The guild regroups at the New York Times!


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.

Words of praise for President Biden!


Also, remembering Clinton: This very morning, at 7 o'clock, our landlord gave our car a jump start. After that, he followed us over to the place where cars go to get new batteries.

As he drove us back to our sprawling campus, he mentioned how well he thinks Biden is doing. In turn, we mentioned what we saw yesterday, right there on our TV set.

We happened to be watching TV when Biden staged a brief commemoration of the fact that 50 million vaccinations have been delivered. He chatted with a succession of non-famous people as they sat and received their shots. 

After that, he gave a brief pep talk about our ongoing war on the virus.

Here's what we told our landlord about what we thought we saw as we watched this brief event:

It occurred to us that Biden is delivering the best presidential leadership of our entire lifetime. His voice is perfect for the moment. So we thought yesterday, as we watched him interact with regular people, then give a simple speech.

What we thought we saw was this:

We thought we saw that President Biden knows how to like individuals. It isn't a matter of theory with him. He actually seems to like people and persons. It doesn't look like a game.

For ourselves, we're grateful for the way he's performing. This made us think, as we frequently do, of something Bill Clinton wrote.

For our money, the most instructive part of Clinton's memoir, My Life, is the passage he wrote about Arkansas' Pentecostals. At the start of the passage in question, he says he visited a certain Pentecostal  retreat every summer but one from 1977 through 1992.

“Every year I witnessed some amazing new manifestations of the Pentecostals’ faith,” Clinton writes. Then the instruction arrives.

 Arkansas' Pentecostals didn't tend to vote for Clinton. But he said he "liked and admired them:" 

CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.

“Besides being true to their faith, the Pentecostals I knew were good citizens,” Clinton wrote. “They thought it was a sin not to vote.” 

After describing a compromise he reached with Pentecostal ministers about the licensing of child-care centers, Clinton concludes his rumination about this group of people—people who basically don't see things the same exact way he does:

CLINTON (page 252): Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, seeing people live their faith in a spirit of love toward all people, not just your own, is beautiful to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, don’t miss it.

Just a guess. The capacity to like and admire Others can play a significant role in a successful political life. "No people are uninteresting," or so Yevtushenko said.

President Biden seems to like people. Is it just our imagination, or is this helping him set an exceptional tone at this very unusual time?

CULTURE AND TOWN: We want to compliment the Times!


Where do Trump voters come from?: We want to compliment the New York Times for yesterday's front-page report.

On its face, Michael Powell's lengthy report is merely "anecdotal." At its heart, his report concerns one particular event which occurred at one particular "elite" college—Smith College, in Northampton, Mass.—in July 2018. 

The event in question involved one student. She'd just finished her freshman year. 

She was eating lunch, and reclining on a couch, in the living room of a dormitory which was closed for the summer. Because no one was supposed to be in that place, an extremely polite campus policeman asked her why she was there.

(Their two conversations were recorded. In each instance, the unarmed campus policeman was extremely polite, as of course he should have been.)

The extremely polite campus policeman asked the student why she was there; the soon-to-be sophomore explained.  In a slightly different world, absolutely nothing had actually happened that day.

In a slightly different world, nothing had actually happened. In our world, an enormous amount of fallout emerged from that mid-day event.

The New York Times deserves a great deal of credit for seeing how instructive that one event might be. That one event and its aftermath—that one event and its fallout.

In particular, the Times seems to have seen that this event might help us consider some of the ways we sometimes behave here in the streets of Our Town. Some of the things we may sometimes do imperfectly Over Here, within the liberal / progressive / Democratic Party world.

Last night, Tucker Carlson began his Fox News program with a report on this very event. As we've mentioned, people in the other towns will often be told about the ways our conduct may be less than impressive.

We thought Carlson took an extremely unsympathetic approach toward Oumou Kanoute, the college student who had been lounging and eating her dining hall lunch in a dormitory which had been closed for the summer. 

Don't get us wrong! In many ways, this student behaved imperfectly in the aftermath of that day's (remarkably minor) event. 

That said, college students often do behave imperfectly. Quite often, they could even use some help.

In what ways did this student—she had just finished her freshman year—behave in an imperfect manner? The rundown goes like this:

In the aftermath of the event, she apparently felt that she'd been singled out because of her race. (Her parents are immigrants from Mali.) An investigation by the college found no evidence of that, but there's a lot of pressure on young black kids in the current environment. [her rea;lity]

The student didn't just think that she'd been singled out; she seemed to feel sure that this had occurred. Over the course of the next several weeks, she proceeded to state her views on Facebook. 

She accused several Smith employees, by name, of being racists based on their alleged conduct that day. We say "alleged" for a reason.

The student named a veteran cafeteria worker—a woman who had apparently played no role in what occurred. She named a veteran janitor who hadn't even been on duty when the incident occurred.

She sought the name of another veteran janitor—the person who first saw that someone was in the dormitory which had been closed for the summer. This janitor had called security to report this fact, as he'd apparently been trained to do. 

The student didn't pull her punches in her Facebook posts. According to this Times report from 2018, she described this janitor as  “the racist punk who called the police on me for absolutely nothing.” 

(In retrospect, that initial report was grossly prejudicial and unbalanced.)

According to Powell's report, this janitor—the janitor who was present that day—"was in his 60s and poor of sight." He'd worked at Smith for 35 years. The student wanted to get his name so he could be denounced too.

It's hard to report what the student did without seeming to disparage her. In our view, she showed highly imperfect judgment—but in our experience, college freshmen are rarely mistaken for veteran international diplomats.

The much larger story here involves the behavior of adult authorities at Smith (and beyond). It involves the behavior of various people in the wider reaches of Our Town.

The student's Facebook posts were highly accusatory. Other people simply assumed that her accusations were warranted.

In yesterday's front page report, Powell describes the effect this accusation had on the cafeteria worker who had apparently played no role in sending an extremely polite campus officer to check on the person who was lounging in a building which had been closed for the summer. Say hello to the way we sometimes behave in Our Town:

POWELL (2/25/21): The repercussions spread. Three weeks after the incident at Tyler House, [Jackie] Blair, the cafeteria worker, received an email from a reporter at The Boston Globe asking her to comment on why she called security on Ms. Kanoute for “eating while Black.” That puzzled her; what did she have to do with this?

The food services director called the next morning. “Jackie,” he said, “you’re on Facebook.” She found that Ms. Kanoute had posted her photograph, name and email, along with that of Mr. Patenaude, a 21-year Smith employee and janitor.

“This is the racist person,” Ms. Kanoute wrote of Ms. Blair, adding that Mr. Patenaude too was guilty. (He in fact worked an early shift that day and had already gone home at the time of the incident.) Ms. Kanoute also lashed the Smith administration. “They’re essentially enabling racist, cowardly acts.”

Ms. Blair has lupus, a disease of the immune system, and stress triggers episodes. She felt faint. “Oh my God, I didn’t do this,” she told a friend. “I exchanged a hello with that student and now I’m a racist.”

Ms. Blair was born and raised and lives in Northampton with her husband, a mechanic, and makes about $40,000 a year. Within days of being accused by Ms. Kanoute, she said, she found notes in her mailbox and taped to her car window. “RACIST” read one. People called her at home. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” a caller said. “You don’t deserve to live,” said another.


As for Ms. Blair, the cafeteria worker, stress exacerbated her lupus and she checked into the hospital last year. Then George Floyd, a Black man, died at the hands of the Minneapolis police last spring, and protests fired up across the nation and in Northampton, and angry notes and accusations of racism were again left in her mailbox and by visitors on Smith College’s official Facebook page.

Powell's treatment of Blair's story continues from there. We can't vouch for her claims about the various ways she was denounced. Surely, though, no one doubts them.

As noted, Smith's investigation found no evidence that Blair had played any role in the fact that the student was told that she was in a closed dormitory by an extremely polite security officer. 

The janitor who wasn't there is also no longer at Smith. According to Powell, Patenaude "left his job at Smith not long after Ms. Kanoute posted his photograph on social media, accusing him of 'racist cowardly acts.' ”

In our view, the student showed imperfect judgment in the days and weeks which followed this event. That said, she was a very young person. Some other people were older.

