What are our "thought leaders" actually like?

MONDAY, MARCH 8, 2021

One bombshell after another: Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post's media columnist, delivered her assessment shortly before noon today.

The headline on her column says this:

Oprah proved she is greatest celebrity interviewer of all time. All journalists can learn from her.

It was "bombshell after bombshell," the media columnist said. Soon, she was describing an exchange between two high-end professors:

SULLIVAN (3/8/21): I was entertained by the admiring Twitter exchange Sunday night between two hard-nosed New York City journalism professors who are normally highly critical of the mainstream media.

“That was the best interview I have ever watched,” wrote New York University’s Jay Rosen.

“Great, but not quite Frost/Nixon level for me,” responded Bill Grueskin of Columbia University.

But David Frost’s televised grilling of the disgraced former president was back in 1977, so by this reckoning the royal interview might have been the best televised sit-down in the past four decades.

The hard-nosed New York City professors spilled over with admiration. As a result, the media columnist was entertained.

Was this "the best televised sit-down in the past four decades?"

We aren't entirely sure. For one thing, we didn't watch. Why did anyone else?

Our answer would go something like this. This is all they really want, the ranking elites in Our Town. 

They want to perform their virtue for a while. After that, they want to sit down. They want to be entertained.

It was "bombshell after bombshell," Sullivan wrote. We thought about the millions of kids who attend our low-income schools.

We thought about the recent New York Times reports about the problem of "segregation" in New York City's public schools. We thought about the column the Washington Post published on Sunday—a column by a former Teach For America teacher in the Memphis schools.

We thought about all the good decent kids who attend our nation's "underperforming" schools. Those two professors, and the media columnist, will never—we repeat, will never—conduct discussions about the journalism surrounding the lives of those kids. 

Oprah will never discuss those kids or the schools they attend. And no one will want her to.

We've been unimpressed with the Times' reporting about the Gotham schools. On balance, we think it misses the basic point in a stunning array of ways.

On balance, we were unimpressed by the (strikingly dogmatized) column in Sunday's Post, which seemed to have been written as a self-confession during the Cultural Revolution. We were struck by the scattershot nature of the letters about charter schools which appeared in this morning's Times.

That said, millions of kids attend those low-income schools. In truth, nobody gives a flying falafel about those kids—about their lives and their interests. There will be no discussion of them.

We the people like to perform, after which we like to be entertained. We like to tell ourselves the stories which make us feel tribally good. 

This is the way we humans are wired, top major experts have told us. This pattern isn't going to change, disconsolate scholars now say.

Postponed: Maddow spots Joe Manchin's racism


Starting tomorrow: DOGMA AND TOWN!

MONDAY, MARCH 8, 2021

It appeared in the Washington Post: Major anthropologists with whom we consult continue to make several points.

The highly-credentialed, award-winning experts persist in making these claims:

They continue to say that human populations are strongly inclined to split into "tribes" at times of social conflict. And not only that:

Once these tribes have been formed, ideological war will typically follow, fueled by warring dogmas. 

According to these world-renowned scholars, few "rational" standards will interfere with the expression of these dogmas. Within each tribe, adherence to dogma may even seem to resemble certain types of religious belief.

These anthropologists make one additional point—and they say it's very important:

They say we humans can always see the irrational conduct being performed by the other tribe. They say we have a much harder time seeing the irrational conduct being performed by our own dogma-fueled group.

Most outrageously, these experts say that these basic points obtain in our current circumstance, right here in the U.S. This brings us to Charles Blow's column in today's New York Times—but also to a remarkable column which was published in last Friday's Washington Post.

As always, Blow is outraged today—nor is he fastidious about the way he expresses his outrage. 

Blow's column is geared to an important event—the start of Derek Chauvin's trial in Minneapolis. In the trial, Chauvin will stand charged with second-degree  murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

(According to the Washington Post, the judge may permit "the last-minute addition of a third-degree murder charge." No one reading this morning's Post is likely to have any idea what these technical terms actually mean.)

It's hard to believe that Chauvin will be able to justify his conduct in this matter, but he'll be given the chance. As usual, though, Blow is outraged—and he isn't especially delicate in the way he expresses this feeling. 

For better or worse, his column starts like this:

BLOW (3/8/21): Something happened this [past] summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and maybe only history will be able to fully explain what it was.

Millions of Americans—many of them white—poured into the streets to demand justice and assert that Black Lives Matter. It’s clear now that the summer protests, which took place during a pandemic during which congregation was discouraged, were for some participants less a sincere demand for justice than they were a social outlet.

As some semblance of normal life began to inch back, enthusiasm for the cause among whites quickly grew soft, like a rotting spot on a piece of fruit.

These Whites Today, the ones who poured into the streets! Blow seems to say that, for some of these whites, their demand for justice wasn't all that sincere.

Somewhat indelicately, he compares the current attitudes of these performative whites to "a rotting spot on a piece of fruit." For better or worse, the leading newspaper in Our Town apparently thought that this was an appropriate way to express this morning's key idea.

For the record, nothing Blow describes in his column supports any claim about anyone who took part in last summer's protests. As usual, Blow's sense of outrage has overwhelmed his (substantial) ability to deal with facts—a process we constantly hear described by despondent scholars and experts.

Along the way, Blow discusses the results of an ongoing survey conducted by USA Today and Ipsos—a survey which is quite ham-handed in the possible choices it offers to respondents. Blow hurtles past an obvious point—the changes in attitude which have occurred since the survey was first conducted last June are observed among respondents who are black as well as among those who are white.

Also this:

On the several matters under review, there is much more agreement than disagreement among black and white respondents. This seems to suggest that a significant number of black respondents could also be compared to rotting pieces of fruit!

That Ipsos poll is absurdly ham-handed, but so it tends to go with our highly imperfect species. In our view, Blow's outrage may have outrun his (substantial) rationality—but that is precisely the effect top experts have long described.

These experts say that, at times like these, dogma will flourish in all our towns. They also tell us this:

Here in Our Town, the dogmas around which we tend to form tribal unity tend to involve matters of gender and race.

Here in Our Town, we all can see the crazy ideas which have hardened into dogma for those in The Other Towns:

Obamacare would feature "death panels!" Barack Obama was born in Kenya! The Capitol was invaded by a bunch of left-wingers posing as Trump supporters! November's election was stolen!

No claim is so absurd that it won't be widely believed in Their Towns. But how about the ways we tend to behave Over Here?

This week, we're going to focus on the remarkable column which appeared in the Washington Post. It deals with a very important topic—the shooting deaths of (black) citizens at the hands of police officers.

In our view, it's amazing to think that the Washington Post was willing to publish the column in question.  Commenters quickly spotted the column's remarkable flaws. Perhaps because they were blinded by dogma, editors at the Post did not.

Over There, people have been strongly inclined to believe whatever crazy thing Donald J. Trump just said. Over Here, we tend to believe any claim in which members of Our Town accuse Others of racist or sexist behavior.

We'll agree with Blow on one key point—a whole lot of performative conduct seems to be taking place in matters of this general type. This morning, we think he does a poor job explaining where that conduct can be found.

Here in Our Town, we tend to believe the things we read in the Times and the Post. This raises a key anthropological question:

To what extent are the things we read based on irrational adherence to certain types of dogma—to pre-approved Storyline? Starting tomorrow, we'll examine that question all week.

Tomorrow: As seen in the Washington Post


Cable star trashes Senator Manchin!

SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2021

Truly, it doesn't get dumber: Today, let's start with some political facts about the state of West Virginia.

In presidential campaigns, the state was reliably Democratic right through 1996. Dating back through FDR's four elections, West Virginia only went Republican during major national landslides, and sometimes not even then.

West Virginia voted for Humphrey in 1968, rejecting Candidate Nixon. It voted for Jimmy Carter both times, even against Reagan in 1980. It voted for Dukakis in 1988. After that, it voted for Clinton both times.

The state flipped to red in 2000, and it has never looked back. On that first (disastrous) occasion, we understood that the flip was largely connected to NRA ads about guns.

That's what we understood. But George W. Bush's winning margin in West Virginia was a mere six points that year. Four years later, in 2004, the Republican margin in the state grew to 13 points.

That advantage has never diminished. Obama lost the state by 13 points in 2008, by 27 points in 2012. And after that, the deluge! Donald J. Trump won the state each time by an astonishing margin:

Presidential elections, West Virginia
2016: Trump 67.9%;  Clinton 26.5%
2020: Trump 68.6%; Biden 29.7%

Trump beat Clinton by 41 points. Four years later, he beat Biden by 39. 

We'd love to see a full discussion of this remarkable shift in this state's political alignment. But our point today is somewhat different. Our point today is this:

Senate elections, West Virginia
2012: Joe Manchin (D) 60.6%; John Raese (R) 36.5% 
2018: Joe Manchin (D) 49.6%; Patrick Morrissey (R) 46.3%

Joe Manchin didn't win by much in 2018, during his state's remarkable shift to Trump.

No, he didn't win by much, but he did hold on. And if he hadn't managed to do that, Mitch McConnell would still be running a Republican-majority Senate. 

At least in theory, liberals, progressives and Democrats wouldn't be happy with that.

Sad but true! Given the current conservative tilt of "Senate math," and given the rise of partisan polarization, it's currently very hard for Democrats to gain control of the Senate. It's hard for Dems to amass a Senate majority—even a "majority" of 50 members out of 100.

