The ways we reason in our own blue towns!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2021

No Crazy Claim Left Behind: Jason Johnson is a "cable news" professor serving our own blue tribe.

He also has his own podcast at Slate. Yesterday, in a new edition, he spoke about the frequent casting of interracial couples in current TV ads.

Those TV ads are a somewhat surprising manifestation. We've never seen a discussion of the marketing strategy behind these ads.

That said, those ads are also a manifestation which lets kids with parents of different "races" see similar couples on TV. In theory, this could also be instructive for kids who aren't personally familiar with interracial couples. It could let those children begin to see that love and romance and even marriage can work this new, different way too.

At any rate, President Biden has frequently commented on these TV ads. Below, you see what Professor Johnson had to say about this offensive phenomenon. 

Move to the 15-minute mark. He spoke with Khalil Muhammad:

PROFESSOR JOHNSON (9/17/21): Biden has said more than once, he's cited interracial couples in commercials as signs of progress on race. I’m going to tell you this, Khalil, because this is a key thing for me. Not only did I find that offensive. Not only did I write a piece about it in The Grio, but I have actually found the spate of interracial relationships in both commercials and television to actually be kind of an act of violence...

The professor has actually found those TV ads to be "kind of an act of violence." As he continued, he "explained" his peculiar remark:

PROFESSOR JOHNSON (continuing directly): And the reason why is because they are not reflective of actual demographic changes in this country. And second, the relationships still seem to be, they're sort of mock progress. You know, 86 percent of African-American men who are married in this country are married to black women; 92 percent of black women in this country who are married are married to black men. And yet, and I’ve done my own research on this, over 70 percent of interracial couples on television, it's always a white guy and a black woman. 

Yes, that was the "explanation." Let's consider what the professor said. 

(For an error-riddled Slate transcript, you can just click here.)

First, the professor said that these TV ads "are not reflective of actual demographic changes in this country." Presumably, he meant that, on a proportional basis, there are more interracial couples on TV than there are in the general population.

That may or may not be true; let's assume it is. Would that even begin to explain why those ads should be seen as "an act of violence?" 

Tribal loyalty will instruct you to cast about for a way to say that it does. Simple rationality, however construed, will tell you that it doesn't.

The professor's explanation continued from there. He now seemed to say that the interracial relationships which exist in real life "still seem to be, they're sort of mock progress." 

Or he might have meant that about the interracial relationships seen on TV. By the time he got through talking, it wasn't clear what he meant.

Whatever it was he actually meant, he turned to statistics to prove his point. Saying he'd done his own research, he ended with this mangled claim:

"Over 70 percent of interracial couples on television, it's always a white guy and a black woman."

Over 70 percent of the time, it's always a white guy and a white woman! Aside from the comical non sequitur involved in that statement, it's unclear how that statistic (if accurate) relates to his previous statistics (if accurate). And none of this begins to explain why those TV ads can be seen as "an act of violence," the statement we rode in on.

Here in Our Town, it's easy to see the craziness which is being widely displayed by quite a few of The Others. But our own blue towns increasingly run on a sad rule of thumb, especially when our cable professors start talking.

Increasingly, our blue towns run on this sad rocket fuel:

No Absurd Statement Left Behind!

Increasingly, this is the way we live Over Here, within our blue tribe, especially when we talk about matters of gender and race. Disconsolate anthropologists insist that our human brains are wired to produce such tribalized claims and have been all along.

We humans are the tribal animal! That's what the experts all say. 

On Fox, they play the tape of our cable professors and tell The Others how crazy We are.  When they make such moves on Fox, it's hard to say that they're totally wrong.


BLUE SKILL LEVELS VERY LOW: Blow explains why he writes...

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2021

...but also, his dinner near Hef: Will Casey Parks' lengthy report generate a discussion?

Actually no, it won't. You've seen it mentioned nowhere but here, and you're going to see it mentioned nowhere ever again.

Her report connects to no prior discussion. The fact is, nobody cares about the topic Parks explored in last Sunday's lengthy, detailed report.

No one has cared about that topic for a good long time. More specifically, no one has cared about that topic here in our own blue towns. 

Within our blue political tribe, our journalists care about which kids will go to Stuyvesant High (or to Thomas Jefferson in Virginia), with a chance to advance to Yale. There's no other part of this topic to which our tribe is known to respond.

Charles Blow's son does (or did) go to Yale. Stating the obvious, there's no reason why he shouldn't. 

Blow himself doesn't write about the general topic addressed by Parks' visit to the Holmes County schools in the Mississippi Delta. That said, this Monday he offered an inspiring column under the headline, "Why I Write."

The column was filled with words of self-praise. Headline included, the column started like this:

BLOW (9/13/21): Why I Write 

One of my favorite aunts was desperately poor, like many people I knew in rural north Louisiana. I don’t know how much money she had or made. I only know the shadow of need that stalked her. She seemed, like many members of my family, one paycheck or severe injury away from insolvency.

Blow described the desperate poverty of the rural South. Eventually, he fell to the task of explaining why he writes. 

Blow described the conditions he found when he visited his aunt "when my [his] children were young." The poverty he described was extreme. In the passage, he described his thoughts and his reactions:

BLOW: I sat there thinking about the great divide among us, about how far removed I now was from this life, but also about how very connected I was, spiritually, to it.

And I was conflicted. How much could I or should I help? I have had long talks with my mother about this. Other than a little money in greeting cards, there wasn’t much that I could do for all the people I knew in need.

The problem was not about personal generosity, but rather public policy and indifference. The best thing I could do was to advocate for all.

When I visited my aunt, I was working at The New York Times. I had been poor, but I no longer was. And yet, it was important to me then, and remains important to me now, that I remained connected to that poverty, so that I could write about it from a genuine place.

Already, Blow was working for the Times. He was no longer poor, but he wanted to remain connected to that desperate poverty, so that he could write about it from a genuine place. 

According to Blow's column, this is why he writes. As he continued, the song of self became more explicit and perhaps a tiny bit maudlin. 

BLOW: There were two bits of advice I remember receiving when I first became a columnist, although I don’t recall from whom they came.

One was to write what you know. Write about some of your most intimate experiences, the things that you can’t stop thinking about no matter how hard you try.

The other was that columnists should be like an orchestra, each playing a different instrument, but together making music.

I decided that in that orchestra I was going to play the banjo. I was not a big-city writer. I was a small-town country boy from the South. I had not grown up with wealth and privilege. I had struggled, and at times, my family had barely scraped by. I had not gone to fancy prep schools or Ivy League colleges, but a small high school that had served Black students since the late 1800s and to a historically Black college, Grambling State University, the closest university to my hometown.

Others can be all fancy and such. He has decided to play the banjo! That's who he is and was.

Apparently, if there's one person who hates the wealth and the privilege, it has to be Charles Blow. In the closing paragraph of his column, he links himself to Maya Angelou, so great is his devotion to these heartfelt themes:

BLOW: Maya Angelou once said that whenever she embarked on a project, she brought everyone who had ever been kind to her with her, not physically, but spiritually. In the same way, whenever I sit down to write, everyone who has ever struggled as I have sits down with me.

As with Steinbeck's Preacher Casey—no known relation—so too here!

For the record, it may well be that Blow does "hate the wealth and the privilege" in some manner or other. We'll only say that he doesn't seem to write about institutional disasters like those which Journalist Casey described in the Holmes County schools. 

Nor does he write about the kids who attend low-income schools right there in New York City. In fairness, no one in the upper-class press corps writes about such topics either. 

In reality, no one cares about those kids here within our self-impressed tribe, and this fact has been apparent for a very long time.

As a general matter, columnists don't bare their souls in heartfelt columns like the one Blow wrote. To our ear, it didn't necessarily ring entirely true.

In general, though, blue commenters loved it. The first two offered these remarks:

COMMENTER FROM YONKERS: A beautifully expressed and written tour-de-soul. I am reminded of the words of Invictus ... [quotation deleted]

COMMENTER FROM WASHINGTON STATE: ...You write for me.  And for all of us who hunt for your columns and re-read most of them.  You write for the voiceless, and for the marginalized and for those who need to listen to your stories because their lived experience is so far removed from yours.  You write to be certain the banjo is heard in the great orchestra of opinions and reporting.  You write to bring compassion and reason and balance and perspective to counterbalance the noise of right-wing media and ignorant pundits.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Some commenters did offer dissents, including some from a conservative direction. But one blue reader after another thanked Blow, a national treasure, for baring his soul in this way.

Why did Blow write this somewhat unusual column that day? We can't answer your question. 

We did think of his previous column, and of some pushback he had received. In print editions, it had been published two days before and it stirred unrest in the ranks.

