Students protest sexual assaults at two schools!


Our tribe no longer cares: This past Monday and Tuesday, students in the Loudoun County, Virginia schools staged a set of walk-outs.

Events in Loudoun County are local news for the Washington Post. Late on Tuesday afternoon, the paper published a short online report about the student walkouts. 

The short report didn't appear in the next day's print editions. Online, the short report appeared beneath this pair of headlines:

Loudoun County students walk out to protest school district’s handling of alleged sexual assaults
Hundreds of students at Loudoun County Public Schools held walkouts sparked by sexual assault cases

Somewhat inaccurately, the principal headline was still using the word "alleged." 

In the body of the report, the use of that word was much, much worse. For details, continue reading. 

According to the headlines on this report, the students had walked out of class to protest the way the school district had handled these "alleged assaults." Below, you see the basic facts about the two cases as reported by the Post's Vanessa Sanchez, a "reporting intern" who has been at the Post for the past two months:

SANCHEZ (10/26/21): Students at several Loudoun County Public Schools held 10-minute walkouts Tuesday morning to demand the county protect students from sexual assault and to declare solidarity with survivors.

At Broad Run High School in Ashburn, dozens of students walked out of their classrooms midmorning to demand the county make the public schools safer spaces. “We deserve to be safe,” one student standing in front of the main entrance shouted.

“Loudoun County protects rapists,” a group of students chanted for several minutes in protest of how the county handled two sexual assault cases, one in May and the other in October, by the same student in two different high schools in the district. Broad Run High is where the second incident took place.

“Why didn’t anybody tell us,” another student yelled.

In that passage, Sanchez reported that the student walkouts involved two different "sexual assault cases." 

As Sanchez reported, these "cases" had occurred at two different Loudoun County high schools. That said, the same student had been charged in each of these two incidents.

As Sanchez began, she noted that "dozens of students" had walked out of Broad Run High School that day. She said they were protesting the way "the county" had handled the two cases. 

Sanchez started with "dozens of students." But as she continued, it seemed that the student protests were much more widespread than that:

SANCHEZ (continuing directly): More than 2500 students from at least 20 schools, including Riverside High School, Briar Woods High School and Lightridge High School, took part in calls to stop sexual assault, according to information provided by the school district. On Monday, hundreds of Arlington Public High Schools students also left their classrooms to stand against sexual misconduct and harassment.

In that paragraph, we moved from "dozens of students" staging a walkout to roughly three thousand students taking part in walkouts or "calls." Depending on what those "calls" may have been, the student protests seem to have been rather extensive.

Why were so many students protesting what "the county" had done? Why were some students chanting,  "Loudoun County protects rapists?"

In our view, Sanchez never really tried to explain that point. As she continued, she did report the basic facts about the two alleged cases:

SANCHEZ (continuing directly): During a school board meeting this month, parents in the Loudoun school district had questioned why the student allegedly responsible for sexual assault was transferred to another high school. Followed by criticism, Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler said in an Oct. 15 news conference that the school will offer “alternative placements for students involved in disciplinary infractions that protect the rights of the student body and the rights of the accused.”

The first alleged assault occurred May 28 at Stone Bridge High School, according to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. On July 8, a 14-year-old boy was arrested in the case and charged in juvenile court with two counts of forcible sodomy, authorities said in a statement.

Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj (D) said that the youth was released at some point from juvenile detention as the case proceeded and “appeared to be a good candidate to be put on electronic monitoring based on the information that was provided.”

The second alleged assault, at Broad Run High, occurred five months later on Oct. 6, and the attacker was charged with sexual battery and abduction of a fellow student.

The student arrested in the May 28 incident had been transferred to a second high school. On October 6, the second alleged assault took place at that school, and the same student was charged.

That said, why were all those students protesting the behavior of "the county?" Sanchez didn't mention one principal source of discontent in the county—a grossly misleading public statement by the superintendent of schools, a grossly misleading public statement for which he later apologized.

Sanchez didn't mention that source of anger and discontent. Much more strikingly, she and her editor (if there was one) seemed to be completely unaware of a major event in this case.

Gack! On Monday, the first of the two alleged assaults had produced an official guilty finding against a 14-year-old perpetrator. 

That first assault was no longer "alleged!" On Monday, it had produced a guilty verdict in an official juvenile court proceeding. 

In Tuesday morning's print editions, the Post had reported this finding. It did so a news report which was bannered across the top of that day's Metro section. 

"The judge found there was sufficient evidence to find the defendant had forced the girl into two sex acts," the Post reported beneath a banner headline. But as of Tuesday afternoon, neither Sanchez nor her editor, if she actually had one, seemed to be aware that this first assault was no longer "alleged." 

That was a truly remarkable journalistic error. Meanwhile, the lengthy report about this official finding remains unknown to the Post's search engine. As of this very morning, no matter what search term you enter, this news report doesn't come up.

In our view, the Post's journalism is becoming more and more slipshod with each passing day. Various elements are involved, including the paper's remarkably scattershot search engine.

In many ways, we think the Post is becoming a sprawling, increasingly tabloidy mess. For now, though, let's review the basic facts concerning these two assault cases:

On Monday and Tuesday, thousands of kids staged walkouts (or participated in "calls") protesting the way "the county" had handled these two cases. 

The Post assigned a reporting intern to the matter. Neither she nor her editor seemed to know that a guilty verdict had been issued the previous day in the first of these cases. 

Meanwhile, the Post's report of that guilty verdict remains unknown to the paper's search engine—and neither one of these reports mentioned one of the principal reasons why some citizens in Loudoun County are angry about the way the "the county" handled these events.

At any rate:

Last May, a girl was sexually assaulted at a Loudoun County high school. Allegedly, a second girl was sexually assaulted at a different high school earlier this month. The court case will happen next month.

Students walked out of school this week, demanding that they be protected from such assaults. At one time, our deeply moral progressive / liberal tribe would have been concerned about such events.

Today, our tribe is routinely sunk in mandated dogmas, as is the other tribe. Yesterday afternoon, this horrible case went worldwide when Michelle Goldberg discussed it in her new opinion column for the New York Times.

Goldberg's column appears in today's print editions. Because she's a highly principled blue tribe feminist, you'd almost think that she'd be upset, perhaps concerned, about the sexual assaults which were (almost surely) perpetrated against two different high school girls.

If you thought that, you might have been mistaken. Drenching herself in the sacred language of our rapidly failing tribe, Goldstein is mainly upset about the latest "Big Lie" perpetrated by "the right."

In her account of what has happened in Loudoun County, she too omits a principal reason why some citizens are upset with the way the superintendent of schools handled the first of these incidents. 

In comments, angry citizens of Loudoun County mention this omission. They are concerned with the (perceived) Big Lie being churned by our own sacred tribe!

For the record, Big Lies (or their rough equivalent)  are quite widespread these days. Increasingly, more and more, our own failing tribe seems inclined to propagate our own mandated novelizations, built around the facts we prefer and our own sacred themes.

The unfortunate events in the current matter are complicated, complex. It seems to us that Goldberg, in deference to Storyline, has chosen to obscure that fact.

Can a sprawling nation survive such duels between tribalized states of mind? Experts all say it cannot.

Sadly, we'll probably have to explain further next week. For today, we'll offer this:

It's time for Goldberg to stop this this type of performance. It seems to us that she has engaged in this type of tribalized non-explanation before.

Meanwhile, are we liberals still allowed to be concerned when we learn that one or two high school girls have been sexually assaulted at school? Or do our increasingly narrow tribal mandates keep us from doing that?

For the record, this affects The Way We Look to Others. It also affects the state of our souls, and the way people vote.

Modern-day found humor: In the news report lost to the Post's search engine, reporter Justin Jouvenal supplies some modern-day found humor.

This may not be Jouvenal's fault. What follows may be the best a reporter can do, given rules about what can be published in a family newspaper:

JOUVENAL (10/26/21): The defendant did not testify during the trial, but prosecutors played interviews he gave detectives investigating the case during which he acknowledged “messing up” and said he did not intend to perform one sex act with the victim and said he stopped once he realized he was hurting the girl.

The defendant initially told detectives the second sexual act did not occur, but later said it may have happened briefly and accidentally when a knee-length skirt he was wearing got caught on his watch as the pair were fumbling around in the bathroom stall.

The two teens had met about a month-and-a-half before the attack and became friends, the girl testified. The teens were not in the same grade, but shared friends in common.

At one time, people would blame the butler. Today, we blame the watch. At no point does Jouvenal try to explain what he's talking about.

For the record, the (convicted) "defendant" was 14 years old at the time of this assault. The victim may have been younger.

Is our tribe still allowed to care about this? Or do narrowing tribal mandates now restrict our wandering tribunes to narrower ports of call?

FRIDAY: Nicolle recited Our Mandated Tale!


But then, so did everyone else: Yesterday afternoon, shortly after 5 P.M. Eastern, Nicolle Wallace decided to pleasure the tribe.