How hard is it for Dems to control the Senate? Consider a few basic facts:

Last November, Biden won the nationwide popular vote by a margin our cable stars like to describe as a "landslide." In this way, our cable stars dumb us down, gaining short-term advantage in corporate earnings and personal salary enhancements.

That said, how they do dumb us down!  With respect to the current topic, our basic point would be this:

Even in winning the popular vote by 4.4 percentage points, Biden won only 25 states. And it gets even worse than that:

Biden managed to win the four states where the margins were closest (Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania). And the margins were very close in those states. Overall, the winning margin in those four states was well under one percent.

It gets even worse than that. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the nationwide popular vote by 2.1 points. But good God! In the course of winning the popular vote, she won only 20 states!

These numbers suggest an obvious point. Even in years when Democrats hold a 2-5 point advantage nationwide, the alignments of the fifty states would tend to place as many as 60 Republicans in the Senate. 

With a very slight shift in the political winds, Biden could have won a three-point nationwide victory while winning only 21 states! Even while winning the popular vote, he very easily could have lost 29 states—and each of our fifty states sends two people to the Senate.

Under our current system, it's very hard for Democrats to gain control of the Senate. To do so, they have to have the occasional political miracle worker—the Joe Manchin who can hold on in West Virginia, the Jon Tester in Montana.

(In 2016 and 2020, Donald J. Trump won Montana by 20.4 and 16.4 points. In 2018, Tester held on in the face of a furious onslaught, winning re-election by 3.5 points.)

Do we think it's easy for a Democrat to win a Senate seat in a state like West Virginia—in a state which twice elected Trump by 40-point margins? Even a star like Claire McCaskill couldn't hold on in Missouri last time. They sent us Josh Hawley instead!

Do we think it's easy to win in West Virginia? Plainly, our corporate-selected multimillionaire cable stars do! Or did you fail to watch Rachel Maddow's ridiculous performance this past Wednesday night?

Maddow is highly skilled at "selling the car;" it's her one spectacular attribute. At long last, it ought to be said that she's also dumb as a rock and a true believer—a hopeless self-adoring performer who persistently dumbs us down in the course of helping us learn to adore her more completely and fully.

On Wednesday, Maddow unloosed a cri de coeur concerning Manchin's announcement that he wouldn't vote to confirm Neera Tanden as head of the OMB.  Along the way, she played every one of Our Town's sillier race / gender cards.

(By that, we mean that she made insinuations and charges about racism and sexism which she made no attempt to support or sustain. This is one of the major ways we manufacture Trump voters.)

We'll wait until Monday to show you what the multimillionaire corporate cable star said. But will the time ever come when we in Our Town decide to stop buying this car?

Way back when, this silly star played this same game, though less politely in certain ways, with respect to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire). 

At that time, New Hampshire was a tougher state for Democrats than it is at present. Maddow showed no sign of understanding the way so basic a facts might affect the way national politics works as she bashed and trashed the vile "conservaDem" solon.

Wednesday night, it was Manchin's turn. Will the time ever come when we decide to stop buying the car this star sells?

Rachel Maddow's list of clown shows is extremely long. That said, Maddow is extremely good at "selling the car"—at her "performance of the Rachel figure," to quote Janet Malcolm in The New Yorker. 

Maddow is skilled at selling the car, and the model he sells is The Maddow. Meanwhile, she's too popular to be critiqued by Our Town's career liberal journalists, many of whom know how dumb her performances frequently are. 

Maddow's show gets dumber and dumber, and more and more pointless, as the years roll by. Here in Our Town, we're too busy attacking the dumbness of The Others to see the way this utterly stupid corporate game actually works.

Manchin found a way to hang on in 2018. If he hadn't found a way to hang on, Mitch McConnell would still be running the Senate today.

The current tilt in Senate math is very bad for Dems. At this site, we're hoping and praying that Manchin can find a way to hang on at least one more time, when he runs in 2024.

Manchin saved us from Leader McConnell. Does Our Town's self-adoring corporate darling understand this most basic of all basic facts?

Monday: Most pitiful cable speech ever?


Who will his next running-mate be?

FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2021

Pundits can't seem to quit Trump: Midway through Wednesday night's program, twenty-seven minutes into his hour, Brian Williams teased his upcoming segment.

Some will find it hard to believe, but this is what he said:

WILLIAMS (3/3/21): Coming up for us after this break, if Donald Trump really runs again, will Mike Pence still be his running-mate? New reporting on who else may be in the mix, believe it or not, after this.

A commercial break ensued. When Brian returned, he played tape of Donald J. Trump being applauded at Sunday's CPAC meeting.

After playing the tape, Brian began to speak. The chyron beneath him said this:

TRUMP FLIRTING WITH 2024 PRESIDENTIAL RUN

Yes, that's what the chyron said! Quoting an actual "news report," Williams offered this:

WILLIAMS: We're crunching the numbers—he seems to have won once. 

If Trump does run again in 2024, the ticket may not include the loyal Mike Pence. Bloomberg News reporting today, quote:

"Privately, he’s discussed alternatives to Pence as he takes stock of who he believes stood with him at the end of his term and who didn’t. Trump advisers have discussed identifying a black or female running mate for his next run, and three of the people familiar with the matter said Pence likely won’t be on the ticket."

Among the names being floated, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, South Carolina senator Tim Scott.

With that, Williams proceeded to a non-discussion discussion, forcing Stuart Stevens to opine about whether Donald J. Trump would run with Pence again.

(Of course not, Stevens said.)

Yes, this actually happened. You can read the full report from Bloomberg News just by clicking this. The byline on the important report names three (3) reporters.

To Brian's credit, he seemed to direct a sardonic tone at the ridiculous topic. But at New York magazine, Ed Kilgore, a very sane person, had devoted a full post to the burning question—a question which comes closer to the need for resolution with each passing hour and minute.

This is an established part of our utterly silly "news" culture. On cable, pundits routinely kill oodles of time speculating about which running-mate a presidential nominee might select.

Again and again, cable hosts waste their viewers' time, asking every national pol with a hint of a pulse if he or she thinks that he or she night be lucky enough to be the eventual choice.

That said, Wednesday's bundle of speculations broke the record for premature time-killing dumbness.  Our pundits—or at least, their producers—just can't seem to quit Donald Trump. He's just too good for ratings.

Can it really be this dumb in the corporate sectors of Our Town? Yes, it actually can be. It can even go downhill from there!

With that in mind, consider this:

Today, Kilgore offers a gloomier post. Liberals and Democrats shouldn't expect to hold onto the House and the Senate in 2022, the gentleman might seem to suggest.

The gloomy fellow may be right. We'll offer a type of perspective on that general problem tomorrow.

In fairness, Wednesday's discussions were unusually foolish—but here in Our Town, the potential for jaw-dropping foolishness is pretty much always there. 

Who will Trump choose for his next running-mate? No really—that's what they discussed!


TIMES AND TOWN: Professor Kendi seems to agree with the Times!

FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2021

But does his idea make sense?: Because of his writings on matters of race, Ibram Kendi has become one of Our Town's most influential public intellectuals.

That was already true in November 2019, when Andrew Sullivan wrote an essay about Kendi's work. 

How long ago was November 2019? The pandemic hadn't started yet—and Sullivan was still writing for New York magazine on a weekly basis.

Sullivan's essay appeared as part of his weekly Friday feature, "Interesting Times." As he started, he offered high praise for certain aspects of Kendi's work—and he cited the best-selling book which has made Kendi such an important figure in Our Town:

SULLIVAN (11/15/19): Near the beginning of Ibram X. Kendi’s celebrated best-seller, How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi writes something that strikes me as the key to his struggle: “I cannot disconnect my parents’ religious strivings to be Christian from my secular strivings to be anti-racist.” Kendi’s parents were “saved into Black liberation theology and joined the churchless church of the Black Power movement.” That was their response—at times a beautiful one—to the unique challenges of being black in America.

And when Kendi’s book becomes a memoir of his own life and comes to terms with his own racism, and then his own cancer, it’s vivid and complicated and nuanced, if a little unfinished. He is alert to ambiguities, paradoxes, and the humanness of it all: “When Black people recoil from White racism and concentrate their hatred on everyday White people, as I did freshman year in college, they are not fighting racist power or racist policymakers.” He sees the complexity of racist views: “West Indian immigrants tend to categorize African-Americans as ‘lazy, unambitious, uneducated, unfriendly, welfare dependent, and lacking in family values.’” He describes these painful moments of self-recognition in what becomes a kind of secular apology: a life of a sinner striving for sainthood, who, having been saved, wants to save everyone else.

He does not shy from the racist violence he saw growing up. He tells an anecdote of a black “crew” targeting an Indian kid for his Walkman (which they steal) on the bus one day...

As Sullivan continues, he quotes Kendi's account of this violent incident. The passage ends with Kendi seeming to chastise himself for his (wholly understandable) youthful inaction as this violence occurred.

Professor Kendi's book, How To Be an Antiracist, was already "a celebrated best-seller" as of November 2019. At the start of that essay, Sullivan praised Kendi for his ability to see the complexity of the very important part of American (and global) life his best-selling book addresses.

After that, the deluge! But before we see where Sullivan went next, let's visit the streets of Our Town:

In certain precincts of Our Town, Kendi's book has become a bit of a Bible. (So too with Robin DiAngelo's weirdly dogmatic best-selling book, White Fragility.)