Blow's previous column was a rumination on 9/11. Many liberal commenters were puzzled by the column, which bore this slightly odd headline:

Our Children Will Never Know the Innocence We Knew

Blow's thesis was that the 9/11 attacks "changed us, fundamentally," removing our previous innocence. He closed by saying this:

BLOW (9/11/21): People of my generation will never know again what my children’s generation only tasted: an innocence and obliviousness about threat and danger. I am—we all are—covered forever with a bit of the ash from those towers.

His children's generation had "tasted an innocence and obliviousness about threat and danger," an innocence and obliviousness which was blown away that day? His own generation had apparently known that innocence over a much longer period.

Taken literally, this struck us as a peculiar statement. In part, it seemed to contradict a prevailing tribal theme about racial danger—a tribal theme which has the advantage of being largely accurate. Many readers took it that way and roasted Blow in comments.

Two day later, Blow was out with "Why I Write." As we read it, we thought of another possible oddity in the 9/11 column—a possible oddity which fewer commenters mentioned.

We had been struck by the point at the time. The passage in question was this:

BLOW: A couple of weeks after the attack, I went to dinner at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, just a mile or two from ground zero, where the massive mound of rubble where the twin towers once stood was still simmering. You could smell the metal in the air.

Hugh Hefner was also at the restaurant that night, surrounded by a group of women who looked remarkably similar. Other women occasionally made their way from their tables to his, smiling and laughing and posing for pictures.

I thought for a moment: Could there be a shoulder shrug any more symbolic and uniquely American than Hefner hamming it up in a banquette full of blondes? Was this what “not letting the terrorists win” looked like?

No, it wasn’t. This whole battle of optics was a fiction. Of course the terrorists had achieved their goal of forever altering us. I, like most Americans, would have to admit that I, too, was irrevocably changed.

We were surprised by that passage. In some ways, it surprised us to think that Blow was dining out within weeks of 9/11 at all. Mainly, though, it surprised us to learn that, as far back as 2001, he was dining in a restaurant which sounded a bit like an upper-end Manhattan celebrity joint.

Several commenters mentioned that very point. Two days later, to the applause of the crowd, Blow explained who he actually is, but also why he writes.

One blue commenter after another swallowed that second column whole. Anthropologists say that we humans tend to be like that—that we tend to believe the things our anointed tribal leaders tell us, especially at times of partisan war.

(According those same experts, we shouldn't reflexively trust tribal leaders. Red and blue alike, however, we humans tend to underperform with respect to this very key skill.)

At any rate, no one has written about Parks' report, and no one ever will. Manifestly, no one cares about the kids who attend those horrific Holmes County schools, or about their parents and aunts, some of whom, to this day, are struggling with rural deep poverty.

Your lizard may say that our assessment is wrong. But Parks' essay connects to no ongoing discussion, and you will never see her essay mentioned ever again.

You'll never see it mentioned! At the Times, they worry about who might get to go to Yale, and they worry about no one else. These are blindingly obvious facts, except to the tribally blinded. 

In closing, two disclosures:

"Hef" may have been dining at Arby's that night!  We don't know where Blow chose to dine that night, or who else might have chosen to dine there.

Also, we don't know the state of Charles Blow's soul. We assume he's a good, decent person, but he mainly produces tribal stock about loathing The Very Bad Others, and he never writes about the type of deep rural poverty which afflicts the Holmes County schools.

In fairness, neither does anyone else. Here in our tribe, as everyone knows, we simply don't care about topics like that, except as a matter of theory.

Also this: As David Brooks notes today, Orwell wrote a famous essay entitled, "Why I Write." 

Blow is aligned with Angelou. Is he aligned with Orwell too?


BLUE SKILL LEVELS VERY LOW: Is Holmes County the typical rural school district?

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2021

Charles Blow, in love with the poor: We were sorry to read this photo caption in today's New York Times:

Amanda Gorman, poet and co-chair of the gala, wore a bright blue dress designed by Vera Wang. She carried a clutch that looked like a book titled “Give Us Your Tired.”

The gala in question was the Met Gala, We were sorry to read that Gorman was there, along with so many others.

Most simply put, the Met Gala is Manhattan's annual Sturges Rally for the rich, dumb and influential. The inanity is fully celebrated in this morning's New York Times, all through the Thursday Styles section. 

The gala accompanies New York Fashion Week. In this morning's print edition alone, the featured headlines are these:

Lorde, Tom Ford and Kacey Musgraves Party During Fashion Week
Despite the Delta variant, the fashion tribe found lots of reason to celebrate.

New York Fashion Week Returns. Here’s the Cliffs Notes Version.
In case you missed it, a tour through our coverage of the shows.
How New York Is New York Fashion?
An infusion of out-of-town talent brings a jolt of energy to Men’s Day at New York Fashion Week.
Red Carpet Radicals: The Met Gala Really Wanted to Make a Statement
This year’s theme was American Independence. Patriotism, pop culture and politics were in fashion, but to what end?

‘Stick It to the Man’ and Other Lessons From the Met Gala Cocktails
Guests found many moments to reflect on contemporary American life.

For the record, four more reports appeared beneath a single "The Stories Behind the Looks" heading. We'll spare you the names and the details, other than to report that Billie Eilish has apparently made a daring choice:

She's decided to deep-six the fur!

Malala Yousafzai wasn't there. Neither was Greta Thunberg. These absences would possibly signal hope for the future, if any such hope for the future could rationally exist.

AOC was at the Gala, as you've undoubtedly heard. Most simply put, wealth / power / celebrity never don't win, or at least they never fail to win within our own failing, extremely dumb culture. 

Remembering Norm Macdonald, the moths are constantly drawn to that flame! The rewards are simply too damn high. (So is the good-natured gullibility, though more on that tomorrow.)

According to that one report, guests at Met Gala cocktail soirees "found many moments to reflect on contemporary American life." We feel sure we we can guarantee this:

No one reflected on the Holmes County Consolidated School District, a small, badly underfunded rural district in the high-poverty Mississippi Delta region. Also, no one reflected on the life situation of  Harvey Ellington, age 17, an admirable senior at Holmes County Central High, the district's only high school.

No one reflected on any of that, and no one ever will. Holmes County is far off the beaten track, and nobody cares about people like Ellington or about his horrific school.

The track record on this matter is plain. The history on this has been established over a great many years.

Having said that, we'll say this:

This past weekend, the New York Times featured the woes of this rural school district in its Sunday magazine. The lengthy report by Casey Parks was part of the magazine's Education Issue, an effort designed to let Times readers think that the newspaper actually cares.

That said, you've seen the report mentioned nowhere but here. The lengthy, admirably detailed report will generate no wider discussion.

Those predictions can be made with quiet confidence. The Met Gala generates oodles of splash. Kids like Ellington don't.

As we noted yesterday, Parks should be complimented for the depth of  her reporting about the plight of kids in that underfunded district. We'll also say this:

It seemed to us that Parks possibly doesn't know a whole lot about the problems involved in low-income schooling in general. That should come as no surprise. 

Newspapers like the New York Times conduct no such ongoing discussion. Even the most well-intentioned observers are left with little awareness of the basics concerning this general field of play.

Having said that, let us also say this about Parks' detailed, depressing report. More specifically, let us say this about a false impression her piece rather plainly conveyed.

Parks' very lengthy report appeared beneath these headlines:

The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools
Outdated textbooks, not enough teachers, no ventilation—for millions of kids like Harvey Ellington, the public-education system has failed them their whole lives.

Those headlines conveyed a fairly obvious impression. They convey the impression that the appalling conditions in the Holmes County Schools are typical of America's rural school districts in general.

That same impression was conveyed in this passage early in Parks' report:

PARKS (9/12/21): While researchers and activists have spent decades detailing the ways urban schools have failed children, students like Ellington are learning in more dire conditions. Most of the country’s poorest counties are rural, and two years ago, leaders at the Rural School and Community Trust, a national nonprofit group, found that decades of population loss and divestment by state governments has left many rural communities facing “nothing less than an emergency” when it comes to educating children.

Nationwide, more than 9.3 million children—nearly a fifth of the country’s public-school students—attend a rural school. That’s more than attend the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined. And yet their plight has largely remained off the radars of policymakers. John White, the deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, says that every time the nation or individual states roll out an education program, he searches for the word “rural.” “You either find one or two words or none at all,” he said.

"Most of the country’s poorest counties are rural?" That could even be true, but that doesn't mean that it's relevant.

"Nearly a fifth of the country's public school students attend a rural school?" Now the rubber is hitting the road, with a statistical statement that's almost surely grossly misleading.

We're told that a fifth of our public school students attend a rural school. As our own specific example, we're then shown Harvey Ellington's school, where the kids are all black kids, where the region is among the nation's poorest, and where the hallways flood every time it rains.

Almost surely, that admirable youngster's gruesome school isn't typical of the schools attended by those other nine million kids. For one thing, the Holmes County schools are overwhelmingly black (twelve white kids out of 3,000, Parks writes), while America's rural schools, as a group, are predominantly white.

