his stupid Clinton Chronicles tape. It was invented by the mainstream journalists who literally hid in the bushes outside Gary Hart's home.

It was also invented by Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews, and by all the upper-end liberal/progressive corporate-paid figures who participated in or enabled their long, stupid reign. 

Except for the terrible consequences, this would be a comical tale, nothing more. Sadly, the consequences have been vast. Tomorrow, we'll quickly look in the comical transformation of Bravo, along with the transformation of the original Arts and Entertainment channel. Concerning the latter, we're willing to post this spoiler, so rich is its comical content:

The network was originally founded in 1984 as the Arts & Entertainment Network, initially focusing on fine arts, documentaries (including its then-flagship series Biography), and dramas (including imported series from the United Kingdom). In 1995, the network rebranded as A&E, in an effort to downplay the negative perceptions of arts programming and generally market the network as a "thought-provoking" alternative to other television channels. In 2002, at the expense of its arts programming, A&E began to gradually focus more on reality series to attract younger viewers. By 2017, the network had also phased out scripted programs, making reality shows its primary focus.

Why did the network removed the word "arts" from its original high-minded name? It did so "in an effort to downplay the negative perceptions of arts programming!" The gods on Olympus laugh hard at this fact, or so we're reliably told.


Do the comical transformations of basic cable tell us something about ourselves, about our failing nation's failed intellect? Do these comical transformations suggest that a possible brain cell deficit may be laying us low?

Those aren't easy questions to answer, but they're obvious questions  to ask. 

The transformation of basic cable is a wonderfully comical story. Elsewhere, the devolution of our basic intellect seems to lie at the heart of a grim historical tale.

Tomorrow: Also, Stephen Brill's subsequent magazinejournal

Donald Trump did what Falwell did!


Barack Obama remembers: Pepperidge Farm used to remember. In his recent interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama remembered too.

In the exchange to which we refer, Goldberg asked this question:

GOLDBERG (11/16/20): Your wife has always had a slightly different view on the salience of race here, and you don’t dwell on race in this volume, but how much of the opposition to you had to do with the fact that you’re a liberal Democrat, versus you being a Black president?

How much of the opposition to Obama's presidency was a function of race? How much of the opposition was a function of party and tribe?

Such things are hard to measure. But in his answer, Obama briefly remembered:

OBAMA (continuing directly): I actually write about how hard it is to allocate percentages here, because American history and culture are so shaped by our racial history. If someone is in favor of “states’ rights,” it’s very hard to disentangle this statement from race. Maybe they just believe in local government and local control. On the other hand, this debate started as far back as debates between northern and southern states and the maintenance of slavery, and Jim Crow and opposition to busing, you name it. It’s difficult to clearly say how much of this was race, as opposed to opposition to liberalism. The Clintons, for example, generated similar venomous attacks. A lot of that had to do with the culture wars that dated back to the ’60s—Vietnam, pot, sex, rock and roll, the debate between Phyllis Schlafly and Bella Abzug.

Obama continued on from there. It seems to us that the highlighted statement ought to be fleshed out.

Dating at least to the Clinton era, our modern politics has been dominated by The Terminally Stupid and Dumb and, of course, by The Crazy. The Crazy has functioned like this

In Obama's case, a crackpot celebrity—Donald J. Trump—spent five years bruiting the crazy claim that Obama had been born in Kenya. Based upon a string of surveys, an amazingly large percentage of Republicans eventually said that they believed this crazy claim.

That's part of the way The Crazy worked with Obama. But as Obama told Goldberg, The Crazy was active in the case of the Clintons too.

In that instance, a crackpot celebrity—the Reverend Jerry Falwell—began peddling a videotape about the Clintons' many murders. We don't recall that matter being surveyed, but it's safe to say that a significant percentage of anti-Clinton voters believed that lunacy too—and yes, a whole lot else went into that lunatic stew.

The Kenya claim can be said to have been about race. The multiple murders claim involves no such connection. And after that, along came Candidate Gore, and an array of celebrities in the upper-end mainstream press corps spent several years spreading the claim that Gore had a psychiatric need to make ridiculous, inaccurate statements.

Al Gore said he invented the Internet! They said such things again and again and again, over a long stretch of years. 

The Crazy came from Jerry Falwell, then it came from Trump. In between, it came from Chris Matthews and Maureen Dowd and from an endless array of major mainstream journalists. These same people spent twenty years trashing Hillary Clinton, often in the dumbest and most gender-laden ways.

Our tribe is too spectacularly stupid to understand this history. As a group, we're able to notice nothing at all unless we can tie it to race. 

In recent years, we've added gender to our extremely limited playlist. This new concern came along much too late to help Nurse Ratched / Evita Peron, AKA Hillary Clinton. 

(The twenty-four years in which we stared into space while Hillary Clinton was being trashed explain how she lost by an eyelash to Trump. Our team is too stupid to grasp this.)

Our team is just tremendously dumb. We've memorized one or two plays. We know, and are able to notice, nothing else.

Our only real skill involves our ability to say that the others are dumb. We're silly and hopeless and nobody likes us. Even in the face of this, Obama briefly remembered what happened when Clinton arrived.

(Before that, the mainstream press corps discovered that Gary Hart might have a girl friend. That discovery came to us from the msm.)

The Clintons "generated similar venomous attacks?" Children, that's putting it mildly! This is the unnoticed history of modern politics in this, our failing society.

