Starting tomorrow: “ACADEMIA, DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM?”

MONDAY, MAY 31, 2021

Our Town's thought leaders gone wild: A reader could almost imagine that Sarah Viren had buried the lede.

Viren's fascinating report appeared in yesterday's New York Times Sunday Magazine. The lengthy report was headlined as shown:

The Native Scholar Who Wasn’t
More than a decade ago, a prominent academic was exposed for having faked her Cherokee ancestry. Why has her career continued to thrive?

In the main, Viren's report deals with a false, possibly fraudulent claim of Native American ancestry on the part of one "prominent academic." That prominent academic would be Andrea Smith, who currently seems to be a professor in the Ethnic Studies department at  Cal Riverside. 

In the main, Viren's report deals with just that one "prominent" person. But this type of false or fraudulent claim seems to be amazingly widespread.

Has Professor Smith falsely claimed to be Native American (more specifically, Cherokee) and a person of color? Has she built a "prominent" academic career on this false foundation?

Apparently, the answer is yes—but apparently, Smith isn't along. Very deep into her piece, Viren unveiled a much wider claim:

VIREN (5/30/21): It’s a problem that has been known at least since 1992, when, in an early use of the term “ethnic fraud” in a newspaper, The Detroit News published an investigation into what were then known as box-checkers: students who [inaccurately] identify as Native American on their college applications...It was accompanied by a shorter piece about similar lies by Native-identified faculty. Of the 1,500 university educators listed as Native American at the time, said Bill Cross, who helped found the American Indian/Alaska Native Professors Association, “we’re looking realistically at one-third of those being Indians.” 

Say what? "Of the 1,500 university educators listed as Native American" as of 1992, roughly a thousand may have been making false claims concerning their ancestry / identity? As many as two-thirds of these educators may have been making false claims?

Can those remarkable statements be true? We can't answer that question. But in her preceding paragraph, Viren had quoted Kim TallBear, a Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate professor at the University of Alberta, addressing the sweep of the problem. 

“There are so many fakes in academia,” Tallbear was quoted saying. Referring to the flap about Smith which reached critical mass in 2015, Tallbear added this: 

“It just felt like we needed to recognize the pervasiveness of the problem.”

On its face, it's amazing to think that there could be so many fakes in academia—or at least, that there could be so many fakes of this particular kind.

That said, had Viren possibly buried the lede? As she continued the passage  we've posted above, she finally cited the highest-profile case of this type:

VIREN (continuing directly from above): The most prominent example of this is Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was listed as Native American by both Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania Law School when she was on the faculty at those institutions and has since apologized for claiming that identity.

Viren was very deep in a very long report before she mentioned Warren, whose puzzling case has never been resolved in a sensible way.

Why did Warren allow herself to be listed as Native American by both Harvard and Penn during her academic career? We've never seen a serious attempt to resolve that question.

When this question hit the mainstream discourse, mocking nicknames quickly held sway among conservatives and Republicans. 

Among Democrats and liberals, and in the mainstream press, a jumble of mumblemouthed discussions, sometimes mixed with some very soft soap, have also stood in the way of a real attempt to settle that question.

Conceivably, this might have resulted in disaster had Warren received the Democratic nomination for president last year. Similarly, John Edwards' hidden affair and hidden paternity would almost surely have doomed his chances had he won the nomination back in 2008.

What explains the various claims about Warren's ancestry / identity? We have no way of knowing, though one possible explanation was always blindingly clear. But Viren's lengthy essay suggests that the inaccurate claims about Warren's ancestry / identity were just one drop in a very large bucket of misdirection and misstatement within the academic world.

What explains the misstatements concerning Warren? At that point, it doesn't really matter any more. That said, it's amazing to read Viren's report about the (continuing) claims made by Smith, the "prominent academic" referenced above.

At this point, an ancillary questions comes to mind: 

If Smith is a "prominent academic," why haven't you ever heard of her? Why can't you describe her work?

Apparently, Smith actually is a prominent academic. That said, she's a big fish within an academic pond which isn't especially well known to the wider world. 

Very few people have heard of Smith; even fewer know why she could be described as  "prominent." But the world within which Smith has prominence has large effects on the wider world, including on the failing political fortunes of our own failing town.

These professors today! Over the past fifty years, they've played a very large role in establishing the political values and viewpoints which animate Our Town. We especially refer to Our Town's values, beliefs and understanding concerning matters of gender and race.

At present, these topics dominate the politics of Our Town, not always in ways which make sense. Many of our understandings and outlooks trace back to our professors.

Viren is a professor too, at Arizona State. In this passage, she explains why she's interested in the question of Professor Smith's apparently false claims:

VIREN: When I began researching this article, I wanted to understand why stories like these seem to dominate one industry—my industry. As a white academic, I watched, aghast, as other white academics were outed for pretending to be scholars of color, both in real life and online. It seemed absurd to me at the time but also horrifying—in part because the outings coincided with a moment of national reckoning on questions of race and representation, and a number of universities, including mine, had recently committed to hiring more scholars of color. I kept wondering, as the former academic Ruby Zelzer posted on Twitter in September, “Academia, do we have a problem?"

“Academia, do we have a problem?" This question seems to lie at the heart of Viren's report. A bit later, she added this:

VIREN: All of this was a little bewildering to watch from the sidelines. Academia is an industry, like journalism, that defines itself in large part by its ethical standards; we’re supposed to educate people and produce knowledge. So what does it mean that we’re also a haven for fakes? 

Is academia a haven for fakes? In one narrow but amazingly widespread way, that's what Viren seemed to be saying.

Certainly, though, for better and/or for worse, academia is the source of much of Our Town's current political thinking, especially in the general areas of ethnic and gender studies. It seems to us that it's worth examining the quality of the work which has been coming from that reserve, along with the integrity of some of the many players.

Starting with Viren's lengthy essay, we'll try to do so this week. Also, this:

In effect, the later Wittgenstein said a lot of our highest academic work was essentially fake, or was at least hopelessly flawed.

Could that be true of the work produced, at age 24, by Professor Godel, "the greatest logician since Aristotle?" Currently, we're exploring such unthinkable possibilities in a series of long, lazy afternoons.

As our society slides toward the sea, we're allowing ourselves to have nice things in those afternoons. Our question, and we regard it as a serious question:

Academia plays a a major role in the politics of Our Town. Has academia possibly had a problem for a very long time—and if so, should we possibly start to notice?

Tomorrow: Very clearly stated

Abraham Lincoln encounters Bill Gates!

SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2021

Gerson all in on "woke:" In May of last year, the New York Times' Timothy Egan described Bill Gates as "the most interesting man in the world."

In fact, that was the headline on a column Egan wrote about Gates. Today, he has written a darker column about the new and journalistically thrilling Gates / French Gates divorce.

Was Bill Gates ever the most interesting man in the world? Since no such person exists, we can be fairly sure that he wasn't.

Today, at the start of his new column, Egan refers to the way Gates and French Gates engaged in "the careful curating of their image," even in recent years. The fact that they engaged in that curating makes them less interesting people today, even as the "PR team" of one of those players seems to be adjusting the curating of the other's image. 

Does it matter what people think of Bill Gates, or of Melinda French Gates? Not necessarily, no. 

We'd like it better if the upper-end press corps cared less about such matters. We have a slightly different reaction when it comes to the image, carefully curated or not, of former president Abraham Lincoln, who famously said, in a famous speech, that we committed this awful crime too.

Yesterday, Michael Gerson wrote a column in the Washington Post which carried this eye-catching headline:

When it comes to knowing U.S. history, we should all be ‘woke’

Should we all be "woke" about U.S. history? It all depends on what the meaning of what "being woke" is! In these passages, Gerson describes his provisional meaning:

GERSON (5/28/21): If being “woke” means knowing the full story of your community and country, including the systemic racism that still shapes them, then every thinking adult should be. 

It's hard to disagree with that. Of course, since no one ever knows the full story of anything, it all depends on which parts of our country's history we allegedly "thinking adult" might choose to mention and stress.

It all depends on which parts of our history we choose to mention and stress! As we rethink the teaching of U.S, history—as our major newspapers ostentatiously revisit that history—this is an extremely basic point.

In his column, Gerson chose to revisit President Lincoln, if only in passing. As he did, he may have sounded "woke" in the cartoonish sense. 

Though it may be good to be woke, it isn't good to be cartoonish. This is what Gerson wrote about the Great Emancipator:

GERSON: William Clark was not only an intrepid explorer, he was the author of treaties that removed more than 81,000 Indians from their homelands. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton was not just the populist voice of “the West,” he was the father of “settler colonialism” and an apologist for slavery. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation—but merely a few days before he had ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men, which “remains the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.” The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair was a festival of white supremacy, in which the organizers “assembled living human beings in a zoo.”

That was Gerson's sole direct reference to Lincoln. The quotation comes from a year-old book, The Broken Heart of America, by Walter Johnson, one of them Harvard professors.

Gerson goes on to suggest that Johnson's book may possibly be excessively woke. Along the way, he returns to the Indian wars which were occurring when Lincoln was in the White House:

GERSON: Historians such as Johnson might dwell on historical horrors and put them into narrow ideological narratives, but the events they recount are real. The U.S. government’s Indian wars were often conducted by sadists and psychopaths such as William S. Harney (who beat an enslaved woman named Hannah to death because he had lost his keys and blamed her for hiding them). A White lynch mob murdered a free Black man named Francis McIntosh in 1836, burning him alive while he begged his tormentors to shoot him...