The larger story in Powell's report involves the behavior of the Smith administration—more specifically, its condescension and prejudicial behavior toward its white working-class employees. The key player was Smith's president, who was and is an adult.

In fairness, she herself had previously been denounced in the streets of Our Town. In this passage, Powell suggests that these earlier incidents may explain the way she handled this latest event:

POWELL: [President] McCartney and her staff talk often of their social justice mission, and faculty say this has seeped into near every aspect of the college. Students can now obtain a minor in social justice studies. That said, the president had stumbled in ways that left her bruised by the time of the 2018 incident.

In 2014, she moderated an alumnae discussion in New York on free speech. A white female panelist argued it was a mistake to ban Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” because he used the N-word; that panelist then uttered the word in hopes, she said, of draining the word of its ugly power. Students denounced Ms. McCartney for failing to denounce that panelist. The president requested forgiveness.

Later in 2014 she wrote to the college community, lamenting that grand juries had not indicted police officers in the deaths of Black men. “All lives matter,” Ms. McCartney concluded in an inadvertent echo of a conservative rallying cry. Again, Smith students denounced her and again she apologized.

Ms. McCartney appeared intent on making no such missteps in 2018. In an interview, she said that Ms. Kanoute deserved an apology and swift action, even before the investigation was undertaken. “It was appropriate to apologize,” Ms. McCartney said. “She is living in a context of ‘living while Black’ incidents.”

The school’s workers felt scapegoated.

In 2014, the president had been foolish enough to say that "all lives matter." 

For this misconduct, she'd been rebuked. Powell suggests that she was determined, four years later, to avoid such "missteps" with respect to this latest event.

That's a subjective assessment of motive. But the president's statements and actions in the wake of this new event help create an embarrassing portrait of the way life is currently lived in the more "elite" parts of Our Town.

Powell describes the many anti-bias "training sessions" staff were now required to attend. Along the way, we're treated to the tribalized forms of language which control the way we now talk about "race" in the streets of our highly self-impressed but less than super-bright town.

Thankfully, Powell quotes one Smith professor concerning the condescension of Our Town's academic elites. This professor describes the condescension these elites may direct at the white working-class people who prepare the food inside their cafeterias and sweep the floors of their residence halls. 

In the higher reaches of Our Town, we've been looking down on such people since the dawn of time, or at least since the 1960s. We return you to Woody Guthrie's brilliantly cutting lyrics, written in the age of the Dust Bowl:

I've mined in your mines and I've gathered in your corn.
I've been working, Mister [or Missus], since the day I was born.

We love the use of the word "your" in those sacred lyrics. Along these same lines, even sacred Thoreau may have betrayed a bit of an air when he wrote one of his most quoted lines. 

Unlike Thoreau himself, "The mass of men [sic] lead lives of quiet desperation?" Within the context of the wider passage from Walden, might that have sounded a bit dismissive to the mass of such men?

Michael Powell (and his editors) did something unusual in yesterday's report. They moved past the easier realm of race into the whirlwind of class.

We recommend that you read his full report. You might also peruse the 35-page report which resulted from Smith's probe of this apparent non-event. 

We've barely touched on the imperfect treatment dished to that cafeteria worker and to those two veteran janitors, one of whom wasn't there. Concerning that imperfect treatment, we will only say this:

Almost surely, this is one of the ways the modern-day Trump electorate gets formed. If you can't imagine that possibility, we'll suggest that you may be one part of the problem here in the streets of Our Town.

We feel sorry for that student. Let us tell you why:

Last night, Carlson played tape of an interview the student did back in 2018. To our eye and to our ear, she was badly in need of counseling help, as is the case for many people in their late teen years.

In our view, that young person got little help from Smith's administration. In our view, Smith pandered to her in an extremely unhelpful way. In the process, several long-time employees got thrown under the bus.

There's a lot of imperfect behavior described in Powell's report. There's also a lot of Stone-Cold Stupid. Our Town has no shortage of that.

The Crazy is running wild in Their Towns. Over Here, where we live, we all understand that fact.

It's harder for us to see the ways we often behave in Our Town. That said, our errors tend to involve matters of gender and matters of "race"—and, as Chekhov memorably wrote, it seems to us that the most difficult part is only just beginning.

For the 35-page Smith report, you can just click here. Plainly, the report describes some of the (avoidable) ways in which Trump voters are born.

Tucker was quite unpleasant last night. That said, on the merits, these events were instructively awful. 

The behaviors were often unseemly, unintelligent, unhelpful. But these are the ways we behave in Our Town, over and over again.

We can't see this about ourselves. Over There, everyone can.

How many people get killed by police?


The fruits of selective reporting: For several years, we've been wondering what would happen if a certain type of survey question was asked.

The question would deal with the number of people shot and killed by police, justifiably or not. 

(Just for the sake of the record, we'd like to live in a world where the number of victims was zero. As it is, we still live in a rather violent, gun-inflected world.)  

The survey question would go like this. It would be intended as a study of the results of selective reporting:

Imaginary survey question:
According to the Washington Post, 237 black people were shot and killed by police last year. How many white people, if any, would you say were shot and killed by police last year?

(You could drop the words "if any" with half your survey's respondents.)

It's a ghoulish question. But police shootings have played a large role in mainstream reporting and punditry in the past nine or ten years.

In our imaginary question, we'd be citing the actual number of black decedents recorded by the Washington Post's Pulitzer-wining Fatal Force site. Here's what we'd  be curious about:

How many people would say that the answer to our question was "none?" Would anyone say the answer was none? If no one thought the answer was none, what number would people offer?

(Correct answer: 453. Or at least, so says the Post, though no precise number is possible)

This would be a ghoulish line of inquiry, but we'd be curious to see what answers people would give. This would be intended as a study of the results of selective reporting—of the highly selective way police shooting incidents have been reported and discussed over roughly the past ten years.

As it turns out, Michael Shermer's web site recently asked two variants of this same general question.  We think our question is better than theirs, but in this recent post, Kevin Drum presented their survey's results.

(Drum focused on the first question the survey asked. We think the results of the second question may be even more instructive.)

Survey says? In our view, the survey suggests that selective reporting does, in fact, produce large misimpressions. It also does something worse—it scares the daylights out of a lot of good, decent "black" kids and out of their loving parents.

We love to perform our performative virtue here in the streets of Our Town. But as the poet once thoughtfully asked:

But oh, what kind of love is this / Which goes from bad to worse?

This would be a ghoulish area to explore. That said, a great deal of misunderstanding arises from the performative virtue widely displayed in Our Town. 

A great deal of fear and trembling gets caused as we perform. On the brighter side, everybody gets to see how morally stellar we are.

We get to pose and posture and preen. Many children and many parents get badly scared in the process.

For the record, we also love to remind everyone about the Tuskegee experiment. Last week, we saw Rachel Nichols performing this mandated recitation on ESPN's daily NBA show! 

To watch that segment, click here. Lack of trust in the government is "definitely earned," Nichols impressively said at the beginning and end of the segment. "Look up the Tuskegee study," she thoughtfully said.

We'd be impressed with Nichols' greatness, except we keep reading about the way many black people are avoiding vaccination because they keep hearing that scripted old tale. As we noted several weeks ago, we seem to love our performative virtue more than we love life itself.

(Correct that! More than we love others' lives.)

We have no doubt that Rachel Nichols is a thoroughly good, decent person. But we're drunk on morality here in Our Town. We love to recite and perform.

Final point: Two nights ago, Tucker Carlson opened his show with the survey. Like Drum, he stressed the part where large numbers of self-identified liberals wildly overestimated the number of black people killed by police. 

That seems to be the fruit of Our Town's relentless selective reporting. On the brighter side, everyone gets to see how much and how deeply we care.

Tucker opened his program with that!  Over There, viewers are constantly told about Our Town's extremely few tiny small flaws. 

Over There, viewers are told. In Our Town, generally not.