Also this:

Holmes County lies in the Mississippi Delta, in the heart of our nation's deep poverty. Beyond that, their situation is part of that state's ongoing racial history—the students are almost all black because the white kids are all attending private schools opened in the aftermath of court-ordered school integration.

Beyond that, Mississippi's racial politics affect the finding of those schools in ways Parks describes. As described, the situation in the Holmes County Schools is appalling and depressing, but it almost surely isn't typical or rural schools across the breadth of the nation.

We blue tribal types! Once in awhile, our greatest newspaper pretends that it cares about such matters as this. When it does, it tends to pretend that it cares all the way, suggesting that Amerikan schools are like this from coast to coast.

They publish an article to show us they care, and then the subject is dropped. In the one article they're willing to run, they push Storyline all the way. 

Here in Amerika, 9.3 million schoolkids are up to their knees in water. So we readers are led to believe. In comments, we readers  respond by saying how deeply we are,

At that point, the subject is gone till the next special Issue  Meanwhile, Vanessa Fieldman and her ship of ghouls swarm the Met Gala cocktail events, offering a type of fashion / celebrity / rich folks reporting which goes on year round.

The woods are lovey, dark and deep, but wealth and celebrity constantly in. We the readers are quick to believe the things our anointed leaders have said.

They strike a pose and we applaud. This occurred again this past week in the case of the heartfelt Charles Blow.

Tomorrow: When Charles Blow met Hugh Hefner


So what the heck is the book about?

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2021

As we start, we'll let Wittgenstein give you a list: Philosophical Investigations was published in 1953, two years after Wittgenstein's death from cancer at age 62.

Its preface was written in 1945, but Wittgenstein decided to withhold publication until after his death. At the start of the preface, he listed some of the topics he said he would investigate in the book. As you yourself can see, the preface starts like this:

PREFACE 

The thoughts which I publish in what follows are the precipitate of philosophical investigations which have occupied me for the last sixteen years. They concern many subjects: the concepts of meaning, of understanding, of a proposition, of logic, the foundations of mathematics, states of consciousness, and other things. I have written down all these thoughts as remarks, short paragraphs, of which there is sometimes a fairly long chain about the same subject, while I sometimes make a sudden change, jumping from one topic to another.—It was my intention at first to bring all this together in a book whose form I pictured differently at different times. But the essential thing was that the thoughts should proceed from one subject to another in a natural order and without breaks.

"I sometimes make a sudden change, jumping from one topic to another," he said. This is part of the difficulty a reader will encounter in trying to read this book.

The title of the book is wholly generic. Basically, it tells us that we aren't reading a biology text, or a book on auto mechanics.

There are no chapters within the book, and therefore no chapter titles. Instead, the book is simply a series of numbered passages. Some of these numbered passages are one paragraph long. Others are longer.

Even for a specialist, it's isn't necessarily all that easy to say what the book "is about."  In the paragraph we've posted, Wittgenstein lists some of the "many subjects" touched upon in the somewhat disjointed text.

The thoughts which he has published "concern many subjects," he says. Those subjects include "the concepts of meaning, of understanding, of a proposition, of logic, the foundations of mathematics, states of consciousness, and other things." 

So the gentleman says, but will that list, such as it is, help the non-specialist much? Are we sure that we understand what it means to publish thoughts on "the concept of meaning," or on "the concept of understanding?" 

Do we know what it means to publish thoughts on "the concept of a proposition," if that's an accurate account of the third subject he lists? We may feel we know, in a general way,  what it means to publish thoughts about logic, or about some aspect of logic. But do we know what it means to publish thoughts on "the concept of logic," if that's an accurate account of Wittgenstein's language there?

Readers approaching their first encounter aren't getting much help from that list.  That said, Philosophical Investigations was rated the most important philosophy book of the 20th century in a survey of philosophy professors in late 1999. (Tomorrow, we'll add a note about what Professor Horwich later said.)

We think the book, though highly opaque, can be quite instructive. The entire text can be perused here. We'll try to help readers puzzle it out as our notes on this most important book continue down through the long years.


BLUE SKILL LEVELS VERY LOW: A detailed, depressing report in the Times!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2021

Then too, that statistical howler: Where the feelings are very strong, the head may lead us astray.  

This can even happen within our blue tribe! Consider a detailed, deeply depressing report in the New York Times Sunday magazine.

The lengthy report was written by Casey Parks; her report was deeply depressing. It concerned the appalling conditions which obtain in the Holmes County Consolidated School District, a badly underfunded rural school district in the heart of Mississippi's high-poverty Delta region.

Assuming her reporting is accurate—we know of no reason to doubt that it is—Parks' detailed reporting is deeply depressing and highly admirable. Her report appeared as part of the magazine's Education Issue, the king of periodic publication designed to lead subscribers to think that the New York Times actually cares about the kids in our low-income schools.

One such person is Harvey Ellington, age 17, a senior at Holmes County Central High, the only high school in this lightly-populated rural district. 

According to Parks, Holmes County is "the poorest county in the [nation's] poorest state." That helps explain the horrific conditions she describes in her deeply depressing report, but it's also part of a major problem with her journalistic method.

How bad are conditions in the Holmes County schools? How depressing is this report?

Conditions are very bad; the report is deeply depressing. Near the start of the lengthy piece, Parks offers a quick overview:

PARKS (9/12/21): Ellington was 7 the first time someone told him the state of Mississippi considered Holmes a failing district. Holmes had earned a D or an F almost every year since then, and Ellington felt hollowed out with embarrassment every time someone rattled off the ranking. Technically, the grade measured how well, or how poorly, Ellington and his classmates performed on the state’s standardized tests, but he knew it could have applied to any number of assessments. His school didn’t have clubs, and even before the pandemic, they hardly went on field trips. Every year, teaching positions sat unfilled for months at a time. The football team often made the playoffs, but the field at the high school was inadequate, and so the squad had to travel 10 miles west to play outside an elementary school.

Based upon the reporting which followed, the lack of field trips and clubs is the least of this school district's problems. In the following passage, James Henderson, a newly-arrived (and first-time) superintendent, conducts a meeting with some teachers at one of the district's grade schools:

PARKS: The teachers remained quiet as they waited for someone else to speak. Finally, a language-arts teacher said that most classrooms didn’t have textbooks. No one had science books, another teacher said, and the few reading materials instructors had were so outdated they didn’t even cover the skills kids would need to demonstrate on state tests. A music teacher who taught reading had grown so frustrated that he started bringing his own printer from home each week to run off scans of another instructor’s book.

The teachers nodded. Most said they were paying for basic supplies themselves, though they earn less than teachers elsewhere do. The average teacher in Holmes made $44,000. Statewide, teachers earned an average of $47,000.

[...]

A kindergarten teacher explained that the county still didn’t have enough buses or drivers to operate them and so they picked up kids in shifts. Half the school’s students didn’t arrive until the first period was nearly over. The school didn’t have enough teachers either. Half the instructors were uncertified, and almost all of second grade was being taught by substitutes, meaning kids showed up for third-grade multiplication lessons not knowing how to add.

Under the circumstances, and making certain assumptions about the local cost of living, that $44,000 salary doesn't strike us as shockingly low.

A great deal else in this report should in fact border on shocking. Here's a description of the high school Ellington attends:

PARKS: Every weekday, Henderson explained, 800 of the county’s teenagers crammed into a 61-year-old high school that had no air-conditioning, no heat and, some days, no running water. Most of the classrooms smelled like mold, and the hallways flooded when it rained. The outside was so antiquated that prospective teachers sometimes took one look, then peeled out of the parking lot.

What's up with flooding when it rains? Later, Parks offered this account of one such rainy day:

PARKS: When the bell rang, a social-studies teacher passed out a quiz to six students. The test was supposed to assess their knowledge of World War II and the Harlem Renaissance, but the teenagers seemed distracted. It was raining. The rooms were musty, and the hallway outside had a thin layer of water covering the linoleum. The [students] could hear their classmates, laughing and splashing down the halls.

By midmorning, both the high school and the middle school were starting to flood. On his way to lunch, Ellington passed a woman who told him she was a new substitute English teacher.

“Nice to meet you,” Ellington said. “How would you feel if we could get a new school and school funds and new businesses here?”

The teacher laughed. “I would love that. Y’all definitely need a new school, especially with what’s going on in the bathrooms.”

“The bathroom’s still not working?” Ellington asked. “That’s against the law to have us here.”

Bathrooms had broken down the week before after a clay pipe deteriorated. Maintenance crews had replaced the pipe, but now, the teacher explained to Ellington, as the rain overwhelmed the building’s plumbing, several toilets had stopped functioning again.