In the old days, Wallace pleasured the other tribe, supporting such undertakings as the war in Iraq and statewide referendums banning same-sex marriage. In her contemporary incarnation, she services our tribe—Us. 

On several occasions, Wallace has explicitly said that, in her role as a "political communicator," she says things she knows are untrue. (For one example, click here.)  Experts say this is a large part of what we the humans are.

Wallace is very good at her job. As a downside, her statements and presentations aren't always perfectly accurate. Yesterday, she offered a rather shaky account of a recent dispute in Virginia.

She spoke to Maya Wiley. Like the famous werewolf's hair, her talking-points were perfect:

WALLACE (10/28/21): Maya, I want to read you some more about this Virginia governor's race from the New York Times:

"A new online ad released this week by Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate, features a mother who pushed to have Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” banned from her son’s English curriculum eight years ago. To Democrats, the Youngkin ad was both a throwback to the days of book banning and a coded insult to one of America’s most celebrated Black authors, after months of frantic Republican alarms, in Virginia and nationwide, about how schoolchildren are being educated about racism."

I watched Field of Dreams during the pandemic with my third grader, and there's a scene at the beginning about banning books. And he said, "What are they doing? I mean, with the Internet, why would you ban anything?" And I thought that was such an insightful thing for a third grader to ask.

This whole debate is so phony, is so bogus. It's exactly what Matt [Miller] said—it's all about white grievance. How do we engage at a substantive level with something that 1) is rooted in disinformation, and 2) is rooted in racism?

(We show you the quote from the New York Times exactly as Wiley read it. As we'll note below, it includes an edit which could be viewed as strategic.)

That was Wallace's presentation. Concerning the matter at hand, it included all the mandated points. According to Wallace's presentation:

1) The woman in the Youngkin ad had tried to get a book banned. She'd been engaged in "book banning."

2) The woman's concern stemmed from her racism. It was the work of "white grievance."

3) The book in question had been written by one of our most celebrated authors.

That was the heart of Wallace's brief. It hit most of the mandated points.

As we've noted in the past few days, the woman in question hadn't been trying to get the book in question banned. Nor had she questioned the literary merit of the book in question.

In her comments about the book, the woman had cited a certain aspect of its sexual content. She had also seemed to say that she expected her son to be taught about slavery in his public school.

Different people will have different ideas about the woman's complaint, and about her proposal. That said, it's hard to find something good to say about what Wallace did yesterday, or about what the rest of our fragile, flailing, failing tribe has done in the past week with respect to this suddenly high-profile matter.

What has our failing tribe done? In typical tribal fashion, we've rewritten this story to involve certain mandated tribalized points:

The woman's complaint had to be about race. It had to be an artefact of her racism, of her white grievance.

The woman had to be trying to get the book banned. She had to be involved in "book banning."

The uglier strain of our ugly minds quickly adopted those mandates. Along the way, we added various irrelevant elements to our pathetic but Standard Group Tale.

Wallace was reading from a news report in yesterday's New York Times. Below, you see the unedited text as the report began:

LERER AND EPSTEIN (10/27/21): In the final days of the tight race for Virginia governor, the candidates are turning to the unlikeliest of campaign props: a novel from 1987.

A new online advertisement released this week by Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate, features a mother who pushed to have Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” banned from her son’s English curriculum eight years ago, citing the book’s graphic scenes. When that failed, she started an effort that eventually became a bill passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, but that was rejected by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat now running to win back his old job.

“It gave parents a say—the option to choose an alternative for my children,” the Northern Virginia mother, Laura Murphy, says in the ad. “But then Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it twice. He doesn’t think parents should have a say. He said that. He shut us out.”

Left unsaid in the ad was that the mother and her husband are Republican activists, that their son was a high school senior taking advanced placement English when he read the passages that supposedly gave him nightmares, or that he later went on to work briefly in the White House under former President Donald J. Trump and now works for the G.O.P.’s congressional campaign committee. Also unmentioned was the novel in question: a Pulitzer Prize-winning fixture of the American literary canon—by a Nobel Prize-winner, no less—whose harrowing scenes conveyed the horrors of slavery, a subject with obvious historical resonance in Virginia.

To Democrats, the Youngkin ad was both a throwback to the days of book banning and a coded insult to one of America’s most celebrated Black authors, after months of frantic Republican alarms, in Virginia and nationwide, about how schoolchildren are being educated about racism.

That's how the news report began. Concerning that report:

It included a wholly irrelevant fact—a fact which quickly became a part of our tribe's Standard Narration. (The woman's son "later went on to work briefly in the White House under former President Donald J. Trump and now works for the G.O.P.’s congressional campaign committee.")

It stressed the literary prominence of Morrison, which was never an issue in the woman's complaint or proposal.

It went out of its way to note that the book in question dealt with "the horrors of slavery." It didn't note that the woman's point of concern involved "harrowing scenes" in the book involving bestiality.

It strongly stressed the "book banning" theme, without attempting to explain what the woman had actually sought.

In fairness, Lerer and Epstein did include a passage providing a tiny glimmer of what the woman in question had sought. ("The option to choose an alternative for my children.”) This glimmer was very vague.

It also included a tiny possible glimmer of the nature of the woman's objection to the book. (She had cited "the book's graphic scenes." Perhaps not taking any chances, Wallace edited that short phrase out.)

Lerer and Epstein never reported that the woman's objection to the novel's assignment in high school involved a matters of sexuality rather than a matter of race. To some extent, we'd have to say that they went out of their way to avoid noting this fact.

They never reported, in a clear way, that the woman had sought the right to have her son assigned some other assignment. Instead, they pushed the "book banning" theme.

Wallace took it and ran. The woman's objection had been grounded in "racism," the old-school homophobe pleasingly told us. This is The Story our tribe widely tells as we hurtle along the road toward moral and political perdition.

Yesterday, the Washington Post and the New York Times were full of the "disinformation" Wallace pretends to abhor. One journalist after another providing our rapidly failing tribe with the story we childishly long to hear about The Racist Book Banner.

Perhaps the most appalling performance came from Ron Charles, a thoroughly intelligent book critic for the Washington Post. But there was also Charles Blow and Philip Bump and Alexandra Petri, oh my! The tribe was rampaging through the pea patch reciting Our Novelized Tale.

Morrison is widely hailed as a great novelist. (We haven't read her books.) However great she may be, she has nothing on the instant novelists who populate our own hapless tribe.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but Our Tribe is perhaps a bit dishonest. "It's the nature of all human tribes," despondent top experts all say. 

Wallace has said that she plays it this way. We'd show you Wiley's reply, but what she said went on and on, and because Wiley is sharper than the average bear, it's depressing to think about what she said.

This is the way our tribe behaves. Our tribe is a great deal like theirs.

We humans are wired to loathe The Others. Disconsolate experts glumly suggest that there's no way out of this mess.

For extra credit only: We'll leave you with one last example. It was offered by a commenter to a rather peculiar Kevin Drum post.

Drum's post dealt with a different topic. Eventually, one commenter offered this:

COMMENTER: ...For Republicans, the truth of a matter is not important, all that matters is if they can get a few more of the faithful out to vote by scaring the bejeebus out of them.

To see this, all you have to do is look at the current Youngkin broadside aimed at a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by a Nobel Prize winning author. Because of course we have to protect college bound high school seniors from reading such a work, they might get a realistic idea of what slavery was all about.

They don't care about the truth, he declared. At that point, he followed them down.

Snapshots of life amid silent secessions!


Parker gets it right: What is it like to live in a world defined by silent secessions?

To live in a world where various groups have decided that they will live within a tribe, acknowledging nothing but tribal verities, affirming no one but tribal members?

What's it like to live in that world? The answer is all around us. With that in mind, you might consider a news report, and also an opinion column, from this week's editions of the Washington Post.

The news report was really a profile of a region. Beautifully composed by the Post's Lisa Rein, it appeared beneath this headline:

Montanans used to live and let live. Today bitter confrontations dim Big Sky Country.

According to Rein, Montana suffers from a new state of mind—animosity. 

We once Fourth of Julyed high up in Glacier National Park, communing with the mountain goats, but we don't actually know the state. Rein says the state has taken a major turn for the worse. Live and direct from Kalispell, here's her nugget presentation:

REIN (10/25/21): It has been more than a year of discontent in the Flathead Valley, as national passions that erupted during the Trump presidency and its aftermath struck home in this expanse of crystalline lakes and Douglas firs at the base of the Rocky Mountains less than an hour drive from Glacier National Park in northwest Montana.

Hostility over the November election, the coronavirus and social movements have left a trail of bad blood among old-school Republicans, backers of the former president, increasingly vocal Democrats and out-of-state transplants, convulsing everything from the school district and the public library to daily interactions.

