Harry and Sally and Dick and Jane!


When Bret and Gail met Vacuous: It's hard to believe, but it's true. The weekly "Conversation" between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens in now a regular, high-profile weekly feature in print editions of the New York Times.

These "conversations" are about as vapid as mainstream opinion work gets. Each week, an array of topics are discussed and debated for roughly twenty-five seconds each. The insertion of soul-crushing attempts at humor seem to be the weekly feature's distinguishing characteristic.

Today, the Conversation begins with mention of Nicholas Kristof's apparent decision to run for governor of Oregon. From there, readers were frog-marched to this:

Bret: ...Moving from the inspiring to the debased, what do you think the chances are that Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy will ever challenge Donald Trump on his claims of election fraud?

Gail: Well, about the same as my chances of competing in the next Olympics.

Bret: Your chances are better.

Gail: Watching the rally Trump had recently in Iowa, I was sort of fascinated by his apparent inability to focus on anything but the last election. Don’t think a 2020 do-over is at the top of anybody else’s list of priorities.

Bret: It would be nice to think that his obsession with 2020 is solely a function of his personal insecurities. But there’s a strategy involved here, which is hard to describe as anything less than sinister. Within the Republican Party, he’s making the stolen-election fantasy a litmus test, which Republican politicians defy at the peril of either being primaried by a Trump toady or losing vital Trump voters in close elections. At the national level, he’s creating a new “stab-in-the-back myth” to undermine the legitimacy of democracy itself.

That was the full discussion. Is there anyone on the face of the planet who hadn't seen these astoundingly familiar points made perhaps a million times as of six months ago? 

Beyond that, is there anyone who thinks the vapidity of this exchange is justified by the witty initial exchange concerning the chances of "Gail" to compete in the next Olympics? People, we're just asking!

(The participants are identified as "Bret" and "Gail" by the Times itself. In part, this is about the desire, now widespread within the pseudo-discussion business, to give gullible consumers the feeling that they're secretly dealing with friends.)

Within our self-impressed liberal / mainstream / establishment tribe, the dumbness of our upper-end culture is one of its least recognized traits. The Times is branded as our brightest newspaper, and yet subscribers take pleasure in this. 

(Presumably, if this feature wasn't being widely read and responded to, it wouldn't be given such prominence.)

Indeed, the first letter in today's paper refers to last week's Conversation.  "This exchange between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens is what we need so much more of," the appreciative writer says.

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow, our despairing young analysts cried. 


  1. "Is there anyone on the face of the planet who hadn't seen these astoundingly familiar points made perhaps a million times as of six months ago? "

    Why, only 56% of the US voters, who apparently believe, according to a recent poll, that the election was likely or very likely stolen...

  2. "Is there anyone on the face of the planet who hadn't seen these astoundingly familiar points made perhaps a million times as of six months ago? "

    Six months ago, Trump supporters were still predicting he would be reinstated as president. They were still demanding audits. Now, fealty to Trump's Big Lie is being discussed in the context of the next election in 2022, which was NOT happening six months ago. Actual campaigning is going on, so the discussion of primaries and slim margins is much more relevant -- frankly I don't think it was being discussed at all six months ago.

    But Somerby is using his faulty memory to criticize two people who did say something pretty obvious to those who are politics junkies -- but not to those who follow politics more casually. And it is certainly worth repeating, as are all of the political talking points.

    I don't see this as much of a complaint when repetition of talking points is going to increase as we get closer to election time. I don't have any problem with sound bites like this.

  3. "Within our self-impressed liberal / mainstream / establishment tribe, the dumbness of our upper-end culture is one of its least recognized traits."

    Least recognized? That may be because others do not agree with Somerby about its dumbness. I sure don't.

  4. "The Times is branded as our brightest newspaper, and yet subscribers take pleasure in this [dumbness]."

    The intelligence of the Times is distinct from the intelligence of its readers, which will run the gamut.

  5. One of the worst things our woke culture has facilitated is the encouragement given to professional women to be as flighty, unserious, and emotional as the contents of a junior high school.

    In the spirit of equity, they’re now extending the privilege to men.

    1. Unsurprising to see that you Cecelia, bearing a female name but mostly likely not female given your overestimation of the rigors or childbearing and breast-feeding, would malign women for being human beings while giving a pass to Somerby who has to be the most histrionic person in print in our lifetimes.

    2. I’ve never overestimated the rigors of childbirth, especially as it pertains to a male cabinet member who cannot experience it.

      I don’t make excuses for women editorialists writing sappy pieces that would embarrass men to write, because I don’t underestimate women.

    3. You were arguing that Buttigieg shouldn't receive parental leave because he didn't lactate or bear the children himself.