Tucker is often (not always) a mess. In Our Town, we tend to ride in on an extremely high horse. 

CULTURE AND TOWN: It's time for Abraham Lincoln to go!


But also, it happened at Smith: Is it possible that there are some basic failings with the culture currently on display here in the streets of Our Town?

We can see the lunacy Over There, in the streets of the various towns where The Others live. We can see the remarkable dumbness—the widespread lack of basic discernment routinely put on display. 

That much is blindingly obvious, especially to us Over Here. But is it possible that some such shortfalls in discernment, however tiny and well-intentioned, might also exist Over Here? 

Also, is it possible that these admittedly tiny flaws could be contributing to the widespread political / cultural divide now wracking our failing nation? Could any such thing be possible?

Needless to say, it's hard to believe that we could actually at fault in any real way in Our Town. Our intentions are so noble! You can tell that by the things we constantly say, by the inspiring ways we perform.

In a ridiculous excess of caution, we have suggested, at this site, than any such misperceived shortfalls in Our Town's admittedly wonderful culture are likely to involve matters of gender and race. 

In those areas, our behaviors are so pure—so far above the national norm—that they're frequently misunderstood, and they are of course misdescribed. 

No one could seriously think that there are real flaws in Our Town. That said, the misperceptions fly thick and fast. 

In a recent column in the New York Times, Ezra Klein described one such incident. That widely misunderstood incident concerns the belief among some in Our Town that it's time for Lincoln to go.

Klein's column began as shown below. Having said that, let us also say this—long before this column appeared, the jackals had seized upon the principled conduct described in this opening passage:

KLEIN (2/12/21): You may have heard that San Francisco’s Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to rename 44 schools, stripping ancient racists of their laurels, but also Abraham Lincoln and Senator Dianne Feinstein. The history upon which these decisions were made was dodgy, and the results occasionally bizarre. Paul Revere, for instance, was canceled for participating in a raid on Indigenous Americans that was actually a raid on a British fort.

In normal times, bemusement would be the right response to a story like this. Cities should have idiosyncratic, out-there politics. You need to earn your “Keep X weird” bumper stickers. And for all the Fox News hosts who’ve collapsed onto their fainting couches, America isn’t suffering from a national shortage of schools named for Abraham Lincoln.

But San Francisco’s public schools remain closed, no matter the name on the front. “What I cannot understand is why the School Board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April, when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. I do not want to dismiss the fears of teachers (or parents), many living in crowded homes, who fear returning to classrooms during a pandemic. But the strongest evidence we have suggests school openings do not pose major risks when proper precautions are followed, and their continued closure does terrible harm to students, with the worst consequences falling on the neediest children. And that’s where this goes from wacky local news story to a reflection of a deeper problem.

San Francisco is about 48 percent white, but that falls to 15 percent for children enrolled in its public schools. For all the city’s vaunted progressivism, it has some of the highest private school enrollment numbers in the country—and many of those private schools have remained open. It looks, finally, like a deal with the teachers’ union is near that could bring kids back to the classroom, contingent on coronavirus cases continuing to fall citywide, but much damage has been done. This is why the school renamings were so galling to so many in San Francisco, including the mayor. It felt like an attack on symbols was being prioritized over the policies needed to narrow racial inequality.

Should an American public school be named for Abraham Lincoln? Not necessarily, no.

In our view, it isn't obvious that public schools should be named for Lincoln. In San Francisco—exalted columnist Herb Caen dubbed it "Baghdad by the Bay"— the school board voted, 6 to 1, that it was time for his name to go.

Behaving a bit like a running dog, Klein chose to present "both sides" of the issue. As he did, he quickly betrayed his own need for re-education, plainly suggesting, as he began, that Lincoln isn't an "ancient racist" himself!

Klein found a way to justify pushback against the board's decision, suggesting the pushback was motivated by concern for the welfare  of San Francisco's "black" kids. He even mentioned the bungled research which went into some renaming decisions.

With regard to the Frisco Kids, the names on their schools were being changed even though their schools aren't open! Apparently, Klein would have sent them back into schools still bearing names like "Lincoln!"

Last week, the New York Times reported a somewhat similar incident, this time in Chicago. Hard-copy headline included, that news report started like this:

 In ‘Land of Lincoln,’ Monuments Are Under Review

A Chicago committee has listed five statues of Abraham Lincoln among dozens of monuments that it said needed to be reviewed as part of a project to reconsider symbols that have become “a focal point for conversation, protest and activism,” the city said Wednesday.

The city created the committee in response to last summer’s protests, some of which centered on statues of historical figures, to review Chicago’s collection of monuments and “recommend solutions.”

Even in The Land of Lincoln, it's finally time to craft a solution to the statues in which he appears! Can those license plates be far behind? Should they be thrown in the harbor?

Is there something wrong with removing Lincoln's name from an American school? Not necessarily, no. 

That said, evildoers in Their Towns will seize upon utterly pointless, minor points when such actions occur.

They'll say it's silly to spend oodles of time renaming schools when you haven't spent enough time to get the schools reopened. Defiantly, they'll fail to acknowledge the moral greatness in the various high-minded things we Townies say and do.

This is the way The Others will act; they'll do it every time! For that reason, we Townies need to be especially careful when dealing with gender and race.

Our consciousness-raising in these areas will persistently be misdescribed by those we might call "the lesser breed." (We borrow from Chekhov, admittedly in translation.)  For that reason, we need to proceed with caution in these areas, which are of course enormously important.

We need to proceed with great caution. That said, our conduct will be misdescribed, no matter what we do.

Is it possible that something is wrong with the culture here in Our Town? Is it possible that some tiny, understandable flaw may exist, however well-intentioned?

Anthropologists insist that the answer is no—that it isn't possible that anything could ever be wrong in Our Town. Our brains are wired to give us that answer, these disconsolate experts all say.

Still and all, it's in these areas that Our Town will often come to ruin. This leads us to a truly remarkable news report on the front page of this morning's New York Times.

In print editions, the headline says this: "Tensions Simmer Over Race and Class at Smith." Online, this dual headline gives a fuller picture of the lay of the land within the deeply instructive report:

Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College
A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.
The report concerns a series of incidents at one of Our Town's "elite" schools. We don't think we've ever seen a news report which offered such a teachable moment concerning the way of life on wide display in Our Town. 

Tomorrow, we'll scan some major points in this front-page report. There will be a great deal left to say.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we just aren't "all that" in Our Town. Long ago and far away, Joni Mitchell reported it best:

I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

Putting it a slightly different way, we're often remarkably unimpressive here in the streets of Our Town. We're deeply flawed Over Here too. We just aren't especially sharp, nor are we able to see this.

We memorize our standard scripts, then go on TV and recite them. We're never too tired to perform our famous performative virtue. 

We also tend to be very dumb, even deeply immoral—and quite a few Others can see this. It's even possible that this helps explain the major breakdown which has our flailing nation sliding towards the sea

The Crazy is running wild in Their Towns. With that pleasing point established, how solid are things Over Here?

Tomorrow:  A remarkable portrait of life as it's increasingly lived in Our Town

Hayes scores A-plus on the culture of guns!


Burgeoning anger and menace: Just how bad is our floundering nation's social disintegration? We'll recommend an A-plus segment by Chris Hayes on last evening's All In.

The segment dealt with the culture of guns on the right. More specifically, it dealt with the growing use of guns to menace along political lines.

To watch the segment, just click here; we strongly recommend it. You'll start with some video of Donald Trump, Jr. as he brandishes some guns. From there, you'll move to video of the gun-brandishing Lauren Boebert. 

Along the way, you'll see Hayes discuss the use of guns as symbolic iconography in various revolutionary movements around the world. For us, the questions the segment triggered were these:

What are these people so angry about? Also, should somebody try to find out?

Needless to say, we have a standard answer to that first question here in the streets of Our Town. We expect to discuss a recent example of that familiar recitation in our Friday report. 

Last night, Hayes' segment suggested a fury behind the apparent gun-love of figures like Boebert. We thought the segment was deeply discouraging, but also highly instructive. 