This is no longer the place people here felt they knew, with its pride in a civil style of independence, not just from Washington but from animosity. Local businesses, politicians and ordinary people now find themselves navigating angry confrontations, and a nuanced political tradition of splitting tickets on Election Day has given way to partisanship that propelled a Republican sweep of races for governor, president and Congress in November for the first time in two decades.

Even the Independence Day parade shifted this summer from a once-revered slice of Americana to another battle in a culture war...

Rein describes a type of silent civil war. So does Kathleen Parker, in this new column about some ugly reactions to the deadly shooting incident on the set of the movie, Rust.

Parker is no fan of Alec Baldwin, but she's able to feel empathy for him at this horrible time. She notes that certain others can't do so, or possibly won't. Here is her first example:

PARKER (10/28/21): We put ourselves in Baldwin’s shoes and try to imagine what he felt upon realizing what had happened. Seeing him so distraught and plainly grieving in photos snapped after the shooting should move anyone to empathy and pause our nation’s default cynicism. But not in our spiritually hollowed-out world, where meanness is a virtue and hatred is the coin of the realm.

Of all people, J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, tweeted the following to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: “Dear @jack let Trump back on. We need Alec Baldwin tweets.” As is well known, Twitter banned Donald Trump from the platform after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

I can’t fathom how someone so apparently intelligent and empathic as Vance could resort to such callousness. This is the same man who wrote a critically acclaimed memoir of his White working-class upbringing that shed needed light on Trump’s rise to power. In so doing, he exposed his own family with a raw realism, coupled with humor. I loved both the book and the movie that was made from it. But Vance has squandered any good will toward him with his desperate grab for Trumpworld approval.

We join Parker in astonishment at the person Vance has chosen to become. As she continues, she cites a second demon:

PARKER: Trump [himself] has been a bystander to this story who, one can always hope, has discovered the interior rewards of the high road. He may well despise Baldwin for his wicked impersonations of him on “Saturday Night Live,” which were hilarious to anyone with a sense of humor. But contrary to Vance’s craven calculation, Trump has stayed silent on the tragedy.

Not so Donald Trump Jr., who has been hawking T-shirts with the slogan: “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people.” Uncharmingly, he offered an unprintable defense to critics of the shirts that summed up his character.

As investigation into the shooting continues, two things seem true: What Baldwin did was a terrible accident. What Vance and the younger Trump have done were attacks not only on Baldwin but also on every American who values and strives for decency.

We think Parker's aim is true. Our question would be this:

To what extent are those in our own highly self-assured tribe surrendering to types of silent secession? To insistence on Mandated Tribal Storyline? To an insistence on loathing and denunciation aimed at everyone who is an Other?

We see that same sickness pervading our tribe. Such reactions are "human, all too human," despondent top experts all say.

THURSDAY: How beloved are fairness and balance?


Experts predict the end: Is the American experiment, such as it has been and such as it is, possibly nearing its end?

Is the experiment already over? Have an array of "silent secessions" already taken place?

Based on interviews with major experts, we'd be inclined to say yes, yes and yes.

Regarding our broken public discourse, we'd also be inclined to say this: "It's all tribal Storyline now." 

Regarding the role of mandated narrative within our own highly self-assured tribe, we'd say the current pseudo-discussion concerning the award-winning novel, Beloved, is a striking case in point.

At times like these, is our highly self-impressed tribe able to be fair and balanced concerning major points of debate? 

We'd be strongly inclined to say no. Disconsolate experts glumly insist that this unfortunate state of affairs stems from one of the deeply flawed ways our human brains are wired. This dates to the war of all against all, way back in prehistory!

If want to be marginally fair, we liberals should perhaps acknowledge one basic point. The pseudo-discussion about Beloved doesn't seem to involve anyone's view concerning its literary merit.

At its base, the pseudo-discussion doesn't involve anyone's judgment concerning that point. At its base, the pseudo-discussion concerns these different questions:

Is Beloved an appropriate choice for a high school literature class? 

Much more specifically, should parents be notified about Beloved's contents before the book is taught? Also, should parents be permitted to have their children opt out of instruction concerning the award-winning book?

As we noted yesterday, the roots of the current pseudo-discussion track back to 2012. At that time, a parent in Fairfax County, Virginia objected to the inclusion of Beloved in her son's high school literature curriculum.

Six months later, the Washington Post published a news report about the ongoing dispute. The news report started as shown below. 

Warning! The opening sentence in this news report may have been perhaps a bit misleading:

SHAPIRO (2/7/13): The book Laura Murphy wants removed from Fairfax County classrooms is considered a modern American classic. It is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a masterpiece of fiction whose author’s 1993 Nobel Prize in literature citation said that she, “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

But Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Murphy said, depicts scenes of bestiality, gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder, content she believes could be too intense for teenage readers.

“It’s not about the author or the awards,” said Murphy, a mother of four whose eldest son had nightmares after reading “Beloved” for his senior-year Advanced Placement English class. “It’s about the content.”

The Fairfax County School Board voted Thursday against hearing Murphy’s challenge, but she vowed to continue her quest. She said she plans to take her complaint to the Virginia Board of Education, where she will lobby for policies that will give parents more control over what their children read in class.

It's true! Without any question, Beloved is "considered a modern American classic." And not only that:

Beloved did win the Pulitzer Prize (in 1988). In 1993, its author was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

That said, did Laura Murphy, the parent in question, really "want [Beloved] removed from Fairfax County classrooms?" 

In a sense, but not as such! As T. Rees Shapiro explained later on in his report, Murphy's actual request was a bit more limited.

What was Murphy actually seeking? According to Shapiro's report, Murphy was actually "seeking to have Beloved banned until new policies are adopted for books assigned for class that might have objectionable material." 

What new policies did Murphy have in mind? At the very end of his full-length report, Shapiro finally  explained:

SHAPIRO: Murphy’s challenge reached the school board in late December. In a 6-2 vote announced Thursday, the board decided against hearing Murphy’s case and upheld Superintendent Jack D. Dale’s decision to retain “Beloved” in the AP English curriculum.

Currently, students can opt out of books assigned in class that they find uncomfortable to read. But the policy should be stricter for books with mature themes, Murphy argues.

She said she contacted the state Board of Education and is pursuing a policy similar to what is in place for the state’s Family Life Education curriculum, in which topics such as rape and molestation are discussed. In those classes, state policy allows for parents to receive notice of certain class topics. Parents also can remove their children from the program.

“School policies related to sensitive topics should be the same,” regardless of the class subject, Murphy said. “Clearly a double standard exists, and it should be consistent across all academic disciplines.”

That was the end of the news report. Readers were finally allowed to know what Murphy was recommending. 

As it turned out, Murphy was recommending that parents should be notified about the contents of certain novels, and that they should be allowed to remove their children from instruction in some such books. 

You might agree with that proposal, or then again you might not. But in those days, readers were at least allowed to know what Murphy was proposing, even if they had to read all the way to the end of a news report which may have misled then a tad in its opening sentence.

Was there something crazy about Murphy's proposal? We'd say the answer is no. Others may disagree.

That said, the Fairfax County school board could hardly say that Murphy's  proposal was crazy, nuts, cuckoo or daft. Earlier in his report, Shapiro had noted this:

SHAPIRO: Fairfax County schools in certain cases have limited books for distribution only to older students, but it has never banned a book outright. According to records, the School Board has reviewed just 19 books since 1983.

If teachers wish to show excerpts from an R-rated movie in class, such as the 1998 film adaptation of “Beloved,” starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover, they must notify families two weeks ahead and receive written permission from parents. The school system uses content filters to monitor what students can access on the Internet. But for books, teachers don’t need to give notice.

Intentionally or otherwise, was Shapiro still floating the idea that Murphy wanted to "ban the book outright?" We've reported, you can decide!

At any rate, according to the school board's rules, parents had to be notified before a teacher showed the film Beloved, but no such rule obtained for the book. 

Perhaps there should be no such rules at all. But on its face, Murphy was simply proposing that the board adopt a uniform policy regarding movies and books.

In our view, we don't think there was anything crazy about what Murphy proposed. (As we noted yesterday, we have no view about the suitability of Beloved for a high school literature class, in large part because we've never read it.)

Having said these things, we'll say one thing more. 

We think parents of public school students should be treated with respect. We hold that view even if the parents are Others or are believed to belong to the lesser breed!

We taught fifth graders for seven years in the Baltimore City Schools (with two more years teaching junior high math). Not being completely stupid at that early date, we understood a basic fact:

The delightful children in our classes were connected to their parents, their grandparents and their guardians in a way they weren't connected to us. In our view, that basic fact should be respected and understood, even if the parent in question turns out to be one of Them!

In this highly tribalized time, our tribe has moved beyond such time-honored understandings. Tomorrow, we'll show you what we mean by that. Today, we note one additional point:

In Shapiro's report, he seemed to indicate the source of Murphy's concern about Beloved. He mentioned Beloved's "scenes of bestiality" in his own opening paragraph. Later, he quoted Murphy:

SHAPIRO: School officials point out that AP English is a college-level class that often involves discussions of adult topics.