And so on. Like many upper-end journalists, Gerson may seem to be discovering historical facts others have known about all along. He's also making his own position clear:

He disapproves of white lynch mobs, and of sadists and sociopaths. Quite a few of our thought leaders are currently making a point of stating such moral views.

In the process, did President Lincoln perhaps and possibly get thrown under a bus? After all, during those Indian wars, he ordered “the largest mass execution in the history of the United States!” Was Lincoln a sadist too?

Was the Great Emancipator a sadist and a psychopath? It can sometimes end up sounding that way when we let ourselves get  a trifle too woke. With that in mind, let's return to our basic point:

Once we know "the full story" of our history, it all depends on what we choose to say and what we choose to leave out. According to the leading authority on the Dakota War, here is some of what Gerson chose to leave out this time:

The Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising, the Dakota Uprising, the Sioux Outbreak of 1862, the Dakota Conflict, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, or Little Crow's War, was an armed conflict between the United States and several bands of Dakota (also known as the eastern Sioux). It began on August 18, 1862, at the Lower Sioux Agency along the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota, four years after its admission as a state.


On August 17, 1862, a young Dakota killed five German settlers. That night a council of Dakota decided to attack settlements throughout the Minnesota River valley to drive the settlers out of the area. 358 settlers were killed. During the war that followed, the Dakota made extensive attacks on hundreds of settlers and immigrants, which resulted in many settler deaths, and caused many to flee the area. Over the next several months, continued battles of the Dakota against settlers and later, the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry units, ended with the surrender of 400 Dakota. By late December 1862, Minnesota volunteers had taken more than 1600 Sioux captive, including women, children and elderly men in addition to many warriors. 


The surrendered Dakota warriors and their families were held while military trials took place from September to November 1862. Of the 498 trials, 300 were sentenced to death. President Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38.

We've left quite a bit out; so has the leading authority. That said, every account of American history will always leaves quite a bit out. It all depends on which omissions, and which accounts, seem reasonably balanced and fair.

At the present time, many of our leading journalists are rushing to show us they're woke. In some cases, they may be making up for quite a bit of lost time.

They may have to cut some corners in the process of proving they're woke. Our Town has a new set of Storylines it loves, and some thought leaders in Our Town are imaginably rushing to cut and paste them.

As to what we should tell the kids in school, that's a very difficult question. 

What should children be told about our country's history, and also at what age? When such questions come center stage, the dumbness can seem to come from all sides, woke and anti-woke. 

As you know, the larger game has already been lost. But what should children be told in school? We may discuss that unanswerable question next week.

PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT: Reverend Barber adopts the procedure!

FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2021

The way our species rolls: We were struck by an instructive throw-away line in this morning's Washington Post.

This highly instructive piece of interpretation appears in a news report about an unfortunate incident. In this unfortunate incident, eight nooses have been found, in recent weeks, on a Connecticut construction site. 

According to the Post's report, "The company is offering a $100,000 reward for information that helps identify those responsible for the incidents, which investigators are treating as possible hate crimes."

The investigation is underway; the FBI and the Connecticut State Police are both involved. Meanwhile, a young reporter at the Post has offered this assessment:

TELFORD (5/28/21): Such incidents are not uncommon in the construction industry. In 2020, at least 20 known racist incidents were reported on North American construction sites, according to Construction Dive, which provides news and analysis of the industry. Some involved graffiti or verbal abuse, but nearly half involved nooses found at worksites from Toronto to Portland, Ore.

"Such incidents are not uncommon," the young reporter said. But according to that passage, there seem to have been eight or nine such incidents at construction sites last year, across the whole of North America.

Does that make these incidents common? By journalistic norms, the young reporter's highly subjective characterization should have been dropped from this news report by an experienced editor.

(Also this: Citizens of conservative towns are quickly told when such incidents turn out to be hoaxes. Here in Our Town, knowledge of such twists of fate will, by law, be withheld from our spotless minds.)

The young reporter injected a subjective assessment; it reinforced prevailing Storyline in Our Town. That said, the highly experienced Michael Gerson did something quite similar in an unfortunate part of his opinion column in this morning's Post.

So did the highly experienced Margaret Sullivan in her own column today. In our view, quite a few thumbs were on quite a few scales in this morning's Washington Post.

So it goes at times like these, experts persistently tell us. Unfortunately, we humans are really the tribal animal, these top anthropologists say. 

Our brains are wired to push Storyline, these disconsolate experts all tell us. It's the unavoidable norm at times like these, credentialed scholars say. 

(This is true all over the world, they add. They say it's part of prevailing Storyline here in Our Town to pretend that this sort of thing is somehow unique to us in our own fallen land. In fact, it's a human problem.)

This is just hard-wired human claptrap, these top anthropologists say. In all honesty, that's pretty much the way we reacted to what Reverend Barber wrote.

The Reverend Barber is widely admired. As far as we know, as a general matter, he's admired for good reason.

Sadly, though, Reverend Barber now fallen in with the New York Times! Last Sunday, he wrote one of the essays in the Sunday Review's special section—a collection of essays dealing with what we've learned and experienced in the year since the death of George Floyd. 

We thought the special section was a Public Embarrassment. When we read the following passage from Barber's essay, we thought of Harrison Ford in Witness. Also, we decided it was time to stop reading the special section in the Sunday Review:

BARBER (5/23/21): Consider our recent history, starting with Mr. Chauvin’s trial. For us, it brought back memories of the summer of 2013, when a jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Mr. Zimmerman had shot and killed the 17-year-old boy who was guilty of nothing more than walking while Black in a gated community. Our legal system’s failure to hold Mr. Zimmerman accountable for killing Mr. Martin sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. It rallied a generation of young people who refused to accept white police officers regularly killing unarmed Black people, not unlike how white Americans regularly lynched Black Americans in the early 20th century.

Simply put, that passage is indefensible. Also, it's now the plainly mandated norm here in the streets of Our Town.

That passage slanders the members of a jury. It heavily edits known facts. That said, the current era in Our Town began with the death of Trayvon Martin. By now, we have developed these mandated procedures:

We select one species of death to report and discuss. No other deaths need apply.

When we discuss some particular death, we thoroughly edit known facts. We invent some of our "facts." We disappear other accurate facts, and we sometimes focus on wholly irrelevant facts. 

This is the way Our Town rolls.

The world would be a better place if Trayvon Martin, age 17, wasn't shot and killed that night. But is it true that this young person "was guilty of nothing more that night than walking while Black in a gated community?

Sorry, mofo! We'd completely avoid the word "guilty" ourselves, but we're magically able to remember a wide array of known facts in this unfortunate incident. We can even remember what Ta-Nehisi Coates  wrote about this matter before he came to his senses and reversed himself on a dime, offering no explanation for his sudden flip.

We're no longer reliable here in Our Town, but the experts say we can't help it. They say we're wired for this, dating back into prehistory.

At any rate, it's easy to define what we do in Our Town at this badly fraught time. We select certain deaths to discuss, then we start selecting our "facts."

The Others are crazy, we constantly say. In that assessment, we're frequently right,. But we very rarely stop to assess what we're all about in Our Town.

Long ago and far away, Chuck D founded Public Enemy. No one said that the group's reports were standard journalism. 

We'll guess that Chuck D did a whole lot of good. We actually saw him, happier now, on an ESPN discussion show just this Tuesday or Wednesday.

Chuck D came forward with Public Enemy. The rest of that is history. Meanwhile, what is Gödel alleged to have proven? And can we possibly still have nice things, perhaps in the afternoons?

Chuck D and Flavor Flav came forward with Public Enemy. On balance, we'd call last weekend's Sunday Review an unfettered Public Embarrassment. 

Forgive us if we limit ourselves to such complaints as we've already aired. Critiques like these are utterly pointless, or at least so we've been told.

This afternoon: Woke Gerson, in three steps

We gave the analysts permission to smile...

THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2021

...when the Post dealt with UFOs: We were struck by an array of offerings in this morning's New York Times.

On page A1, the paper continued to serve as the PR arm for one participant in the Gates / French Gates divorce. Meanwhile, on the front page of Thursday Styles, Vanessa Friedman penned a lengthy cri de coeur concerning a topic dear to her heart:

Why are moguls from the fashion industry demonized in Hollywood films?

Friedman's anguished cri de coeur ("cry of heart") goes on and on and on. Meanwhile, on the op-ed page, a guest essay appeared beneath these headlines:

We Aren’t as Selfish as We Think
Americans are individualists, but not self-centered.

The essay describes some research findings which sound a bit far-fetched. And yes, we even clicked through to review the way this judgment had been reached:

For our research, we gathered data from 152 countries concerning seven distinct forms of altruism and generosity. The seven forms included three responses to survey questions administered by Gallup about giving money to charity, volunteering and helping strangers, and four pieces of objective data: per capita donations of blood, bone marrow and organs, and the humane treatment of nonhuman animals (as gauged by the Animal Protection Index).

Had data been gathered from 152 countries concerning the humane treatment of nonhuman animals, as gauged by the Animal Protection Index? We undertook to find out.

When we clicked through to examine that index, we seemed to find that only 50 countries had been evaluated and ranked. Nor were we completely convinced by the  criteria which had been used, all of which had helped a group of researchers draw some rather fuzzy conclusions.

There's almost always something in the Times which doesn't quite seem to make sense. That said, an editorial insertion in this morning's Washington Post took the cake for this particular day.