You can't blame Kendi for the fact that his book is sometimes viewed in such ways. The fault, Dear Brutus, if a fault exists, lies with the rest of us—with our desire for simple, even simplistic, answers to questions which may be complex.

As he starts, Sullivan praises Kendi for the complexity of his observations. "And yet all this is deployed to deliver a message of total ideological simplicity," Sullivan writes.

You can sample Sullivan's broader critique for yourselves. Eventually, he cites a statement Kendi had recently made as part of a symposium for Politico.

In his statement, Kendi had proposed a constitutional amendment concerning racial inequities. His proposal would do this:

KENDI (2019): It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.

As Sullivan notes, this proposal is madness. It's a bolt from the far side of Neptune. The proposal makes no earthly sense. 

It isn't just that no such proposal could ever make it through the process by which the constitution can be amended. On its face, the proposal makes an obvious form of non-sense, straight outta Plato's Republic.

Who would decide who the "experts" were—the experts who would now be empowered to pass judgment on everything the nation's elected officials did? The "experts" who could take action against elected officials if they refused to "voluntarily change their ideas?"

Especially at times of confusion and turmoil, it can always seem like a good idea to put a "philosopher-king" in charge. But the idea is profoundly anti-democratic—Sullivan drops the T-bomb—and if you get the wrong philosopher-king, you can be in a world of hurt, as many of us have recently noticed here in the streets of Our Town.

By all accounts and indications, Kendi is a thoroughly decent person. Beyond that, he's read a thousand books, most of which seem to share a general point of view.

The problem begins when the reader of books decides where to take things from there. The reader's judgment may be very good—but often, such judgments are imperfect or cloudy, as Kendi's seems to be here.

So too perhaps with his view concerning public schools. Rather, with his views concerning the way we should report and discuss our public schools and the lives of the children within them.

On Sunday, in the Washington Post's Outlook section, Matthew Yglesias offered an essay under a challenging headline. Not all ‘anti-racist’ ideas are good ones, the improbable headline declared.

Can that possibly be the case? Before too long, Yglesias quoted something Kendi has said about the ways we should and shouldn't and mustn't discuss our public schools:

YGLESIAS (2/28/21): Ibram Kendi, author of the bestseller “How to Be an Antiracist,” argues for an extremely expansive concept of racism that pushes the boundaries of structural analysis to the limits. According to Kendi, any racial gap simply is racist by definition; any policy that maintains such a gap is a racist policy; and—most debatably— any intellectual explanation of its existence (sociological, cultural and so on) is also racist. He has famously argued that anything that is not anti-racist is perforce racist.

This reaches its most radical form in Kendi’s conflation of measurements of problems with the problems themselves. In his book— ubiquitous in educational circles—he denounces not the existence of a large Black-White gap in school performance but any discussion of such a gap. Kendi writes that “we degrade Black minds every time we speak of an ‘academic-achievement gap’ ” based on standardized test scores and grades. 

In discussing our public schools, we shouldn't report or discuss those (painful) "achievement gaps?" We shouldn't "speak of" those (painful) gaps? They shouldn't be mentioned at all?

According to Yglesias, Professor Kendi's book  is "ubiquitous in educational circles." Is it possible that the book also serves as a guide at the New York Times? 

For ourselves, we share Professor Kendi's concern about the pain, and the possible harm, involved in reporting those painful gaps. 

(On average, white kids outperform black kids in reading and math by what seems to be a large margin. On average, Asian-American kids outperform white kids by almost as large a gap.)

Those very large gaps can be painful; from a certain type of liberal perspective, they can also seem embarrassing. We've long assumed that that explains why the New York Times has long disappeared those painful gaps—has long refused to discuss or even report them. 

The world is simpler, and less embarrassing, when we just hide such facts. And also, of course, we don't care!

The world is simpler—life is less awkward—when big newspapers follow Kendi's prescription on this particular point. They won't get assailed for being racist—and also, nobody cares!

On the down side we end up with type of coverage of urban schools one finds in the New York Times. In our view, this coverage comes from the far side of the planet Neptune, with the nation's millions of good, decent lower-income kids being kicked to the curb in the process.

The Times' reporting pon public schools strikes us as disordered, delusional. We expect to spend a week in the near future reviewing the frameworks of that reporting, as put on display in a series of recent reports.

These frameworks have controlled public school reporting in Our Town since the 1960s. Im this matter, as in so many others, it's hard to believe that our problems will be solved when we agree that we mustn't "speak of" those problems, though we do understand why a food, decent person like Kendi might react to this as he does.

Our nation's achievement gaps are painful. They speak to a brutal racial history which no living person created. It started in 1619, as Professor Bennett noted a long time ago, in a high-profile book.

The children involved are good, decent kids. As with all other groups of kids, very few will be going to Yale. 

How do we serve the bulk of those kids—the kids who won't be going to Yale? We should start by considering the possibility that, on one matter after another, the "experts" and journalists here in Our Town may perhaps, on occasion, be wrong.

Could that be our "citizen's duty?" To speak up if our experts are wrong?


As Nicholas Kristof endorses persuasion...

THURSDAY, MARCH 4, 2021

...Dolly Parton shows one way it's done: We don't love the headlines on Nicholas Kristof's new column. The headlines in question say this:

How to Reach People Who Are Wrong
In the post-Trump era, research suggests the best ways to win people over. 

In this column, Kristof comes down on the side of persuasion. We urges us liberals to get off our tribal high horse and learn how to "win people over."

That said, "How to reach people who are wrong?" According to major experts, the best way to win people over is to stop insisting that they have to tell you that they were "wrong."

We don't love Kristof's headlines, but we agree with his overall point. Still, he panders to us in Our Town just a bit. This is the way he begins:

KRISTOF (3/4/21): The Trump years were a time of high passion, of moral certainty, of drawing lines in the sand, of despair at the ethical and intellectual vacuity of political foes. But now it’s time to recalibrate.

From my liberal point of view, Democrats were largely vindicated. From the Muslim ban to the separation of families at the border, from the mishandling of the pandemic to the Capitol insurrection, Democrats’ warnings aged well. Yet one of the perils in life is being proven right.

The risk is excessive admiration for one’s own brilliance, preening at one’s own righteousness, and inordinate scorn for the jerks on the other side.

It isn't hard to be "proven right" when Donald J. Trump is the opposite standard. To his credit, Kristof warns about our tribe's excessive self-admiration—but only after feeding that familiar old bugbear a bit.

"I wonder if we liberals, having helped to preserve American democracy over the last four years, are getting cocky and self-righteous," Kristof writes at one point. 

We're getting cocky and self-righteous now? Where the heck has Kristof been since maybe the 1960s?

In fairness to Kristof, he explicitly comes out, in the end, in favor of using the tools of "persuasion." To see persuasion at work in the world, take a long look at Dolly Parton.

In this report, NPR includes the four-minute video Parton released when she received her first Covid shot this week. In that video, you see someone endorsing a "blue world" prescription in "red world" raiment and language. 

She's speaking across cultural lines, recommending our prescription in a way Others may accept.

As we noted last week, Bill Clinton also knew how to do that. More specifically, he knew how to "like and admire" people with whom he disagreed.

What's the best way to win people over? For starters, stop telling them how much you loathe them. (It helps if you can honestly say and show that you don't.) Stop saying how evil they are.

You can never win everyone over. It probably helps if you can remember that you're not trying to do that.

You also won't win the least persuadable people over. It helps if you remember that you're trying to reach the most persuadable people—and if you remember that no one's required to agree with you or with your point of view.

What's the best way to win (some) people over? According to experts, we should stop insisting that they all just have to be evil and stupid and bad!

It helps if you can believe that they aren't. Or at least, that's what top experts have said.

TIMES AND TOWN: A good, decent person has read many books!

THURSDAY, MARCH 4, 2021

But do his assessments make sense?: Professor Ibram X. Kendi was featured in Sunday's New York Times. He was also featured in Sunday's Washington Post. 

Especially over here in Our Town—much less so in towns where Others reside—he has become a major figure in the effort to figure how to deal with our nation's brutal racial history and with its ongoing effects. We return today to the way he was featured in Sunday's New York Times.

Kendi was featured in the weekly "By The Book" interview in the great paper's Book Review section. As we noted yesterday, we became instant Kendi fans on the basis of something he said about the way he regards Sadiqa Kendi, his partner and his wife.

We like the values which Kendi expressed in that one short statement. We wish that boys and young men were exposed, on a regular basis, to instruction of the type.

("I get the joy of rediscovering you?" We always let the analysts cheer when they hear Journey singing that lyric. According to an extensive search, big giant male rock stars rarely make statements like that.)

We became instant Kendi fans on the basis of his remark in that area. We were also struck by his account of his life when he was a child and a teen

His life at that time didn't go by the book(s). This is what he said:

NEW YORK TIMES (2/28/21): What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

KENDI: I was not much of a reader as a child. In high school, I almost never read books. When teachers assigned books, I read their CliffsNotes. My little bookcase was full of little yellow CliffsNotes. It is embarrassing to talk about now. Then again, the books assigned to me were boring and irrelevant. No one was assigning me books by Walter Dean Myers. And unfortunately for me, there weren’t books available by Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Laurie Halse Anderson, Elizabeth Acevedo, Frederick Joseph, Ibi Zoboi, Tomi Adeyemi, Tiffany Jewell, Renee Watson, Kim Johnson, Nicola Yoon and Kwame Alexander. I did not become a reader until my English 101 class at Florida A&M University. That’s when a professor introduced me to James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou and Charles W. Chesnutt.