We can't link you to a transcript. The Channel no longer provides them.

CULTURE AND TOWN: Dumbest man in the Senate speaks!


Are we ever that dumb Over Here?: The last few years have given the nation, and the world, some startling anthropology lessons.

These lessons emerge from the general realm of abnormal psychology and/or flawed cognition. They involve the ability of us the humans to believe any damn fool thing. 

These lessons involve a remarkably widespread lack of basic human discernment. Within the past decade, the story can be said to begin with the rise of the birther tale.

We'll admit it! We were surprised by the early surveys which in large percentages of Republican voters said they believed the absurdly implausible birther tale. At one time, it was hard to believe that so many people could believe such a damn fool claim.

Alas! The spread of this absurd belief reflected a new reality. The rise of certain modern technologies and media—talk radio, "cable news," the partisan Internet, social media—were exposing us humans to crazy ideas on a scale our species never had to confront in the past.

In 2011, the situation got worse. Donald J. Trump decided to anoint himself our nation's Birther King.

On Fox News, Greta van Susteren served as his birther caddy. Year after year, Trump appeared on van Susteren's show to spread his ridiculous  claims.

This included the claim that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to probe Barack Obama's alleged birth in that state. His gumshoes were shocked by what they had found, he even claimed at one point.

Van Susteren just kept letting it go. She would offer tiny peeps of performative protest as the con rolled along. 

As Trump became the Birther King, the crazy idea spread and spread.  This became an early case study in the lack of human discernment. 

Concerning that widespread lack of discernment, the lesson would be this:

Human discernment can be extremely poor when crazy claims are being spread by TV stars on major TV channels. Also, when those same crazy claims are being spread by people's best friends on the Net.

Yesterday, another crazy claim was suddenly pushed to the fore. The crazy claim was being pushed by Republican senator Ron Johnson.

For years, Johnson has seemed to be the dumbest person in the Senate. Yesterday, in a widely televised Senate hearing, he offered his most ludicrous performance yet. 

Is it possible that this ridiculous person could actually believe the ridiculous suggestion he was advancing? We don't know how to answer that question, but Willie Geist's attempt to tackle the logic of this question was heart-breaking on today's Morning Joe.

("Is he that corrupt, that he believes it?" the reliable sidekick said. As the analysts screamed and tore their hair, we only said this: "Bless his heart")

However you score it, Senator Johnson offered the world a ludicrous portrait of what happened at the Capitol building during the January 6 riot.  At the Washington Post's web site, Katie Shepherd has offered a (somewhat belated) news report about what Johnson said.

As Shepherd notes, Johnson's ridiculous claim makes no sense at all. That said, have we mentioned our war-inclined species' widespread lack of discernment?

SHEPHERD (2/24/21): As security officials testified about the intelligence lapses that allowed an armed group of insurrectionists to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, Johnson repeated unfounded claims about the riot that have become a familiar refrain from those who want to minimize the event’s seriousness and distance the worst participants from Trump.

Quoting an article published on a far-right website, Johnson claimed the “great majority” of protesters had a “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor” and blamed the violence that turned deadly on “plainclothes militants, agent provocateurs, fake Trump protesters, and disciplined uniformed column of attackers.”

In fact, more than 200 rioters have been criminally charged by federal prosecutors, including many who have self-identified as Trump supporters and who have documented ties to far-right extremist groups. Federal officials have said there is no substantial evidence of left-wing provocation or that anti-fascist activists posed as Trump supporters during the riot.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) promptly dismissed Johnson’s claims as the hearing drew to a close.

In fact, Klobuchar's dismissal of Johnson's presentation didn't come all that "promptly." Her end-of-hearing rebuttal came more than two hours after Johnson's inane public reading. 

(On today's Morning Joe, Claire McCaskill criticized other senators on yesterday's panel for their failure to rebuke Johnson as those hours passed. On this C-Span videotape, Johnson's pitiful public reading begins at the 1:45 mark. Klobuchar contradicts him at the end of the hearing, more than two hours later.) 

At any rate, Johnson read from that far-right website at considerable length. Truly, it can't get stupider.

Johnson has always seemed to be "dumbest in show" in the current Senate. Yesterday, he "repeated unfounded claims," Shepherd somewhat mildly says—unfounded claims which "have become a familiar refrain."

Now for a note on our failing national culture:

Misinformation and disinformation have become very big business over the past three or four decades. In part for that reason, many people will continue to hear that same "familiar refrain."

The lack of discernment takes over from there. According to anthropologists, the ability to believe any fool thing is hard-wired inside our species' brains. 

That said, here's the problem:

At one time, it was very hard to hear presentations as transparently stupid as Johnson's. The rise in those modern media means that transparently stupid refrains are now a round-the-clock phenomenon. 

The Crazy is just a click away. Our remarkable lack of discernment keeps taking over from there.

Was Barack Obama born in Kenya? In the past, surveys said that many millions of people came to believe that groaner. 

Was the Capitol riot a "false flag" operation staged by a bunch of Trump-haters? Presumably, millions of people are going to believe that too.

As is becoming increasingly clear, you can't run a modern nation in the face of so much false belief. But false belief has become big business. False belief, even crazy belief, won't be going away.

We see no obvious way out of this burgeoning mess. Under the guidance of major experts, we're merely describing the forces at play as our transparently failing nation continues to slide toward the sea.

As we do, a question arises. Are we liberals ever that dumb in our own town, Over Here?

There's no truck scale to measure the relative lack of discernment put on display by the denizens of warring towns. But we'd have to say, a lack of discernment is also on wide display right here in Our Town.

We think we see it every day. In our view, it's quite widespread.

No, we don't expect that to change. As is always the case when war draws near, we've largely gone all in in Our Town,  as the others have done Over There.

Tomorrow: Ezra Klein offers sound advice, Also, the way Tucker started...

The nation reaches another grim milestone!


Attempts at information: Sunday morning, on its front page, The New York Times reported the latest grim milestone.

High atop the paper's web site, a link was offered to the report. This capsule account was offered:

A Ripple Effect of Loss: U.S. Covid Deaths Approach 500,000 
Twice as many Americans have died as early worst-case projections.

We'll consider those "early worst-case projections" below. First, though, here's the way the front-page news report started, once you clicked the link:

BOSMAN (2/21/21): A nation numbed by misery and loss is confronting a number that still has the power to shock: 500,000.

Roughly one year since the first known death by the coronavirus in the United States, an unfathomable toll is nearing—the loss of half a million people.

No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic. More Americans have perished from Covid-19 than on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

"No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic?" 

The statement is technically accurate. But one year into the pandemic, on its front page, the New York Times still doesn't adjust for population when it makes such statistical statements.

The United States has endured the most Covid deaths—but we're also the world's third largest  nation by population. (Only China and India are larger.) After adjusting for population, some other peer nations have experienced a higher rate of Covid deaths to date.

We're using the current Financial Times numbers. We're omitting a few smaller nations whose death rates are higher than ours:

Total Covid deaths to date, per million population
Belgium: 1,909
United Kingdom: 1,808
Czech Republic: 1,805
Italy: 1,592
Portugal: 1,560
United States: 1,487

We have the largest number of deaths only by dint of our large population. In our view, it's amazing, and yet not amazing, to see major news orgs and major pundits continue to work outside the boundaries of this amazingly basic type of statistical adjustment.

This is the way it works in Our Town. Having established that basic point, let's flesh out the picture a bit:

After splitting it off from the U.K., England's death rate to date is much higher than ours. Spain is a tick behind the U.S., France a bit farther back.

Here you see the way we stack up against the largest Euro nations, with Canada also thrown in:

Total Covid deaths to date, per million population
England: 1,893
Italy: 1,592
United States: 1,487
Spain: 1,437
France: 1,256
Germany: 822
Canada: 578

England has suffered the highest death rate to date. Germany and Canada have done much better than we have. 

Among those major peer nations, we pretty land in the middle. The numbers for the Pacific nations are still amazingly low.