“To me, mature references means slavery or the Holocaust,” Laura Murphy said. “I’m not thinking my kid is going to be reading a book with bestiality.”

Just for the record, those scenes seemed to be the focal point of this parent's complaint. Many members of our tribe are currently fudging this point, moving instead toward highly preferable tribal Storyline.

As this tribal behavior unfolds, anthropologists keen and wail. Some even tear at their hair. In our experience, these mournful experts simply cannot be consoled.

Tomorrow: Lerer, Charles, Bump, Blow and Petri oh my! According to despondent experts, the experiment is nearing its end

Censorship, boredom in high school lit!


Examples seem to abound: We graduated from high school in 1965. 

We were living in suburban San Francisco, in a world which was much more culturally progressive than the more cloistered world of suburban Boston, from which our family had escaped in the summer of 1960.

Still, when we read several of Hemingway's short stories as part of a high school literature class, one story had literally been cut out of all copies of the book our class was issued. 

Our teacher made a big deal of noting this fact. Up in Michigan was no longer there to offend our inquiring eyes.

Why had Up in Michigan been removed from the books we were issued? You can read Up in Michigan here, and it's a short short story.

Should the story have been excised—physically removed—from the books we were issued? We don't have a huge opinion on that. We're more interested in a topic which appeared in the comments to Kevin Drum's post about Beloved.

The topic in question is boredom, or perhaps "relatability."

Several commenters mentioned books they were assigned in high school—books they couldn't relate to. The topic started with this early comment:

COMMENT: I am not a fan of the way adult books are assigned to teenagers. I understand that most people no longer read books as adults, so it is high school or never. But I don't think we do kids or the novels themselves any favors when we assign books that kids just aren't mature enough or have enough life experience to read and appreciate.

The commenter cited an example of a book her husband was too young to appreciate or understand when he was 17. (Their Eyes Were Watching God.) She herself read (and admired) the book when she was 40. He was assigned it too young.

Other commenters extended the theme:

COMMENT: We read Our Town. If I thought I had to read that again, I think I'd hang myself.

Followed up with Spoon River Anthology, Sherwood Anderson and Bartleby the Scrivener. It's a miracle anyone lived through it.

COMMENT: We read the Scarlet Letter in 10th grade. It's a wonder anyone in my class ever read anything ever again. I believe the lesson we were expected to learn was: reading sucks! It could not possibly have been anything else.

COMMENT: We had to read Heart of Darkness. My entire AP class hated it, and we all bought the Cliff Notes because the only parts we didn't hate we flat out couldn't make heads or tails of.

We had a similar experience. Our class received good instruction in the skills of "literary analysis." Top grades in AP tests were common within our set.

That said, we began to feel alienated from the whole reading experience. We didn't have any idea why we were reading most of the books we were assigned, and we felt we were being trained in a cynical type of performance.

Why were we reading Moby Dick, or The Scarlet Letter? We had no real idea. Should we have been reading those books? We're not sure how to answer.

One commenter described an English teacher who maybe didn't have the perfect bedside manner. Should parents be involved in the public school education of their children? Here's the commenter's tale:

COMMENT: This reminds me of one of my favorite English teachers back in high school, who frequently commented on parents visiting him to complain about the assigned reading material. He told us his standard response was to let them know that his job was dealing with their children's reading problems, not theirs.

I don't recall any of the assigned books from back in those days, but "Huckleberry Finn" was probably one of them. Now banned everywhere, apparently, for using verboten terms.

We're fairly sure that Huckleberry Finn isn't banned everywhere. That said, when black kids, sometimes in middle school grades, feel humiliated and embarrassed by discussion of the book's text in their public school classrooms, that's an important concern which ought to be treated with respect.

Regarding that teacher's bedside manner, way to insult the parents! Our guess would be this—high school kids tend to lionize the chesty teacher who is willing to talk back to their parents, or who at least is willing to say that he does. The teacher who taught us all those skills was perhaps a bit like that.

Should high school kids be forced to read books to which they can't relate? We have no idea. "I believe the lesson we were expected to learn was reading sucks!," that one commenter said. "It could not possibly have been anything else."

Out there in the Golden State, we were well trained in certain techniques, but was it just a game? It seemed to us that it pretty much was. On the bright side, it was a way to get into college. But what would we do once we got there?

We'd also make a recommendation. Parents should be listened to and treated with respect. Controversially, we think parents should be treated that way even if they're one of The Others.

Breaking! Every time we call them those names, another Trump voter is born!

WEDNESDAY: "Virginia race may hinge on what you think of Beloved!"


Or it might turn on what the public thinks about Us: We've never read Beloved. Kevin Drum claims that he has.

Yesterday, Kevin offered this summary of the award-winning novel, which has kinda sorta become a part of the Virginia gubernatorial campaign:

DRUM (10/26/21): Times sure have changed. It's been many years since I read Beloved, but I remember distinctly that it's chock full of gang rape, sexual abuse, and sexual humiliation—including its famous scene of Black slaves in a chain gang being forced to perform oral sex on their overseers. Even if it were a book with nothing but white characters, it would be a very adult read.

Kevin didn't mention the apparently famous scenes involving bestiality, which are mentioned in many other capsule reviews of the Pulitzer prize-winning book.

Should this celebrated book be assigned to high school students? Due to a campaign ad by Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, this question has kinda sorta come center stage in the Virginia race. Because we haven't read the book, we have no particular answer to that question. 

But as such "censorship" discussions almost always do, the discussion of this particular topic has highlighted basic features of the way our nation's warring tribes tend to regard each other.  Even worse:

 Anthropologists claim that these highly tribalized pseudo-debates showcase one of the unhelpful ways our human brains are wired.

Should Beloved be assigned to high school students? As he continued his brief discussion, Kevin took a non-dogmatic stand. He didn't call anyone names.  Amazingly, he seemed to be able to understand more than one point of view:

DRUM (continuing directly): But I guess high school seniors are pretty close to being adults, and there's no guarantee that any book will be 100% trigger free. Complaints about the book from students seem to be pretty rare.

Still, it's easy to see why some older parents would be sort of shocked. This kind of stuff just wasn't assigned back when people our age were impressionable youths. But it's a different world today, even if lots of people continue to resist the idea.

Kevin has read the book; we haven't. He seems to think, on balance, that it's OK to assign this "very adult" book.

That said:

Is it true that high school seniors are really "pretty close to being adults?" 

In a sense, but not as such! As liberals, we tend to adopt this stance in matters like this. We tend to reject it when it comes to criminal penalties assessed on teenage offenders whose brains are not yet fully formed.

Is it true that "there's no guarantee that any book will be 100% trigger free?"

In a sense, but not as such! Unless we're asserting that there could never be a book which was too "adult" for assignment in high school, Kevin is ducking the actual question here. The actual question is this:

Does Beloved, whatever its overall merit might be, possibly cross over a line which other books do not?

In the current episode, Youngkin has aired a campaign ad featuring a parent, Laura Murphy, who challenged the assignment of Beloved to her son when he was a high school senior back in 2012. 

At that time, Murphy didn't exactly want the book to be "banned." According to this real-time report in the Washington Post, she wanted the book "banned until new policies are adopted for books assigned for class that might have objectionable material."

What specific policies did she have in mind? It hardly matters at this point, but in the interest of full disclosure and minimal fairness, along with minor respect for nuance, we might want to consider this:

SHAPIRO (2/7/13): Fairfax County schools in certain cases have limited books for distribution only to older students, but it has never banned a book outright. According to records, the School Board has reviewed just 19 books since 1983.

If teachers wish to show excerpts from an R-rated movie in class, such as the 1998 film adaptation of “Beloved,” starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover, they must notify families two weeks ahead and receive written permission from parents. The school system uses content filters to monitor what students can access on the Internet. But for books, teachers don’t need to give notice.

Written permission had to be sought for movies; there was no such need in the case of books. From these facts, we can draw the following conclusions:

The school district agreed that parents should have some say about the materials their children would be exposed to. At the same time, the school district's policies in this general area may not have been wholly consistent.

Some people may feel that parents should never have any say in any such matters. In the end, whatever the merits, we'll have to assume that that would be a minority view. In this case, the school district didn't agree with that view when it came to the viewing of films.

The school district agreed that parents should hve some say when it come to films. But uh-oh! In the final hubernatorial debate in Virginia,  Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe issued one of the all-time political gaffes, saying this during a discussion of a related matter:

MCAULIFFE (9/29/21): I’m not going to let parents come into schools and take books out and make their own decision. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.

"I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach?" Whatever McAuliffe may have meant by that, it qualifies as a world-class political gaffe. In the end, very few voters will agree with the attitude that statement seems to convey. 

Everyone makes dumb remarks at some point in the course of running for office. But if McAuliffe ends up losing this race by a narrow margin, that one absurdly ill-shaped remark will quite possibly have provided the margin of his defeat.