For our money, that was a fascinating exchange—and it sent us drifting back.

Kendi didn't become a reader of books until he was in college. With regard to that exchange, we're only sorry that Kendi says he finds his high school behavior embarrassing.

By the way, all praise to the professor at A&M whose class triggered Kendi's interest. Ideally, that's one oif the things we'd most like professors to do.

For ourselves, we did read books as a child. It was what you did on Everell and Marshall Roads in the town where we lived through seventh grade. 

We're embarrassed to say that the books we seem to remember best were the million and one big-league sports novels by Joe Archibald. In Archibald's novels, the hero always made a leaping catch at the wall, but he also had a girl friend.  

We also read more classic texts—we read Little Women and Little Men—but the book we remember being inspired by was Lancelot Hogben's The Wonderful World of Mathematics. For some inexplicable reason, we were given the book as a Christmas present when we were in sixth grade.

It's a book you can buy in hardback today for as little as $920.99. We'd love to see what was in that book, but the price remains a bit steep.

(As an adult, our favorite literary genre is books which don't make sense on a very high level. We start with the "Einstein made easy" books, but the greatest example of a book which doesn't sense on a very high level is Rebecca Goldstein's Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2006).

(We especially admire the parts in which she discusses Bertrand Russell's invention of the nonsensical and utterly silly pseudo-conundrum, Russell's Paradox. That book really doesn't make sense, on the highest levels!)

Back to the subject at hand:

We were struck by Kendi's description of his high school years. The books he was assigned to read struck him as boring, irrelevant. He defaulted to Cliff's famous Notes.

Our experience was the same, and yet different. We did read the famous books we were assigned at Aragon High. Along the way, we were being taught the ways to get 5's on that era's AP tests.

That said, we felt increasingly detached from the books we were being assigned. Why were we reading Huckleberry Finn (or The Heart of Darkness)? What did these books have to do with us?

Increasingly, we had no idea. 

It seems that Kendi, as a high school kid, felt a similar sort of detachment. We'll guess that millions of American teenagers do, not always for the same reasons. But in such ways, "education" fails.

Kendi's literary intellect came alive when he was assigned certain authors as a college student. At this point, we reach a possibly humorous aspect of his "By The Book" interview session:

As we noted yesterday, By The Book is a weekly feature in the Sunday Book Review. As we noted, the interviews sometimes seem perhaps a bit performative. Occasionally, performance may even seem to give way to something more like exhibitionism.

There's nothing evil about such behaviors, but we may tend to chuckle a bit at such entirely human times. We may have chuckled a bit during Kendi's interview, which started exactly like this:

NEW YORK TIMES: What’s the last great book you read?

KENDI: I can’t just name one. I want to highlight three great books I recently read on America’s political economy. The first, “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership,” by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, is an expertly told history of the post-civil rights emergence of what Taylor terms “predatory inclusion.” The second, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” by William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, is the best booklong case for reparations. The third, “The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States,” by Walter Johnson, adroitly examines a U.S. history of imperial racial capitalism with its crosswinds centered in St. Louis.

Kendi has recently read three great books, not just the one asked for. Beyond that, it's possible that he has recently read five classic novels for the first time, though the actual number could possibly be larger:

NEW YORK TIMES (continuing directly): Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

KENDI: I recently read “Passing,” by Nella Larsen, published in 1929. I’m working my way through a stack of the classic novels from the Harlem Renaissance. Shout out to Penguin Classics! I also recently finished two books from the Harlem Renaissance that address colorism: “The Blacker the Berry,” by Wallace Thurman, and “Black No More,” by George S. Schuyler. These two books moved me to grab two current page-turners on the subject of colorism: “The Vanishing Half,” by Brit Bennett and “We Cast a Shadow,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

Are the five books he names all novels? In case they aren't, he also cites that other stack of classic novels, the ones from Penguin Classics. 

Already, many books have been named! And as the session continues, we see an exchange which is quite familiar within this New York Times format:

NEW YORK TIMES (continuing directly): Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

KENDI: At night, I like to wind down with a book in my hands. I don’t remember the last time the pages of a book were not the final thing I saw before departing off for sleep. Since moving to Boston, I’ve been reading in bed, with a night light, straining to see the sentences. Months ago, I purchased a comfortable chaise longue chair. Pandemic-slow, it finally arrived. I read for the first time on the chair the other night. The experience was ideal. And as expected, I stayed up later than normal with the book: learning, reflecting, thinking, calming my mind. I’m hoping this ideal experience helps me read 50 books this year.

If that's the way this (highly literate) person reads, there's no reason not to say so. As we noted yesterday, we tend to view this familiar type of exchange as an example of branding on the part of the New York Times, less so on the part of the individual "By The Book" subject.

Because we've cited Huckleberry Finn, the Times may have felt the need to mention that title as well. Our youthful analysts shrieked in response to what Kendi said:

NEW YORK TIMES: You’re at the forefront of a recent wave of authors combating racism through active, sustained antiracism. How do you advise readers to approach books like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” books with conflicted or hard-to-parse racial attitudes?

KENDI: I’d advise readers of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to ensure they are also reading books like “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo, Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” “White Rage,” by Carol Anderson, Wesley Lowery’s “They Can’t Kill Us All,” Edward Baptist’s “The Half Has Never Been Told,” Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s “The Condemnation of Blackness,” Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness,” Brittney Cooper’s “Eloquent Rage,” “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law,” Tressie McMillan Cottom’s “Thick,” “Fatal Invention,” by Dorothy Roberts, “Begin Again,” by Eddie Glaude Jr. and Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”—to name a few of the critically acclaimed nonfiction books that can nurture an antiracist critical eye. I’d advise readers to approach all books with an antiracist critical eye, even books on race. When we actively read with a critical eye, we protect ourselves from unknowingly consuming a book’s hard to parse racist ideas. But this isn’t just about books. How we read old and new books is no different from how we read society, past and present. We must read all characters—living and dead, fictional and real—with respect and not diminish them, or allow them to be diminished because of the color of their skin. At the same time, we cannot allow racism to be diminished and overlooked in literature, in policy, in power.

The anguished youngsters tore at their hair as they read Kendi's statement. 

"No one will ever read Huck Finn," one of these spirited youngsters cried, "if they have to read fifteen other books before they can even get started!" Indeed, she had named just "a few" of "the critically acclaimed nonfiction books that can nurture an antiracist critical eye!"

(A quick aside. For adult readers, is Huckleberry Finn really a book "with a conflicted or hard-to-parse racial attitude?" In most settings, it might be a difficult, painful book to "teach" to groups of children, or to classes of high school students. But do adults need to read fifteen books to help themselves find their way through the minefields of the book? We're willing to guess that some won't.)

By now, it was clear that Kendi hasn't been reading any sports/romance novels of late. As sometimes happens in By The Book sessions, he rattled an endless list of books, all of which seemed to be concerned with issues of racial justice.

Given the nature of national and global history, there's no reason why Professor Kendi shouldn't be reading such books. We did think he struggled with several trick questions—with such "trick questions" as this:

NEW YORK TIMES: Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

KENDI: I feel like this is a trick question! All the subjects I think more authors should write about I’m planning to write about (or I privately urge a more qualified author to do so). But that means writers should write the books we want to read. Write the books readers want written. Write the books you were nurtured to write.

Kendi seems like a genial person. (It's a very good way to be.) We'll guess that his instant response was offered tongue in cheek.

That said, Kendi seems to read books on one subject alone. Perhaps for that reason, this question about other desirable topics qualified as a trick.

Books stopped seeming boring to Kendi when he came upon his principal subject of interest. In our view, it's a very good thing when that happens—when a teacher or professor or friend helps someone make that discovery.

Today, it sounds like Kendi never stops reading books. It sounds like they're all on that one basic topic—and, it might be imagined, it sounds like they all adopt a roughly similar point of view:

("Writers should write the books we want to read," he somewhat dangerously said.)

We've been perhaps a bit snarky today, but only for an excellent reason. Especially in the streets of Our Town, Professor Kendi has become a very significant person.

His ideas about race—more specifically, his ideas about "antiracism"—play an important role in Our Town's flailing culture. It's obvious that he's a good decent person—we refer you to what he said about love and gender—but it's in this other highly important area that his influence has grown.

We've been a bit sardonic today because of some of his views in that sprawling realm. Tomorrow, we'll look at what he was quoted saying in the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post. 

Kendi was quoted by Matthews Yglesias on the front page of Outlook. His  statement might help explain the way the New York Times reports on the lives and the interests of the millions of good, decent kids who attend our nation's low-income schools. 

Does Professor Kendi's quoted statement make sense? We share a basic point of concern with what he said in the Washington Post, but we also think the New York Times' education reporting is extremely hard to defend.

Those schools are full of good, decent kids. How should the schools they attend be discussed?

Tomorrow: What Kendi said about public schools. Also, a puzzling prescription


The Post tells (half of) the sexism story!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021

Jessica Goldstein gets it (half) right: We'll guess that Jessica Goldstein's report is headed for the magazine in this coming Sunday's Washington Post.

Repeat—that's just a guess. At any rate, Goldstein's essay appeared online yesterday morning. As best we can tell, Goldstein does an excellent job telling one half of a story.

Goldstein's essay tells the sleazy story of sleazy media misogyny around the turn of the century. Rather, it tells the story of sleazy media misogyny as directed at young entertainment stars like Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson.