In print editions, a guest column appears today beneath this apparently anodyne headline:

We need to put science at the center of the UFO question

In the essay, a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a research scientist at a different space institute discuss the forthcoming government report on UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena). To make a short story even shorter, the authors end their essay with this:

KOPPARAPU AND HAQQ-MISRA (5/27/21): We need to frame the current UAP/UFO question with [a high] level of active inquiry, one involving experts from academia in disciplines including astronomy, meteorology and physics, as well as industry and government professionals with knowledge of military aircraft, remote sensing from the ground and satellite observations...

Without robust, credible data mined by mainstream scientists, UAP studies will always be viewed as fringe science. With a systematic collection of new data, and access to all existing data, we can apply scientific rigor to what has been observed and documented.

Ultimately, understanding UAP is a science problem. We should treat it that way.

"Understanding UAP is a science problem," the pair of scientists wrote. "We should treat it that way."

That's the way their essay ended. Amusingly, editors at the Washington Post then added this disclaimer:

The views expressed are the authors’ own.

Seriously—that's what it says. You can look for yourself!

"Do I amuse you?" Joe Pesci once asked. Turning to the analysts, we gave them permission to laugh.


THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2021

The IQ of Our Town: For ourselves, we've been allowing ourselves to have nice things, at least in the afternoons.

We're allowing ourselves to spend some time with Stephen Budiansky's new book, Journey to the Edge of Reason: The Life of Kurt Gödel. 

The goal of our exploration is this:

To see if Budiansky can explain Gödel's "Incompleteness Theorem." More specifically, to see if Budiansky can make this topic accessible to "general readers."

How is Budiansky doing so far? At this point, we'll only say this:

Even before he starts Chapter 1, Budiansky offers a six-page Prologue. In the main, he uses notes from Gödel's psychiatrist to describe Gödel's terrible psychiatric state in the years before his death in 1978, at age 71.

(Gödel, who was 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighed 65 pounds at the time of his death, largely due to something resembling self-starvation.)

Gödel was gripped by paranoia and delusional thinking in, let's say, the last decade of his life. In his Prologue, Budiansky focuses on this terrible state of affairs.

That said, he offers a brief overview of Gödel intellectual work in his book's first paragraph. In this, the first paragraph of his Prologue, Budiansky offers this first brief account of that work:

MARCH 1970. The psychiatrist moved his pen swiftly across the yellow sheets of lined notebook paper, recording facts, strange and mundane, about his new patient. Einstein had called him "the greatest logician since Aristotle," and even in Princeton, the town with more Nobel Prize winners than traffic lights, his otherworldly genius had stood out. The work he had done forty years earlier, at age twenty-four, had brought fame and recognition from around the world—"the most significant mathematical truth of the century," a staggeringly brilliant and paradoxical proof that no formal mathematical system will ever capture every mathematical truth within its bounds.

But now he was tormented by demons, of failure and persecution...

As described in that opening paragraph, Einstein had referred to Gödel as "the greatest logician since Aristotle."  Also, Gödel had proven "that no formal mathematical system will ever capture every mathematical truth within its bounds."

According to that brief capsule statement, Gödel—the greatest logician in 2500 years—had proved that no formal mathematical system will ever capture every mathematical truth within its bounds. 


Will a general reader have any idea what that formulation means? Without meaning this as a criticism of Budiansky, we'll note that the answer is clearly no.

The general reader will have no idea what a "formal mathematical system" is. For that reason, the reader will have no idea how some such system can "capture a mathematical truth," let alone how it can "capture every mathematical truth within its bounds."

What does it mean for a mathematical truth to be "within the bounds" of a "mathematical system?" The general reader will have no idea! Meanwhile, how could such a demonstration have qualified Gödel as "the greatest logician since Aristotle?"

The general reader won't know that either! Whether we're willing to notice or not, here come those crickets again! 

In the opening paragraph of his book, Budiansky provides an account of Gödel's work which general readers won't understand. That doesn't mean that this material won't be clarified later on. For now, though, the general reader will have no idea what Budiansky is talking about.

At present, we're scouring Budianky's book to see if he ever makes this matter clear. 

What did Gödel actually prove? Indeed, did he ever prove anything at all? Our training, along with advice from experts, teaches us that the answer to that latter question may not even be yes! 

We wouldn't sweat that the greatest logician proved anything at all! But as we let ourselves have nice things in the afternoon, we're trying to see if Budiansky can explain what Gödel is alleged to have proven:

We're trying to see if Budiansky can explain the Incompleteness Theorem in a way a general reader, a rube like us, can actually understand.

We're letting ourselves have those nice things, but only in the afternoons. In the mornings, we're thrown to the mercy of Our Town's greatest newspapers.

That work there is often quite poor. This morning's New York Times, for example, offers an array of articles which largely function as a series of muddles inside a large mud puddle.

Last weekend, this same muddle-minded newspaper tackled a very important topic. Forgive us if we wait till tomorrow to report what Reverend Barber said, or to visit Kristof and Healy.

Our Town is in a lot of trouble. Meanwhile, as various experts have noted, Our Town just doesn't reason real well, especially on topics like this.

Also, what did  Gödel actually prove? Did Gödel prove anything at all? 

Experts say these puzzles are interrelated. It's love in the afternoon(s)!

Tomorrow: What Reverend Barber said

Professor discusses only one species of death!


Does Our Town's practice make sense?: Yesterday morning, Professor Glaude performed the mandated winnowing.

That evening, it would be Sherrilyn Ifill, who we greatly admire. That morning, in the Washington Post, it was Professor Glaude. 

Does this peculiar procedure make sense? Hard-copy headline included:

GLAUDE (5/25/21): It is painful to remember. We have to remember.

Anniversaries of death can be tricky occasions. There is the life remembered. All the moments of joy flood in on this day: the unique laugh, the corny jokes, that special smile. Then there is the intimacy of loss. The reminder that the person you loved is gone forever. The grief is constant, especially if the person you loved did not die right. Covid-19 snatched them away. The police stole their last breath. Nothing anyone can do can right the loss. The anniversary throws you deep into sorrow, but you have to remember. Forgetting would be a sin against God.


A year ago Tuesday, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Millions of people witnessed his death, because Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old Black woman, refused to turn away from the cruelty of Chauvin and three fellow officers. Her video sparked protests across the country and around the world as people demanded police reform. Chants of “defund the police” emboldened some and deepened the fears of others. The trial and conviction of Chauvin signaled that, perhaps, we might be on the verge of substantive change—even as politicians clamored for compromise.

Then we saw the video footage of the deaths of Adam Toledo, the 13-year-old shot in Chicago; Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old shot in Brooklyn Center, just 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis; Andrew Brown Jr., killed by police in Elizabeth City, N.C.; and so many more. Their deaths dampened the jubilation surrounding the Chauvin verdict, reminding everyone that some things remained the same: The police were still killing Black people. 

For what it's worth, the late Adam Toledo is generally identified as Hispanic, not as black. The question we're left with is this:

Does it make sense to discuss this topic in a way which gives the impression that the only people being killed by police are black?

"Forgetting would be a sin against God?" Under current arrangements, no one is forgetting the decedents in the majority of these cases. Those decedents never get mentioned in the first place, no matter how unjustified their deaths may seem to have been.

Let's take an example:

Professor Glaude mentions Andrew Browne, who was shot from behind as he drove away from police who were trying to arrest him. He says this death should be remembered, and we'd be inclined to agree.

That said, Bijan Ghaisar was shot from behind by Park Police as he drove away from them. He was shot from behind and killed.

Those police officers didn't have a warrant for his arrest. Indeed, he had done nothing wrong. He'd been rear-ended in a fender-bender.

The Washington Post has discussed this peculiar case for several years, but the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar has never been mentioned on the national level. The Post identifies Ghaisar as "white," and such cases don't get discussed on the national level. 

This is an extremely peculiar journalistic practice. But the practice is journalistic law here in our rather strange town.

In fairness to Professor Glaude, he hasn't "forgotten" Ghaisar's death. On the national level, he's never heard a word about it. A few would say that the Princeton professor may not quite seem to care.

By any conventional norm, the current practice, in which we only mention and discuss one particular species of death, is remarkably hard to justify or explain. Beyond that, the practice is guaranteed to create widespread misperceptions.  

But this is plainly the way Our Town rolls, and our most erudite professors are plainly sunk in the practice.

This practice is sure to create misimpressions. Can this practice be justified? 

At present, this practice is law in Our Town. We've asked, you can decide. 

PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT: We only discuss one species of death!


These are the ways Our Town rolls: We were struck, perhaps even a bit disappointed, by something we saw last night on cable TV's Maddow Show.

Maddow was speaking with Sherilyn Ifill, current head on the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund. 

According to our cynical staffers, Maddow was posing, as always. Whatever the truth of that may be, this exchange occurred:

MADDOW (5/25/21): Today, on the first anniversary of George Floyd's death, Mr. Floyd's family visited the president and vice president at the White House. They met with congressional leaders. They are attempting to use the momentum from this somber anniversary to try to move the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This is a bill that's passed the House. It is currently stuck in the Senate. Mr. Floyd's family and frankly the Biden White House are trying everything they can to get it unstuck, to get it passed.

Sherrilyn Ifill leads the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The Legal Defense and Educational Fund at the NAACP is also marking this anniversary today by, among other things, reflecting on the progress toward police reform that has happened in the last year. The progress that's been made possible by the outcry and the protests that has happened ever since Floyd was killed.