By 12:30 p.m., the high school’s water fountains were running brown, and every bathroom at the middle school had stopped working, too, so Henderson decided to close both schools for the day. A bell rang, and Ellington ambled into the wet hallways. Water splashed against his khakis, and other boys yelled and pushed their way to the front of the school. When Ellington made it out, he searched for his bus, but he didn’t see it.

Eventually, after the teenagers milled around the parking lot for half an hour, the principal came through screaming. The district didn’t have enough buses to release both the middle and high school students at once, he explained. “Move back to your A-block class now,” the principal shouted. “Move. Let’s go.”

Ellington headed inside, but when he reached his classroom, no other students were there.

Throughout the report, such descriptions were juxtaposed with the hopefulness and determination of young Ellington, who understands that his unfortunate circumstances may have badly compromised his possibilities in future years. 

We don't remember when we found a report so depressing. Two bits of history came to mind:

In April 1967, at the behest of civil rights lawyer Marian Wright, Robert Kennedy toured this same Mississippi Delta region, conducting a fact-finding tour concerning deep poverty. He also toured impoverished regions in Appalachia that same year.

In those early days of the War on Poverty, Kennedy's journey was widely reported. Parks' report emerges from that same Delta region. While the poverty there today is almost surely less extreme, the conditions she described were horrifically bad.

We also thought of Jonathan Kozol's first book, Death at an Early Age. It appeared that same year, 1967, and it described horrific conditions in the Boston public schools—rather, in a horrible Boston school which enrolled mostly black kids, including the memorable Stephen. The book began, and begins, as shown:

Stephen is eight years old. A picture of him standing in front of the bulletin board on Arab bedouins shows a little light-brown person staring with unusual concentration at a chosen spot upon the floor. Stephen is tiny, desperate, unwell. Sometimes he talks to himself. He moves his mouth as if he were talking. At other times he laughs out loud in class for no apparent reason. He is also an indescribably mild and unmalicious child. He cannot do any of his school work very well. His math and reading are poor. In Third Grade he was in a class that had substitute teachers much of the year. Most of the year before that, he had a row of substitute teachers too. He is in the Fourth Grade now but his work is barely at the level of the Second. Nobody has complained about the things that have happened to Stephen because he does not have any mother or father.

Stephen was tiny, desperate, unwell. He was also an indescribably mild, unmalicious child.

That was then, but Parks is now. We found her report deeply depressing. We'd say that's the way her report should seem, though it's all over now for real discourse.

That said, a statistical claim at the start of Parks' report never should have been published. Tomorrow, we'll start with that statistical statement, and then we'll move on to Charles Blow.

For today, we'll close with a query:

Our blue tribe's skill levels are quite low. If it weren't for misleading statistical claims, would we humans ever make any such claims at all?

Tomorrow: Commenters buy Charles Blow


UPDATE: Update concerning soft butter report!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2021

Slides to number 5: This morning, at 6 A.M., it was the #1 MOST READ item in all of the Washington Post. 

We refer to the Post's softened butter report. For background, see our award-winning earlier report.

It's now 4:30 P.M., and the Post's soft butter report has slid to #5. That said, it remains the fifth MOST READ item at today's Washington Post! 

Linguists have coined the term "softbuttercore." There's nothing "wrong" with such manifestations, unless there secretly is.

Our logicians have nothing to say about this. They're debating the theory of forms.


Linguist consulted on goblincore!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2021

The flight of the elite:
In recent weeks, we've been referring to a state of affairs we regard as a bit of a paradox. 

That paradox starts like this:
In a survey of philosophy professors taken in late 1999, Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations was selected as the most important (academic) philosophy book of the 20th century
That's the first part of the paradox. The second part goes like this:
Aside from a handful of academic specialists, no one has the slightest idea what that book is about. (We aren't assuming that those specialists could speak to that point either.)

No one has any idea what this fellow Wittgenstein might have said in that most important book. This most important book of the century was published in 1953, but it has had exactly zero effect on the western world's public discourse.
It seems to us that we've described two parts of a serious paradox. If Philosophical Investigations was  the most important philosophy book of the 20th century, you'd almost think that word would have leaked as to what its author may have said by now. 

In the next few days, we expect to continue discussing that apparent paradox. It seems to us that this paradox involves "the flight of the logicians," or of our "philosophy" specialists in general—the complete detachment of that elite from the real affairs of the world.

Perhaps we're being a bit too harsh. Let's consider what one linguist has now said:

We start with an item we encountered in the Washington Post this morning. At 6 o'clock this very morning, this item was listed, on the Post's web site, as the MOST READ item in the entire newspaper. 

To be clear, the item was listed as MOST READ overall, not just as MOST READ LIFESTYLE.

You can peruse the item here. When the Post listed the item as MOST READ, here's how the paper described it:
How to soften butter quickly, and why it matters for your baking
Butter temperature and consistency are crucial in baking. Here are 5 methods to consider.

According to the Post's web site, that was the MOST READ item on the entire site. Below the listing, included IN a set of DON'T MISS reports, a different item was characterized as shown:

Cottagecore, cluttercore, goblincore—deep down, it’s about who we think we are

We had no idea what that could mean, so we decided to click and find out. As it turned out, the DON'T MISS item came from Style. This is the way it started:

JUDKIS (9/13/21): If you want to chart our slow pandemic descent into madness, just take a look at the aesthetics of our confinement.

The spring of 2020 seems quaint in retrospect: We learned to knit, baked sourdough bread, solved puzzles and sewed handmade masks. Some people moved out of cities to get away from people, and spend more time in nature. This, we decided, was called “cottagecore”—performative cozy nesting, dried flowers, vintage aprons, a sense of optimism.

That gave way to the realization that some of us were going to be stuck in our homes for much longer than we expected. Enter “cluttercore,” a rejection of pre-pandemic Scandi minimalism in favor of bright colors, bold patterns, and eclectic collections, all layered in the same space. If we’re going to be trapped in our houses, we might as well have something cool to look at, right? Messy world, messy us.

And now? It's still ramping up, but the new pandemic "core" is "goblincore." Because that's apparently where the summer surge has taken us. Goblincore is about pure fantasy and escaping humanity to live in the woods: Think homes filled with dark wood and plants, mossy colors, whimsical mushroom prints, earthen homes, tarot cards, extreme isolation, plenty of brown corduroy and tweed.

Not that there's anything wrong with it! That said, it did perhaps seem a bit odd when the essay continued as shown:

JUDKIS (continuing directly): “All three of these movements are about trying to create an ideal,” says Ruth Page, who teaches English and linguistics at the University of Birmingham in England, “which is a way of comforting and alleviating the distress of the reality that is around us.”

So, yeah. That gets to the core of how well we’re coping lately.

How well have we been coping lately? As a nation, we haven't been coping especially well at all.

In fact, we haven't been coping especially well for decades. In our view, the decline has extended so far, and is so deeply entrenched, that it's hard to see a way to reverse the ongoing fall.

For ourselves, we didn't know why someone who teaches linguistics at a major university would be weighing in on the topic of goblincore. It did make us think of all the topics on which the logicians have maintained their total silence as the culture has continued to fail.

The woods are said to be lovely and deep, but no one has the slightest idea concerning the contents of the most important philosophy book of the 20th century. Similarly, you've never seen an academic logician comment on any part of our failing discourse, and you never will.

The logicians have walked off their posts. Arguably, they did so long ago.

Meanwhile, the linguists discuss goblincore. Putting it a different way, our culture is transparently stupid pretty much all the way down. 

It's hard to imagine that anyone has failed to notice this fact. It's very, very hard to imagine that this can go on forever, or that there's an obvious way to come back.  

Still coming:  Thoughts concerning first encounters with that most important book


BLUE SKILL LEVELS VERY LOW: The Aussies battle the Mountaineers!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2021

But also, the Holmes County Schools: As we noted yesterday, statistics are very hard. Even in our brightest and bluest tribal realms, we humans keep proving this fact.

That said, how bad is the current state of the pandemic in West Virginia? Yesterday, the New York Times was willing to tell us this in a major news report:

SLOTNIK (9/13/21): West Virginia’s seven-day average of new reported cases has neared record levels for all of September, hovering above 1,500 per day for most of the past week, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The state recently surpassed a total of 200,000 cases, more than four times the population of Charleston, the capital and largest city.

The state is recording roughly 1,500 new cases per day, the newspaper clumsily seemed to report. That's almost a record for the state, the news report pretty much said.

Still, is 1,500 cases per day a lot or a just a little? In an ideal world, it would be 1,500 cases too many—but in our world, how does West Virginia's situation compare to what's happening everywhere else?

The number itself—1,500 cases—tells you virtually nothing. The comparison to the population of Charleston is the kind of clownish "non-information information" which teaches us that we humans actually aren't "the rational animal" and most likely never were.