The question we'll soon be raising is simple. How did we get so dumb?

THE BRAIN CELL MONOLOGUES: Underlings hacked The Others to bits!


The impulse which never dies: Robert Zaretsky is a history professor at the University of Houston. His various bio pages at that school don't seem to have been updated since maybe 2015.

Whatever! As a little-noted anniversary approaches, Zaretsky has offered this portrait at Slate—a portrait perhaps of ourselves:

ZARETSKY (11/17/20): At the command of their ruler, underlings burst into the homes of the leaders of the opposing party in the early hours of the morning, hacking them to pieces in their beds and dragging their remains through the streets. As dawn broke, many civilians, rather than recoiling in horror, responded with even greater frenzy. Fanning out across the city, they broke into the homes of their rivals, massacring entire families. Men drove swords into pregnant mothers and tore their unborn children from their wombs; other children were spared but were immersed in the blood of their slaughtered parents as a warning to never hold the same beliefs; the river running through the city turned deep red from the hundreds of hacked corpses thrown into it. By the time dogs found no more body parts to gnaw on, more than 2,000 people had lost their lives.

We are two years shy of the 450th anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The event was triggered by France’s Catholic King Charles IX and his mother, Catherine of Medici, when they either ordered or supported the killing of Huguenot Protestant leaders who had gathered in Paris for a royal marriage. But what was meant to be a surgical operation targeting Huguenot leaders turned into a mass butchery, thanks to the passions they had unleashed. While St. Bartholomew’s Day was the most infamous massacre of the period, it was not unique: Dozens of similar events—slighter though no less savage and committed by Huguenots no less than Catholics—occurred during the Wars of Religion that convulsed 16th-century France for more than three decades. Each side was convinced it held the truth; each side was determined to make the other see the light; each side was willing to keep killing until that light could appear.

As always, the two warring, self-assured "sides!" In his second inaugural address, Lincoln offered a rueful portrait of the two self-assured sides:

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God...

We believe Abraham Lincoln said that.

We thought first of the killing fields of Rwanda as we read Zaretsky's opening passage. That said, the killing fields of Bosnia were underway at the same time. 

Then too, PBS is currently airing a new "docudrama" series, Rise of the Nazis. We aren't in love with the series' writing, but the story never gets old.

Zaretsky says that what happened back then isn't happening here. Well—it isn't quite happening here:

ZARETSKY: Flash forward several centuries and the present moment is redolent with a sense of déjà vu. Of course, there are crucial distinctions between then and now. The truth claims of both Huguenots and Catholics were faith-based, a trait that is now mostly the province of the red camp, while the blue camp mostly insists upon an empirical and rational basis for truth. But if we look at the progressive wing of the blue camp, we see the growing and disturbing tendency to cultivate the very same group experience offered by their foes. As a result, there is the danger of dogmatism on our side, as well. At times, it seems less a question of, say, the relative merits of international engagement or national retrenchment, or the positive or negative forms of liberty. Instead, like our 16th-century ancestors, we lean Manichaean. Truth versus heresy, good versus evil, and right versus wrong.

Does our present-day blue camp "mostly insist upon an empirical and rational basis for truth?" We would be extremely slow to sign on to that portrait. 

Indeed, as he continues in that passage, Zaretsky pokes holes in his own characterization of Us Liberals Today. And yes, we humans still "lean Manichean." Experts continue to tell us that it's bred in the bone.

This morning, in The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky is hoping we'll lock (most of) the others up. "There’s nothing I’d love more than to see the whole [Trump] family get sent up the river. Ivanka included," he says at the start of his essay. 

Tomasky would even love to see Ivanka in chains! After acknowledging that this might be hard to achieve, he scales back his suggestions to Biden: 

TOMASKY (11/18/20): Go hard after everybody not named Trump. That means Bannon, already indicted. Giuliani. Bill Barr, if they can find any way that he broke the law in meddling in these investigations. Lindsey Graham for that phone call. The whole lot of them. Nobody outside the hard right cares about any of these people. America knows they’re corrupt. Indicting any of the supporting characters would be still controversial, but very few Americans will really go to the mat for Bill Barr.

Tomasky can't possibly know what Graham actually said in that phone call. Already, though, he's urging the (presumptive) next president to lock him up—to lock him up for whatever it is he said.

Also, Biden should lock up Barr, "if he can find any way." As Lincoln almost said, "Each looked for an easy triumph."

(For the record, all such prosecutions would perhaps be hard to sustain. Whatever else he may be doing, Trump's current tsunami of tribal fictions will conceivably function as a form of future jury tampering.)

As all this happens, The Atlantic is thinking long and hard about the Kardashians' final season. And yes, it's apparently true—the family's three hundred "reality series" have apparently been on the air for a full twenty years.

Simple story! A nation so blindingly stupid can't hope to succeed or survive. 

As we noted yesterday, Stephen Brill started out with a reasonably serious basic cable venture. Within a matter of a few years, it had re-emerged as a collection of "docusoaps," but also as a set of "reality" programs literally called World's Dumbest.

The history of basic cable's decline is comical but instructive. We'll return to that comical story tomorrow. 

Beyond that, what other realities wait to be explored? The widespread stupidity everywhere else, the astonishing brain cell decline.

Tomorrow: The History Channel today. Plus, what hath Bravo wrought?