We weren't reading the sleazy magazines, Rolling Stone not excluded, on which Goldstein focuses. But here's a taste of the media culture she's talking about:

GOLDSTEIN (3/2/21): What exactly was going on in the early 2000s? From one vantage point, it was an encouraging period for young women, a real you-go-girl time in entertainment. All-female acts like TLC and Destiny’s Child climbed the charts with anthems about kicking scrubs and cheating exes to the curb. Smart, plucky heroines led box office hits like “Erin Brockovich,” “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Legally Blonde,” while “Buffy,” “Dark Angel” and “Alias” duked it out on TV. It seemed like a pretty good time to be a girl, considering the alternative (all of human history up to that point). 

But it was also the era of “Girls Gone Wild” and MTV Spring Break live-streaming wet T-shirt contests from Daytona Beach. Terms like “slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” had yet to enter the lexicon and “revenge porn” was neither a concept nor a criminal offense, though sex tapes released without the consent of their participants (like Paris Hilton’s) were treated as major news and entertainment events.

“There was a lot of talk about the word ‘raunch,’ ” said Vanessa Grigoriadis, who, as a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, spent the 2000s profiling celebrities, including Simpson and Spears. “What is raunch culture and why is it taking over America? Why are people interested in Jenny McCarthy and Jessica Simpson and Jenna Jameson and Anna Nicole Smith? . . . I think everybody thought this was a real moment in American pop culture history where we had reached the bottom.”

"What exactly was going on in the early 2000s?" Goldstein focuses on the raunch culture of magazines which adopted an exploitative stance toward young female celebrities.

What kind of exploitive stance is being discussed? Exploitive raunch like this:

GOLDSTEIN: Dan Peres, who became editor in chief of Details in 2000, noted this shift in his 2019 memoir: “Edginess and cool had given way to T&A and bosomy midriff-baring cover models,” he wrote. “Fighting to compete, most traditional men’s magazines, including Details, followed suit, and their covers became virtually indistinguishable from the Playboys I used to try to peek at as a kid.”

Even the more literary-minded men’s magazines got in on it. In 2003, Britney was pantsless on Esquire; three years later, Aguilera was topless on GQ. The articles pretty much matched the pictures. “The male writer would go and basically flirt with a female celebrity to see if the female celebrity would take the bait,” said Grigoriadis, her eye roll nearly audible through the phone. “That was a trope that was used constantly.”

Goldstein discusses the extent to which these young female stars can be said to have played a willing role in this culture. But there's one thing Goldstein doesn't discuss:

She doesn't discuss what was happening in the early 2000s (and in the 1990s) with respect to our sleazy and deeply stupid high-end political culture.

As far as we know, Goldstein has done an excellent job with this aspect of entertainment culture. If she has the stomach for it, we'd like to see her roll up her sleeves, extend her range, and tackle the political side of the coin:

The misogyny aimed at Hillary Clinton from the 1990s on. The misogyny aimed at Naomi Wolf during Campaign 2000.

The ridiculous conduct of Chris Matthews, followed by the ridiculous conduct of Keith Olbermann, all of it aided by the ridiculous conduct of their various manchild sidekicks and by the silence of a wide range of enablers. All of this was permitted by the lazy indifference of the liberal and feminist worlds, who let this garbage-can culture continue until Donald J. Trump reached the White House.

Our resistance began the very next day! Literally, that's when we "rose from our warm beds" and began to pretend to resist.

In June 2008, Clark Hoyt devoted a column to the misogyny Maureen Dowd had aimed at Candidate Hillary Clinton during the previous year of campaigning. At the time, Hoyt was the New York Times' public editor.

On the upper ends of the mainstream and liberal worlds, Hoyt's column generated exactly zero discussion. Even after such a jump start, the behavior of such a major New York Times star simply could not be discussed.

This is one of the basic ways we got Donald J. Trump. This is also one of the basic ways we got George W. Bush.

On the brighter side, a bunch of people scored outstanding careers in mainstream and liberal journalism. They were rewarded for their silence. Everyone else got Trump.

(Have you ever seen Rachel talk about this? No, and you never will. Last night, she made an utter fool of herself beating on Joe Manchin. We aren't especially sharp in Our Town, although we do know what we like.)

We think Goldstein did an excellent job. Half of the story remains.


TIMES AND TOWN: We loved what Professor Kendi said...

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021

...until we possibly didn't: On Sunday, in its Book Review section, the New York Times interviewed Ibram X. Kendi about his reading habits.

It's the latest in a weekly Book Review feature—a feature called "By The Book." On Sunday, we became at least a partial Kendi fan based upon this statement:

NEW YORK TIMES (2/28/21): Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

PROFESSOR KENDI: Without question, “All About Love: New Visions,” by bell hooks, brought me closer to my partner, Sadiqa, years before we met. “All About Love” taught me how to love; that love is a verb.

Sadiqa Kendi is a pediatric emergency medicine doctor—and she identifies as a woman. Dating all the way back to Buddy Holly's unembarrassed "girly-man" persona, we like a straight man who speaks (and think) in such ways about his girl friend or his wife. 

(Unashamedly, Holly would burble and coo as he sang his songs. Routinely, his songs established a basic point—it was easy to fall in love because of what his girl friend was like.)

That brief statement to the Times helps make us a Kendi fan. We wish that boys and young men were vaccinated with larger doses of such speaking and thinking by men.

That said, we sometimes chuckle at the general form of the weekly "By The Book" feature. We've been told that we're sometimes joined by the gods on Olympus.

In a brief search this morning, we couldn't find the (perhaps imagined) Platonic ideal of the By The Book interview, the version of this weekly feature which lives inside our brains. Sometimes, though, we chuckle at By The Book's presentations, which may go exactly like this:

NEW YORK TIMES (11/22/20): What books are on your night stand?

AUTHOR: At night, I mostly read either poetry or gumshoe noir. Right now it’s (for poetry) Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition,” Jorie Graham’s “Runaway” and “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through,” an anthology of Native Nations poetry edited by Joy Harjo; plus (for gumshoe): Arnaldur Indridason’s “Strange Shores” and Ace Atkins’s “The Revelators.” I’m a bit of a “library cormorant,” to borrow Coleridge’s memorable phrase—always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that, here and there.

NEW YORK TIMES: What’s the last great book you read?

AUTHOR: Bao Ninh’s “The Sorrow of War,” part of a recent deep dive into the Vietnam War in fiction and historical writing. A haunting, brutal account of the conflict from the perspective of a young North Vietnamese soldier.

NEW YORK TIMES: Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

AUTHOR: Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

AUTHOR: In a tent, by torchlight, at the end of a long day in the mountains, with another to follow tomorrow. Tired in the legs, content in the mind. The first stars beginning to show in a clear night sky, a silhouette-sense of the ridgelines around. Breath misting in the cold, and a few pages of a good novel before deep sleep.

NEW YORK TIMES: Which writers—novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets—working today do you admire most?

AUTHOR: Alexis Wright: I’m awed by the range, experiment and political intelligence of her work, from fiction such as “Carpentaria” and “The Swan Book,” to her “collective memoir” of an Aboriginal elder in “Tracker.” As essayist, activist, novelist and oral historian she is vital on the subject of land and people. Barry Lopez has always been an immense inspiration: I value the grace and luminosity of his sentences, the moral charge of his writing, and the symphonic patterning he embeds over the length of books like “Arctic Dreams” or “Horizon.” Among others, then, I’ve huge admiration for the ways Robin Wall Kimmerer, Jedediah Purdy, Rebecca Solnit and the theater-maker Simon McBurney go about their work.

NEW YORK TIMES: Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

AUTHOR: Heroine: Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.”

And so on from there.

We'll admit to a guilty pleasure. When we peruse such portraits and/or self-descriptions, we're frequently overtaken by an anthropological musing:

We're struck by the fact that none of these giants of vast erudition ever noticed what was happening in the lowbrow public discourse over the past many years.

They didn't notice the con involved in the repetitive claim that the Social Security trust fund was "just a bunch of worthless IOUs."

They didn't notice the con involved in the claim that Candidate Gore had said that he invented the Internet (or in the claim that Gore had said a thousand other such things.) 

They didn't speak up when Rush Limbaugh told millions of people that Hillary Clinton was involved in the murder of Vince Foster, a murder which didn't occur. They didn't say boo when Reverend Falwell peddled his Clinton Chronicles tape, a tape which chronicled the Clintons' many murders.

When the newspaper which publishes By The Book spent a month sliming Naomi Wolf in overtly misogynist fashion, they didn't seem to notice. (In lengthy Nexis searches, we managed to find two people who rose to speak on behalf of Wolf—William Safire and Bill Kristol. As for Gore, he was repeatedly trashed for "hiring a woman to teach him to be a man." It was an MSM script.) 

They didn't speak when Diane Sawyer asked Marla Maples if sex with The Donald was the best sex she ever had. When Diane Sawyer ambushed Candidate Gore with that silly "farm chores" pop quiz. When Diane Sawyer, live and direct from her many fine homes, ambushed Candidate Hillary Clinton with the claim that the two houses she and her husband owned were too fine and too large.

When the Times ran that astonishing Uranium One takedown? Dearest darlings, use your heads! Do you have to ask?

In spite of all the vast erudition, does anyone ever notice anything that's happening in the world? We'll admit that we sometimes think such thoughts when we peruse these By The Book features and other such presentations.