Fifteen hundred cases a day—is that a lot or a little? The news report in yesterday's Times gave readers no way to say.

As you may recall, the Times had done the same thing one day before, this time with respect to the state of affairs in Australia. Here's the passage which appeared in a high-profile guest essay in the Sunday Review:

Despite more than half of Australia’s 25 million inhabitants living under very harsh restrictions—including overnight curfews, travel limits of only about three miles from home and limits on outdoor daily exercise to a couple of hours—cases have soared to more than 1,400 a day, the most since the pandemic began.

Australia is reporting 1,400 new cases per day—but is that a lot or a little? The number itself tells readers nothing, and the essay—despite a flamboyant overall claim about the island nation's plight—gave readers no way to compare Australia's situation to those occurring elsewhere in the world.

Let's return to West Virginia. Just how troubling is the Mountain State's current rate of new cases? 

Incomparably, w decided to adjust for population and see how some numbers compare.

It doesn't matter how big Charleston is—what matters are data like those shown below. After adjusting for population, here are current case rates for the two jurisdictions under review, with some other jurisdictions thrown in to provide some context:

New cases per day, per million population
Seven-day rolling average, as of Sept. 12
West Virginia: 981
United Kingdom: 539
United States: 438
France: 146
Germany: 126
Australia: 69

That's where the numbers stood as of September 12. As compared to these other jurisdictions, West Virginia's current rate of new cases is, in a word, stratospheric. 

West Virginia's current rate of new cases is, in a word, stratospheric. But rather than offer some such information, the humans at the New York Times offered an utterly pointless comparison between the state's overall number of cases to date and the population of its (rather small) largest city. 

The presentation was utterly pointless, but was also par for the course.

In the case of Australia, it's still rather hard to make the case for the claims which appeared in the Sunday Review.  The nation's early success with Covid suppression has been "turned upside down," the Times guest essay said. The exciting claim was remarkably imprecise, but no further context was offered.

As you can see, when the Times reports the number of new cases (full stop), it's reporting nothing of value. Readers who read those two reports—the reports appeared on successive days—would have had no way of knowing what we can now tell you:

After adjusting for population, West Virginia's rate of news cases is roughly fourteen times that of Australia. Bringing it all back home, West Virginia's rate is more than double the rate of the United States as a whole.

Our youthful analysts howled in pain as they scanned those two reports. They understood that it made no sense to offer the absolute number of news cases for these two jurisdictions without providing some sort of statistical context.

Calmly, we took the youngsters aside and reminded them of what they already knew. Statistics are extremely hard, even for those in our brightest blue towns. This is anthropological information—information they already had.

Statistics are very hard, even within our blue towns. By way of contrast, promulgation of tribal narrative is deeply bred in the bone. 

This piece by the Washington Post's Philip Bump establishes those basic anthropological facts in brain-jangling fashion. But let's leave that for another day as we move to a deeply depressing report from last weekend's New York Times Sunday Magazine.

The report was written by Casey Parks, and it was deeply depressing. It was part of the magazine's "Education Issue," the kind of periodic enterprise designed to make subscribers believe that the New York Times actually cares.

In her lengthy report, Parks describes the horrific conditions which obtain within the Holmes County Consolidated School District, a badly underfunded rural district in the deeply impoverished Mississippi delta region.

Parks' lengthy report is deeply depressing. Its headlines offer this:

The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools
Outdated textbooks, not enough teachers, no ventilation—for millions of kids like Harvey Ellington, the public-education system has failed them their whole lives.

Those headlines don't begin to capture how depressing the full report actually is. But having made that observation, let us also say this:

Right from those headlines on down, this highly depressing report conveys a grossly false impression. That false impression is most directly conveyed by a wildly misleading statistic which is offered near the start of the deeply depressing report.

Even for our own tribe's brightest players, statistics are extremely hard, but narrative is quite easy. Anthropologists say this is simply the way our human brains are wired.

When it comes to grossly misleading statistics, Parks uncorked a world-class howler. Editors at the New York Times sleepily left it in.

Statistics are extremely hard. We'll pick up here tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Remarkably misleading


STARTING TOMORROW: Lofty thoughts in the afternoon!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2021

First Encounter Beach: Last week, to our surprise, we found ourselves thinking about First Encounter Beach.

We're not sure we've ever been there! Presumably, its name got embedded in our head when we held summer jobs on Cape Cod during the years when we were listed as a college student.

First Encounter Beach is in Eastham, just north of Chatham, as you round the corner of the Cape and head up toward Provincetown. Because it's on the Massachusetts Bay side of the Cape, not the open ocean side, we doubt that we ever went there for recreational purposes. 

Back in 1620, it's the place where the people we typically call "the Pilgrims" had their first encounter with some of the people who were already inhabiting the area.

There are various ways to describe that (unfriendly) encounter. This can be seen in the dueling accounts which appear on the historical markers concerning the incident, apparently three in number, which were erected in Eastham, first in 1920 (two markers), then in 2001.

None of this has anything to do with the reason why the name of that beach was suddenly floating around in our head.

Why was it floating around there? We were about to engineer a first encounter for interested readers with Philosophical Investigations (1953), the most important philosophy book of the 20th century.

Philosophical Investigations is the book which defines the work of the so-called later Wittgenstein. The text of the book is extremely obscure. For almost anyone who tries to read it, this obscurity will inevitably create a puzzling first encounter.

We took the undergraduate course on the book, taught by Rogers Albritton, in the street-fighting second semester of the 1967-68 school year. The following year, when we were listed as a senior, we took the graduate seminar on the book, taught by Stanley Cavell.

The book was extremely hot at the time. That undergraduate course would have been our own first encounter.

It's strange to think that a book so obscure could be the last century's most important. For our money, the book is highly instructive in spite of itself, but we'll also say that it has had exactly zero influence on the public discourse in the more than sixty years since it first appeared.

It's the most important philosophy book of the 20th century! Despite that fact, no one has the slightest idea what is said in this important book, and it's never discussed in public. We'd chalk that up to the following cause:

Our logicians and philosophers, such as they are, have long since walked off their posts. They swim at private beaches and clubs. With them, there are zero encounters.

Tomorrow, we'll start engineering your first encounter with this maddening yet highly instructive book. It's the most important philosophy book of the 20th century—and given the way our culture works, its contents are never discussed!

At low tide, the tide goes way, way out on the bay side in Eastham. According to Professor Horwich, the tide went out on this book long ago—and it never came back!


BLUE SKILL LEVELS VERY LOW: No basic bungling left behind!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2021

As seen in the New York Times: Skill levels within our own blue tribe are often extremely low. 

For one example, consider a guest essay which appeared in yesterday's New York Times, in the high-profile Sunday Review.

The essay was written by two Australian doctors. As published, and with headline included, their effort started like this:

Covid Zero Is No Longer Working for Australia

Australia was, until recently, heralded for its effective suppression of Covid-19; through strict border closures, prolonged lockdowns and its fortune as a remote island continent, the country was able to avoid a large-scale outbreak. The Delta variant has, however, turned that success upside down.

Despite more than half of Australia’s 25 million inhabitants living under very harsh restrictions—including overnight curfews, travel limits of only about three miles from home and limits on outdoor daily exercise to a couple of hours—cases have soared to more than 1,400 a day, the most since the pandemic began...

Compared to many developed nations, Australia had very low rates of infection and death during the pandemic's first few waves. 

This fact was widely noted. This relative success was sometimes attributed to Australia's stringent "Covid Zero" policies, policies which were sometimes described as "Fortress Australia."

Now, the Delta variant has "turned that success upside down"—or at least, so readers were told in yesterday's high-profile essay. Indeed, Australia's efforts at Covid suppression are "no longer working"—or so the Times headline said. 

Those statements are highly imprecise, but they're also very gloomy. As evidence for these characterizations, readers were offered this, and were offered this alone:

"Cases have soared to more than 1,400 a day, the most since the pandemic began."

Across Australia, there are now more than 1,400 new cases per day. That's the highest number of new cases since the pandemic began.

Obviously, it sounds like things have been moving in the wrong direction in Australia due to the Delta variant. Of course, that's true in many other nations, rather plainly including our own.

That said, are things really as bad in Australia as a suggestible reader might think from yesterday's essay? We decided to do what the New York Times didn't do. Out of basic curiosity, we decided to see how that number of new cases looks when adjusted for population, and when compared to current rates of new cases in other nations.

Fourteen hundred new cases a day—is that a lot or a little?  There's no way to make any such assessment from that raw number alone. 

But here's how Australia currently looks when compared to some other nations:

New cases per day, per million population
Seven-day rolling average, as of Sept. 10

United Kingdom: 573
United States: 439
France: 160
Germany:  129
Canada: 102
Japan: 90
Australia: 68
South Korea: 34

How about it? Has the emergence of the Delta variant "turned Australia's success upside down?" 

