WAR AND TOWN: When the Seven Furies declaimed...


...only Jon Tester demurred: A thissite, we're never happier than on a morning like this.

On such mornings, the front page of the New York Times helps us see the way we're inclined to reason here in the streets of Our Town.  

This morning, the New York Times is at it again! In print editions, the front-page headline says this:

A Program Inspires Ivy League Dreams in Disadvantaged Teens

There they go again! It's something we've noted many times, always at the direction of experts:

This is the only way the New York Times thinks about the lives and the interests of the millions of good, decent kids who attend our low-income schools.

The New York Times is able to care about one narrow slice of those kids. It's able to care about the highest achievers, the ones who may end up at Stuyvesant High, possibly even at Yale.

The New York Times dreams those "Ivy League Dreams;" it thinks about nothing else. This orientation surfaced again in this January 30 news report, which we haven't yet discussed in any detail.

Posturing drove the Times headlines that day. On-line, the headlines say this:

New York Schools Are Segregated. Will the Next Mayor Change That?
By deferring decisions on desegregating schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed those choices onto his successor—and into the race to replace him.

Are Gotham's public schools "segregated?" In a performative sense, you can always say they are—and how the Times loves to say it!

The Times rarely gets around to explaining how you can "desegregate" a massive school system in which only 14 percent of the students are white. (Presumably, that percentage will drop by several points if certain "desegregation" plans are adopted.)

Instead, the Times sets off on its standard quest. It dreams of  extending those Ivy League Dreams by eliminating admission requirements for the city's selective middle schools and for its nine "specialized" high schools.

The Times explains that Ivy League Dreams will be served in this manner. The paper never gets around to explaining how the city should confront the giant achievement gaps which exist (on average) between the city's different demographic groups.

It never explains how the city's schools might better serve its hundreds of thousands of academically average or below-average kids—kids who will never be going to Stuyvesant High, and not even to Yale. 

Indeed, the paper never even reports the existence of those giant gaps. Doing so would be embarrassing. It would also raise the world's most obvious questions—but most importantly, reporting the very large size of the gaps would undermine the highly performative pose.

At present, we know of no aspect of upper-end journalism which is more noxious or more heinous than the way the New York Times peddles these Ivy League Dreams. 

We know of no journalism which is so dumb. Beyond that, it's appalling to see the way the Times slimes high-achieving Asian-American kids and, of course, their parents. 

For those citizen of Our Town who don't understand why Others may hate us, we'd recommend that you focus on this particular topic. You can then proceed to the other million ways we invite The Others to loathe us.

On Saturday last, we observed one saddening aspect of Our Town's failing culture. We observed it shortly after we watched Mitch McConnell's speech.

Lawrence O'Donnell has said he was "absolutely stunned" by McConnell's speech. We can't say that we were stunned, but we certainly did sit up and take a great deal of notice.

As you may know, McConnell is the highest-ranking Republican in the whole federal government. In his speech to the Senate, this highest-ranking Republican official savaged a certain former commander, the one named Donald J. Trump.

McConnell agreed with every factual claim Our Town had made in our attempt to "convict" the former commander in last week's Senate "trial." The commander was fully responsible for the January 6 riot, the silver-tongued orator said!

The former commander had peddled a series of "increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was somehow being stolen," the leading Republican said. The commander had emitted a "growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole" about that election, McConnell remarkably said. 

The federal government's leading Republican didn't stop there. He even offered these remarkable statements:

MCCONNELL (2/13/21): Impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice. Never meant to be the final forum for American justice. Impeachment conviction and removal are a specific intra-governmental safety valve. It is not the criminal justice system, where individual accountability is the paramount goal...

Put another way, in the language of today, President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen. Unless the statute of limitations is run, still liable for everything he did while he was in office.

He didn’t get away with anything—yet. Yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one. 

Good lord! The federal government's leading Republican was saying that the former commander should perhaps be charged with crimes!

That's what the federal government's highest-ranking Republican stood in the Senate and said. O'Donnell said he was "absolutely stunned" by McConnell's remarks. 