Youngkin's ad has produced fully predictable feedback from the liberal base. Consider:

Drum adopted a moderate, understanding view of parental objections in the excerpt we've posted. In comments, though, readers swung into action, sometimes authoring the kinds of arrogant, stupid remarks which get Republicans elected.

There's certainly nothing new about this. For perfectly understandable reasons, our admittedly superior liberal tribe has tended to behave this way roughly since forever. 

We're not real strong at respecting the notion that opinions will sometimes differ. The reasons for this are perfectly obvious, but we get hurt by this all the same.

How do we tend to respond to such matters? Below, you see some of the last few comments to that 2013 news report in the Post. Understandably, we liberals were showing our frustration with the lesser breed:

COMMENT: Anal-retentive Republican who wants to deny the horror and abuse of slavery existed. Is she Southern?

COMMENT: Has this book-banner read The Holy Bible, or doesn't that count as a book? Some of the events in the Old Testament would probably scare her little AP boy to tears. 

COMMENT: Perhaps we shouldn't let them watch the six o'clock news either? There's some pretty intense stuff going on there as well!

COMMENT: And perhaps we ought to ban lessons of history and current events such as the Holocaust, the casualties and nightmares of war.... perhaps the symptoms and consequences of diseases.  

All life except DisneyWorld should be banned then....... right?

COMMENT: It's happening faster than I thought...the pussification of America people, it's here. The next generation will be such a bunch of crybabies and momma's boys that we will stand no chance of EVER surpassing other countries in education or power.

COMMENT: I think the precious little boy had nightmares because the book took him out of the conservative comfort zone of denying and defaming black history. Instead of the knee jerk responses like "slavery was so long ago" and "why don't you get over slavery." For the first time in his life he expose to complex black characters who had endured the horrors of slavery. It was too much for his delicate conservative constitution to take.

Belittlement and name-calling mixed with specious argumentation in those thoroughly typical comments. One commenter even used the P-word, an unfortunate term previously thought to have belonged to Jon Gruden alone.

But then, you can find the same elements in Jonathan Chait's recent discussion of this matter. In his post, Chait mixes an array of factual embellishments—you can start with the headlines on the post—with the name-calling and shaky reasoning on display here:

CHAIT (10/26/21): One irony here is that Republicans are rallying around a privileged snowflake who claims a book millions of children have read caused unbearable trauma. If their principle is that parents should be able to prevent schools from assigning texts that upset their kids, what are they going to say when progressives start demanding the school excise texts by Mark Twain, Richard Wright, and other authors who have run afoul of the left for depicting racist dialogue?

To Chait, Murphy is "a privileged snowflake" rather than an "anal-retentive Republican." Meanwhile, have progressives been demanding that schools excise texts by Mark Twain (i.e., Huckleberry Finn) "for depicting racist dialogue?"

We're not sure about that. But black parents have sometimes raised concerns about the teaching of this book, citing the embarrassment and humiliation its text is said to bring upon their children in the classroom setting. Whatever your ultimate judgment may be, that isn't a stupid concern, nor is it obviously so in the case of Murphy's stated concerns about Beloved.

(In that Post report, Murphy specifically cited the parts of Beloved involving bestiality. How do those passages read? Dearest darlings, use your heads! Even as our publications ridicule Murphy for her objections, their own rules forbid the publication of such fare.)

Issues like these tend to be a godsend for Republican candidates. Loudmouth progressives march off to war, engaging in loud name-calling and displaying attitudes which average voters will tend to find unattractive.

In fairness, episodes like this pose a special challenge for those of us on our side. It's obvious why we react in these ways. The special challenge we face is this:

As a simple matter of fact, we will always be smarter and better than The Others (the lesser breed). But if we fail to disguise this obvious fact in the public statements we make, The Others will take offense.

If we call them "anal-retentive,"  if we mock their values and their perspectives, they will tend to get mad at us before they'll accept our instruction! This proves that they're the lesser breed—but at the polls, our candidates may get hurt!

It seems to us that topics like this expose a basic human problem. We humans tend to have a very hard time showing basic respect for the views or reactions of Others.

Experts say we're wired this way—that the wiring dates back to prehistory. Experts say that we the humans simply aren't wired for difference.

In this democracy which we're allegedly trying to save, we liberals are forced to go to the polls with the electorate we have. For us liberals, that means that we have to go to the polls with many members of the lesser breed.

The Others will never be as good or as fair or as brilliant as we are. But when we insult them and call them names, they dumbly take offense!

Drum's post bore a prescient headline. His headline went like this:

Virginia race may hinge on what you think of "Beloved"

That's one way of parsing this matter. A scarier way is this:

The Virginia race may turn on what the public thinks about Us!

At present, we're out there trying to lose this race. Experts say this has always been one of the ways we roll.

We like to call The Others names. Weirdly enough, they react by deciding to vote against us!

Allegedly, Harvard is still very white!


The way we look to Others: How does our infallible tribe occasionally look to The Others? In particular, how do we look to Others with regard to issues concerning gender and race?

Being able to answer such questions isn't always one of our tribe's strongest skills. For today, consider something we read at New York magazine's Intelligencer site.

James D. Walsh was doing the honors, dropping a series of bombs on "the finest schools." The headlines on his interview piece read like this:

Harvard Has Too Much Money to Have So Few Students 
Scott Galloway on elite universities’ unethical obsession with exclusivity and prestige.

At this site, we aren't big fans of the finest schools, but at one point we were struck by something Walsh said. It struck us as an odd thing to say—and we suspect that we may know how this looks to some Others:

WALSH (10/25/21): There are indications that things are changing at elite schools. Harvard, while still very white, is more diverse now than it was. Amherst announced it was dropping its admissions advantage for children of alumni. Are there regulatory fixes that could expedite these changes? Some have suggested requiring schools to spend 8 percent of their endowment annually, or earmarking a set percentage on tuition. 

That was one of the questions Walsh posed to his interview subject. That said, is it true that Harvard is "still very white?" 

Skillfully, we decided to check the demographic stats on the Class of 2025.

Weirdly, Harvard is one of those schools which doesn't acknowledge having admitted any "white" students. Still and all, the famous school does acknowledge such "admission statistics" as these:

A Brief Profile of the Admitted Class of 2025
African-American: 15.9%
Asian American: 25.9%
Hispanic or Latino: 12.5%
Native American: 1.1%
Native Hawaiian: 0.5%

According to those numbers, at least 55.9% of all admissions went to kids who aren't officially "white." At most, that means that 44.1% of all admissions went to kids who are "white."

Do those numbers make you think that Harvard is "still very white?" There is no one correct answer to that, but we'd be inclined to say "no."

Admittedly, that's just one set of numbers. At a second site, we found a breakdown in the demographics of Harvard's undergraduate student body. We're using the categories the site itself used:

Harvard University Undergraduate Racial-Ethnic Diversity Breakdown
White: 37.6%
Asian: 20.9%
International: 12.3%
Hispanic: 11.1%
Black or African American: 8.6%
Multi-Ethnic: 7.5%

This site counts "International" students as a separate (rather large) category. By this site's reckoning, American non-Hispanic whites constitute 37.6% of the undergraduate student body. Limning it a different way, they're slightly more than 40% of all American undergrads.

Looking at numbers like these, does it seem to you that Harvard is "still very white?" There's no perfect way to answer that question, but when we toss off such claims in the way Walsh did, we suspect we know what some of The Others will think:

Some of The Others will think that Harvard is actually bringing in a very diverse student body. 

But so what, some of The Others will think. Nothing will ever be good enough for our grasping progressive tribe.

Some of The Others will think they see unyielding "racial" dogmatics being enacted Over Here in our tribe. That's the way it may seem to some Others.

Do you think that those Others are wrong? Can you squint your eyes in such a way that they may have a germ of a point?

TUESDAY: Do individuals belong to a race (part 2)?


Improving on yesterday's effort: Despite the many awards it has won, we did a lousy job in yesterday's report.

We were discussing a lengthy profile in Sunday's New York Times magazine. We'd call it a highly permissive celebrity profile about an upcoming film.

We're looking forward to seeing the film. On a journalistic basis, we thought the profile was extremely poor. 

That said, we did a lousy job critiquing the profile. By the time we were done, our basic point was quite unclear.

In part, we did a lousy job because the profile was flawed in so many ways. Today, let's take a quick look at the part of the profile which initially caught our eye.

The profile was written by Alexandra Kleeman. Her subject was Rebecca Hall, a British actress who is about to release her first film as a director.

Hall's film is an adaptation of Nella Larson's 1929 novel, Passing. Below, you see the way Kleeman's profile began, headline included.

Kleeman's summary of the novel instantly caught our eye. In one respect, it struck us as judgmental, possibly just a bit cruel:

KLEEMAN (10/26/21): The Secret Toll of Racial Ambiguity 

When Rebecca Hall read Nella Larsen’s groundbreaking 1929 novel, “Passing,” over a decade ago, she felt an intense, immediate attachment to it. The story seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity—the unnameable gaps in her family history that shaped her life in their very absence, the way a sinkhole in the road distorts the path of traffic blocks away.