"No other country has counted so many deaths?" That's true in the narrowest literal sense. That said, it strikes us as amazing that this continues to be the way basic information gets ladled to us on the front page of our allegedly smartest major newspaper. (And on the Maddow Show.)

Now, how about that claim in the headline—the claim about those "early worst-case projections?" Here's the part of Bosman's report from which that headline was derived:

BOSMAN: One year ago, as the coronavirus took hold in the United States, few public-health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height.

At a White House briefing on March 31, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the country, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who was coordinating the coronavirus response at the time, announced a stunning projection: Even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans.

“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Dr. Fauci said at the time.

Less than a year later, the virus has killed more than twice that number.

In part, that passage is accurate. In other ways, that passage illustrates the confusion that almost always develops whenever our upper-end journalists try to deal with numbers.

On March 31, 2020, Fauci and Birx made a high-profile appearance with the commander himself. On that occasion, they made a new high-profile projection in which, using Bosman's language, they said  the virus "might kill as many as 240,000 Americans."

That said, there was a bit of a problem with their presentation. As best we can tell, they never explicitly said what time frame this new projection covered. 

Other public health experts were predicting certain numbers of Covid deaths by certain specific dates. As best we can tell, Fauci and Birx offered no such framework at the widely-discussed public event from which that new projection emerged.

That presentation by Fauci and Birx produced extensive press coverage. In its reporting of their projection, the Washington Post was bright enough to mention the lack of this standard framework. 

(Rucker and Wan: "[N]o time frames or other details were provided...One key question, for example, is what time period the projection of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths covers. If it is only the few months until summer, as is the case in at least one academic model, the true death toll will probably be larger.")

The Washington Post explicitly noted the absence of a time frame. The Post explicitly noted the possibility that "the true death toll" could exceed the stated number in the fullness of time.

At NBC News, Denise Chow reported that the startling new projection did involve a specific time frame. According to Chow, the new projection by by Fauci and Birx  only extended through "mid-June."

In standard fashion, Chow didn't explain the basis for this statement. For all we know, her statement may have been accurate.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, you knew it had to happen!  In its report on the new projection, the New York Times failed to note the lack of a time frame. (The Times did note that the IHME was predicting 84,000 deaths by the beginning of August.) In fairness, this same statistical insouciance was on display almost everywhere else.

Eleven months later, the New York Times is still failing to adjust for population when it makes nation-to-nation comparisons. 

Meanwhile, is it accurate to say, as Bosman does, that "few public-health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height" as the very large number of Covid deaths we have now experienced? Is it true that "twice as many Americans have died as early worst-case projections?"

In part, it all depends on what the meaning of "few" is! But uh-oh:

Two days before the March 31 event, Fauci himself had floated a very large number—or at least, that's what New York magazine said:

STEIB (3/29/20): Though President Trump continues to downplay the necessity of an all-out federal response to the coronavirus, one of his most senior public health advisers, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, issued a grim projection on Face the Nation on Sunday. Speaking with Jake Tapper, Fauci said he anticipated somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, as well as “millions” of cases:

Fauci suggested that the 100,000 to 200,000 death range is a moderate estimate, and that the possibility of 1 million or more Americans dying from the coronavirus is “almost certainly off the chart”—that “it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”

As you know, Jake Tapper isn't the host of Face the Nation. In reality, Fauci made the quoted remarks on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, March 29. 

On that show, had Fauci really floated the outside possibility of as many as a million Covid deaths? On balance, it looks to us like he did. But confusion developed as to whether Fauci was discussing cases or deaths, and Tapper didn't make a point of clarifying what his guest had actually said.

So it goes, here in Our Town, when we try to conduct public discourse. This seems to be the best we can do here in the streets of Our Town.

In the end, you can be certain of two things:

Thanks to our large population, we have experienced the largest number of Covid deaths.

Of that one fact you can be sure. Also, statistics are hard!

Just a guess: Why didn't Fauci and Birx state a time frame for their projection?

Just a guess—the commander didn't allow it. That would be our first guess.

CULTURE AND TOWN: "Muskie wept," the journalists said!


Also, let's hide in the bushes: To tell you the truth, we don't exactly know what we're doing today. Here's the reason for our uncertainty:

Somewhat amazingly, Donald J. Trump has left town!

After he left, we kept him around long enough for us to conduct his Senate "trial."  But he himself is no longer around. He's been gone for more than a month!

It feels to us like the end of an era—the end of a very long era. We'd be inclined to date the start of the era to the night when major journalists hid in the bushes, hoping to see if Candidate Hart actually had a girl friend.

Five years later, they started in on Candidate Clinton. In the fall of 1997, we started trying to design this site. (It wasn't easy to start a web site back in 1997.)

This site went up in March 1998. Almost exactly one year later, they started on Candidate Gore. 

In truth, the foundations of that two-year war had been established in 1997, when Gore made an utterly pointless, unrecorded remark about the treacly film, Love Story. In the Oscar-nominated film, Gore's Harvard roommate, Tommy Lee Jones, had been cast in the role of the Harvard roommate. 

(Only two journalists had heard the offhand remark in question. Back in 1997, one of the two, Karen Tumulty, did what journalists never do. She aggressively criticized her colleagues when they began  aggressively criticizing Gore for whatever it was he had or hadn't said. Needless to say, Maureen Dowd played a leadership role in this initial onslaught. Dowd has been extremely influential during the era in question. )

At moments like these, we're defining the era in terms of the coverage of presidential politics. We'd be inclined to say that the era began in the bushes with the stakeout of Candidate Hart. 

In truth, the more remarkable episode may have involved Candidate Muskie in 1972. That episode  produced the press corps' ultimate Biblical claim:

Muskie wept. 

Muskie wept! And not only that, he wept in the snow! Or so the journalists said. It was a very big deal at the time.

As  reported much later (then disappeared), a few of the journalists had decided that Muskie had a character problem. They'd based their assessment on the way the candidate would behave when they all played poker together.

(No, we aren't making this up. You've never seen this lunacy discussed for perfectly obvious reasons)

Soon, they were reporting that Muskie had wept. He'd wept in the snow—about his wife, no less! This changed the shape of the 1972 race, in which Nixon swept to a massive re-election.

Years later, the dean of Washington journalists—the fellow who first reported the weeping, on the front page of the Washington Post—said the crying had probably maybe never happened. For obvious reasons, you've never seen this lunacy discussed. It simply isn't done.

This is the history of the era through the year 2001. We're omitting the 1988 presidential debate when Bernie Shaw asked Candidate Dukakis what he would do if his wife was raped and murdered, after which the pundits all agreed to agree that Dukakis had answered wrong.

(Years later, some background information emerged. Several female journalists on the panel for that debate had begged Bernie not to ask that inappropriate question. Bernie went ahead anyway, with Dukakis answering wrong.)

Along the way, we ourselves received phone calls, in 1987, from journalists who wanted to know if then-candidate Gore had smoked marijuana when he was a college student. In short, we're dealing with an era of undisguised human stupidity—a story involved the dumbest mother-frumpers who ever drew breath on Earth.

This is the history of the era through the year 2001. During this same period, Diane Sawyer, on network TV, sat with Marla Maples one night and asked her if sex with The Donald was the best sex she ever had.

Last November, in an utterly silly space-filler, the New York Times' two top film critics listed Keanu Reeves as the third greatest actor of the 21st century so far. They cited and linked to the John Wick films—the ugly, stupid, murder-drenched films around which they based their peculiar assessment of Reeve's manifest greatness.

In short, this is the history of an era defined by the vision, the values and the understandings of a group of human life forms who aren't always recognizably human. At the direction of major anthropologists, we've often compared the behavior of these life forms to the story long told in the west, a story in which we humans keep telling ourselves, with straight faces, that we are "the rational animal."

Donald J. Trump has left the building! That said, there's no obvious reason to believe that the culture we're describing will right itself in the years ahead.

For the record, we're describing part of the gonzo culture which prevails in Our Town. There's no sign that Our Town has any plan to reform itself. Indeed,  we cling to our fond beliefs about ourselves, in a way which makes our gonzo culture very hard to challenge.