On this campus, we weren't far behind. Our point of view would be this:

When the other side agrees with your claims, you have achieved a large win. If you actually want to persuade The Others—if you want to bring people over to your side—you have been handed a very large gift when leaders in the other party agree with all your claims. 

That said, do the citizens of Our Town want to persuade The Others? Is that any part of the culture which now obtains in Our Town?

Do we want to persuade the others? It isn't clear that we do! Here in Our Town, we tend to scream and complain any time American newspapers even  interview The Others! This has become a standard reaction here.

We don't even want to speak to Those People! And so, out tramped The Seven Furies after McConnell spoke.

The less-than-magnificent seven appeared on MSNBC right after McConnell's address. They were led by Brian and Nicolle—and so uniform was the GroupSpeak this day, even McCaskill joined in.

As always, Everyone Said the Exact Same Thing; this is now a mandated part of Our Town's diminished culture. That's especially so on The One True Channel, whose corporate earnings are very high thanks to this dimwitted practice.

The Furies took numbers and stood in line, awaiting their chance to perform. Each one savaged McConnell for offering us a glass half empty. You see, he hadn't voted for "conviction," the vote we preferred in Our Town.

MSNBC no longer does transcripts, and it provides little videotape. For these reasons, we can't quote the statements of the furies, although we can set your hearts at ease—they all Said the Exact Same Things.

No one focused on the way McConnell had agreed with Our Town's position on the essential facts of the case. On this day, the seven furies ignored this gift. Instead, they took turns saying how phony McConnell is—how phony, how vile and dishonest.

Eventually, Ari Melber was introduced; he quickly became the eighth fury. After that, Brian and Nicolle brought Jon Tester on.

Tester is the reason why Our Town holds a 50-seat "majority" in the United States Senate. He's managed to win three Senate races in the deep-red state of Montana. 

A winning approach in Montana might not be the best approach everywhere else. But when the Furies tried to get Tester to join their group denunciation, the smiling and genial elected official failed to go along.

"I'm not going to judge people on the way they voted" (regarding conviction), the solon outrageously said. At long last, one lonely voice had refused to recite the script.

Two nights later, Lawrence stressed the various things McConnell said in his speech. He said he'd been "absolutely stunned" by the things the solon said. 

Lawrence played tape of McConnell's attacks on the former commander. At least twice, he mentioned that McConnell had voted against conviction, but he didn't stage a performative nervous breakdown about that fact.

Here in Our Town, do we even want to peel voters away from the pro-Trump coalition? Do we want to peel two percent of the public away, then maybe two percent more? 

Do we possibly want to peel eight percent of the public away from this disordered pied piper? Do we want to venture among the unwashed and bring people to our side?

It didn't seem that way as we watched the Seven Furies. Later that evening, several despondent major top experts explained what we had seen.

Our species' brains were always wired this way, these experts sadly said. 

Dating from prehistory's war of the all against all, our brains are wired to make us loathe The Others. Fear and loathing is all. Or at least, that's what these scholars said.

Our brains aren't wired for persuasion, these experts once again told us. The brains of our deeply war-inclined species have always been wired for combat. 

The experts said that this explains what we saw that afternoon. With that, they retreated into their caves, from which loud moaning emerged.

We offer one last illustration of their anthropological point. It concerns what Heilemann said to Lawrence on Monday evening's program.

Lawrence said that McConnell's speech would ease the way for Merrick Garland's confirmation as attorney general. Note the scripting which emerged before Heilemann felt he could say that Lawrence was right:

HEILEMANN (2/15/21): It's horrible about what Mitch McConnell did, and it's hypocritical and craven and disgusting and Machiavellian and manipulative. But there are a variety of ways in which he threw some lifelines out to Joe Biden, or gave Joe Biden a hand, and that's one of them.

McConnell had thrown several lifelines to Biden! But before the cable star could say that, he seemed to feel that he had to rattle six different points of script.

Which part of "yes" don't we understand? Why didn't the Furies seize upon McConnell's speech as a tool of persuasion?

Anthropologically, attacking The Others will always come first! This is the way our brains are wired, or so major experts have said.

