Starting tomorrow: BREAKDOWNS AND TOWN!

MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2021

Snapshots of cascading failures: The headline on a front page in today's New York Times says this:

Minneapolis Braces for Verdict in Floyd’s Death

Minneapolis is bracing for that verdict, the front-page headline says.  On the front page of today's Washington Post, the headline in question says this:

Minneapolis braces for unrest

We've already seen several pundits say it this morning. Our nation is bracing for the verdict in this high-profile trial!

Here at this site, we're so in love with our (professed) American values that we're doing something different this morning. We're so in love with our American and Enlightenment values that we're actually waiting to hear the closing arguments in this high-profile trial.

We're waiting to hear the closing arguments! Can you imagine that?

In fairness, we're fairly sure that defense attorney Eric Nelson won't be saying several things in his closing argument. For one thing, we're fairly sure he won't say that the late George Floyd died of a dug overdose.

In yesterday's New York Times, Will Wright devoted a lot of time to that alleged argument. In part, Wright's report said this:

WRIGHT (4/18/21): Arguably the most important question in this case is what caused Mr. Floyd’s death. The prosecution has maintained that Mr. Floyd died from asphyxia, or the deprivation of oxygen, and has called several expert witnesses to support that notion. Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist and a world-renowned expert on breathing, agreed, saying that Mr. Floyd died from a lack of oxygen imposed by the restraint.


Dr. Tobin said he saw no evidence of an overdose, striking a blow to the defense’s contention that drugs played a primary role in Mr. Floyd’s death. In nuanced testimony, Dr. Tobin counted Mr. Floyd’s breaths and said that he was breathing at a regular rate in the minutes before he died. Had he been suffering an overdose, Dr. Tobin said, the rate of breath should have slowed.

Though regular in interval, the breaths were not deep enough to sustain life, Dr. Tobin said. He was one of several expert witnesses who testified they saw no evidence of an overdose.

Wright is at the Times for one year as a "national reporting fellow." That program recently replaced the paper's summer internship program.

Presumably under the guidance of an older editor, Wright went on, at some length, about the flaws in that alleged argument. According to Wright's report, "witness after witness called by the[id] they saw no evidence of a drug overdose." 

In fairness, Wright's statement was perfectly accurate. Various prosecution witnesses actually did say such things. 

That said, we're fairly sure that Nelson isn't going to claim that Floyd died of a drug or fentanyl overdose. That seems to be a bit of a straw man—a straw man quite a few major pundits have also enjoyed shooting down.

As best we can tell, there's something else Nelson won't be claiming in his closing argument. He won't be claiming that the late George Floyd died of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

We're assuming he won't make that claim. We mention this because of something we read in Friday morning's Washington Post:

BAILEY (4/16/21): Chauvin’s decision [not to testify in his own defense] effectively ended the defense case, which called just seven witnesses over two days—far less than the three dozen prosecution witnesses who appeared over a span of two weeks.

On Thursday, prosecutors recalled Martin Tobin, the Chicago-area pulmonologist who testified last week in excruciating detail about Floyd’s fight for breath. He appeared as a rebuttal witness to challenge testimony from David Fowler, the former Maryland state medical examiner and chief forensic witness for the defense, who floated a theory Wednesday that Floyd may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Holly Bailey went on at some length about this alleged theory.  But did David Fowler really "float a theory that Floyd may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning?" 

Is that what Fowler actually said? Is Nelson going to make that claim in his closing argument?

We're going to guess that he won't. We were surprised by what Bailey wrote, in part because, during Wednesday's testimony, we saw and heard such exchanges as these:

NELSON (4/14/21): And let me just ask you, are you suggesting that Mr. Floyd died from carbon monoxide poisoning?

FOWLER: Absolutely not, no.


NELSON: So again, you're not suggesting to the jury that Mr. Floyd died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

FOWLER: Not exclusively, no.


NELSON: So if you're not saying that carbon monoxide caused Mr. Floyd's death, can you likewise eliminate it as a contributing factor?

FOWLER: The only way to eliminate carbon monoxide as a contributing factor would be to ensure that there was none in his blood or a very, very low level in his blood...