      Here is what you don't seem to know about childbirth. Unless there are complications, women go home the next day and aside from some gradual changes to restore their body to its previous condition, feel fine. It is the sleepless nights with a child who wakes up intermittently to be fed that cause the fatigue, plus worry about how to care for a newborn. Those are things Buttigieg and his partner would experience just like any parent with an new addition to the family.

      Breast feeding is more convenient for a stay-at-home mom than using bottles. There is more work with bottles. Breast feeding doesn't hurt (under most circumstances) and it doesn't take anything out of the mom except that she must avoid alcohol still. The idea that a parent who must bottle feed has it easier than a mom who can simply feed the baby from her own body is ridiculous. What makes breast-feeding difficult for moms is having to return to work quicklty after a birth. Then they have to put their own milk into bottles so others can feed the baby, and express the milk regularly while on the job. That puts the new mom in roughly the same situation as one who does not breast feed.

      By portraying childbirth and breast-feeding as hardships that Buttigieg did not experience, Cecelia shows that she has done neither and doesn't seem to know why parental leave is important to anyone -- which is pretty typical for a male conservative troll using a female name who is just here to spout conservative memes and not actually discuss anything.

      Raising small children is hard work, especially at the beginning, which is why there is parental leave. That leave is important for whoever will be parenting the child, and it doesn't exist due to physical needs during childbirth, which are transient, but due to the difficulties of adjusting to a new child in the home, which exist for everyone who will parent that child, including natural dads and adoptive parents of either sex.

    4. No, I didn’t argue that. I was replying to an anonymouse who said that if Buttigieg was not allowed family leave, then no woman could ever hold his sort of position.

      I didn’t bother to contest this Hail Mary implication. Why would I when it had nothing to do with the fact that there is a current crisis and Buttigieg faced no possible biological consequence that might impede some woman from being able to fulfill her responsibilities after a problematic delivery.

      I had already made clear that the duties of office are the same for cabinet members and the people who oversee the feeding of a crisis team and the cleaning up after hours long WH strategy meetings during a crisis. You get your butt out there.

      Your whole screed is based upon an implication that was made by an anonymouse, not me.

    5. What am I backing off? The anonymouse is perfectly right in the implication that deliveries can be problematic. Right, but overstated.

      I’ve mentioned here that my mother died not long after my brother’s delivery.

      That there are complications during pregnancy and delivery is beside the point for Buttigeig, let alone for most women.

      Take that or leave it.

    6. Family leave isn’t for pregnancy complications. Sick pay and disability leave handle that. It is to allow a family to adjust to and care for a new child. Fathers are eligible too. It can also be to care for an elderly parent in the home.

    7. I addressed the argument that was made by the anonymouse.

      I was not arguing against the Family Leave Act.

      You folks are about as subtle in your thinking as a toddler.

      You want what you want (foot stomp!) and hear what you want to hear.

    8. You were arguing that Pete Buttigieg didn’t deserve family leave because he didn’t breastfeed his kids.

    9. No, I expressly stated that Buttigieg is in a cabinet position during a transportation crisis and whether your job is the run the country or to run the food and refreshments to the people running the country from the War Room, your job is to show up.

      Come hell or high water.

    10. If you didn’t say what you said, how did breastfeeding or childbirth get mentioned?

    11. Cecelia, Buttigieg isn’t president. How did Trump stay in touch while golfing during a crisis? I’ll bet Buttigieg had a cell phone, a laptop and rven assistants. What is wrong with you?

    12. Again, you’ve moved the argument beyond the post to which I responded.

      I was addressing the claim that family leave was sacrosanct and Mr. Buttigieg should not be bothered.

      The anonymouse’s response to my saying that was not commiserate with the office was to claim that women could never hold such positions if that was the criteria.

      “What is wrong with you?” (foot stomp!)

      We’re done now.


    13. It's all good, though. Liberal cult's amazing success leading to unfortunate -- unsolvable! -- supply chain issues will certainly lead to the sky-high popularity of the Brandon administration.

  6. What on earth does the title, "Harry and Sally and Dick and Jane" mean? None of those fictional people have anything to do with the pair writing these columns except that there are two male names and two female ones. The movie "When Harry met Sally" has nothing to do with inane banter, but was very funny and clever. Dick and Jane were school children who, based on the books themselves, rarely interacted with each other. So why this title?

    As usual, Somerby grabs something with only the slimmest tangential relationship to his topic, perhaps hoping that Harry and Sally will interest readers if his content does not (and it truly doesn't, being grossly unfair to the two columnists he focuses upon). If I were Harry and Sally, I would sue.

    1. Um.., he’s actually pointing to the attempt by NYT to create a witty and pithy male-female duo in the mode of Harry and Sally with the result being more Dick and Jane.

    2. And yet he didn't say that at all!

      I think he was reaching for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice but couldn't remember their names.

    3. Always fun with Dick and Jane.

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