Last night, on our favorite cable news show, we were hoping to lock him up. We were back with Stormy Daniels and her request for money during Campaign 2016—a request for cash which was met.

For ourselves, we've always wondered why Daniels wasn't charged with extortion. Such questions don't get asked in Our Town, though people who live in Other Towns hear questions like that all the time.

For what it's worth, we're so dumb in Our Town that we decided that Daniels' demand for cash made her a "feminist icon" and also a "feminist hero." We loved her visibly disordered lawyer so much that he became a Democratic White House contender.

How good are our assessments of character here in Our Town? For Daniels' visibly disordered lawyer—we'll recommend pity more than scorn—things went downhill from there:

On several occasions starting in March 2019, Avenatti was indicted in California and New York on federal counts including tax evasion, extortion, fraud, and embezzlement. He has been ineligible to practice law since May 4, 2020. On February 14, 2020, Avenatti was convicted of all charges against him in the New York court. Avenatti was held in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center while he awaited sentencing for his extortion conviction in the New York case. He potentially faces more than 40 years in prison. Amid healthcare concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, Avenatti was temporarily released from prison in April 2020 under orders to return within 90 days. He is currently under house arrest at a friend's house in California. His sentencing is set for May 2021.

We rarely miss here in Our Town!

Over Here, we want to see Trump locked up. Over There, they think his "sacred landslide" election was stolen. This is the story of life as it's currently lived in the dueling towns of the shining city upon the hill.

The truth about us and our somewhat peculiar culture can be found all across the mainstream press. In fairness, as with Chekhov's Gurov, we just "want to enjoy life so badly and it all seems so simple and amusing.”

In The Lady With the Lapdog, Chekhov makes Gurov a sympathetic figure. So too with us in Our Town. 

There's nothing evil about our human desires. But in the pursuit of such simple desires, things can sometimes possibly get a bit stupid.

They hid in the bushes as they chased Gary Hart. Meanwhile, sex with The Donald was the she ever had! 

At the Times, to believe Joe Klein, the honchos thought that Maureen Dowd was possessed of revolutionary insights. (At the 1984 convention, Mondale didn't know who to hug first—Ferraro or his wife!)

This is the history of the era as performed in our frequently ludicrous town.

We aren't bad people here in Our Town. But given the ways we play the game, will our life as a nation be ending?

Tomorrow: Dumb and town? 

Regarding The Lady With the Lapdog: Nabokov described Chekhov's story as one of the greatest ever written. We've seen Cornel West quoted to the same effect.

We think the story offers a beautiful portrait of a lost soul finding his soul. The leading authority on the story quotes Nabokov in this manner:

"All the traditional rules...have been broken in this wonderful short problem, no regular climax, no point at the end. And it is one of the greatest stories ever written."

In fairness, he'd never seen the first John Wick film, in which we see a dog get killed, then about ten million people. With such magnificent acting!

In closing, we think there is a point at the end of Chekhov's story. In translation, we'll let Chekhov speak:

And it seemed to them that in only a few more minutes a solution would be found and a new, beautiful life would begin; but both of them knew very well that the end was still a long, long way away and that the most complicated and difficult part was only just beginning.

The most difficult part was just beginning! Or at least, so Chekhov said.

Starting tomorrow: BABEL AND TOWN!


For today, (gruesome) survey says: First, we had the election itself. After that, we experienced the lunacy of the commander's post-election crusade.

We had the (deadly) riot at the Capitol, then we had the impeachment. After we had the impeachment, we had the Senate trial.

Along the way, on January 20, the commander voluntarily left the White House! Within hours, he'd left Washington altogether. He was on his way to Florida and his old Mar-a-Lago home.  

Even including the deadly riot for which his crazy claims had laid the predicate, it was never clear that we were going to get off this easy. But at this point, it's actually over:

Except, of course, it isn't over. Nor is it obvious that there's a way out of this mess. For starters—but only for starters—consider the brand new survey by USA Today.

USA Today conducted a survey of 1,000 Trump voters. The paper says these voters were "identified from 2020 polls." 

We aren't sure what that statement means. The statement serves as a reminder that polls and surveys of this type are always approximations of the truth.

We'll assume that this survey was conducted in a reasonably competent manner. What did the survey show us about the views of Trump voters?

We'll start with the question of what happened on January 6. Who was involved in that deadly riot? Here's what the survey says:

PAGE AND ELBESHBISHI (2/22/21): Most Trump voters embrace a version of events on Jan. 6 that has been debunked by independent fact checkers and law enforcement agencies.

Asked to describe what happened during the assault on the Capitol, 58% of Trump voters call it "mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters." That's more than double the 28% who call it "a rally of Trump supporters, some of whom attacked the Capitol."  Four percent call it "an attempted coup inspired by President Trump."


"It looked horrendous, but how are we to know who was actually taking part?" asks Christine Rodriguez, 79, a Republican from Galveston, Texas, who was among those surveyed. "You could have somebody planted there from the left ... pretending to be a real Trump supporter." 

"There were a variety of people who were there," says William Case, 40, an electrician and independent voter from Vacaville, California. "I mean, outside there was a bunch of Trump supporters that didn't go in, but there's video proof of other groups that did, antifa being one of them. There were also reporters that broke in and followed everybody."

According to this morning's report, 58 percent of respondents said the riot was  "mostly an antifa-inspired attack." There were also reporters!

Things only got worse when respondents were asked to assess November's election:

PAGE AND ELBESHBISHI: Trump voters aren't ready to acknowledge Joe Biden as president despite his margin of victory of 7 million votes nationwide.

Three of four, 73%, say Biden wasn't legitimately elected. Most don't want their representatives to cooperate with him, even if that means gridlock in Washington.

According to this new survey, roughly three-quarters of Trump voters seem to believe some version of the claim that the election was stolen.

Can a large modern nation hope to function in the face of such widespread false belief? More and more, and more and more, the indications don't seem to be good.

We're starting today with the views of Trump voters. It seems to us that one more result from the new survey is ominous. 

Things look bad for Fox News, today's report says. Based upon the survey result in question, we'd have to say that things look even worse for our floundering nation:

PAGE AND ELBESHBISHI: There are disquieting findings in the poll for Fox News, which has prospered as the dominant news source for conservatives. In a USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll in October 2016, 58% of Trump voters said Fox was their most trusted source of news. In the new poll, that drops to 34%.

Trust has risen in two relatively new outlets that have made their reputations by championing Trump. Newsmax is the most trusted among 17% of Trump voters, followed by 9% for One American News Network, or OANN. 

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, says the findings could reflect "a seismic shift in the landscape of trusted news sources for conservatives in the country."

Newsmax and OANN were cited as the most trusted source by a quarter of these voters. Increasingly, Fox News is no longer dumb enough—no longer sufficiently partisan.

Just for the sake of clarity, we'll state a basic point:

These voter, fellow citizens all, say they think Trump won. They say the riot was staged by antifa.

Just for the sake of clarity, when these people say these things, they almost surely aren't lying.

Presumably, most of these people believe these claims. These are the things they've been told at their most trusted "news sources," and by the commander himself.

The commander won't be going away. Neither will false belief. When false belief becomes so fundamental and so widespread, it's hard to see how a modern continental nation can expect to function.

Those findings help define a modern Babel, a modern Babel which extends from coast to coast. Putin may be getting of all the winning when he sees survey findings like this!

Newsmax and OANN won't be going away. The same is true of Fox News, which is already moving to deepen its investment in propaganda. This Babel won't be going away, unless we find a way to make it.

Here in Our Town, the findings of this new survey define a major challenge. OANN won't be going away. Neither will those Trump voters.

Given the way the Electoral College works, Joe Biden barely squeaked out a narrow victory in November's election. Meanwhile, Our Town's party achieved extremely narrow majorities in both the House and the Senate. 

Indeed, our majority in the Senate is no narrow that it isn't a majority at all! Political history suggests that Our Town's party could easily lose control of each body the next time around.

The rise of crackpot partisan media has created a type of Babel on the other side of the aisle. That said, what forces may exist in Our Town which affect our ability to create a more perfect, less ridiculous union?