In fairness, the claim in question is so imprecise that it's virtually meaningless, except as a source of excitement. 

But after adjusting for population, Australia's rate of (reported) new cases is roughly one-seventh that of the United States—and it's roughly one-ninth that of the United Kingdom.

"Cases" is a relatively shaky statistic; case counts can turn on different degrees of testing in different nations. How about Covid deaths, which is likely a harder statistic?

Thank you for asking! When it comes to current Covid deaths, some numbers look like this:

Covid deaths per day, per million population
Seven-day rolling average, as of Sept. 11

United States: 5.0
United Kingdom: 2.1
European Union: 1.0
Australia: 0.3

At present, our own country's rate of Covid deaths is roughly seventeen times that of failing Australia.

At no point in yesterday's high profile essay was a statistical comparison offered between Australia and other comparable nations. The only statistic readers were offered was the hard count of news cases per day—a statistic which is wholly meaningless absent statistical context.

(We're told it's the highest number in Australia yet. But the number itself tells us nothing.)

Question! Has Australia's previous (relative) success really been "turned upside down" by the Delta variant? As any modestly skilled journalist would understand, the exciting claim is so imprecise that it's virtually meaningless.

With that obvious fact in mind, we'll pose a different question:

Should the New York Times have published an essay which offered only one statistic—a statistic which, on its own, is completely meaningless? We'll say that the answer is no.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our skill levels remain quite low here in our human towns. That's even true within our blue tribe, here in our failing blue towns. 

Blue skill levels are very low! We'll be discussing this point all week, with Wittgenstein relegated to posts in the afternoons.

Tomorrow: In the New York Times Sunday magazine, a grossly misleading statistic about a terrible state of affairs


ANTHROPOLOGY HURTS: DiAngelo reinvents Jackie Robinson!

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2021

Why we made a mistake: When John McWhorter reviewed Robin DiAngelo, he highlighted Jackie Robinson.

To be more clear, he wasn't reviewing DiAngelo herself. He was reviewing her mammoth best-selling book, White Fragility, in an essay for The Atlantic. 

His essay appeared last July. Along the way, he wrote this:

MCWHORTER (7/15/20): When writers who are this sure of their convictions turn out to make a compelling case, it is genuinely exciting. This is sadly not one of those times, even though white guilt and politesse have apparently distracted many readers from the book’s numerous obvious flaws.

For one, DiAngelo’s book is replete with claims that are either plain wrong or bizarrely disconnected from reality. Exactly who comes away from the saga of Jackie Robinson thinking he was the first Black baseball player good enough to compete with whites? “Imagine if instead the story,” DiAngelo writes, “went something like this: ‘Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.’” But no one need imagine this scenario, as others have pointed out, because it is something every baseball fan already knows. 

We stumbled upon McWhorter's essay last weekend. We don't think we saw it in real time, when the pandemic was center stage.

McWhorter is extremely negative on DiAngelo's work; we're quite negative on her work too. That said, we were somewhat skeptical concerning his passage about Jackie Robinson, who was a sensational multi-sport athlete at UCLA before he became a professional baseball player.

(There was athletic talent in the family. Robinson's older brother, Mack Robinson, won the silver medal in the 200 at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He beat every sprinter in the world, except for Jesse Owen.)

In her book, does DiAngelo really misstate the way Robinson is typically remembered? McWhorter's account seemed perhaps a little bit fuzzy to us, and so we decided to check.

When we checked, we ruled in McWhorter's favor. We found that DiAngelo, a stone-cold dogmatist, had written the following account, beginning with the requisite statement of dogmatic true belief:

DIANGELO (page 26): The story of Jackie Robinson is a classic example of how whiteness obscures racism by rendering whites, white privilege, and racist institutions invisible. Robinson is often celebrated as the first African-American to break the color line and play in major-league baseball. While Robinson was certainly an amazing baseball player, this story line depicts him as racially special, a Black man who broke the color line himself. The subtext is that Robinson finally had what it took to play with whites, as if no black athlete before him was strong enough to compete at that level. Imagine if instead, the story went something like this: ‘Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major league baseball.’ This version makes a critical distinction because no matter how fantastic a player Robinson was, he simply could not play in the major leagues if whites—who controlled the institution—did not allow it.

In fairness, it may be that DiAngelo doesn't follow baseball. But she's supposed to be an expert on race, and that is an absurd account of the way these widely-remembered events are typically remembered.

Robinson is always remembered as "the first black man...allowed to play major league baseball." Has he ever been remembered as the first such man who was "strong enough to compete at that level?" 

We'd be surprised if anyone has framed it that way in, let's say, the last fifty years. We don't know whether anyone ever did.

Robinson is always remembered as "the first black man...allowed to play major league baseball." Quite often, it's major league owners, rather than "whites," who are fingered as the principal culprits in this widely remembered drama. 

But DiAngelo is the type of person who wants to spread the stain of blame as widely as humanly possible. She wants to finger everyone in the targeted group. 

Everyone has to be guilty; everyone has to be shamed. Only she herself will be left—she herself, seeing what no one else can see, as in the absurdly misdescribed case of the immortal Robinson. 

We don't want to finger DiAngelo as the classic "bad person" or villain. In our view, we humans are all at the mercy of the ways our human brains are wired, and some people's brains are wired to produce dogma of the vastly overstated kind.

According to top anthropologists, our brains are all wired to produce tribally-pleasing dogmas at times of enhanced tribal conflict. According to these credentialed experts, we humans are strongly inclined to divide into tribes, then to create the Storylines which help us proceed to our latest war.

We mention DiAngelo to highlight a major mistake we ourselves made last weekend. Over that elongated holiday weekend, we encountered so much of the dogma which currently rules our own blue tribe that we backslid on a previous decision.

At long last, we'd made the leap! We had finally come to see that the die has been cast. We had come to accept the fact that there is no reasoning with the way our self-impressed tribe currently deals with issues of gender and race. Or with the way we use our dogmas to distinguish ourselves from The Others.

Last weekend, we encountered so much of the ugly, low-IQ guff which currently drives our own tribe that we decided to backslide and attempt to discuss it. That was a very large mistake. Our tribe has passed the point of no return. These matters can't be discussed or debated in productive ways at this point.

There's simply no point in discussing these matters. As our nation slides toward the sea, our tribe loves Our Stories too much.

DiAngelo lies on the far edge of our tribe's current dogmas. Last weekend, C-Span rebroadcast the tape of her recent hour-long discussion with Eddie Glaude, and we watched the bulk of their discussion again. 

As we watched, we saw Glaude bow and scrape to one of the strangest figures we've ever seen in the American discourse. This doesn't mean that DiAngelo is a "bad person." It means that she lives in the realm of denunciation in a way few others do.

She lives in the realm of scorn and blame, and in the realm of shaming. According to experts, our brains are wired to accept the role of guilty party when we're confronted with such figures.

DiAngelo believes the various things she says, but we've never seen anything like her. In the end, she seems to have no sense of our species' inbred limitations—no sense of understanding.

She's cultural revolution / re-education all the way down. In whatever way, her brain seems to be wired to create a drama in which she herself is cast as the Last Righteous White Person Standing.

That stance strikes us as quite unhelpful. It also strikes us as dumb. That said, it's part of the stance Our Town has chosen as the current war takes shape. 

We actually saw a lot of garbage proceeding from Our Town last weekend. Some of Our Town's comment threads spilled with human loathing,  they now typically do. 

"This is the way we're wired to play," disconsolate scholars all told us.

This led us to make a mistake in our choice of topics this week. We were wiser when we had come to see that there's no point discussing such matters. 

We'll close with a note about Jackie Robinson, the former UCLA great:

We began following major league baseball at the very end of Robinson's relatively short career. (Due to his prior exclusion, he joined the Dodgers at age 28. His career ended at age 37, in part due to some physical problems.)

Robinson was no longer a great player at the end of his career. It wasn't until later that we learned how great he had actually been.

To wit:

Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947. Two years later, he hit .342, with 124 TBIs and 37 steals. For full career stats, click here.

He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player. It's an award which was, and still is, bestowed by the nation's baseball writers. Robinson got 12 of 24 first-place votes, outdistancing Stan Musial's five.

Those writers have been known to punish candidates they disfavor. In the famous 1947 case, Ted Williams won the triple crown in the American League, but wasn't elected MVP. One writer excluded Ballgame from his full list of ten picks.

Two years later, that same group went ahead and honored Robinson. It's a bit surprising to us that they did, but it also seems that it might be somewhat instructive.

DiAngelo isn't a "hater," but she's very much a loather. Mainly, she's a dogmatist, an apostle of guilt and shame. The glass can never be one percent full. The novelized account of the world is built upon nothing but blame.