In the exchanges posted above, the author in question was willing to make some concessions.  He was prepared to admit that he's a bit of a “library cormorant”— that he's "always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that." 

He admitted that he values the symphonic patterning embedded over the length of certain books. 

Has he ever read a book anyone else has heard of?  We can't be entirely sure when hit with a question like that.

We sometimes think we see performance and branding in such presentations—performance and branding on the part of the New York Times if not on the part of the author. We wonder how so many high-quality books can be read with so little public value emerging.

More often, we just chuckle at the performative erudition. In this way, the New York Times is telling us subscribers that we are extremely bright too, which we just basically aren't out here in the streets of Our Town.

We'll admit it! We thought we saw a hint of this flaw in Professor Kendi's By The Book outing. We loved what he said about his partner, but where did things go after that?

Our view? The man is an antimisogynist god. That leaves us with an important question:

How's his antiracism?

Tomorrow: Antiracism and Town

Also this: Our own favorite fictional heroine is the "fair maiden, her name I don't know" in the traditional western ballad, The Ranger's Command. 

She rose from her bed in the dead hour of night, then taught a bunch of wavering cowboys that they had to fight for their land. Might we see a hint of Promising Young Woman in this traditional heroine?

For the Joan Baez version, just click here. We think it's her best recording ever.

Before that, you had Woody Guthrie.


What kind of person is Donald McNeil?

TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2021

We can think of several answers: Yesterday afternoon, we read Donald McNeil's lengthy account of the events which led to his recent forced departure from the New York Times.

What kind of person is Donald McNeil? Obviously, we can't tell you.

After reading his account of these widely-discussed events, he strikes us as a person who may be inclined to say a bit more than is necessarily required in some particular circumstance.  Some people are so inclined, and it may get them in trouble.

It might be better if McNeil weren't so inclined, if he actually is. That said, according to the leading authority on his career, McNeil, who is 67 years old, is also this kind of person:

From 1995 to 2002, he was a foreign correspondent [for the New York Times] based in South Africa and France. It was during this time that McNeil began covering HIV/AIDS and took an interest in vaccine-preventable diseases.

In 2002, McNeil joined the science staff of The New York Times and was assigned to cover global health. At the time, McNeil had to convince his editor, Cornelia Dean, to allow him to cover "diseases that poor people die of." McNeil's later work on a series of stories about diseases on the brink of eradication was awarded the top prize by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Prize in Journalism in 2006.

In 2013, he was featured in an acclaimed documentary about AIDS drugs, Fire in the Blood.

McNeil began covering the outbreak of the Zika virus for The New York Times in late 2015. He gained attention for his coverage of viral outbreaks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he became known for his early and persistent warnings about the severity of the situation. McNeil appeared on The Daily to talk about COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, marking him as one of the first to bring widespread attention to the COVID-19 virus in the United States. He also interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci about Fauci's working relationship with President Donald Trump. His early coverage and acclaimed writing made him one of the prominent journalists covering COVID-19.

We aren't qualified to assess McNeil's reporting on global health. Nor can we vouch for every claim in that account. 

That said, the claims are derived from such sources as this interview / profile in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. It's also true that McNeil is the kind of person who won the John Chancellor Prize  for Excellence in Journalism, just last year, for the quality of his reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's part of what the announcement alleged:

Columbia Journalism School announced today that Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter at The New York Times, is the recipient of the 2020 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. For over a quarter-century, McNeil has dedicated his career to writing about infectious diseases that afflict people in developing countries and pandemics that have swept the globe. Since working as a correspondent based in Africa in the mid-1990’s, he has mastered reporting on viral outbreaks covering HIV-AIDS, Ebola, swine flu, malaria, Zika, and now coronavirus, among others. This year, his authoritative coverage helped inform and prepare millions of readers for the gravest health crisis the world has faced in a century.

"Sometimes the perfect reporter meets the perfect story. That happened this year. Donald knows science and medicine, and he is a determined and ambitious reporter who doesn't stop till he finds the truth," said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.

[...]

“Donald McNeil’s deeply reported work reflects an expertise rare in daily journalism,” said Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School and a member of the Chancellor jury. “His dedication to the well-being of all people and his passion for justice reflect the integrity of the late John Chancellor.”

We can't vouch for any of that. At any rate, that was then, and this is post-Peru.

For ourselves, we're willing to guess that McNeil knows a lot more than we do about a range of significant topics. We'll even guess that he knows more than many teen-agers at our most elite prep schools.

For whatever reason, the summers of 2018 and 2019 found McNeil on Times-sponsored educational junkets to Peru. He was cast in the role of public health expert for a bunch of middle-school and prep school kids who were paying $5500 to study public health issues.

According to Ben Smith's account of these events, those junkets began as a source of revenue for the Times. 

"In 2012, when The New York Times was panicked about its financial future, this newspaper went into the travel business," Smith wrote. A few years later, this side venture had McNeil traipsing through Peru.

After reading McNeil's account of that trip, it sounds like he may have frequently said a bit more than was required. It sounds like he may have said such things to a bunch of prep school kids who may conceivably know a bit less than they believe they do.

(Teen-agers tend to be like that.)

We were struck by the early, gruesome "journalism" surrounding these events. The Daily Beast broke the non-story about the way a few of these kids had been offended by McNeil's alleged remarks. It was clear that the Beast had no idea what McNeil had actually said to these prep school students.

It was also clear that the Daily Beast wasn't concerned about that. The Beast had heard (correctly, as it turned out) that McNeil, on one occasion, had spoken the N-word to a few of those kids in a discussion of racist language, and that was enough for The Beast. 

The Beast produced inflammatory accounts of McNeil's overall conduct, ignoring the fact that The Beast had no real idea what had ever been said.

Has our journalism ever been dumber? We're not sure it has. 

After reading McNeil's account, it sounds to us that he frequently may have said a bit more than the occasion required—especially given the fact that he had been thrown in with a bunch of kids who may have been extremely sure of the things they thought they knew.

Based on what McNeil himself wrote, it sounds to us like he showed poor judgment on two occasions. That said, whose bad judgment had sent him off on this dumb money-making adventure in the first place?

The technical dumbness of our upper-end journalism is on constant wide display. Back in 2018, the New York Times' initial reporting on the incident at Smith College is a museum-level example of very bad, very dumb reporting.

Offhand, we can't think of a reason ever to say the N-word aloud. There are quite a few other words of that type which we'd never say aloud—insulting words in the realms of gender and race, words which have caused mountains of pain down through the long ugly years.

In our view, McNeil showed imperfect judgment in saying the N-word aloud, even in the context described. (One of the students raised the general topic.)

That said, we also can't think of a reason to produce the kind of journalism The Daily Beast did; to produce that initial report on the incident at Smith College; or to force the resignation of a reporter who actually knows a great deal about important subject matter, at least not over the events which seem to have occurred in Peru.

The vast range of people will think we're weirdly dumb in Our Town when we behave in these ways. People will think we're weirdly dumb, and lacking in basic judgment.

Who's to say that those people are wrong? These incidents, piled one on top of the next, send such people over to Trump. They feel that they will be massacred next by us know-it-all Dimmesdales, and who's to say that they're wrong?

We aren't inclined to blame teen-agers for lacking ultimate wisdom. It's the adult behavior at Smith College, and at the Times, which may cost us votes in Our Town.

The teens in Peru had spent the big bucks. Their accounts of what had occurred were quickly assumed to be sensible, accurate, reliable, beyond dispute. 

"Verdict first," The Beast seemed to say. Commenters raced into line to agree.

We think of something the janitor at Smith College said—the janitor who was completely falsely accused by the college freshman:

“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone.”

We aren't inclined to blame teenagers for having imperfect judgment. But after that, the adults step in. Their performances of virtue will quickly clear the room.

Is McNeil an expert on subject matter? Citizen, please! At times of cultural revolution, who needs distractions like that?


TIMES AND TOWN: Lucky Luke (French) as the day's top report!

TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2021

Is this performative virtue?: Last Monday morning, the analysts woke us to say that the Times was possibly at it again.

Scrolling through Monday's "Today's Paper" listings, the youngsters had reached the International section—and there, they'd been brought up cold. Perhaps somewhat oddly, the featured report in that section carried this capsule account:

Lucky Luke, the Comic Book Cowboy, Discovers Race, Belatedly

A few of the youngsters were wondering how a comic book cowboy discovering race could possibly be the biggest topic in international events on that day—or on any other. 

Others wondered how a comic book cowboy named Lucky Luke could qualify as international news, whatever it was he had done. We agreed to sort it all out.

As it turns out, Lucky Luke is the principal character in a "Franco-Belgian comic book classic." That's how his belated discovery of race qualified as an international event. 

Some of the youngsters still wondered how Luke's discovery of race could be the day's top international event:

"That just the Times being the Times," one other young analyst said.

The full set of headlines which appear online help explain the newspaper's editorial judgment this day. How could this be a top international event? Online, here's what the headlines said:

Lucky Luke, the Comic Book Cowboy, Discovers Race, Belatedly
For the first time in the Franco-Belgian comic book classic, Black characters have full-fledged roles and are drawn without the racist depictions that marred the genre.

Was anything "wrong" with the Times' editorial judgment this day? Not necessarily, no.

According to this news report, black characters will now be appearing in a comic book series to which many French children are exposed. (According to the Times report, Lucky Luke was "last year's best selling comic book" in France.) 