The novel follows Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, two light-skinned Black women who grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood and shared a friendship complicated by differences in class and social status. When Clare’s father died, she was sent off to live with white relatives, while Irene went on to become firmly ensconced in the vibrant Black artistic and cultural community of 1920s Harlem, wife to a Black doctor and mother to two dark-skinned young boys. One day, while passing for convenience on the rooftop restaurant of a whites-only hotel, Irene is recognized by a beautiful blond woman, who turns out to be Clare—who now not only lives her life as a white woman but is also mother to a white-passing daughter and married to a bigoted man who has no clue about her mixed-race heritage. The friends’ reunion crackles with tension, charged with curiosity, envy and longing.

(Kleeman says that Irene was "passing for convenience" in a restaurant. We assume that means that she was agreeing to be perceived as "white," but only on that one occasion.)

We were struck by Kleeman's summary of the novel. Here's why:

In Kleeman's summary, Irene and Clare are "light-skinned Black women who grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood," presumably during the 1920s (or before). The first possible surprise in the plot would be this:

"When Clare’s father died, she was sent off to live with white relatives."

How many black residents of Chicago at that time had "white relatives" somewherewhite relatives to whose care they could consign their son or daughter? 

That struck us as a surprising plot element. Years later, though, it apparently leads to this:

Clare now "lives her life as a white woman."  She's "married to a bigoted man who has no clue about her mixed-race heritage." 

Also this: Clare is now "mother to a white-passing daughter," whatever that formulation might be taken to mean.

We were struck by some of Kleeman's languageby some of the ideas about "race" her language seems to convey. Let's start with this relatively minor point:

What does it mean when Kleeman says that Clare had a "mixed-race heritage?" We've already been told that Clare is black. What does it mean when we're now told that her "heritage" is "mixed-race?"

That formulation could mean many things. Primarily, we'll guess it means that her bigoted husband doesn't know that her birth family was "black."

That's a fairly minor point. This second point is not:

What can it possibly mean when Kleeman says that Clare's daughter is "white-passing?" Just consider this young person's circumstance:

Presumably, her bigoted father actually is "white." That said, her mother is so light-skinned that everyone believes that she's "white" too. 

Unless someone has told her different, the daughter will naturally have this same impression of her mother. 

(Just for the record, the odds are good that the bulk of this girl's DNA traces back to Europe.)

In what sense, then, can this "dear daughter beneath the sun" be said to be "white-passing?" If we want to score her mother that wayif we want to adorn her with a scarlet Pwhy in the world would we want to score the daughter that way too?

Let's review! This darling daughter appears to be "white." Her father appears to be "white," and her mother does too. As far as we know, no one has ever told her that she's isn't "white."

Why then would someone want to call this daughter "white-passing?" Does Kleeman secretly hold to the one-drop ruleto the age-old rule which scores this dear daughter as "black?" Does Kleeman secretly cling to that rule, perhaps without even realizing?

In fairness, this was just a passing throw-away line from Kleeman. We can't tell you what she meant when she penned that description. We can't tell you if her editor asked her what it meant.

We can say that it caught our eye, in part because of its apparent reflexive judgmentalism. Also, because it may seem to suggest that this young woman really was secretly "black," no matter what anyone says. Or maybe she should have gone around telling everyone she was biracial!

We were struck by that puzzling language in Kleeman's second paragraph. As we continued reading, Kleeman turned to a lengthy discussion of her own life and times, but she mainly profiled Rebecca Hall.

In the course of her highly permissive profile, Kleeman let Hall make an array of statements which don't seem to comport with the published record. Fawning journalists frequently perform such services on behalf of celebrities who have products to sell.

(We look forward to seeing Hall's film.)

Yesterday, we wallowed in the vast array of contradictions Kleeman left unchallenged and unclarified. By the time we were done with our attempt to list them all, it wasn't clear, in any way, what our overall point might have been.

Today, we thought we'd return to the puzzling account which first caught our eye in Kleeman's profile of Hall. It strikes us as a reflexively cruel account, but also perhaps as a tribute to the enduring power of "the world the slaveholders made."

Within the American context, the notion that everyone has (belongs to) a race comes to us from that deeply destructive world. Meanwhile, we progressives today! 

How deeply we progressives believe in the notion of "race!" How deeply we believe in the idea that everybody has a race, and that we are the ones who have been empowered to tell them what their racewhat their "identity"actually is! 

(Within living memory, the liberal project affirmed that there was only one racethe human race. Those days are long, long gone.)

Unfortunately, the concept of "race" lies at the heart of American understandings. It comes to us live and direct from the world the slaveholders made. 

Our vastly self-impressed liberal tribe aggressively clings to the concept of "race" in this brave new dystopia. Our thinking is often extremely jumbled, and sometimes cruel, as we insist on retaining this framework.

The Others can see us doing this. On the whole, it isn't a winning look. Quite often, it isn't especially smart.

We were surprised by what Kleeman wrote. Did her editor ask what she meant?

Where you may have seen Hall: We liked Hall in The Town, a 2010 film with a somewhat rank point of view.  

We're supposed to root for Hall's character to get together with Ben Affleck, who typically murders a couple of people on his way to her house for their dates.

Why would anyone want Hall's unsuspecting character to get together with him? This point just isn't made real clear in the course of the blood-soaked film.  

In fairness, a celebrity was branding himself in that film. It happens every spring. We're asked to accept what we're shown.

MONDAY: Do individuals belong to a race?


The Times toys with the question: Do individual people belong to a "race?" 

Individuals will be treated as if they belong to a race. But should we even believe in the concept?

Unfortunately, these are among the most important questions in all of American history. The brutal mistreatment of people on the basis of their "race" lies at the heart of our national story. Meanwhile, in the present day, "race" is widely viewed as a fundamental part of each person's "identity."

At one time, within living memory, progressive culture widely proclaimed that there was no such thing as race. It was common for liberals to enter words like "human" or "none" when confronted with government forms asking us to name our "race." 

Progressive culture stressed the idea that we humans are really all the same. Progressive culture stressed the idea that there was only one race, the human race; that "them old dreams [about the existence of race] are only in your head."

Today, progressive culture is deeply invested in the idea that race and gender are the primary building blocks of a person's "identity." Inevitably, a great deal of incoherence is built into these deeply held, frequently noxious, mandated tribal beliefs.

Enter the New York Times—for example, in a lengthy, rather peculiar report in yesterday's Sunday magazine.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our self-impressed liberal tribe is crowded with fuzzy thinkers. Also, with people who may perhaps be just a bit self-involved.

Our journalism is crowded with people who mainly like to tell a good story—who may prefer the pleasures of same to the values of clear exposition. As a tribe, we're spectacularly impressed with ourselves, but also ginormously flawed.

Enter yesterday's puzzling report about Rebecca Hall's mother.  

Rebecca Hall is a British actress and director who is about to release a new film, one we look forward to seeing.  Her mother, Maria Ewing, is one of the most famous singers in the world. She was born and raised in Detroit.

That said, does Maria Ewing belong to a race? And if she does belong to a race, to what race does she belong?

Who the heck is Maria Ewing? You're asking a very good question.

On the one hand, Ewing is one of the greatest singers in the world, and has been for some time. On the other hand, since her career has mainly been in opera, no one in the hinterland has ever heard of her.

Maria Ewing is Rebecca Hall's mother. Here's the basic outline of Ewing's career, according to the leading authority on the topic:

Maria Louise Ewing (born March 27, 1950) is an American opera singer who has sung both soprano and mezzo-soprano roles. She is noted as much for her acting as her singing.


Ewing made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1976 in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Her first European performance was at La Scala, Milan as Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. Her repertoire includes Carmen, Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, Salome, the title role in L'incoronazione di Poppea, Marie in Berg's Wozzeck and Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Ewing is particularly well known for her sensitive interpretation of the title role in Richard Strauss's Salome, where Oscar Wilde's stage directions for the original play specify that, at the end of the so-called Dance of the Seven Veils, Salome lies naked at Herod's feet. Ewing appeared fully nude at the end of this sequence, in contrast to other singers who have used body stockings. She also sang and appeared in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.

And so on, at some length. Excitingly, Ewing has appeared fully nude at Herod's feet!

At any rate, Ewing has been a major star for a very long time. But what the heck is her race? 

Yesterday, the New York Times played exciting mystery games concerning this topic. On the other hand, as far back as 1992, the Los Angeles Times had managed to tell the public this, as part of an interview with the star concerning a performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion:

ISENBERG (11/8/92): The soprano offstage still seems onstage—dramatically dressed in black jersey and jeans, her dark hair pulled back off her pale face, her full, sensual mouth layered in lipstick. Her exotic features reflect a Dutch mother and a father who was part Sioux, part black and part Scottish.