The rest of us are wired to accept our mandated guilt even as we build our own tribal dogmas. We can see how dumb The Others are, but we seem unable to stop creating and churning such novelized dogma as this:

GIVHAN (9/8/21): Trayvon Martin was a kid carrying candy when he was killed and a toxic public tried to use his childish missteps and impetuousness as evidence of malevolence. 

In that tragic incident, he was just a kid carrying candy, full and complete total stop! Other facts have been disappeared. We prefer our stories this way.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our own blue tribe is unmistakably human. We love to repeat our tribal tales. Disconsolate experts keep suggesting that in this case, as in all other historical instances, there may be no turning back.

Final point:

As this story has taken shape, our logicians have been on sabbatical somewhere on Neptune, debating the Theaetetus! 

For the record, there will be no recovery from that lack of intellectual leadership. It's just an interesting story, one involving a bit of pushback from the later Wittgenstein, who was barely coherent.

Professor Glaude bows and scrapes on that C-Span tape. By the rules of the game, DiAngelo's presentations simply have to be right, even when she's telling him how he feels each day.

More politely, he defers. Our wiring is very much like that, despondent top experts insist.

The next two years: Robinson hit .328 in 1950, .338 the following year.

Whites didn't name him MVP! Whiteness is like that, we'll guess.


ANTHROPOLOGY HURTS: As logicians conduct their forever crusade...

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2021

...we may start resembling The Others: Right on through the 20th century, the warring sides continued their age-old battle.

In this instance, we aren't referring to the Croats, the Muslims and the Serbs, the principal groups in the ugly and tragic Kosovo wars of the early 1990s.

Instead, we're referring to the Unitarians and the Revisionists, whose extremely high-end "forever war" we cited just last week. 

The dispute between these determined tribes has extended through thousands of years. That helps explain why we rubes have to fend for ourselves, in the abandoned state major experts describe as "the silence of the logicians."

The logicians no longer offer guidance. Instead, they engage in this war:

The Theaetetus is a principal field of battle for one of the main disputes between Plato’s interpreters. This is the dispute between Unitarians and Revisionists.

Unitarians argue that Plato’s works display a unity of doctrine and a continuity of purpose throughout. Unitarians include Aristotle, Proclus, and all the ancient and mediaeval commentators; Bishop Berkeley; and in the modern era, Schleiermacher, Ast, Shorey, Di├Ęs, Ross, Cornford, and Cherniss.

Revisionists retort that Plato’s works are full of revisions, retractations, and changes of direction. Eminent Revisionists include Lutoslawski, Ryle, Robinson, Runciman, Owen, McDowell, Bostock, and many recent commentators.

[...]

In the twentieth century, a different brand of Revisionism has dominated English-speaking Platonic studies. This owes its impetus to a desire to read Plato as charitably as possible, and a belief that a charitable reading of Plato’s works will minimise their dependence on the theory of Forms...

Those Platonic Studies Today! An emergent brand of Revisionism "owes its impetus to a desire to read Plato as charitably as possible." 

Hopefully, this more charitable reading will minimize scholarly focus on Plato's theory of Forms, which has always seemed ridiculous, especially to freshmen in college.

Our Unitarians and our Revisionists are off in the Holy Land. This has left us to fend for ourselves, as we attempt to conduct unaided public discussions.

Left on our own, we aren't real sharp! Today, we'll start with a minor but persistent type of groaner, after which we'll move on to a Mandated Tribal Howler.

Left on our own, we aren't real sharp! Yesterday, we encountered this pair of headlines as part of a high-profile opinion column in our hard-copy New York Times:

Chaos at the School Board Meeting
Americans like to take out their grievances on low-level officials.

Those headlines accompanied an essay by Michelle Cottle. Cottle's lengthy opinion piece sat in the space which would otherwise belong to a New York Times editorial.

"Americans like to take out their grievances on low-level officials," the boxed sub-headline said. To its credit, the Times spelled the word "Americans" with a c, not with a k.

That said, how many Americans "like to take out their grievances on low-level officials?" Do most of us take pleasure that way? Is that what we all like to do?

Cottle made no attempt to say. But she started and ended her essay with these sweeping claims:

COTTLE (9/8/21): America’s school board meetings are out of control.

[...]

All these fights are purportedly waged For the Good of the Children, even as the children are being used as pawns. It is not a pretty sight. But it is the American way.

Readers, to what extent are America's school board meetings "out of control?" In the course of her long essay, Cottle didn't say.

Also this:

To the extent that some such meetings have been tumultuous, even borderline violent, to what extent is that "the American way?"

There was no attempt to make that assessment either. We were left with the sweeping claims—the blatantly silly, sweeping claims which can quickly be translated, by The Others, into the latest version of Hating Amerika First.

In this way, our blue tribe's journalists tend to spout when the logicians are away. For a similar example, you can go to Slate, where Willa Paskin started a TV review as shown:

PASKIN (9/7/21): Authorization, like authority itself, is a tricky thing. Impeachment: American Crime Story, about the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky affair, is the third season of the FX anthology series, but the first to be effectively authorized by the real-life version of its major character. The creators had already optioned a book on the scandal (by the disgraced Jeffrey Toobin) when producer Ryan Murphy saw Monica Lewinsky at a party and told her he thought it would be “gross” for anyone to try and tell the story without her. Lewinsky, who was just 24 when the nation turned her into a punchline and destroyed her life, agreed to come on board as a producer. Impeachment is the grand apologia she authorized—but maybe not the one she deserves.

Sadly, the latest hustlers are making a buck by pretending to examine this unfortunate episode in a high-profile "docudrama" series. 

Credit to Paskin, after all these years, for describing Lewinsky as 24, rather than as the journalistically mandated, though inaccurate, "21-year-old intern." 

Back in the day, and for years afterward, our journalists seemed to love the inaccurate description. They used it again and again and again, and then they used it some more.

That said, did "the nation" turn Lewinsky into a punchline back in the day? Did everybody take that approach, or did some players cast themselves in the leadership role?

This question may not have occurred to Paskin. A bit later, she offers this:

PASKIN: All of this would seem to make [Lewinsky] a perfect subject for American Crime Story, which has always had a revisionist bent...Lewinsky occupies a unique place in the culture as the woman so scandalized it’s nearly impossible to forget her. She is the figure we did dirtiest, most lastingly, and for the least offense. Unlike with [Marsha] Clark or Versace, her story doesn’t pack a “well, I never thought of it that way!” punch. If you never thought we did Monica wrong, you’ve just never thought about it.

Did "we" all do Lewinsky dirty and wrong? Did no one play a lead role? 

Paskin may not want to say. Or this type of casual dumbness may be so widespread that it never occurred to her to winnow her sweeping claim down.

On balance, our blue tribe is extremely unimpressive. On the other hand, the other tribe seems to have lost its mind altogether at this point in time. 

For this, and for reasons of basic brain-wiring, it's hard for us, in our blue tribal towns, to see how unimpressive our thought leaders routinely are. But in truth, our tribe just isn't sharp at all. The evidence is on display in the Post and the Times every morning, not excluding today.

Does "America" likes to beat up on low-level officials? Did "we" do Lewinsky wrong?

This is one of the (many) childish ways our top journalists tend to reason. For a more remarkable example of where our flailing tribe currently stands, consider Robin Givhan's latest column in the Washington Post.

Givhan was discussing the acting career of the late Michael K. Williams. Early on, she clambered aboard the "What We Do" train, then gave it a mandated twist:

GIVHAN (9/8/21): In Williams’s rendering of [the fictional character] Omar, there was a broader story about stereotypes and prejudices and our stubborn need to place people into either the darkness or the light. We want to sort folks into categories: good or bad, innocent or guilty, deserving or undeserving, perfect or canceled. White or suspicious.

In that passage, Givhan said that "we" want to sort folks into categories. She then suggested that "we" want to sort people like this:

White people versus suspicious

Do "we" all sort the world that way? Do "we" always do that?

In Our Town, our journalists will routinely pretend that we do, even as we frequently do the opposite. Amazingly, Givhan went on to offer this:

GIVHAN: It’s more difficult making room for the wounded or the righteously avenging in real life. It’s harder to make peace with Black and Brown agitators even when the laws that have been broken are more like twigs than tree trunks, even when what’s actually been broken isn’t a law but a glass ceiling or a velvet rope or dusty, old tradition. In the real world, Black men selling loose cigarettes like Eric Garner or accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill like George Floyd can barely get their due as flawed humans—let alone as defiant heroes.

Omar marched down the street wielding a sawed-off shotgun and people found him redeemable. Philando Castile had a permit for his gun and was killed by a police officer whom a jury then acquitted. Trayvon Martin was a kid carrying candy when he was killed and a toxic public tried to use his childish missteps and impetuousness as evidence of malevolence. Ahmaud Arbery was jogging and made the mistake of being curious about an empty house.