French and other francophone kids will now be getting a different experience. In this passage, Norman Onisji explains the way the comic book will be changing:

ONISHI (2/22/21): The story of a cowboy in the American Old West, Lucky Luke was only one of a handful of comic book series that, for generations, had been an integral part of growing up in France and other francophone countries. Children read Lucky Luke, along with Tintin and Astérix, at their most impressionable age when, as Mr. Berjeaut said, the story “enters the mind like a hammer blow and never comes out.”

But as he sought new story lines, Mr. Berjeaut grew troubled as he reflected on the presence of Black characters in Lucky Luke. In the nearly 80 albums published over seven decades, Black characters had appeared in only one story, “Going up the Mississippi”—drawn in typically racist imagery.

“I’d never thought about that, and then I started questioning myself,” he said, including why he had never created Black characters himself, concluding that he was subconsciously avoiding an uncomfortable subject. “For the first time, I felt a kind of astonishment.”

The result of Mr. Berjeaut’s introspection was “A Cowboy in High Cotton,” which was published late last year in French and is now being released in English. His aim, he said, was to tell the story of Lucky Luke and recently freed Black slaves on a plantation in Louisiana, with the book’s narrative and graphic details reimagining the role of the cowboy hero and the representation of Black characters in non-racist terms. For the first time there is a Black hero.

With one exception in seven decades, there had never been any black characters in Lucky Luke at all. Having received one image of the Old West, French kids will now be getting a different portrait, courtesy of the kind of historical expert who writes and draws comic books in France.

Does any of this actually matter? At least in theory, it does.

Reading Onishi's report, we recalled our own early TV experience. We returned to the 1950s, at a time when Lucy Ricardo was being portrayed a hopeless infant and the vintage radio/TV program, Amos and Andy, was still in syndication. 

The NAACP fought to get Amos and Andy off the air; eventually, the NAACP succeeded. But it matters what (impressionable) children are told and shown in their earliest years—even if, in the Lucky Luke case, French children were said to be suffering from a lack of black cowboy characters, not from gruesome stereotypical renderings.

To some extent, it really was "the Times just being the Times" when Lucky Luke led the International section that day. In our measured assessment, we would say this:

To some extent, this was a genuine topic. Also though, to some extent, the Times may perhaps and possibly have been posturing a bit. These things are hard to measure.

Rather plainly, the Times has chosen to err on the side of being progressive, perhaps even Woke, when it comes to matters of race. The widely-discussed 1619 Project would be the most obvious example of this editorial decision. 

In our view, there's nothing wrong with such a decision, until such time as there is. 

On occasion, the Times does seem to stretch things a bit in its pursuit of a new, better approach to matters of race. Imaginably, such decision-making could sometimes be counterproductive—could work against our desire to create a more perfect union, to build a better and fairer world. 

Yesterday could imaginably have been such a day. We thought we may have been seeing thumbs on the scale in topic selection and topic placement all over the famous newspaper. Also, there's the fallout which could ensue from Donald McNeil's account of his recent dismissal from the Times—a dismissal based upon the charge of imperfect conduct when discussing matters of race.

(More on that this afternoon.)

On occasion, the Times tends to go out of its way to feature reports about race. Then too, there's the constant betrayal of upper-class values when the Times tries to pursue a better racial world. 

In our view, this problem appears early and often when the Times discusses race and the public schools and the food decent kids who attend them. This is an area in which the Times' reporting constantly strikes us as a gruesome, disgraceful, unwell.

To some extent, last week's report on Lucky Luke really was the Times being the Times. In our view, the modern Times is inclined to be highly performative on matters of race, but such motivations are hard to assess and such performance won't always be bad.

That major report about Lucky Luke was a fairly standard expression of prevailing New York Times culture. So was Sunday's interview with Professor Ibram X. Kendi, a very good, very decent person whose ideas may not always be best.

Tomorrow, we'll start with that interview. It was a standard Book Review feature, of a type which tends to make us chuckle. 

We'll move from there to one of Professor Kendi's ideas about the proper way to discuss and report on the public schools. We share the reservations he describes, but we find it hard to share his overall assessment.

In territory like the Times, Kendi's word is currently perhaps being viewed as something approaching law. Guilt and performance to the side, this approach by those in Our Town won't necessarily be in the interests of the millions of good, decent kids who attend our low-income schools.

They want and deserve to be full participants in our wider failing world. We're forced to say that there are times when the occasionally performative Times doesn't much seem to care.

Tomorrow: Today we have naming of books


Donald J. Trump and Madison Cawthorn!

MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021

We live in extremely strange times: As you've probably noticed by now, we live in extremely strange times. 

If our only goals are anthropological, we live in interesting times. A Chinese proverb is said to have warned us against that.

We live in a time when people seem to be crazier—perhaps more deluded—than people have ever been in the past. Or it may just be that the widespread rewards are too darn high, and that people are hugely dishonest.

It's hard to say just how it works, but we'll offer two current examples:

Donald J. Trump's lunatic comments at yesterday's CPAC session. For a summary of those remarks, just click here.

Also, Rep. Madison Cawthorn's ongoing gruesome behavior, as described in a front-page report in today's Washington Post. The gentleman is "a new pro-Trump star of the far right," the Post headline points out.

Due to new technologies, there has never been a time when it was so easy to spread so many bogus claims on such a mass scale. As an example of what we mean, consider the start of this morning's front-page report in the New York Times :

GRYNBAUM ET AL (3/1/21): At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol—and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

It entered the head of a right-wing host that the invaders were Antifa. Or maybe BLM!

In the words of Grynbaum et al., "What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of" the  ability to spread bogus ideas and ridiculous claims, given the power of certain modern  technologies and media.

It increasingly seems that our human discernment is extremely poor. This surprising fact is being put on display in a remarkable way, due to the ease with which we the humans can now be confronted with ridiculous claims straight outta La-La Land.

Does Trump believe the various claims he bruited at CPAC? We don't have the slightest idea. But ten minutes after he made the claims, millions of others did!

Lack of discernment and sociopathy seem to make excellent partners. For what it's worth, Donald J. Trump is 74, Cawthorn just 25.

In many locales, their bogus claims are accepted on face. As a basic matter of basic persuasion, how do we undermine this process?

Inquiring minds need to figure that out. Also, whose possibly imperfect claims do we possibly buy Over Here? According to major credentialed experts, the lack of discernment isn't restricted to one set of human towns. 

They have at heart our not getting lost! They come to us in the dead of night and dance their disconsolate waltz.


Starting tomorrow: TIMES AND TOWN!

MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021

Performative, insincere, phony, dumb—counterproductive, unhelpful?: At the end of last week, we were thrilled by a couple of things we saw in the New York Times.

On Thursday morning, we encountered Michael Powell's front-page report about an unfortunate incident at Smith College and its sad, stupid, silly, dumb aftermath. 

In our view, Powell's lengthy front-page report adopted a (highly instructive) approach to issues of race and class—a high instructive approach which would normally be avoided in the Times.

After that, the comments! We saw the comments to Michelle Goldberg's fuzzy opinion column about "critical race theory," a school of thought which largely went undefined in her piece.

In print editions, the fuzzy column was published in yesterday's Sunday Review, the newspaper's highest platform. In its explicit and implied praise for the tenets of CRT, the column represented a return to form for the Times concerning matters of "race."

Goldberg's column was poorly reasoned but completely familiar in its implied point of view. But then, dear God, the comments! 

We sampled the comments to Goldberg's column, in which one self-identified liberal after another savaged what might be described as the "Woke" point of view.

Could it be true? Is it possible that denizens of Our Town are prepared to engage in a bit of self-criticism concerning the way we tend to approach this very important topic? Could we possibly imagine that this might be true?

Based upon Thursday's front-page report, could we imagine another possibility? Could we imagine the possibility that the Times might be prepared to rethink the way it has approached this very important, very large topic in the past quite-a-few years?

According to experts, that would be a consummation devoutly to be wished! That said, on Saturday morning's front page, the Times returned to its standard, almost comical approach to the role of race in the public schools.

And this morning—good God, this morning! This morning, there the Times went again!

We're speaking here of what we saw when we scrolled through this morning's "Today's Paper" listings.  In our view, a person could almost say that the Times' offerings for this day border on a type of journalistic parody.

Tomorrow, we'll tell you what we saw when we performed that act of scrolling. From there, we'll proceed to the near-parodic, unhelpful way the New York Times covers race in the public schools. 

We'll link that topic to this interview with Ibram X. Kendi in yesterday's Book Review section. To be perfectly honest, that interview could almost be seen as a bit of a parody too.

We've long been appalled by the way the Times approaches the topic of race in the public schools. For all we know, that approach may even be well-intentioned, but in practice, we regard it as deeply ugly—destructive, performative, vile.

We regard it as the ultimate example of Our Town's modern performative culture. We regard it as the behavior of the Hamptons crowd as they pretend to care about all the kids they have no plans to know.

In fairness, who knows? They may even be sincere!

Ugly, stupid, phony, faux? Silly, stupid, pretentious, performative? Which words will the sages employ, if any sages exist in the future, when they review the way Our Town rampaged around and about, addressing issues of (so-called) race in these, the final days of our rapidly failing republic?

At Smith, a kid who had just finished her freshman year seemed to need some help. (In large part, we base this assessment on the videotape of the interview she did with Boston's CBS station.)

Many young people do need help; ideally, adults should try to provide it. In this case, Smith's president responded by fawning and pandering to this young person, while throwing an array of long-time staffers under a big yellow smoke-belching bus.