She said this today online, she said, quote: "Much will be said about where things stand a year after the murder of George Floyd. Did protests make a difference? Has anything changed? The answer is yes. Is there much more to do and are we facing a strong backlash? Yes and yes."

Joining us now is Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Ms. Ifill, it's an honor to have you here tonight on this really big day. Thank you for being with us.

IFILL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Tell me about the progress that you—that you see as having been made in the past year and what you think made that progress possible.

IFILL: Yes, it's important to take a moment and to recognize what shifts have happened because, you know, the truth is black people are still being killed by the police. They're being killed by police during the Derek Chauvin murder trial, after the Derek Chauvin murder trial. And so, I don't in any way want to suggest that we're out of the woods, or that the kinds of shifts that need to happen have happened...

The discussion continued from there.

For Maddow, it was an honor that Ifill was there on such a really big day. For ourselves, we were struck by Ifill's highlighted statement, which was of course perfectly accurate.

The statement was perfectly accurate! One year after George Floyd's death, black people are still being killed by police officers. 

Also, black people are still being killed by police officers even after the Chauvin trial. Those are just  statements of fact.

No one could say that those statements are false. Those statements are perfectly accurate.

It's also true that lots of people are still being killed, whether justifiably or not, by police officers. We were struck, and also a bit disappointed, to see Ifill address herself only to such decedents who are understood to be "black."

Let's cite one large subset of such decedents. According to the Washington Post's Fatal Force site, just under three people per day are shot and killed by police officers somewhere in the U.S.

Just under three per day! And yes, this pattern continues even after the Chauvin trial.

According to that site, just over half of those decedents are "white;" roughly one quarter are "black." But in recent years, Our Town has adopted the practice Ifill displayed last night—a practice in which we only discuss such incidents if the decedent is black.

By any traditional norm, that's an astonishing way to do business. It's also very much the way Our Town currently rolls.

It's very much the way Our Town's deeply flawed news orgs roll. Despondent experts routinely say there's no other way our deeply flawed species can hope to do business, given the way our deeply imperfect human brains are wired.

We were a bit disappointed in Ifill's remark because we've actually met her. Long ago and far away, we did radio with Ifill on one or perhaps on several occasions. 

She wasn't a huge public figure back then. What she was was extremely sharp.

(We refer to the now-defunct Marc Steiner Show. In 2013, The Nation selected it as the country's Most Valuable Radio Program.)

You rarely run into people that sharp. It disappoints us to see someone so sharp adopt this new tribal practice. We don't expect better from Maddow, who recently expanded on her account of why she never owned a TV set until she and Susan got blackout drunk and ordered a TV set online while they were in that state.

(The network backed her up on that rather strange claim. This is also the way Our Town rolls!)

One other way in which Our Town rolls involve the essay by Talmon Joseph Smith in last weekend's Sunday Review. While still in high school, Smith was stopped by police while driving his parents' SUV, but the white girls got him off.

(For Smith's text concerning the incident, see yesterday's report. The white girls were well-dressed.)

That traffic stop could have ended as one recently ended for Daunte Wright, Smith wrote in his essay. And yes, that certainly could have happened!

It especially could have ended that way if Smith had outstanding warrants on gun charges, and if Smith had then tried to avoid arrest by driving away. Also, if one of the officers had the misfortune of making a tragic mistake, as seems to have happened in the tragic case of Wright.

Smith's highly selective presentation is one other way Our Town rolls. His essay appeared in the New York Times, a newspaper which isn't inclined to tell you why Wright was being arrested that day. 

That said, the sanitization of these incidents—these incidents which are selected for your attention on the basis of "race"—is a major and remarkable part of the way Our Town currently rolls.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but this is the best Our Town can hope to do, or at least so we've been told.

Our brains aren't wired for post-Enlightenment "rational" conduct, major top experts persistently tell us. This even explains why we can't get straight talk about Godel's incompleteness theorems, or at least so we've come to suspect.

More tomorrow on the sanitization of these extremely high-profile fatal events. It has become a mandated part of the way Our Town currently rolls.

This is all Our Town is capable of. Top major scholars have said that!

Tomorrow: Reverend Barber remembers

Who is Talmon Joseph Smith?

TUESDAY, MAY 25, 2021

Where do tribalized novels come from?: Talmon Joseph Smith is an Opinion staff editor at the New York Times.

He's just completing his fifth year out of college (Tufts, class of 2016). He grew up in New Orleans.

Smith wrote one of the essays in Sunday's special collection commemorating the killing of George Floyd. He started with an account of a time he got pulled over while driving his parents' car. His essay started like this:

SMITH (5/23/21): On a humid, windless night several years ago, I was driving my parents’ S.U.V. through the oak-covered back streets of my hometown with four teenage friends. At an empty intersection, I reflexively began turning left before spotting the no-left-turn sign on the traffic light above. I jerked the wheel right, crossed the intersection and headed for the U-turn lane.

Before my friend riding shotgun could even finish joking about my driving, we were surrounded by two blaring cop cars that had been waiting in the shadows nearby. Two officers, their hands placed near the weapons on their right hips, ordered me to lower my window. I did so in a numb state of shock, knowing I was Black, we were underage and there were unopened beers and a bud or two of leftover marijuana in the vehicle.

Stating the obvious, there is no way to verify the accuracy of this lightly novelized account. 

What does it mean when Smith says the police cars were "blaring?" Just how close to their weapons had the officers placed their hands?

Had they placed their hands there in a menacing way, or was that just where their hands went? When Smith says he and his friends were "underage," does he mean underage for drinking? 

Smith is telling a somewhat scary story, but none of us were there. His recollection continued as shown. In this passage, Smith lays the foundation for a bit of targeted mind-reading in which he'll engage later on:

SMITH (continuing directly): But within moments the officers noticed the back seat passengers, my good friends, two young, well-dressed blonde girls. The officers lowered their hands and furrowed their brows. “Who’s your daddy?” the lead officer asked me with a grimace. “What’s he do?”

I nervously told him: a lawyer. Then, he asked us where we went to school. We told him: Ben Franklin, a “good” magnet school. With that, he asked me and my guy friend to step out of the car. He cuffed us, patted us down, then shrugged: “You’re not worth the paperwork.”

They took the weed morsels, the Budweiser, released us, gave us a ticket and told us to go home.

Did the officers see that the girls were well-dressed? People, we're just asking!

All in all, is that the way this actually happened? As far as we know, yes it is. Then too, we weren't actually there.

As Smith continued, he drew a comparison between his reported experience and a different recent event. At this late date in our societal breakdown, we regard what's shown below as a highly familiar though unintentional case of tribalized political porn.

Tomorrow, we'll tell you why:

SMITH (continuing directly): Last month, a police officer shot and killed a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn.—not far from where George Floyd was killed by police 11 months earlier, after being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill.

The fatal shooting of Mr. Wright was a personal reminder of how my own traffic stop by the police might have gone much differently, but for those seconds when my friends’ whiteness and then my own class privilege were revealed; how unfairness is both arbitrary and tiered.

His death was also a harsh reminder for millions of people of how police violence persists unabated, despite the supposed “summer of racial reckoning” last year following Mr. Floyd’s death. There are so many people who now question whether there was a true reckoning that, in certain circles, the term itself is used with half-joking disdain.

The mind-reading turns up there. 

We regard that passage as a sadly familiar case of tribal political porn. Because we think the topics involved in this essay are so important, we think it's unfortunate that the New York Times chose to publish this essay, in this form, in Sunday's special section.

To be clear, we aren't saying that Smith intended to offer propaganda or political porn. We would assume that what he wrote was written in full good faith.

It's also true that some of the things he wrote are plainly accurate:

It's plainly true that his own traffic stop "might have gone quite differently." We know that because that's true of every event which has ever taken place in all of recorded time.

It's also true that a police officer recently shot and killed Daunte Wright, age 20, during a traffic stop. Having said that, we note that Smith is somewhat sparing when it comes to the details of that particular traffic stop and of that particular fatal shooting.

We note that he doesn't state the basis on which Wright was being arrested.  (At that point, he switches to the basis on which George Floyd was being arrested.)

We note that he omits the circumstance which immediately preceded the fatal shooting. (By now, these sorts of omission are virtually required by hard tribal law. We'll note another place in one of these essays where an omission of this type occurs.) 

We note that Smith doesn't mention one apparent peculiar circumstance of this particular shooting—a deeply tragic, deeply unfortunate apparent twist of fate.

Could Smith's traffic stop have gone differently in New Orleans that night? Yes, it certainly could have, though it's also true that it didn't. 

Tomorrow, we'll start at this point as we start to review (a few parts of) the New York Times' special section. For today, we'll only add this:

Disconsolate experts say this kind of work may be bad for the American project and for living things.

The modern-day New York Times lives on work of this type. So, of course, does our failing tribe. We'll suggest the possibility that this pattern and practice isn't especially helpful.

The Others are widely in love with The Crazy. What do we love Over Here?

PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT: How Timespersons see themselves!

TUESDAY, MAY 25, 2021

We'd call this a Public Embarrassment: When Kathleen Kingsbury thought about Patrick Healy, her thoughts turned to his dog-shaped slippers—to the "whimsical loungewear" of his "puppy-shod feet."

Kingsbury quoted a former colleague on that point as she announced Healy's appointment as her deputy on the New York Times editorial board. (For background, see yesterday's report.) Our own thoughts turned to one aspect of Kingsbury's performance during Campaign 2020.