It's easy to spot the mess Over There. But does any part of The Crazy, however tiny, obtain over here in Our Town?

We think we see the building blocks of Babel in Our Town every day. Are there ways in which we encourage the Babel?

Tomorrow, we'll start right there.

Tomorrow: Good God! Where to begin?

BREAKING! Should Donald J. Trump have been impeached?


Removed? Tried/convicted? Disqualified?: Should Donald J. Trump have been impeached this second time around?

We're forced to admit we're not sure. Once you're "in blood stepped in so far," there's no good way to get out or wade o'er. 

It may be that the instant impeachment kept our disordered commander-in-chief from engaging in even crazier conduct as January 20 drew near.  To cite one example, he didn't try to start a foreign war.

For that we should be grateful. That said, once he had departed the White House, should we have proceeded with the Senate "trial?"  Should that trial have been delayed, permitting further investigation? 

And not only that! If the commander had been convicted, should he then have been disqualified from seeking future office? Should he have been disqualified by a simple majority vote? Should we try to disqualify him now, through use of the Fourteenth Amendment?

To all those questions, we'd say we aren't sure (at best). Once you're in a mess this bad, there's rarely a good way out.

In Impeachment I and Impeachment II, our overall view has been this:

Removal from office is a necessary tool, but our system doesn't run on impeachment; our system runs on elections. We're reminded of two events from 1998.

In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on a "too much oral sex" rap. In our previous 206 years of presidential history, we'd only had one such impeachment. That had occurred in 1868, as an offshoot of our nation's Civil War!

At the time, some pundits were saying that the impeachment of Clinton might normalize the practice—might lead to regular future impeachments. 

That seemed unlikely to us at the time, but threats of impeachment did become more common after that. In this New York Times report, Mark Leibovich has now suggested that performative impeachment might become common in the future. We can't say that prediction is wrong.

Some sages were predicting that outcome back in 1998. Along the way, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) offered some good sound advice:

NADLER: The effect of impeachment is to overturn the popular will of the voters. We must not overturn an election and remove a president from office except to defend our system of government or our constitutional liberties against a dire threat.

And we must not do so without an overwhelming consensus of the American people. There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment supported by one of our major political parties and opposed by the other. Such an impeachment will produce the divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come. And will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions. 

Nadler was speaking of impeachment itself, not necessarily of removal from office. 

He said there should never be a one-party impeachment. Except at times of terrible danger, we'd call that good sound advice. 

Regarding removal from office, Nadler's point is even stronger. Of course, given the way Senate politics works, and given the need for a two-thirds vote. there could virtually never be a one-party removal from office.

Our system does suffer, in ways Nadler described, from heavily partisan impeachments. That doesn't mean that this latest impeachment was wrong. It means there may be a price to be paid.

In our view, the deepening craziness of Donald J. Trump presented a special challenge. In our view, politicians and journalists here in Our Town only heightened that challenge in recent years by refusing to discuss his apparent cognitive/psychiatric disorder—most especially, by refusing to discuss his apparent medical disorders in a sympathetic way.

(As we've noted in the past, no such discussion could have unfolded in an intelligent way. Our public discourse is too primitive to permit any such outcome.)

We've mentioned two events from 1998—Jerry Nadler's good advice, and the warning that flimsy impeachments might become more common.

Now, we'll mention two events from this very month. In each case, it seems to us that the event we mention made Our Town look bad.

We start with an analysis offered by one of Donald Trump's lawyers. We refer to the widely mocked Michael van der Veen. We offer a brief side point:

Last Wednesday evening, Rachel Maddow was still laughing and clowning about Trump's lawyers twenty minutes into her program. She was especially hatrd on van der Veen, a fellow who lacks the Rhodes Scholar sheen this corporate star offers Our Town.

Brian Williams was also mocking van der Veen. MSNBC's ditching of transcripts means that we can't show you the various things they said.

Having said that, we'll add this:

Our Town is strongly inclined to behave that way. We're strongly inclined to have our former Rhodes Scholars mock such others who aren't. 

It's the stupidest thing a person can do. Our unnamed, top-ranking cable star has behaved this way from the start.

Van der Veen was a bit rough-hewn, but we thought he was rather effective. We were embarrassed for Our Town when he discussed the repetitive claim by our House managers that the disordered commander-in-chief had said the word "fight" twenty times in his January 6 speech.

They said it and said it and said it again, playing us every time. On Friday February 12, van der Veen played the videotape of all twenty utterances. We thought it was one of the most intelligent bits of exegesis we've ever seen on our home TV screen.

It's true! On January 6, the commander gave one of his standard meandering speeches, going on and on and on. Much of what he said that day was utterly pathetic—was barely this side of sane.

But just so you can understand why The Others don't think Our Town is so great, here are six of the twenty uses our tribunes kept yapping about:

TRUMP (1/6/21): As you know the media has constantly asserted the outrageous lie that there was no evidence of widespread fraud. You ever see these people? “While there is no evidence of fraud…” Oh, really? Well, I’m going to read you pages. I hope you don’t get bored listening to it. 

Promise? Don’t get bored listening to it, all those hundreds of thousands of people back there. Move them up, please. Yeah. All these people, don’t get bored! Don’t get angry at me, because you’re going to get bored because it’s so much. The American people do not believe the corrupt fake news anymore. They have ruined their reputation.

But you know, it used to be that they’d argue with me, I’d fight. So I’d fight, they’d fight. I’d fight, they’d fight. Boop-boop. You’d believe me, you’d believe them. Somebody comes out, you know? They had their point of view, I had my point of view. But you’d have an argument. 

Now what they do is they go silent. It’s called suppression. And that’s what happens in a communist country. That’s what they do. They suppress. You don’t fight with them anymore, unless it’s a bad story. They have a little bad story about me, they’ll make it ten times worse and it’s a major headline. 

But Hunter Biden, they don’t talk about him. What happened to Hunter? Where’s Hunter? Where is Hunter? They don’t talk about him.

That's the speech of a punch-drunk Palooka, a disordered fellow who's out on his feet and is barely hanging on. 

Regarding Covid, regarding the election, Trump had been making such punch-drunk orations on a remarkably regular basis all through the previous year. That said, there you see six (6) of the twenty times he said the word "fight" during his ludicrous speech. 

Obviously, those silly statements had little to do with trying to incite those "hundred of thousands of people" to stage a deadly riot at the Capitol. But our tribunes stood up and pretended otherwise, over and over again. 

Van der Veer went through the rest of the twenty uses of the word "fight." When he did, it was embarrassing for our side.

Our response? Brian and Rachel mocked van der Veer's Philly accent. This is the dimwitted way Our Town has played it since the dawn of time.

We'll mention one other embarrassing moment which emerged during the trial. This embarrassing moment involved videotape of Our Town's leading House manager on January 6, 2017, three days after he began his tenure in the House.

Jamie Raskin is a good, decent person, but this was embarrassing stuff. In his role at (outgoing) vice president, Joe Biden was trying to certify the electoral votes which had elected Donald J. Trump. As Biden tried to muddle through, of our tribunes were being highly performative. Three days into his House career, a good decent person said this:

RASKIN (1/6/17): I have an objection because 10 of the 29 electoral votes cast by Florida were cast by electors not lawfully certified.

BIDEN: Is it signed by a senator?

RASKIN: Not as of yet, Mr. Vice President.

BIDEN: In that case, the objection cannot be entertained. The objection cannot be entertained. The debate is not in order.

"Not as of yet," the performative tribune said.

We found that embarrassing (and disappointing) as we watched the videotape during the trial.. If you want to know why many Others may not hold us in the highest regard, we'd suggest that you consider behaviors which sometimes occur in Our Town.

Our view? We thought the House managers made a compelling case on Wednesday, January 10. By the end of the week, we had come to think less well of them as a group.

They combined absolute certainty in their cause with the kind of silly tricks which included their constant claims about those twenty uses of the word "fight." Meanwhile, as we finish today, we'll mention something Chuck Schumer said.