She was born and raised in Detroit, where her mother sang, and her engineer father played piano, painted, wrote and lectured on the plight of the American Indian. Her father’s piano selections included both ragtime and his own Sioux-inspired compositions, says Ewing, and “we’d all dance around the room when he was playing."

Ewing's mother was Dutch (and presumably "white"). Her father, an engineer, "was part Sioux, part black and part Scottish." 

On the basis of these particulars, how was Ewing treated / viewed / identified within her native Detroit? The 1992 profile didn't explore such questions. But there seemed to be no mystery concerning the fact that the immediate ancestry of this star tracked to more than one "race."

Maria Ewing isn't 100 percent "white!" All the way back in 1992, there seemed to be no giant mystery—and no giant sense of excitement—concerning this particular fact. 

Still, no one had yet forced the star to submit to a public DNA test. Two years earlier, the Washington Post had told its readers this:

MCLELLAN (11/15/90): In private conversation, Ewing, tall and slender, is elegant and quietly self-contained until she begins talking about opera and acting; then her voice becomes animated and she has a deep, earthy laugh...Her exotic good looks (inherited from a Dutch mother and a Sioux father) are even more impressive up close and without makeup than they are when she is onstage. She is 40 years old, looks less than 30, and is totally convincing when she impersonates a spoiled, sensual teenager who dances an elaborate, Oriental striptease to gain power, uses that power to kill the man who rejected her and then scolds and fondles his severed head.


Ewing became a singer almost by accident. Growing up in a music-loving family, the youngest of four daughters (her father was an engineer, her mother a good singer but not a professional), she studied piano and sang occasional duets with her sister Frances...

In this profile, her father had been Sioux (full stop); he was once again described as an engineer. Concerning Ewing's exotic good looks, she looked even better in person!

Long story short: It seems to have been clear for some time that Ewing's father wasn't exactly "white." To the extent that anyone cared, there doesn't seem to have been any mystery about this.

In terms of "race," how was Ewing classified, identified, treated, viewed within the Detroit of the 1950s and 1960s? We can't answer that question. But as of 1990 and 1992, it was being reported that Ewing's father wasn't "white," and it looks like Ewing herself would have been the source of these revelations.

There doesn't seem to have been any giant mystery about this. Indeed, as of June 2010, Hall was quoted telling The Guardian this about her famous mother:

"She came from working-class Detroit...Her mother was Dutch, her father half Native American Sioux Indian and half black of some unknown origin."

That was Hall, discussing her mother back in 2010.

Yesterday, the New York Times put the mystery back in the stew. Along the way, the famous newspaper skipped past a lot of questions about what it means to belong to a "race"—about what it means when we say that someone does.

Hall's forthcoming movie is an adaptation of  Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, “Passing." As her profile of Hall begins, Alexandra Kleeman starts driving the mystery train:

KLEEMAN (10/24/21): When Rebecca Hall read Nella Larsen’s groundbreaking 1929 novel, “Passing,” over a decade ago, she felt an intense, immediate attachment to it. The story seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity—the unnameable gaps in her family history that shaped her life in their very absence, the way a sinkhole in the road distorts the path of traffic blocks away.

So intriguing! There were unnameable gaps in Hall's family history which shaped her life in their very absence. The story in Larsen's novel seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity!

That's spectacularly fuzzy writing, suitable for this ghostly time of year. The responsibility for that fuzzy writing lies with Kleeman and her editors, not with Hall herself.

Soon, though, Hall is quoted discussing her family history. We're somewhat puzzled by some of what she says:

KLEEMAN: Raised in England within the elite circles of classical theater, Hall, who is 39, had her first introduction to the concept of racial “passing” in the pages of Larsen’s novel. “I was spending time in America, and I knew that there had been vague, but I mean really vague, talk about my mother’s ethnicity,” Hall explained over the phone this spring. Her voice is calm and poised, with a warm polish to it, and she tends to speak in composed paragraphs. Over the year that we had corresponded, Hall hadn’t been acting much and had instead spent time writing screenplays from the Hudson Valley home that she shares with her daughter and her husband, the actor Morgan Spector. “Sometimes she would intimate that maybe there was African American ancestry, or sometimes she would intimate that there was Indigenous ancestry. But she didn’t really know; it wasn’t available to her.”

Hall grew up steeped in performance: Her father, Sir Peter Hall, was known for founding the Royal Shakespeare Company and serving as the director of the Royal National Theater for many years... Her mother, Maria Ewing, an American raised in Detroit, is one of opera’s most celebrated sopranos, famous for her daring portrayal of Salome in Richard Strauss’s production, in which she followed the Oscar Wilde-penned stage directions to the letter and went nude onstage.

After her parents divorced in 1990, Hall lived for many years with her mother in a manor in the English countryside, where she remembers rooms filled with the sound of jazz on vinyl, her mother making herself at home in the relative isolation and remoteness of an adopted country. “I was sort of brought up to believe that I was this—all of which is true, by the way—privileged, upper-middle-class, sort of bohemian well-educated white girl from a very prestigious family background,” Hall said. “And that was sort of where it stopped. And when I asked questions to my mother about her background in Detroit and her family,” Hall said, her voice low and firm, “she left it with an ‘I don’t want to dwell on the past.’”

In that early passage, the mystery story gets its start, and a certain impression gets lodged. Hall seems to say that her famous mother would sometimes "intimate" that there was African American or Indigenous ancestry. But she also seems to say that her mother "didn't really know."

"I don't want to dwell on the past" was all her mother would say, at least to Hall herself.

Possibly that's true! A more devoted journalist would have asked Hall to clarify this account based on those profiles in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, in which, or so it seemed, Maria Ewing had made it clear that her father wasn't exactly "white."

Growing up, did Hall know that her mother's father had been described as "part Sioux, part black and part Scottish?" If not, when did she find out?

She certainly knew by 2010, when she spoke to The Guardian. But when did she find out?

In pursuit of basic clarity, an actual journalist would have pushed Hall to speak to these obvious questions. But the New York Times loves to entertain its readers, especially on thrilling matters involving "race."

There followed a jumbled mystery tale about the process by which Hall learned about her "racial" ancestry (also described as her "identity"). Readers were forced to waste some time while Kleeman, inevitably, told us a great deal about herself. Eventually, though, we were returned to Hall's current tale. 

As told by Kleeman, Hall's understanding seems to turn on research recently done for the PBS program Finding Your Roots, including some of the statistical sleight-of hand which commonly dogs that otherwise fascinating program:

KLEEMAN: Hall had recently taken part in Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s PBS series, “Finding Your Roots” (the episode will air next year), and filled in some of the lacunas in her family history that had made elements of her own life feel incomplete or difficult to comprehend. She had shown a version of her film to her mother, sparking conversations that they weren’t able to have in the decades preceding. And “Passing” had been sold to Netflix for almost $17 million, a deal that would guarantee the film the sort of broad audience and promotional support rarely given to intricate, demanding art foregrounding Black women.


The researchers on “Finding Your Roots,” she told me, traced her mother’s side of the family tree as far back as her great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. She learned that her great-grandfather, whose name was John William Ewing, was born into slavery but found government work post-abolition in Washington, and even gave the toast for Frederick Douglass at a banquet in his honor. Her great-grandmother was a free woman of color, descended from one of only 5,000 Black men who fought on the side of the rebels during the Revolutionary War. But against the background of so much lineage lost and recovered was the discovery of the exact point at which the narrative had broken. “The revelation,” she said, “was that it was just my grandfather who passed—just that one act that erased a huge amount of history, including some stuff that’s really extraordinary.” She spoke carefully, pausing often. “The irony is his father was a race man. His father was someone who wanted to uplift.”

I pointed out how rare it was for a person to have the chance to make a decision that so rapidly shifts the path of his descendants, a complex, psychological decision that erased anyone’s ability to find out why he made it. Hall nodded. “And if you know that it happened, it passes on a legacy that’s”—she trailed off, searching for the right term—“so confused, you know? Because if you’re the child of the parent, and you believe them to be doing the right thing, or hiding something by living in secret, then your obligation to the parent is to do what they do.” When I asked if her mother ever told stories about her own father that might shed light on why he chose to pass, or what his experience was like afterward, she told me that her grandfather was an artist and a musician, and this is part of what made them close—her mother learned to sing from imitating records in the basement of the family house. She left home soon after he died when she was 16, Hall said, gaining admission to the Cleveland Institute of Music against the odds and later moving to the Barbizon Hotel in New York, and eventually to Europe, where she sang in Salzburg, in Milan, in London. 

Hall didn’t know if her grandfather was a sort of anchor for her mother, whether his death caused her to leave home. But her mother did talk, Hall said, about an event that was very disturbing for her...

Had Gates' researchers really "traced her mother’s side of the family tree as far back as her great-great-great-great-great-grandparents?"