During 2019, the editorial board had interviewed the major Democratic candidates. In the end, they made the somewhat peculiar choice of endorsing two of the hopefuls.

(Given the rapid drift of Modern Times Culture, no one had to be surprised by the two candidates they chose.)

Kingsbury had chaired the lengthy interview sessions with the various candidates. Along the way, she made a point of asking each hopeful this somewhat peculiar question:

KINGSBURY (12/16/19): Sir, we’re running out of time, and I want to get to some economic questions as well as foreign policy. But before that, we have been asking every candidate the same question, which is, Who’s someone who has broken your heart?

That's the way she posed the question to Candidate Biden. Late last month, she was on the dog-shaped slippers beat.

Do moments like these tell us something about Times journalistic culture? We're not sure how to answer that question. 

For ourselves, we found the passage about the dog-shaped slippers to be insultingly dumb, perhaps a bit embarrassing. In fairness, this was possibly just the standard clatter in which high-end, upper-class journalists try to make us rubes believe that the journalists are just regular people like us. 

They're deeply sunk in silliness too, just like us subscribers! They care about dog-themed loungewear too. They want to know who broke your heart!

In part, that may be all that slipperware foolishness was. On the other hand, we found a different strain of TimesThink as we stumbled upon earlier announcements involving Healy. 

In this particular strain of TimesThink, it seems to us that the journalists may be protesting too much. In this second strain of public expression, Timespersons tell the world, and tell themselves, how unutterably brilliant they are.

Should this cultural conduct be cause for concern? That is a matter of judgment—and no, it isn't Healy's fault that such recitations were unloosed in the course of announcing his recent appointments.

But good grief! Back in September 2016, Healy had been named "Deputy Editor in charge of news" at the Times' Culture desk. Culture editor Danielle Mattoon wasn't just thrilled to make the announcement. She said she was thrilled and delighted:

MATTOON (9/30/16): I’m thrilled and delighted to announce that Patrick Healy will be returning to Culture as the next Deputy Editor in charge of news.

Patrick, as anyone following this presidential election knows by now, is a journalistic powerhouse, able to deliver everything from breaking debate and convention coverage to incisive analysis and deep-dive narratives. A tireless reporter who writes beautifully, Pat is also a wise and sophisticated thinker who, time and time again, has clarified the confusing and explained the seemingly inexplicable—usually on deadline.

He’s also a generous colleague and an all-in digital explorer, eagerly embracing the many ways to best convey the news and context of whatever story he is telling. For anyone who missed his brilliant oral history of Bill Clinton’s 1992 resurrection in New Hampshire, take a look here. More recently, he wowed us again with Bush/Gore.

“He’s a remarkable talent and has delivered dazzling coverage of this extraordinary election,” political editor Carolyn Ryan writes. “He has the drive of a reporter but the wider aperture of an editor, with expansive curiosity and eagerness to understand what is happening in the world.”

According to Mattoon, Healy wasn't just a journalistic powerhouse. He was a wise and sophisticated thinker who could explain the inexplicable, and a generous colleague to boot.

Mattoon cited Healy's "brilliant oral history" of the 1992 campaign. (She failed to provide the implied link to the material.) According to Mattoon, Healy had recently "wowed us again," this time with something about Bush/Gore, presumably from Campaign 2000. 

From there, it was on to political editor Carolyn Ryan, who praised Healy as a remarkable talent who had provided dazzling coverage of the 2016 campaign. Just for the record, very few liberals have ever believed that the Times presented such work.

Once again, none of this peculiar behavior was Healy's fault. As she continued, Mattoon lavished praise on the way Healy had once "covered the theater beat for seven years, turning over scoop after scoop as he dug into the intersection of art and business on Broadway." 

His "love and appreciation for the arts began as a child in Scituate, Mass,," she explained as she continued. Only one question seemed to remain:

Why wasn't Healy being named editor in chief and given a generous ownership stake? 

As Mattoon closed her piece, we may have received our answer. Everyone else at the New York Times is just as dazzling as he is:

MATTOON: Patrick will rejoin Culture at an exciting time of innovation and change, bringing new perspective and skills to our incredible and growing team of reporters and critics who are unparalleled around the world.

He’ll be arriving in mid-December. Please join me in welcoming him back!

Given the Times' incredible team of reporters and critics—they're unparalleled around the world—it's hard to believe that anyone could bring new skills and perspectives to the Culture desk. But that's what Healy was going to do. It's no wonder Mattoon was delighted as well as thrilled!

Over the weekend, we stumbled upon these encomia as we considered Healy's work on the Times' collection of essays concerning the death of George Floyd. 

These essays filled the Sunday Review section this weekend. On Saturday, Nicholas Kristof had seemed to phone in another essay—an essay about our public schools—as part of this collection. 

We have no doubt that Patrick Healy is a good, decent person. That said, we thought the work he compiled for this special collection was nauseating, unreadable—a gruesome Public Embarrassment. We're going to guess that ranking Timespersons would voice a different view.

Back in 2015, Ryan had been delighted to say that Healy would be joining the Times' campaign coverage team. By the end of that campaign, many liberals were less than thrilled with the way that coverage went—but Ryan, as part of this peculiar culture, was aggressively pre-gushing:

RYAN (1/23/15): I am delighted to tell you that Patrick Healy is joining our outstanding presidential campaign team as a national political correspondent.

Patrick is an uncommonly gifted reporter, supple writer and journalistic innovator whose career has taken him from Dover, N.H., to Afghanistan, Iraq, two presidential campaigns and the star-crossed production of Spider-Man on Broadway.


Patrick will work closely with Jonathan Martin, our deeply talented and insightful national political correspondent who is helping to lead our election coverage.


Please join me in welcoming Patrick to a spectacularly talented election team.

Healy was uncommonly gifted. He'd be working closely with Jonathan Martin, the Times' deeply talented and insightful national political correspondent, as he joined an election team which was spectacularly talented. 

Should residents of Our Town be concerned by this aspect of Times culture? Should this be a point of concern?

We're not sure how to answer. As we read these peculiar announcements, we did think of those who are sometimes said to be protesting too much. We also thought of the Bushmen of the Kalahari, one of the shortest groups of people on earth, who have long been said to address one another with this standard greeting:

I saw you from afar!

We offer no criticism of that group, but does this practice of group reassurance travel well to the Times? For ourselves, we'll only say this:

On Sunday, we read as much of the work from the Sunday Review as our hearts and minds could stomach. We didn't think it was dazzling work. In fact, we thought the work was so predictably bad that we lost the will to continue.

Can our failing society hope to survive when Our Town keeps churning such work? Some experts say the answer is no. For ourselves, we would have to call that work a bit of a Public Embarrassment.

Tomorrow: No standards need apply

Quite possibly in our afternoons...

MONDAY, MAY 24, 2021

...we'll be able to have nice things: Each morning this week, we'll be looking at the work from this weekend's New York Times—work concerning the anniversary of the death of George Floyd.

The work was very poor. Just maybe, in our afternoons, we'll be able to have nice things.

For today, we'll simply announce the publication of a new biography of Kurt Gödel. The publisher, W. W. Norton, describes it as "the first major biography written for a general audience of the logician and mathematician whose Incompleteness Theorems helped launch a modern scientific revolution."

It's important to note that the new biography has been written "for a general audience." Norton's thumbnail description of the book reads exactly as shown:

Nearly a hundred years after its publication, Kurt Gödel’s famous proof that every mathematical system must contain propositions that are true—yet never provable—continues to unsettle mathematics, philosophy, and computer science. Yet unlike Einstein, with whom he formed a warm and abiding friendship, Gödel has long escaped all but the most casual scrutiny of his life.

Stephen Budiansky’s Journey to the Edge of Reason is the first biography to fully draw upon Gödel’s voluminous letters and writings—including a never-before-transcribed shorthand diary of his most intimate thoughts—to explore Gödel’s profound intellectual friendships, his moving relationship with his mother, his troubled yet devoted marriage, and the debilitating bouts of paranoia that ultimately took his life. It also offers an intimate portrait of the scientific and intellectual circles in prewar Vienna, a haunting account of Gödel’s and Jewish intellectuals’ flight from Austria and Germany at the start of the Second World War, and a vivid re-creation of the early days of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, where Gödel and Einstein both worked.

Eloquent and insightful, Journey to the Edge of Reason is a fully realized portrait of the odd, brilliant, and tormented man who has been called the greatest logician since Aristotle, and illuminates the far-reaching implications of Gödel’s revolutionary ideas for philosophy, mathematics, artificial intelligence, and man’s place in the cosmos.

According to that thumbnail sketch, the greatest logician since Aristotle was the author of a famous proof which continues to unsettle mathematics, philosophy, and computer science. Indeed, the work in question launched "a modern scientific revolution," the publisher has declared.

Stephen Budiansky's new biography of  Gödel is the first such book to fully draw upon his voluminous letters and writings. More significantly, the book has been written for general readers.

Starting tomorrow, we'll have nice things in our afternoons. We'll examine this key question:

To what extent are Budiansky, and / or his reviewers, actually able to explain Gödel’s famous proof? Can Budiansky really explain Gödel’s work in a way which is accessible to general readers?

At present, we can't answer that question; we've only scanned a few chapters. We start with this general perspective:

As the later Wittgenstein noted, much of our badly flawed human discourse proceeds in the face of incoherence and incomprehension. It's like the old joke about the Soviet Union, in which the Soviet worker said this:

We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.