Which part of "you're not saying that carbon monoxide caused Mr. Floyd's death" didn't the Post understand? Fellow citizens, we're just asking!

Also, is it really that hard to handle the logic involved in a claim about (possible) "contributing factors?"

Is the logic of that presentation really that hard to handle? Here in Our Town, and at times like these, yes, it actually is! And so we reach the terrible state we find ourselves at this point.

Here at this site, we're running out of ways to describe the cascading breakdowns on display here in the streets of Our Town. 

You can see these cascading breakdowns as an intellectual failure. You can also see them as a moral failure, but because we believe in the "love ethic" Dr. King described and endorsed, we'd suggest being careful with that, lest you start conjuring Others.

Experts offer a third perspective on our cascading meltdown. They tell us the breakdowns to which we refer represent an anthropological failure. They say we're looking at the way our human brains are wired, and have always been wired.

They say that explains the remarkable columns Gene Robinson won't stop writing. They say that explains how someone as unreliable as Rachel Maddow could be sold to us, and accepted by us,  as the brightest person in town.

They say that explains the remarkably strange news report which topped the front page of the Metro section of yesterday's Washington Post. They say that explains the way our news orgs are describing, but are also refusing to describe, the circumstances surrounding Daunte Wright's shooting death.

"This is the way the world ends," the poet once wrote. "Not with a bang but a whimper." Like Luther laboring in his garden, we're still willing to wonder what Nelson is going to say. 

(He faces a challenging task.)

According to our American values, no one will be required to agree with whatever it is he says. But according to our American values, we should probably wait to hear what he says—and we shouldn't misdescribe it.

Due to our cascading failures, we're on the road to perdition here in Our Town, or so major experts keep saying. That doesn't make us bad people, they say. It simply means that we're people.

This morning, we're going to watch the closing arguments. Concerning the forthcoming end of the world, we'll be offering snapshots of our cascading failures all week.

Full disclosure: This report was posted before the start of closing arguments.

Tomorrow: A portrait of widespread indifference


  1. "They tell us the breakdowns to which we refer represent an anthropological failure."

    Yes. Natural zombological behavior, to be precise.

    Anyhow, dear Bob, do you suppose the Big Biden War is coming? Against the Russian Federation or the People's Republic of China? Or both? Inquiring minds want to know.

    ...and are you still terribly upset that the dementia of a certain figurehead mafioso is not openly discussed by your liberal-dembot media? Be strong, dear Bob, don't despair.

    1. Bring back the draft, to fight the war against Evangelicals.

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  2. From the NY Times:

    "Since testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin began on March 29, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latino people representing more than half of the dead."

  3. Are police forces systemically racist? Yes. Here is an analysis, with links to reports on this issue:

  4. Somerby is claiming that the attribution of Floyd's death to a drug overdose is a straw man invented by the media. If so, it is the conservative media who has been claiming this:

    1. Penetrating observation Corby. Thanks.

  5. "Also, is it really that hard to handle the logic involved in a claim about (possible) "contributing factors?"

    Is the logic of that presentation really that hard to handle? Here in Our Town, and at times like these, yes, it actually is! And so we reach the terrible state we find ourselves at this point."

    Is Somerby really complaining because the press has been addressing the alternative death scenarios raised on the right?

    It isn't clear why Somerby considers the discussion of the various contributing factors to be so awful. Conservatives wish to advance those factors from contributing to causal. It is thus important when the expert witnesses explained that they were not causal. And that is all the various media have been explaining too.

    As long as the right wishes to reduce Chauvin's culpability because of the existence of those "contributing factors," they need to be discussed so that the public will understand why Chauvin bears responsibility for Floyd's death.

    Then Somerby laments that civilization is falling apart, because the press is trying to sort out the role of those contributing factors. What is wrong with Somerby?

    And Somerby claims to be "wondering" what the defense summation will say -- after he has definitively told us what it will not say, as if he could read their minds and put words in their mouth. That just isn't what the word wondering means.