Is that true? In the real world of the past sixteen months, was the late George Floyd barely able to get his due as a flawed human being? 

How invested in propaganda must someone be to disregard the actual ways in which the actual Floyd has been widely memorialized and remembered? Meanwhile, was Trayvon Martin "a kid carrying candy when he was killed," full stop?

For better or worse, he wasn't. He was also a kid who was banging someone's head on the ground, or on some pavement, in a way which Ta-Nehisi Coates quickly said could have been fatal. 

But here within our own dying tribe, such facts are routinely airbrushed away, so desperate is our need for Culturally Perfect Tribal Tales which keep the world sillily simple.

By the way: Did "a toxic public" really "try to use [Martin's] childish missteps and impetuousness as evidence of malevolence?" 

Some members of the public certainly did! Elsewhere, people like Givhan set to work washing those "childish missteps" away. They've made it all about the candy, even as they've eliminated the head being banged on the ground. 

According to leading anthropologists, our human brains are wired to produce these kinds of assessments. In bringing such matters to our attention, anthropology may seem to hurt.

To a large extent, the other tribe seems to have lost its mind at this juncture. That said, the journalistic leadership of our own failing tribe is reliably unimpressive, whether with the minor flaws or with the Gross Reinventions.

Here within our own failing town, we complain about The Others. But are we mainly different from The Others, or are we quite a bit like them?

We complain about Others. Meanwhile, our logicians are off in the holy land, conducting their silly forever crusade concerning the theory of Forms!

Tomorrow: McWhorter (pretty much) gets it right


If you don't like the headline, just wait a while!

 WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2021

Same column, two dueling heads: Kevin Drum doesn't like the headline on Bret Stephens' column today. As Drum notes, the headline in question says this:

Another Failed Presidency at Hand

He may have preferred the headline which appeared above the same column in today's print editions. That alternate headline says this:

Biden Can Still Save His Presidency

Which headline fits the column's content better? That's a matter of judgment. To read the column, click here

For our money, the real nightmare is the way the Times is now selling its weekly Bret Stephens/ Gail Collins "Conversation."

The "humor" is horrible all the way down. Yesterday, the cloying colloquy appeared in print editions, for at least the second time. This raises a horrible possibility:

The Times may have found that its subscribers actually like this feature!

Special bonus observation: David Ignatius' column in today's Washington Post runs on a similar theme. That said, his headlines do a better job of agreeing with one another in tone:

Biden badly needs a new beginning, or:

Biden needs to turn the page from a painful August

The second headline appeared in this morning's print editions. To peruse the first headline, click this

Does Biden need to turn the page? We can't quite say that's wrong.


ANTHROPOLOGY HURTS: The anthropology of logic!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2021

John McWhorter's (very good) kids: Friend, do you believe it? Do you believe either part of John McWhorter's rather familiar claim?

Do you believe either part of the portrait he sketched? As we noted yesterday, the first part goes like this:

MCWHORTER (9/3/21); Scientific investigators of how children learn to read have proved repeatedly that phonics works better for more children. Project Follow Through, a huge investigation in the late 1960s led by education scholar Siegfried Englemann, taught 75,000 children via the phonics-based Direct Instruction method from kindergarten through third grade at 10 sites nationwide. The results were polio-vaccine-level dramatic. At all 10 sites, 4-year-olds were reading like 8-year-olds, for example.

Friend, do you believe it? Do you believe that, in the course of "a huge investigation" way back in the late 1960s, 4-year-olds ended up reading like 8-year-olds at all ten sites nationwide?

Do you believe that happened? For various reasons, we're inclined to doubt that it did.

But also, how about this? Do you believe that public schools across the nation have simply ignored that "polio-vaccine-level" result? Do you believe that, in the face of some such results, they simply went on ignoring phonics? 

Do you believe that second claim? Because that's the second part of the picture McWhorter painted last week in his opinion column / essay for the New York Times.

Do you believe either one of those claims? Everything is possible, of course. But we aren't inclined to believe either one of those claims. 

That said, we're taking a few days off from our recent focus to discuss a painful fact—the fact that anthropology hurts. 

Increasingly, anthropology is teaching us that we humans really aren't "the rational animal!" With that in mind, let's consider a bit of somewhat non-rational conduct as McWhorter's essay unfolds.

On balance, we're fans of McWhorter's work, but we're inclined to think that he sometimes gets a bit too "cranky" (his partial self-description). This may tend to take him out over his skis, as may have happened in his essay last week.

For starters, who is John McWhorter? According to the leading authority on his life, he grew up in a highly literate home, then took things from there:

McWhorter was born and raised in Philadelphia. His father, John Hamilton McWhorter IV, was a college administrator, and his mother, Schelysture Gordon McWhorter, taught social work at Temple University. He attended Friends Select School in Philadelphia and after tenth grade was accepted to Simon's Rock College...

He ended up getting a Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford. "Since 2008, he has taught linguistics, American studies, and classes in the core curriculum program at Columbia University, where he is currently an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature."

McWhorter came from a highly literate home. He's a high academic achiever. 

Still and all, we think he's a little too "cranky" at times. In the current example, here's where that deeply hurtful anthropology comes in:

In his essay for the Times, McWhorter claims that the phonics-based Direct Instruction method works for all kids, whatever their race or their family income. "Crucially, the method works well with poor as well as affluent children," he says at one point. 

Phonics works for everyone's kids! That isn't true for the rival "whole word" method:

MCWHORTER: [The whole word method] tends to work for children from book-lined homes where reading is taught almost by osmosis by family members because print is so deeply embedded in the home culture. But for other children, the whole word method is a big gamble; they learn better by being, well, taught: sounding out words letter by letter.

The whole word method tends to work for kids from highly literate families. But Direct Instruction—featuring phonics—works for everyone's kids:

MCWHORTER: We have known how to teach Black children, including poor ones, how to read since the Johnson administration: the Direct Instruction method of phonics. In this case, Black children don’t need special materials; districts need incur no extra expenses in purchasing such things. I consider getting Direct Instruction to every Black child in the country a key plank of three in turning the corner on race in America...

McWhorter offered those assessments just last week. According to McWhorter, Direct Instruction works for everyone, including black kids from low-income or poverty backgrounds.

In theory, that could be true, of course. We can't prove that it isn't.

But this is where the pain of anthropology arrives upon the scene. It isn't just McWhorter's faith in a high-flying claim from the 1960s. It's also the anecdotal claim with which he ends his piece.

Near the end of his essay, McWhorter offers this further endorsement of the Direct Instruction method:

MCWHORTER: In our moment, as our children go back to school, pandemic-related issues are a clear priority for all of us. However, school boards should be pressured as much as possible to teach reading via the Direct Instruction method of phonics. And if they won’t, there’s what I call the magical book: “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons,” by Englemann with Phyllis Haddox and Elaine Bruner. I’ve seen this method work in my own home, having used it with both of my children and watched that light go on.

Because my favorite animal is the okapi, my youngest recently drew me a picture of one labeled “O’Copy.” (“Well, that’s how some people spell ‘o’!”) Charmingly mistaken, but clearly evidence of someone who is now engaging print well. She’s 6. Lit’racy for real—and this level of ability is normal for kids who learn the Englemann way.

We'll guess that McWhorter's kids are lucky, in various ways, in who they got for their parents. But his kids are textbook examples of kids who are growing up in "book-lined homes where reading is taught almost by osmosis by family members because print is so deeply embedded in the home culture."

For the record, their father identifies as black; according to their father, their mother identifies as white and Jewish. But their success with "the Englemann way" doesn't support the claim that everybody's 4-year-olds will jump ahead four calendar years if they just get taught with phonics.

Even anecdotally, the success of McWhorter's (very good) kids can't be used to establish his basic point. Yet there they are, at the end of his essay, offered as the final bit of evidence in support of his rather implausible two-part claim.

What does this have to do with anthropology—with the way anthropology hurts? Our answer would go like this:

McWhorter is a professor at Columbia; he's a high academic achiever. But even he swallows the sweeping claim about Direct Instruction's mammoth success without a hint of skepticism, and he closes his essay with an anecdotal example which is wholly irrelevant to his most important claim.

This is an example of the anthropology of logic (or of rationality) at the highest academic and journalistic levels. McWhorter's example doesn't make sense, but there it sits in the New York Times, offered by a Columbia professor. And this kind of bungled logic is on wide display, right here within our own blue tribe, every day of the week.

As we'll see in the next two days, the anthropology of logic is deeply hurtful—and that's even true Over Here!

The Others have basically lost their minds. That said, the hurtful examples we're going to show you will come from the stars of our own flailing tribe.

Anthropologically, it's very bad among The Others. But in the absence of the logicians, what are we like Over Here?

Tomorrow: In the absence of the logicians, Storyline typically rules