In the realm of public discourse, something similar routinely occurs. The journalists and the professors pretend to explain important theories, and we pretend to understand them. In many cases, we may even believe that we understand, but in the end it's quite clear that we don't.

Has Budiansky been able to explain what Gödel is alleged to have shown? 

At this point, we don't have the slightest idea. But at least our work—our work in these afternoons, that is—won't be propagandistic, desperate, illogical, pure Storyline, harmful and dumb.

Starting tomorrow: PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT!

MONDAY, MAY 24, 2021

Kafka recoils from the Times: Work like this might have made Kafka's Gregor Samsa feel a bit like an insect.

Behavior like this made the young Plato adopt a type of exile. "When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times," he wrote in the Seventh Letter.

One thinks of Antoine Roquentin, the main character in Sartre's 1938 novel, La Nausée  (Nausea). As described by the leading authority, Roquentin "becomes convinced that inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself, on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking in [him] a sense of nausea."

Then too, there was the deeply alienated Meursault, the main character in Camus's famous 1942 novella, L'Étranger  (The Stranger).

(We tend to include John Book, the Harrison Ford character in the 1985 film, Witness. He adopts a type of internal exile out of dismay with the corruption of some police officials and that era's social disintegration.)

We're discussing the aversion we felt over the weekend as we read some of the offerings in the New York Times' latest special section. Such work may have made Gregor Samsa feel a bit like a roach.

For what it's worth, we assume that all the work to which we refer was done in something resembling good faith. But the work was routinely very poor, or so the logicians tell us.

Tomorrow, we'll steel ourselves for the task of discussing these underfed essays. For today, let's offer a note concerning the banality of the journalistic culture from which such essays emerge.

In the special section to which we refer, contributors offered their thoughts on the occasion of the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. In Saturday's print edition, we read Nicholas Kristof's contribution to this special collection. Yesterday, the New York Times' Sunday Review dedicated its space to nine more essays exploring that theme.

This special series was assembled by Patrick Healy, who recently became "Deputy Opinion editor." (We're not fully sure what that means.)

Healy is 28 years out of college (Tufts, class of 1993). He has been at the Times for sixteen years, serving in various capacities.

We have no doubt that Patrick Healy is a good, decent person. Presumably, he had no control over what was said when he was named to his new post.

The announcement of Healy's new assignment was made by Kathleen  Kingsbury, Opinion editor at the Times. Colloquially, she seems to be the head of the Times editorial board.

Late last month, Healy was named deputy head of the board. At the start of her announcement, this is what Kingsbury wrote:

KINGSBURY (4/29/21):  I am delighted to announce that Patrick Healy will be the next deputy editor of Opinion.

Patrick is an accomplished journalist who has excelled in any number of roles at The Times over the past 16 years, showing range, versatility and creativity. A proven leader, he has worked collaboratively and generously across the newsroom with editors and reporters, and teams including Video, Graphics and Audience.

For the past three years, he has served as the  Politics editor, where he deftly and tirelessly led the team through the 2018 midterm elections and then the historic presidential race...[H]e brought out the best in established reporters and editors, while also hiring essential new voices in Times political coverage like Astead Herndon and Lisa Lerer.

Our former colleague Rachel Dry gives a glimpse: “Patrick owns an incredible pair of dog-shaped slippers. He brought them out in New Hampshire in February 2020, and calmly and confidently outlined coverage for the primary in his puppy-shod-feet. A planning doc for every possibility, plus whimsical loungewear, represents what makes him such a generous colleague and friend: He leads with humanity, with knowledge drawn from his wide-ranging experience, and with a commitment to being the best and getting the best out of a team. He leaves big slippers to fill.”

The announcement continued from there. In the next paragraph, Kingsbury noted this: "As a deputy editor in Culture, he expanded news coverage, including creating the ratings hit, Best of Late Night." 

Never mind what that Best of Late Night "news coverage" actually involved. Did you know that our  highest-placed upper-class journalists speak so freely about their orgs' "ratings hits?"

Let us say it again. It isn't Healy's fault that Kingsbury wrote what she did. But yes, that's what she wrote:

Healy has some incredible, dog-shaped slippers! He leaves some very big slippers to fill at his previous post!

Healy's whimsical loungewear "gives us a glimpse," we were told, or something roughly like that. As to what we were getting a glimpse of, we weren't precisely told.

Please understand:

That banality was published by the person who heads the New York Times editorial board. Each person can now decide what that means, or whether it means anything at all.

We would suggest that people willing to traffic in such banality will never help Our Town find a sensible path as our society continues to slide towards the sea. But then, we've been "putting up with this [banal] behavior our whole lives," to borrow from the Ben Johnson character's line in The Last Picture Show.

(The Johnson character said "trashy.")

That film was about a dying Texas town. On Saturday, we were appalled by Kristof's contribution to this weekend's special collection of essays. As Kristof pretended or seemed to be discussing public schools, it seemed obvious to us that he was phoning it in, whether he knew it or not.

On Sunday morning, matters got worse. We reviewed some entries, then quit, recalling an assortment of nausea-ridden characters.

Does a type of moral and intellectual banality define the mental life of Our Town? Our brains are wired in that precise way, major top experts have said!

Tomorrow: Why not start with this?

Jonathan Chait performs "everyday logic!"

SATURDAY, MAY 22, 2021

Not that it would have helped: Aristotle is generally viewed as the founder of western world logic. 

Given the way our discourse currently works, this behavior would be widely viewed as one elitist's sneering attempt to curtail our personal freedoms. 

Today, one man's logic is another man's buzzkill! At any rate, the leading authority on the topic tells us this:

With the Prior Analytics, Aristotle is credited with the earliest study of formal logic, and his conception of it was the dominant form of Western logic until 19th-century advances in mathematical logic. Kant stated in the Critique of Pure Reason that with Aristotle logic reached its completion.

According to that same authority, "Aristotelian logic" is also known as  term logic,  traditional logic or syllogistic logic. Kant notwithstanding, that 19th-century "mathematical logic" moved off in some different directions:

Mathematical logic, also called formal logic, is a subfield of mathematics exploring the applications of formal logic to mathematics. It bears close connections to metamathematics, the foundations of mathematics, philosophy, and theoretical computer science. The unifying themes in mathematical logic include the study of the expressive power of formal systems and the deductive power of formal proof systems. 

Mathematical logic is often divided into the fields of set theory, model theory, recursion theory, and proof theory. These areas share basic results on logic, particularly first-order logic...

Since its inception, mathematical logic has both contributed to, and has been motivated by, the study of foundations of mathematics. This study began in the late 19th century with the development of axiomatic frameworks for geometry, arithmetic, and analysis. In the early 20th century it was shaped by David Hilbert's program to prove the consistency of foundational theories. Results of Kurt Gödel, Gerhard Gentzen, and others provided partial resolution to the program, and clarified the issues involved in proving consistency. Work in set theory showed that almost all ordinary mathematics can be formalized in terms of sets, although there are some theorems that cannot be proven in common axiom systems for set theory. Contemporary work in the foundations of mathematics often focuses on establishing which parts of mathematics can be formalized in particular formal systems (as in reverse mathematics) rather than trying to find theories in which all of mathematics can be developed.

If you don't understand any of that, neither does anyone else! To a large extent, that's our key point.

At any rate, you can call it term logic or syllogistic logic. After that, you can call it mathematical, formal or philosophical logic. 

One thing you really can't call it is everyday or daily logic. That's the kind of logic Jonathan Chait provides in this post for New York magazine.

According to Chait's essay, if you criticize a bunch of people who are all member of some demographic group, that doesn't mean that you hate, or even are criticizing, everyone else in that group.

You may not be criticizing anyone else in that group! No really—that's what Chait says!

That may seem absurdly clear on its face, but given the way our discourse works, there is no inference so plainly illogical that it won't be widely adopted and loudly advanced by one of our warring tribes. For that reason, Chait undertook the Sisyphean task of stating the blindingly obvious.

You can't really call it Aristotelian logic. You can't really call it mathematical logic. We would call it "daily logic," and over the course of the past forty years, we've noticed the silence of the logicians when the society has needed a dose of this invaluable tonic.

Remember when the pundits argued, night after night, about Newt Gingrich's Medicare proposal? We do!

Would the proposal "cut" Medicare, or would it merely slow the rate at which the program would grow? We needed logicians to straighten that out. Their silence was widely observed.

Remember when creative paraphrase was applied every time Candidate Gore opened his mouth? We do!

We needed someone to come forward to outline the logic of sensible paraphrase. Once again, total silence!

Anthropologists say it wouldn't have done any good if the logicians had intervened in our everyday discourse. In the end, that isn't the problem, they say.

The so-called "silence of the logicians" has been obvious and quite widespread, these despondent scholars all say. But no, it wouldn't have helped in the end if our cosseted logicians had stepped up to  perform daily service.

In the end, that isn't the nature of the problem, disconsolate anthropologists tell us. Then they shamble back into their caves, within which loud moaning is heard. 

Jonathan Chait stepped up to the plate and spelled out some everyday logic. Whatever you may want to call them, our varied logicians just haven't. 

We even watched Greg Gutfeld last night. Good God but that program was bad!

Red-faced host starts yelling again!

FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2021

Same old story, we're told: For some reason, the rant on this morning's Morning Joe made us think of Camus' The Stranger.

More specifically, it made us think of the way the classic text begins:

Mother died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: "Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours." That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

Camus' narrator was already deeply estranged and alienated right there at the start of the book.

For whatever reason, that famous passage came to mind when Joe began yelling today. He got very red in the face, and he ended up yelling real loud.