  6. Minneapolis has already had unrest. Why wouldn't it brace for more? It doesn't imply any particular outcome, especially given how polarized opinions are about Chauvin's guilt.

  7. “ They say that explains the remarkable columns Gene Robinson won't stop writing. They say that explains how someone as unreliable as Rachel Maddow could be sold to us, and accepted by us, as the brightest person in town.”

    Media yabbering is unstoppable. They don’t hold themselves to any standards. It’s narrative from the floor up..

    1. Which journalism textbook or class did you learn this in? Never took one? Not surprising.

    2. So we have to take a journalism course before we can judge the media institution as being derelict?

      Thanks for reflecting their unaccountability and sense of elitism.

    3. The media is the propaganda arm of corporations, with all the inherent white supremacy that represents.

    4. The field of journalism does have explicit standards. You don't have any clue what they are, so how can you possibly know whether those standards are being met?

      Of course there is "narrative" in the press. They describe events chronologically. Somerby's use of a term that merely describes how human beings think about time, as if it were something bad, has certainly suckered you, Cecelia.

      And what you call "yabbering" is called "writing" by the rest of the world.

    5. I’m sorry, but the explicit standards of journalism are explicit and therefore not difficult to ascertain.

      The explicit standards of journalism are never so evident as when they are being folded, spindled, and mutilated. Or obscured, bent, and hidden under the radiator. This is done in order to keep to a particular plot and chronology in the manner of yet another craft. That being the art of novel writing.

      Spare me your specious and asinine lectures. If Somerby bothered to read your dreck he’d think you a disingenuous goof too.

    6. The NY Times spending 2016 pretending to care that Republicans were pretending to care about Hillary Clinton's email protocols, proves Cece right (by accident, I assume).
      It also gave us a racist, grifting, self-proclaimed sexual predator as our President.

      And still some gaslighting moron on the Right will claim the media is "liberal". Lucky for the rest of us, only 74 million voting Americans are so stupid they fall for it.

    7. The media pretended to care about Clinton’s email protocols because Jim Comey and the FBI pretended to care about it. Loretta Lynch and the DoJ pretended to care.

      It’s very likely the only who really cared was Bill Clinton.

      Evidently, you fell for all of them.

    8. The guy who was President last year (I forget his name, I think was Jim something or other) fell the hardest for it. He even campaigned on Clinton being corrupt.
      Let's face it, Jim isn't just a two-time GOP Presidential nominee. He's the face of suckers everywhere.

    9. Anonymouse 11:14pn, that makes Mrs. Clinton your matron saint of suckers.

    10. Cecelia,
      Give it a rest. You'll never be as funny as terminal cancer.

    11. "...that makes Mrs. Clinton your matron saint of suckers."

      David in Cal would like a word.

  8. At what point does spin become so extreme that it should be called a lie? WaPo's headline said "Minneapolis braces for unrest." If Chauvin is acquitted (which is hopefully unlikely), Minneapolis can expect riots, mass looting, arson, other widespread property damage, people injured or even killed. Does the work "unrest" really portray reality accurately? I don't think so.

    1. In accordance with Bob's appeal to American values, we should probably wait for the unrest to happen before we describe it in detail.

    2. The focus of the NY Times article was the bracing, which is occurring, not the unrest, which is not.

      "Businesses boarded up, fearing a repeat of last year’s unrest if the jury brings back a decision that the public sees as unjust. City schools will shift to remote learning on Wednesday, and Facebook said it planned to limit posts that contain misinformation and hate speech related to the trial."

    3. Fortunately, the trial is in Minnesota, and not Florida, where the GOP governor is making it harder to use the 1st Amendment to protest, but is leaving the 2nd Amendment to protest untouched.

  9. Here are Kevin Drum's figures about deaths resulting from traffic stops in 2020 (a year with less traffic due to covid):

    "With the caveat that the sample size is small, it's clear that Black traffic stops are far deadlier than white traffic stops. Among all traffic stops that ended in the death of an unarmed civilian, Black drivers are killed at 36x the rate of white drivers. Among routine traffic stops, they are killed at 15x the rate of white drivers."

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