Tomorrow: A few final points, including what Schumer said


  1. "Here in Our Town, do we even want to peel voters away from the pro-Trump coalition?"

    Dream on, dear Bob. Judging by opinion polls, your cult's latest clown show has peeled quite a few voters away from your liberal-hitlerian cult. And that's definitely a good thing, dear Bob.

  2. World's Biggest MoronFebruary 19, 2021 at 1:29 PM

    In first:)

    Oh shit:(

  3. “For those citizen of Our Town who don't understand why Others may hate us, we'd recommend that you focus on this particular topic.”

    Hatred is not a rational or even reasonable response to any of this. One might disagree, but why hate?

    Besides, how is hatred a proper response to 1) a story about a program that helps disadvantaged kids get into high-powered colleges (not all of them are Ivy League...two of them listed are Arizona State and the University of Connecticut). 2) an effort by some in New York City to change the entrance requirements for nine of its high schools?

    Also, please note “the New York Times helps us see the way we're inclined to reason here in the streets of Our Town.” Somerby pushes the notion that the New York Times = liberals. It is false. Aside from the fact that he cherry-picks articles out of a very large education section in the Times, he also fails to examine any other liberal thought or writing on education.

    His posts about education boil down to political concerns, not educational ones. He is solely interested to justify “their” hatred of “us.”

  4. “It never explains how the city's schools might better serve its hundreds of thousands of academically average or below-average kids”

    So, Bob Somerby is saying there is a problem with (NYC) schools?

    Does he have evidence that the schools are underserving their kids?

    Are the “achievement gaps” such evidence? If so, why?

    He has pointed out the large improvement in NAEP scores for all students over many years. Does that show that the schools are doing an ok job serving their kids? Or because blacks and Hispanics score lower than whites, does that show they are underserving their kids?

    Does the NAEP test indicate anything about how schools are serving their students, or whether the teachers at those schools are serving their students well?

    He never acknowledges it, but the so-called achievement gaps were a big part of all the federal school reforms, from No Child Left Behind to Common Core. Have those programs narrowed the gaps?

    How productive is it to discuss achievement gaps? Does it reinforce stereotypes of below-average kids by constantly pointing out how much better and smarter other kids are?

    And failure to discuss achievement gaps is not what drives right wing disagreements over public schools.

  5. Bob,
    Is Limbaugh still dead?
    If he is, this is your chance.
    Mao as your ass-licking second banana.
    He knows a word that he employs in every post.

    85 million per year.
    How sweet is that?
    You love people of color, as long as they are dead (MLK, Gandhi) or imprisoned for decades (Mandela). The perfect cover.
    You hate liberals! Surprise!
    You hate women! Surprise!

    You would be Limbaugh's natural successor.
    Go for it. You've been auditioning for years.

  6. This is not the time to talk about achievement gaps or NAEP scores. Children and teachers have had enough to cope with just surviving this pandemic.

    I also find myself wondering why Somerby thinks it is a crime to be average. In a normal distribution (which most human abilities conform to), the mean, median and mode fall close together. The median score is the cutoff where half the scores are higher and half are lower. That means half the children will be below that average. What is not normal is for children to be performing far below their potential, whatever that may be. Good teachers figure out what kids are capable of and try to help them achieve it, whether they fall at the low end, the middle (as most kids do) or the high end.

    Trying to get the high performing kids into elite schools, regardless of their ethnicity or SES, is good teaching because it is helping those talented kids reach their highest potential. They deserve that kind of help just as much as the low performing kids deserve to be helped to maximize their potential. ALL kids should receive attention.

    Here Somerby seems antagonistic toward helping high achieving kids, because he implicitly argues that such help comes at the cost of helping the lower performing kids. Actually, it is the high end kids who tend to be neglected, because teachers and administrators and sometimes parents think they are doing fine and don't need any attention. Lots of studies show that to be wrong. They may not need academic help but they need encouragement and counseling and help pursuing the opportunities that they are capable of benefitting from. Education shouldn't be zero-sum. There is no need to view this as a situation in which helping high performers means neglecting low performers.