For her part, Mika threw in the occasional chirp. 

Joe was yelling at the Trump supporters who persist in believing that last year's election was stolen. By the end of his four-minute, 27-second tirade, the angry host was shouting thusly:

SCARBOROUGH (5/21/21): This is not about Joe Biden, this stopped being about Joe Biden a long time ago. This is about you. This is about you playing into what every one of our enemies wants you to play into, that American democracy is not worth being trusted, that American democracy is no different than Russia. 

If you believe that, I will say to you what many of you said in the 1960s: America—love it or leave it! 

If you don't have respect in American democracy any more, if you don't respect Madisonian checks and balances if your guy doesn't win, if that's the new rules of engagement for this great republic, then just leave our country, because you're unworthy of it, and there are millions of immigrants who will come here and raise their right hand and buy into the creed and believe that we are exceptional, that believe American democracy is the greatest government on the face of the earth, and they will do it proudly, they will salute the flag proudly, and most importantly, they will fight for what that flag represents, while you shame yourself, while you disgrace yourself, while you disgrace our country in the eyes of the world. Yes, this is all on you.

Get the facts, live in the light, follow the truth and love this country, and stop this—or leave! Or leave, If you're going to believe a reality TV show host's lies about the American republic, his desecration of American exceptionalism, then just get the hell out, we don't want you here. That's all I've got to say.

MIKA: You couldn't have said it better.

JOE: Why, thank you.

MIKA: No, I really appreciate that.

The Others no longer respect Madisonian checks and balances! It's no wonder Joe was so mad!

Just for the record, many of the people in question weren't even alive in the 1960s! At any rate, "Just get the hell out, we don't want you here.  Love it or leave it," Joe said.

You can watch the full tirade at Mediaite. "Joe Scarborough channeled the rant of fictional Network anchor Howard Beale Friday morning," the site's Colby Hall opined.

Again for the record, when we say that Joe was yelling and shouting, Joe was really yelling and shouting. Experts tell us this:

It's entirely possible that the die has already been cast. The spread of The Crazy is very frustrating, but on the bright side, it does provide a startling anthropology lesson. The spread of The Crazy can be hard to take, but there's no clear way out at this point.

Concerning the way Joe screamed and yelled, our experts told us this: 

This is part of the way our human arrangements typically move toward an end. Our brains are hard-wired for this sort of reaction. When things are substantially falling apart, they may tend to just spiral down.

ANTHROPOLOGY UNBOUND: "The mind crashes," the philosopher said!

FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2021

The anthropologist's tale: We were thrilled, but also amused, when we stumbled upon the example of "Meinongianism" reproduced below. 

In our view, the language was transparently silly. In our view, the language was so transparently silly that it illustrated a larger point in a way few people could miss.

The passage to which we refer was written by the leading authority on the work of Alexius Meinong Ritter von Handschuchsheim,  an Austrian "philosopher" of the late 19th century.  

We first broke the news on this matter in Monday's report. In words which mean nothing to anyone in the end, the leading authority had started by saying that Meinong was a "realist" known for his unique "ontology." 

In the end, such argle-bargle can be explained by no one. At that point, though, the leading authority provides pure pleasure live and direct from the gods:

His theory of objects, now known as "Meinongian object theory," is based around the purported empirical observation that it is possible to think about something...even though that object does not exist. Since we can refer to such things, they must have some sort of being. 

Pure delight! Continuing directly: 

Meinong thus distinguishes the "being" of a thing, in virtue of which it may be an object of thought, from a thing's "existence", which is the substantive ontological status ascribed to—for example—horses but not to unicorns. 

Pure pleasure, direct from the gods!

According to Meinong, because we can imagine objects or entities which don't exist, "they must have some sort of being!" 

Their state of "being" differs from their state of "existence," the philosopher went on to say. Or some such thing of some type.

Because we can imagine a unicorn, "it must have some sort of being!" Presumably, the foolishness there is so undisguised that anyone can spot it.

Presumably, anyone can see the peculiar drive to complexification which animates such pointless formulations.

Presumably, anyone can spot the cult of compulsive mystification. The apparent addiction to comically useless mental activity. 

The later Wittgenstein suggested that much of traditional academic philosophy was born within the Cult of Complexification. According to Professor Horwich, the academy eventually decided to deep-six Wittgenstein's later work, specifically because it showed the academy's traditional work to be incoherent and useless.

Can it possibly be that our greatest intellectual giants were lost in fogs of incoherence and comic complexification? This important question came to mind when we read Paul Krugman this morning.

Krugman was writing about the strange career of crypto-currency, which somehow lingers on. We thought of Meinong and the unicorn's "being" when Krugman offered this:

KRUGMAN (5/21/21): First, crypto boosters are very good at technobabble—using arcane terminology to convince themselves and others that they’re offering a revolutionary new technology, even though blockchain is actually pretty elderly by infotech standards and has yet to find any compelling uses.

Second, there’s a strong element of libertarian derp—assertions that fiat currencies, government-issued money without any tangible backing, will collapse any day now. True, Britain, whose currency was still standing last time I looked, went off the gold standard 90 years ago. But who’s counting?

According to Krugman, deluded cryptocurrency boosters "are very good at using arcane terminology to convince themselves and others" that they’re engaged in some sort of  revolutionary advance.

In essence, the later Wittgenstein suggested that traditional philosophy was nothing but "arcane terminology" in service to such illusions. 

Meanwhile, how about that second assertion—the assertion that crypto boosters like to suggest that the world will collapse absent their revolutionary services? Reading that, we thought about the most instructive passage in Professor Goldstein's highly-regarded book from 2005.

The book purports to explain why Kurt Godel was the greatest logician since Aristotle. At issue is Godel's famous incompleteness theorems—theorems built out of certain issues involving "paradox."

Goldstein's book is called Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel. The most puzzling (and instructive) passage in the book says this:

GOLDSTEIN (pages 49-50): Paradoxes, in the technical sense, are those catastrophes of reason whereby the mind is compelled by logic itself to draw contradictory conclusions. Many are of the self-referential variety; troubles arise because some linguistic term—a description, a sentence—potentially refers to itself. The most ancient of these paradoxes is known as the "liar's paradox," its lineage going back to the ancient Greeks. It is centered on the self-referential sentence: "This very sentence is false." This sentence must be, like all sentences, either true or false. But if it is true, then it is false, since that is what it says; and if it false, well then, it is true, since, again, that is what it says. It must, therefore, be both true and false, and that is a severe problem. The mind crashes. 

"The mind crashes," Goldstein says, and we can't say that she's wrong.

But how about it? Should the mind crash in the face of the liar's paradox? Six decades after the later Wittgenstein's death, we were amazed to see a leading philosophy professor presenting such sillybill blather.

Should the mind crash over that "paradox?" Obviously no, it should not. The oddity here is easily explained. The explanation goes like this:

In normal circumstances, before we can say that a statement is false, someone must make a statement! There has to be a pre-existing claim before we can say that it's false!

In the case of "This very sentence is false," there's no pre-existing statement. No one has made a statement yet—and, until someone does, it doesn't make sense to seem to say that the (non-existent) statement is false.

There's no statement yet which could be false! As such, we're looking at a collection of words which don't make any definable sense, except as a bit of a parlor trick.

You can assemble other strings of words which don't make any sense. Here are a few examples:

Strings of words which don't make sense:
Up is down.
"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe."
It's now 3 o'clock on the moon.

For various reasons, those strings of words don't make exactly make sense, each in its own way. But we don't flip out and say that the mind should crash in the face of such presentations. Nor should we let our mind crash if someone seems to say that a statement is false, even though no one has actually made a statement.

Goldstein builds upon this ancient example as she explains, or at least as she tries to explain, Godel's famous theorems. For our money, her attempts to explain Godel's alleged theorems are so heavily jargon-laden—so weighted down by technobabble—that they will prove useless for the general reader, whether the general reader recognizes that or not. 

That said, a top anthropologist came to us with a more radical tale. Tipping her cap to Cather's "Pioneer Woman," she told us this in the dark hour of night:

The anthropologist's story:

The human brain was wired in prehistory for tribal survival, this top expert said. The human brain was never wired for delicate analytical tasks.

The human brain was also wired for tribal solidarity—for consensus rather than nuance. According to this despondent scholar, this explains the way the academy joined ranks, as Horwich describes, to drive the later Wittgenstein from the public square, like the admittedly annoying Socrates before him.

This expert scholar connected her story to modern-day events. 

Stop expecting rational conduct on any side, she despondently said. We humans were never the rational animal. We're tribal all the way down.

She also offered fascinating perspective on the phenomenon she called The Absence of the Scholars:

First, the logicians stayed away during the Reagan / Bush / Clinton-Gore years. The wider world needed their help with various major issues involving "daily logic." But this group has always lived in separation from the realm of the everyday. 

In truth, they're largely a group of Meinongs, she said. They puzzle about the unicorn's "being" as opposed to its "existence." They're inclined to fiddle in such ways as the society burns.

Then we reached the most heart-rending part of this scholar's tale. Today, it's the anthropologists who need to speak up. But they won't, she declared.

"The anthropologists need to tell us why we're sliding toward the sea," this unparalleled expert said. "In the end, it happens to every large society. Now it will happen to us."

We humans are built to divide into tribes and force other points of view out. Or so the disconsolate scholar said, before shambling back into a cave from which loud wailing  soon emerged.