On the merits, behavior like this is deeply counterproductive. But this is the way we tend to behave in the more "elite" precincts of Our Town—and we'll even add this:

Almost surely, this is one of the ways Trump voters get born! Beyond that, we're often amazed that the modern white working class isn't more hostile than it seems to be on the general matter of race.

Here in Our Town, we've been looking down on such people ever since Mother and Father told us how special we were. We refuse to take yes for an answer from the denizens of Their Towns, and our biggest newspaper keeps pimping the pap about how much they care in the Hamptons.

Yesterday morning, the Washington Post published an essay by Matthews Yglesias on the front page of its high-profile Outlook section. In his essay, Yglesias offered a critique of Our Town's approach to matters of race! Online, the headlines say this:

Not all ‘anti-racist’ ideas are good ones. The left isn’t being honest about this. 
On some topics, progressives prefer pointing out right-wing hypocrisy to debating substance.

We'd try to stay away from ultimate assessments of "honesty." In theory, though, the publication of that essay should perhaps be encouraging too.

In theory, the publication of that essay is perhaps encouraging. In practice, it seems to us that Yglesias chose his words and his examples with extreme care. 

If we might borrow from Tiny Tim, he may have tiptoed through the tulip craze a bit. We will be a bit more direct in our presentations this week. 

It seems to us that the major tribunes of Our Town tend to be phony, silly, stupid / dumb / faux when it comes to matters of race. Also, extremely unhelpful.

We don't believe a word they say, though it may be that they're fully sincere. But then, we've mined (if only for a while) in their mines. We have (somewhat briefly) gathered in their corn.

Tomorrow: Scrolling through this morning's Times

Coming: Professor Kendi on the way to report on the public schools


The guild regroups at the New York Times!

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2021

Goldberg [HEART] critical theory: Just this once, we're going to let you ask us about our business.

We've been heartened in recent weeks, in a way we won't fully disclose. We will offer this:

It has seemed to us, in recent weeks, that we're finally seeing a difficult topic open up for possible public discussion. 

In part, we had that reaction to Thursday's front-page report in the New York Times—the lengthy report about a set of incidents and decisions at Smith College.

It seemed to us that the Times had agreed to permit and encourage a type of discussion which normally wouldn't take place at that newspaper. Yesterday, we praised the Times for breaking with some of its previous, extremely narrow predispositions.

Tomorrow, the guild will be fighting back at the New York Times! That said, we've been surprised (and heartened) by the comments to the piece in question, which has already appeared on line.

This opinion column by Michelle Goldberg will appear tomorrow (on page SR3) in the Sunday Review. Online, the column appears beneath this pair of headlines:

The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness
How the right is trying to censor critical race theory.

Is "the right" really trying to "censor" critical race theory? "When it comes to outright government censorship," is it really "the right that’s on the offense," as Goldberg's column claims?

Whatever you think of "critical race theory;" whatever you think of the types of pushback in question; Goldberg's column makes no case for these tribally pleasing claims. 

As Goldberg correctly notes, some politicians are trying to keep certain tenets of CRT out of public school curricula.  Also this:

In a typically fuzzy pronouncement, the Trump administration's OMB decreed that federal agencies shouldn't run workshops or conduct training based on CRT. (Joe Biden has killed this decree.)

Whatever you think of such examples of pushback, no one is or was being "censored" by these initiatives. Also, no one is or was being denied "free speech." 

As everyone understands, academics are free to develop whatever theories they like. They don't have a right to see their theories adopted in K-12 curricula or promoted in federal workshops.

Surely, everyone knows that. That said, Goldberg seems to [HEART] critical race theory, a school of thought she makes little effort to define. 

Based upon that assessment of CRT, Goldberg has penned an admiring column about its undefined tenets, a column attacking "the right." 

In print editions of the Times, the column will appear tomorrow, in the high-profile Sunday Review. In this way, an imaginative person might say that the guild has begun to fight back against possible new perspectives.

An imaginative person might say that! For us, we were amazed, and heartened, by the comments to Goldberg's column.

What are the tenets of CRT? How sound are those tenets? As noted, Goldberg makes little attempt to speak to those vital questions.

But as she notes right in her headlines, CRT is largely the worldview of the "Woke" liberal / progressive world. Having said that, good lord!

In the comments to Goldberg's column, a tsunami of self-identified Dems and liberals push back extremely hard against critical theory. Yesterday, as we sifted through the comments which qualified as Reader Picks, the pushback was nearly unanimous.

Briefly, we'll mention the obvious. There's no way to know who's writing the comments in which readers reply to a column. Conservative readers can always pretend that they're commenting "from the left."

That said, we found the comments to Goldberg's column quite convincing with respect to their partisan provenance. And the comments which qualified as the top Reader Picks were almost unanimous in this view:

The standard "Woke" approach to race—the approach one might link to CRT—has become a disaster for liberal and progressive values, and for the Democratic Party. So liberal commenters said!

How does a comment qualify as a "Reader Pick" at the New York Times? It's based on the number of other readers who chose to "recommend" the comment.

Keep that method in mind as we continue along. Late yesterday afternoon, we scrolled through the top thirty or forty "Reader Picks"—the comments which were recommended by the largest number of readers. 

By our assessment, the first 19 Reader Picks were uniformly anti-CRT and anti-Woke. These comments were generally written from a pro-liberal perspective, in ways which seemed convincing to us.

One after another, these readers assailed the effects of Woke/CRT culture. After a single pro-CRT comment, the onslaught started again.  This was Reader Rick comment 24:

COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I consider myself a progressive—part of the Warren/Sanders wing of the Democratic party.  I'd really like to see a more socially and economically equitable society, and that's what I vote for and donate money towards.  But I have to say, I struggle with critical race theory.  

First, there's the tendency to elevate narrative over knowable facts—e.g. San Francisco's decision to continue canceling Paul Revere, even after it had been revealed that the proffered reason for doing so was factually incorrect.  

Second, it is divisive and misguided to examine not only large-scale problems, but rather virtually *all* of life's petty annoyances, through the lens of oppression and resentment.  

Third, in the context of our rapidly deteriorating working and middle classes, it is tone-deaf and counter-productive to continually call people "privileged" when they have honest and legitimate reasons for not believing that they are.  I think CRT is less about solving real problems, and more about progressives' need for performative woke-ism and self-flagellation.

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! We especially agree with the complaint about the (guilt-inducing) shift in language to the framework of "privilege" in place of the traditional language of "discrimination." 

Other comments specifically noted that this shift in language paradigm was designed to induce feelings of guilt among people who are "white." With that in mind, we disagree with the comment we've posted in only one way: 

We think that shift in language isn't about self-flagellation. We think it's about the flagellation of pretty much everyone else.

This paradigm shift strikes us as stupid, hateful, counterproductive. We were amazed and heartened to see liberal commenters making this same point.

On and on the Reader Picks went, assailing the allegedly pernicious effects of Woke/CRT culture. We may have liked this comment best (we're presenting it in full):

COMMENT FROM PROVIDENCE: Social Darwinism, Eugenics, Phrenology…

There are many ideas that have emanated from and been championed by universities that, when they caught sufficient attention from the public, ultimately caused great societal harm.  Using the tools of history, we now understand those ideas as “bad.”

Is Critical Theory an idea that, if scrutinized by its effects on the society, turns out to be "bad?"

CT has roots far deeper than the 1970s: the ideas go back to the Frankfurt School (Germany) in the 1930s (Marcuse, Horkheimer, others; ironically, all “dead white guys”).  Do you not think that MLK as a doctoral student at Boston U. in the 1950s was fully aware of Critical Theory, which he rejected in favor of Personalism?  The idea of classes of people always in conflict certainly cannot lead to a Beloved Community. as envisioned by MLK and championed after his death by others, particularly John Lewis.

I’m an old white guy and a progressive.  A professor, but a physical scientist, which means that in my field and my classroom, strict rules of evidence, which separate carefully empirical observations from their interpretation, keep group-think at bay.  My experience: Critical Theory has had a distinctly negative impact on my campus, truncating or shutting down conversations that could contribute to building community that is open, inclusive and enriching for all its members.  A pity.  It saddens me.

In its tone, this comment came to us straight outta Bergman's Wild Strawberries. Dr. King preferred and chose the framework of "the beloved community," this old professor sadly said. The professor said that Dr. King had privileged love over guilt.

On and on and on and on, the most popular Reader Picks tilted in this direction. Then we looked at the comments listed as "NYT Picks." 

Those comments heavily tended to [HEART] CRT. Was that perhaps a case of the guild fighting back?

Several "Reader Picks" comments cited Thursday's front-page report about the events at Smith. They cited those events as examples of the disastrous effects of Woke/CRT culture.

As described on the Times front page, that's the way those events seemed to us:

We thought we saw a college kid who badly needed some help getting pandered to instead. In this case, it wasn't just the assistant, associate and adjunct professors pandering to this overwrought young person. It was the Smith College president!

That's one of the things we thought we saw in that front-page report. As Smith's working-class staffers got trashed and attacked, we also thought we saw one of the blindingly obvious ways Donald J. Trump gains voters.

Tomorrow, the guild will be fighting back against the sudden appearance on the front page of a possible alternate view. They'll also be fighting back against the Beloved Community. 

At this site, we were heartened by what we saw in the comments to Goldberg's column.  Without any doubt, it's much too late. 

Still and all, more next week.