Last Saturday, Donald J. Trump won "acquittal" by a 43-57 vote. (Truly, Trump is a master at winning with well under half the votes.)

After the Senate vote, Chuck Schumer rose to speak, followed by Mitch McConnell. As he closed his speech, Schumer said something which strikes us as almost definitively wrong:

SCHUMER (2/13/21): This trial was about the final acts of a president who represents the very antithesis of our first president, and sought to place one man before the entire country, himself. Let the record show, let the record show, before God, history, and the solemn oath we swear to the constitution, that there was only one correct verdict in this trial, guilty.

And I pray that while justice was not done in this trial, it will be carried forward by the American people who above any of us in this chamber determine the destiny of our great nation. I yield the floor.

We agree with Schumer's general statement about what Donald J. Trump "represents." Concerning the highlighted statement, we will only say "Wow."

"Let the record show, before God...that there was only one correct verdict?" It's almost never true, in our human affairs, that there's only one correct assessment.  

Nor can you run a modern continental nation on the basis of such tribal certainty. That's especially true if that nation is going to run on "the consent of the governed."

Was guilty "the only possible verdict?" We can't necessarily say that it was. 

That said, we looked back at the rambling, innocuous ways Donald J. Trump used the word "fight" in that ludicrous rambling speech. When we did, it it didn't make us admire the way the trial was run by the House members from Our Town.

Our tribunes were running a bit of a  con as they kept telling the nation that he'd said the word "fight" twenty times. We thought van der Veer performed an excellent bit of textual analysis as he showed us, all twenty times, what the Palooka had actually said.

Van der Veer did an excellent job with that. When he did, Brian and Rachel mocked him for his choices of words and for his Philly accent.

We frequently play it that way in Our Town. This may help explain why a badly disordered commander-in-chief—one who's likely a sociopath—is so widely loved in so many other towns.

Final point:

If the commander had been convicted, should he have been disqualified by a simple majority vote? Should we be trying to disqualify him now, through the Fourteenth Amendment, which would also require a simple majority vote?

Our tribunes have said yes each time. In a nation which runs on elections and on consent of the governed, the notion strikes us as less than perfectly sane.

We're lucky we got that guy out of office. Can we possibly learn to persuade?

Racial invective on the streets of New York!


Are these anecdotes true?: To our ear, the New York Times often seems highly performative when it comes to matters of race.

As we noted this morning, we know of no branch of modern journalism which is more heinous than the way this Hamptons-based newspaper covers New York City's public schools. 

The newspaper seems to be engaged in constant performance about this deeply consequential subject. Because the subject is so important, we'd call that a poor approach.

Is there anything the Times won't publish so long as it embodies standard narratives concerning matters of race? At several points, we were puzzled by the logic found in yesterday's report about black congressional staffers. Then too, we'd direct you to the op-ed column which ran today beneath this headline:

Anti-Asian Racism Isn’t New

Obviously, the statement made in that headline is true. But then, we started to read the column. The first thing we read was this:

WANG (2/19/21): One of the first English words I learned was an ethnic slur I heard whenever my parents and I walked around the city. I was 7 years old and had just moved to Brooklyn from China. One day, eager to show off, I turned to my father and declared, “We are chinks now!” in English. My father looked as if I had stabbed him. In a grave, low voice he told me to never utter that word again.

The author is Qian Julie Wang, a litigator and managing partner of Gottlieb & Wang LLP.

Wang graduated from Swarthmore, then earned a law degree from Yale. According to Penguin Random House, she arrived in this country in 1994, when she was 7 years old.

Our first question would be this:

In 1994, were Asian-Americans, or newly arrived Asian immigrants, really confronted with undisguised ethnic slurs "whenever [they] walked around the city?" 

That's the first assertion today's column makes. The column continues as shown:

WANG (continuing directly): That slur has haunted me throughout my life, cutting like a knife when I least expect it. A boy on a bike once screamed it so deep into my ear that it rang for hours afterward. The ringing eventually subsided, but the street harassment became a regular fixture in my life.

Just as a general matter, how can someone on a bike scream something into someone's ear? How could such a boy scream something so loud—so deep into that person's ear—that it rang in her ear for hours afterward?

Stating the obvious, we have no way of knowing whether these anecdotal claims are true. But as the column continues, the claims continue to sound a bit odd:

WANG (continuing directly): Before the pandemic, the simple act of walking to the courthouse where I work demanded exhaustive control of my body. For a while I tried very hard to make myself look less feminine and more white. I’d pretend to be deaf when strangers addressed me with their eyes pulled back into a slant while taunting “Me love you long time” or loudly said they had “yellow fever.”

Really? As of 2018 or 2019, strangers would routinely address the full-grown Wang with their eyes pulled back into a slant while taunting her by saying, “Me love you long time?” 

Other strangers would taunt her by loudly saying that they had “yellow fever?” 

Is this the common experience of Asian-Americans in New York City? If so, this should be a front-page news report, not a mere op-ed column promoting a forthcoming memoir.

(Needless to say, Wang  wrote her memoir "on her iPhone, during her subway commute to and from work at a national law firm, where she was elected to partnership within two years of joining the firm." Isn't that the way all memoirs get written these days?)

As of 2019, Wang was a 32-year-old commercial litigation associate working in New York City. We know that because, in that same year, she and her husband-to-be described the details of their courtship for this "Mini-Vows" report for the overtly silly side of that same New York Times.

At certain points, we can't quite follow the logic of that long report. Presumably, that's the fault of the Times' jumbled writing, not of Wang and her fiancé, Marc Ari Gottlieb.

That said, the report describes Wang and Gottlieb tramping all over Manhattan on at least one seven-hour date. Was Wang being assailed in the manner described during those excursions?

Obviously, we have no way of answering these questions. We'll only say that Wang's anecdotes seem a bit puzzling to us. Within the past year, has she had these experiences?

WANG (continuing directly): As the coronavirus spread, I began to dread my commute to work. People made a show of keeping away from me even in crowded subway train cars. Other times, the harassment was more overt—strangers bumped their shoulders into me; someone jabbed me with the pointy metal end of a long umbrella while shouting, “Go back to China.” My parents wore hats, sunglasses and double masks whenever they left the house.

It's been widely reported that anti-Asian invective increased as the pandemic spread. This was widely attributed to Donald Trump's self-serving use of the phrase, "the China virus."

Is it true that, even before the pandemic hit, Wang would try to make herself "look more white," so routinely was she assailed in the ways she describes? By the way, how does a woman of Asian ancestry try to make herself look more white?

Today, we make a confession. When we read this column, we thought of a conversation we had several years ago with a major journalist.

Rolling Stone had just published its report about the (fraudulent) UVa rape accusation. Our journalist friend said the events described were so implausible that he didn't believe the report was true.

We hadn't had that reaction when we'd skimmed the Rolling Stone report. As it turned out, our friend's assessment was right.

Our friend thought the claims in Rolling Stone had the ring of untruth. We recalled that conversation when we read today's column.

The fact that the column appeared in the Times did nothing to heighten our confidence in it. We'll close with this restatement:

The column seems to suggest that, from 1994 through 2019, heinous anti-Asian invective was a very regular part of life in New York City. Routinely, such invective descended to the level of the ugly and the stupidly cartoonish, this column seems to suggest.

If true, that should be a front-page news report. Wang is describing remarkable conduct. Is this really what life has been like in the streets of New York?

The question we're asking is fully sincere. Is that really what life has been like in the streets of New York?

Also, this claim about apples: Do you believe the more colorful claims in this column from the Washington Post? Do you believe, for example, that the author, during her law school days, would buy a dozen apples when she already had half a dozen in her room, hidden from her roommate and growing rotten?

After reading this morning's column, we're not sure that we do. Colorful claims can make outstanding copy, but as we've all learned in recent years, such claims won't always be true.

Major orgs have published phony claims on every conceivable subject over the past several decades. If today's implied claims are true, they belong in a front-page report, not in a mere op-ed column.

Is that what life in New York has been like? Forget the apples just for now. Can that remarkable portrait be true?