    I often wonder what happened to Somerby at Harvard that made him so down on higher ed. Most kids don't come out of Harvard with such a huge chip on their shoulder.

  7. “When the other side agrees with your claims, you have achieved a large win. If you actually want to persuade The Others—if you want to bring people over to your side—you have been handed a very large gift when leaders in the other party agree with all your claims.”

    Somerby previously condemned the impeachment and the talk about barring Trump from office as a terrible idea, because he claimed Trump was the right’s most popular future candidate and Democrats just want to punish.

    Now, since McConnell said what he said, liberals (in the form of seven pundits on TV, apparently) are too stupid, emotional, and childish and would rather get mad at McConnell than to see how his “gift” suddenly gives us a unique opportunity to persuade the others, I guess to the idea that that vindictive and stupid punishment of Trump wasn’t really vindictive or stupid, because McConnell. Or something.

    I don’t really buy the psychology of this either. The Dems case was apparently hopeless until McConnell blessed it, if you follow Somerby’s logic. Either the case was strong or it wasn’t, with or without McConnell. I don’t see how this will really sway any Republicans. I mean, if Chuck Schumer had declared Trump completely innocent, and that fact was trumpeted by Republicans on Fox News, how many Democrats’ minds would that change?

  8. There is also the problem of the timing of McConnell’s remarks. They came too late in the process. Republican opinion had already hardened. They decided that there was election fraud and that Trump was not guilty of the insurrection. At this point, any attempt to prosecute Trump will be denounced as a partisan witch hunt, McConnell will not call for or publicly support it, and the election lie will be a mandated belief of the Trump GOP.

    Also, McConnell’s mixed message, “trump is guilty but I will acquit” undermines any putative value of his speech for Democrats.

    Another question is how much influence McConnell actually has at this point. The modern day GOP is notorious for banishing formerly influential members. See Cheney, Liz. It can just as well happen to McConnell. Trump is seeing to that.

  9. I've been reading Isabel Wilkerson's book "Caste" and this impeachment trial reminds me of the way that Southerners used to refuse to indict or convict the people who committed lynchings and other murders of African Americans in the South. Everyone knew what happened, who was guilty, and the whole point was terrorism against blacks. There was no possibility of justice. This insurrection and the trial result strike me as no different. The point of the insurrection was domestic terrorism, with no chance of conviction of Trump. We'll see what happens to the others. And this is an extension of the fight over whether the USA will remain a country with a dominant white supremacist majority and a caste system that subjugates minorities and women, or whether it came change into a system where caste is no longer defended by those who benefit from it, and others can live with some expectation of a fair life.

    Somerby has been arguing that the social construction of race means that there is no such thing as a caste system in the US. But that is obviously not true. Wilkerson doesn't like the idea of labeling people as racists, but she does think that behavior based on racism should be called out and changed. I think Trump and his insurrection are a reflection of the social pressures being out on white supremacists to maintain their current higher status. That they are behaving badly indicates that they are feeling the changes in our society. This is not the time to stop changing (not that we could), but the time to push harder to eliminate caste-based injustices in our society.

    Somerby wants to say that an Asian woman is wrong when she says she has been treated like a lower caste person, despite being in a high status job. His denial is part of the problem, not the solution.

    McConnell never does anything that doesn't benefit himself. It seems highly unlikely that he has given Dems any gift that isn't a bigger gift to himself and his desire to take back power in 2022. I trust McConnell's evaluation of his own self-interest more than I trust Somerby's powers of analysis.

    We definitely don't need to be talking to The Other and reassuring bigots that they can still be top dog after committing major crimes against our country, including treason. There is a straight line from the 1920-30s and Eugenics through Nazi Germany to Trump's nativism and white supremacy. We should be ashamed of ourselves for letting Trump happen, but I don't believe he would have been elected without the help of Russia, which has constituted an external attack by a long-standing foreign enemy. I think history will place Trump on the same footing as Hitler, except that Trump is a deeply stupid and incompetent man. When all the malfeasance is uncovered, perhaps McConnell would like to be seen as one of the few non-traitors. I think that will depend on what else he has done.

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