Since Hall, like everyone else, has a total of 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, we'll guess that Gates actually researched a limited number of these ancestors, while obscuring the fact that there were so many others, with so many other personal histories. 

With respect to "her great-grandfather, whose name was John William Ewing," Hall has eight great-grandparents in all. Four of the eight may be Brit all the way. Two of the eight may be Danish. 

The two American great-grandparents were apparently classified as "black," though they may have had a great deal of European ancestry. (The one-drop rule would perhaps have been in effect.) According to Hall, her mother's father decided to "pass," moving beyond the stupid / cruel types of  "racial" categorization his society dropped on all comers.

(Full disclosure: Earlier this month, Hall was quoted telling The Daily Mail that it was "more than likely" that her grandfather's parents also "passed." The story keeps moving round.)

Does this story mean that Maria Ewing's father was regarded as "white" when Ewing grew up in Detroit? In yesterday's profile, Kleeman doesn't ask, and Hall doesn't say.

Does this mean that Ewing regarded or presented herself as "white" when she was growing up? That question wasn't asked or answered either.

Meanwhile, Hall seemed to insert more drama into the tale with her comments about Ewing leaving home soon after her father died. According to the standard bios, Ewing graduated from Detroit's Finney High School in 1968, when she was 18. Assuming that is accurate, she doesn't seem to have run away the day after her father died.

The story Hall goes on to tell involves Ewing and her father being assailed by a neighbor with a racial slur shortly before his death. Does that mean that Ewing knew about her father's black ancestry when she was growing up?

None of this is clarified. Instead, we get a bit of a pleasingly jumbled mystery tale.

Reading this imitation of journalism, readers are given the impression that Hall became aware of family background due to Finding Your Roots. That would make for a pleasing story, except for the fact that she was quoted saying this back in 2010:

"She came from working-class Detroit...Her mother was Dutch, her father half Native American Sioux Indian and half black of some unknown origin."

How long ago did Hall learn that? Who did she learn it from? Kleeman didn't ask.

Kleeman's profile is a jumble, a pleasingly novelized tale. Elementary questions go unasked as the fuzzy story emerges. Ultimately, this is the fault of Kleeman and her editors.

What does Hall actually know about her mother's early life? What does she actually know about her maternal grandfather's apparent decision to present himself as "white?"

Kleeman didn't try to find out. In the process, we got a pleasing tale, and we got a (thoroughly typical) celebrity-friendly promotion for a film for which Hall has already received $17 million. 

(Nothing the celebrity says will be questioned in the course of such profiles. Because it deals with such important issues, we look forward to seeing the film.)

All through American history, people have been forced to live within the socially defined boundaries of "race." 

People have been told that they belong to a "race," and that they had to stay within its established borders. People were badly and brutally treated, depending on which of those boxes they were said to be in.

People had "race" imposed upon them, often in absurdly arbitrary ways. Our progressive tribe once opposed such mandatory sifting of people. Today, it's the foundation of our frequently unimpressive worldview. 

(Many Others are able to see how unimpressive our worldview is. Only we cannot.)

Do individuals belong to a "race?" Individuals will be treated that way, but should we believe in the concept?

The concept comes from "the world the slaveholders made." Should we keep selling their concepts, or are there better ideas in which we humans are secretly all the same?

The life of Bright Sheng comes full circle!


The way we look to The Lesser Breed: Bright Sheng is an American composer. The record shows he was born long ago, though perhaps not so far away:

Bright Sheng was born in Shanghai, China on December 6, 1955. His mother had been his first piano teacher, having started learning at the age of four. When the Cultural Revolution began, his home's piano was taken away by the Red Guards. Sheng went back to playing a year later, using his school's since he didn't have one at home. Shortly thereafter, he decided to play piano for the rest of his life, although he didn't believe that he could become a musician since his family had no history of music.

Sheng was sent to Qinghai Province, China, which used to be a part of Tibet, and stayed there for seven years. He became a performer, playing the piano and percussion to not only perform, but to study and collect folk music. He also began to compose his own music.


After the end of the Cultural Revolution, he got admitted into the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where he learned both Chinese classical and traditional music. There, Sheng earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music composition.

Sheng left China in 1982 and joined his family in the United States, where he had to re-learn different elements of music to adjust to the Western style of music. In New York, he attended Queens College to earn his Master of Arts degree in 1984 and Columbia University to earn his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1993...

Today, Sheng is an American citizen, but he grew up in China. He grew up many miles away—during the Cultural Revolution, no less. 

In some ways, he grew up in a vastly different culture. In some ways, it's all the same.

We mention Cheng because of the featured editorial in today's Washington Post. Also, because the recent episode in question helps explain The Way We Looks to The Others—to the famously lesser breed.

The recent episode also helps explains why it's so hard for Democrats to get elected to the Senate and the House. Also, why it's so hard for liberals and progressives—at the present time, for President Biden—to get progressive policies passed.

What happened during the recent episode in question? At the start of their editorial, the editors offer this capsule account, headline included:

A blackface ‘Othello’ and the broken debate over cancel culture

Is it okay for a professor to show his students a movie involving blackface? This complicated question is roiling the University of Michigan—and as is often the case in campus speech debates, the answers from all quarters are too simple.

Composer and educator Bright Sheng began his fall composition seminar by playing the 1965 film of Shakespeare’s “Othello” starring Laurence Olivier in thickly applied dark face paint. What followed was unsurprising to those familiar with the racist history of minstrel entertainment, as well as the present-day tendency toward so-called wokeness in higher education: Upset students complained, including to the composition department. Eventually, though Mr. Sheng had delivered two apologies, the university announced that the professor would no longer teach the class to ensure a “positive learning environment.” A fellow faculty member described the screening as “a racist act, regardless of the professor’s intentions.”

The incident has inspired a fervor among two opposing camps that fits neatly into a national argument. One group believes this is an example of a discourse-destroying cancel culture that poses an existential threat to American academia; the other believes it is an example instead of the marginalized finally empowered to challenge an oppressive institution with a habit of ignoring minority perspectives.

The editorial continues from there. 

For the record, why has Sheng "delivered two apologies" instead of the usual one? The answer is simple. The answer comes from the pile of behaviors sometimes described as "human, all too human." 

Inevitably, Sheng had to issue the second apology to apologize for the shortcomings quickly denounced in the first! In such ways, the history of this child of Cultural Revolution has possibly come full circle.

Sheng is 65 years old. He was born and raised in a different country, in what was (on balance) a vastly different culture from our own.

In the recent episode, he showed a film to his class in which an actor performed in blackface. Apparently, he didn't realize how some students and some assistant, associate and adjunct professors were going to feel about this.

(This may not be totally shocking, given his personal background. This didn't seem to occur, or to matter, to our tribe's outraged savants.)

In the opinion of the Post, the incident has produced a fervor in which "the answers from all quarters are too simple." It has also created a dispute in which pro-Trump forces—in the state of Michigan, let's say—will almost surely be picking up votes.

(Though also, perhaps, in the state of Virginia. Could such a thing matter there?)

Have the forces demanding submission from Sheng really behaved in a way which is "too simple," thereby contributing to "a broken debate?" We'll suggest that you read this news report from The Michigan Daily, in which much of our tribe's progressive reaction is spectacularly lacking in what was once called perspective and nuance, or at least so it seems to us.

Or at least so it seems to us! There is no ultimate way to assess the behaviors involved in this matter, but of one thing there can be little doubt:

These numerous incidents help explain The Way We Look to The Others—to the admittedly lesser breed. Also, these incidents help explain why Biden can't get anything passed, and why he has only 48 votes in the United State Senate, even after four years of The Crazy from Trump.

We had planned to write today about Eric Levitz's heroic act of courtesy and self-restraint at New York magazine's Intelligencer site. In this lengthy essay, Levitz fact-checked an ugly, deeply unintelligent piece in The Nation—and he did so without passing judgment on its author's morals or motives.

The piece in question was truly ugly; it was also flatly stupid. (Full disclosure—the headline on the Levitz piece describes the essay in The Nation as having engaged in a "smear.")

The piece in The Nation does supply an anthropology lesson, or at least disconsolate major scholars have despondently said that it does.

It shows that members of one group of humans will behave exactly like members of other groups of humans when they finally become sufficiently privileged, spoiled, entitled. In the end, we human beings are all just alike, these despairing top experts have said

Levitz was heroic in his restraint. Of the essay at The Nation, we'll only say this:

It helps explain why liberals and progressives are increasingly unable to win seats in the Congress. Also, it helps explain why liberals and progressives are unable to win our nation's political debates. 

It helps explain The Way We Look to Others. In fairness, it may feel good going down.

Back to the Michigan campus:

Our newspapers have been full of such episodes from the finest schools, endlessly including Yale Law. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our massively self-impressed tribe can match The Others dumbness for dumbness, though it will often be holders of advanced degrees who engineer our self-defeats.

Our tribe forced Sheng to apologize twice. Every time he agrees to do so, a Trump voter earns his wings!