Three cheers for Meinong, we'd happily said, thrilled by the banality of his comically complexified so-called "theory of objects."

No one could fail to see the absurdity, we had thoughtfully said. But according to the anthropologist's tale, we humans simply aren't made for such work. Also, we never were!

The occupation once known as the war in Iraq!

THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2021

Also, defund the pollsters: Joe Biden managed to win the White House, but Democrats did surprisingly poorly in last November's House elections.

The party clings to a narrow majority in the House. In this morning's Washington Post, Paul Kane reports on the party's attempt to figure out why. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney was put in charge of the project. 

Let's ignore Maloney's complaints about the way the slogan, "Defund the police," was subjected to "lies" by the Others. Instead, let's focus on an apparent second claim—in part, Democratic candidates were undermined by bad polling. 

Did bad polling do the Democrats in? Kane offers a puzzling example:

KANE (5/20/21): Maloney’s “Deep Dive” had to both review past mistakes while helping prepare for the fast-approaching midterm elections, when the majority could very easily slip away.

Polling missed the Trump surge at the very end.

In one of three very competitive Iowa races, a final poll predicted that Democrats who were not frequent voters would make up 5 percent of the total electorate, while similarly low-turnout Republicans would account for just 4 percent of voters.

In reality, 5.9 percent of voters were low-propensity Republicans and just 4.7 percent were infrequent Democratic voters, providing the narrow margin of victory for the GOP candidate.

What a strange example! According to Kane, polling in one Iowa district said that 5 percent of the turnout would be low propensity Democrats. In fact, the number turned out to be only 4.7 percent!

That strikes us as amazingly high-precision polling. In Kane's report, it's offered as one of two examples of the ways Democrats were done in by faulty polling.

That example of lousy polling made no sense at all. Similarly, we were puzzled by something we read in the New York Times about progressive teen-aged activists.

According to Ellen Barry's report, the uncontrollable youngsters are mucking things up for Massachusetts Democrats. Along the way, Barry offered this weird description of Senator Ed Markey, an original favorite in whom the young activists are now disappointed:

BARRY (5/20/21): Though Mr. Markey’s voting record on foreign policy was no secret—he voted to authorize the occupation of Iraq in 2002, for example—it had faded into the background in their embrace of his candidacy, which focused heavily on his record on climate. Now, the group chats and Slack channels that comprise the Markeyverse were flooded with emotion, disappointment and betrayal.

Markey "voted to authorize the occupation of Iraq in 2002?" Are we talking about the occupation once known as "the war in Iraq?"

We don't think we've ever seen that unfortunate vote described in so forgiving a way. Truly, we think we see something new every day!

Whatever intentions lay behind it, "Defund the police" was an ill-advised slogan. No one had to "lie" about it, although some people probably did.

Meanwhile, the polling in that Iowa district sounds amazingly sharp. Who knows where the news comes from in this best of all possible towns?

ANTHROPOLOGY UNBOUND: Moving ahead to 2 + 2!

THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2021

The anthropologist's question: As we've acknowledged, it's easy to make fun of this apparently silly, "1 + 1" academic stuff.

As the poet so thoughtfully said, Easy to be hard! 

That said, the anthropologist's question remains—and it remains unanswered. Before we quote this credentialed expert, let's get ourselves moving right along:

Let's move to 2 + 2.

Those twins appear, though in disguised form, in Rebecca Goldstein's 2005 general interest book, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel. 

The book was intended for general readers. 2 + 2 shows up in the early passage where Professor Goldstein tries to explain what modern-day "Platonism" is.

For the record, Goldstein is a ranking philosophy professor and a well-regarded novelist. In terms of the academic / high intellectual firmament, she's a significant player.

Incompleteness was well-regarded, and was extremely well-blurbed. That said, we regard the book as fascinating because so much of it doesn't seem to make sense. The passage to which we refer goes exactly like this:

GOLDSTEIN (page 44): [S]ince Godel's field is mathematics, the "out yonder" in which he is interested is the domain of abstract reality. His commitment to the objective existence of mathematical reality is the view known as conceptual, or mathematical realism. It is also known as mathematical Platonism, in honor of the ancient Greek philosopher...

Platonism is the view that the truths of mathematics are independent of any human activities, such as the construction of formal systems—with their axioms, definitions, rules of inference and proofs. The truths of mathematics are determined, according to Platonism, by the reality of mathematics, by the nature of the real, though abstract entities (numbers, sets, etc.) that make up that reality. The structure of, say, the natural numbers (which are the regular old counting numbers: 1, 2, 3, etc.) exists independent of us, according to the mathematical realist...and the properties of the numbers 4 and 25—that, for example, one is even, the other is odd and both are perfect squares—are as objective as are, according to the physical realist, the physical properties of light and gravity.

According to that puzzling passage, Godel was committed to "the objective existence of mathematical reality," whatever that might mean. This view, whatever it may turn out to be, is known as "mathematical Platonism," or as "Platonism" for short.

What does Platonism turn out to be? Before she gives a few examples, Goldstein offers this puzzling account:

"The truths of mathematics are determined, according to Platonism, by the reality of mathematics," Goldstein unhelpfully says.

We almost sense the ghost of Meinongianism in that puzzling opening statement. But then, the examples appear:

According to Platonism, we're now told, "the properties of the numbers 4 and 25—that, for example, one is even, the other is odd and both are perfect squares—are as objective as are, according to the physical realist, the physical properties of light and gravity."

Is the number 4 even? We would agree that it is! In fact, anyone would agree that the number 4 is even, just so long as the person in question knows what the meaning of "even number" is.

An "even" number is any number which can be divided into two equal, whole-number parts. And since 4 can be split into 2 + 2, every schoolchild will understand that the number 4 is "even!"

What could any of that have to with someone's being a "Platonist?" What could any of that have to do with a "commitment to the objective existence of mathematical reality," whatever that formulation might turn out to mean?

Anyone who knows the meaning of the term would agree that the number 4 is even; it's as simple as 2 + 2! What could any of this have to do with some vast philosophical "commitment," of the type Goldstein ascribes to the Platonist?

The ghost of Meinong linger in that prose—the ghost of the Austrian philosopher who engaged in the conceptual madness of saying, as part of a "theory of objects," that even though unicorns don't exist, they must have some type of being. (See Monday's report.)

By way of difference, Meinong wrote in the late 1800s. Goldstein's book appeared in 2005. 

Goldstein's initial stab at defining Platonism seemed to make no sense at all. But then, a mere two pages later, she extended her exploration, quoting a very well-known figure from the 1940s. That passage started like this:

GOLDSTEIN (page 45-46): Godel's mathematical Platonism was not in itself unusual. Many mathematicians have been mathematical realists...G.H. Hardy (1877-1947), an English mathematician of great distinction, expressed his own Platonist convictions in his classic A Mathematician's Apology, with no apology at all.

Hardy was a Platonist too, as are many mathematicians!

Goldstein then presented a lengthy excerpt from Hardy's famous text. Hardy was a highly-regarded mathematician, but the excerpt presented in Goldstein's book makes no obvious sense. This is the excerpt she presented, exactly as it was presented:

I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover or observe it, and that the theorems which we prove, and which we describe grandiloquently as our "creations," are simply our notes of our observations. This view has been held, in one form or another, by many philosophers of high reputation from Plato onwards, and I shall use the language which is natural to a man who holds it...

[T]his realistic view is much more plausible of mathematical than of physical reality, because mathematical objects are so much more than what they seem. A chair or a star is not in the least like what it seems to be; the more we think of it, the fuzzier its outlines become in the haze of sensation which surrounds it; but "2" or "317" has nothing to do with sensation, and its properties stand out the more clearly the more closely we scrutinize it. It may be that modern physics fits best into some framework of idealistic philosophy—I do not believe it, but there are eminent physicists who say so. Pure mathematics, on the other hand, seems to me a rock on which all idealism founders: 317 is a prime, not because we think so, or because our minds are shaped in one way rather than another, but because it is so, because mathematical reality is built that way.

Hardy said he believed "that mathematical reality lies outside us," whatever that might mean. Trafficking in some monumentally fuzzy philosophical terms (idealism v. realism), he went on to offer an example of what he means:

In that passage, he said that 317 is a prime, "not because we [merely] think so," but because "mathematical reality is built that way." This would seem to make Hardy a "Platonist," according to Goldstein's book.

That said, everyone on the face of the planet agrees that 317 is a prime. You simply have to know what the term "prime number" means, then be willing to execute a very small amount of long division. 

(You can stop after you've tried dividing by 19.)

As you will quickly see, 317 can be divided evenly by no number except 1 and itself—and that's the definition of a prime! It's hard to know how any of this is supposed to lead us on to some complex philosophical theory, some theory dating all the way back to Plato in his famous, bewildering cave.

What was Goldstein talking about in her well-blurbed book? It seems to be true that many mathematicians regard themselves as "Platonists." But it's also true that Hardy, who actually was a great mathematician, was a complete and total bust when it came to defining this alleged belief.

Sadly, the same problem afflicted Goldstein when she offered her own examples of Platonism, including one example as simple as 2 + 2. But even as late as 2005, this was the world into which a youngster would be drawn when he or she decided to sign on as a philosophy major!

Does any of this make any sense? To appearances, no, it doesn't. Nor is this the part of Goldstein's book which struck us as most remarkably odd—which we we found most strikingly incoherent.

This leads us to the anthropologist's question! Sadly, though, time is fleeting. We'll save that for tomorrow.

Tomorrow: The anthropologist's tale