STARTING TOMORROW: Our logic, our facts!


Our tribe: We spend a pretty good chunk of the weekend watching West Side Story (1961). We tried to imagine how the movie may have seemed to the many people who saw it in real time.

We were thirteen when it came out; we don't recall going to see it. But how did it seem to those who did? Also, how does it seem today?

As we watched it over the weekend, it struck us as surprisingly underwhelming. Its political / sociological messaging seemed to be captured in an exchange between George Chakiris' Bernardo and Natalie Wood's Maria, after Maria has suddenly fallen in love with somebody from the wrong group:

BERNARDO: Couldn't you see he's one of them?

MARIA: No. I saw only him.

In the end, we think that remains the ultimate message, even today. But we were puzzled by the way so many people swear by West Side Story (1961) as the greatest musical ever, a position we've seen widely stated by commenters to recent articles in the New York Times.

This morning, Slate offers an essay about Leonard Bernstein's politics at the time the film appeared. Simultaneously, Slate offers a portrait of our own self-impressed tribe with a rather typical onslaught of surrounding articles.

No, we aren't making this up. We've cited this syndrome before:

ELISA SHOENBERGER / DEC 13, 2021 / 5:45 AM
Go Ahead, Call Your Dog Your “Fur Baby." Science Supports You.

Conservatives Say Liberals Want West Side Story to Be "Woke Side Story." The Real History of Its Politics Is Much Stranger.

STACIA L. BROWN / DEC 13, 2021 / 5:55 AM
How Do I Tell My Parents About My Boyfriend?

STACIA L. BROWN / DEC 13, 2021 / 6:00 AM
Dear Care and Feeding: Should I Tell My Girlfriend’s Kids The Truth About Their Father?

How to Do It / DEC 13, 2021 / 6:00 AM
The Absolute Worst Trend in Dating Now Is Really Getting To Me

EMILY WILLINGHAM / DEC 13, 2021 / 8:00 AM
Why Brain Games, Supplements and Other Cognition Boosters Can't Fulfill Their Promises

As we started typing this report, those were six of the last seven articles published by Slate. They supplemented similar fare from yesterday morning, including "Is What I Just Did Really 'Cheating' on My Boyfriend?" and Amanda Ripley's meatier piece, "How To Bounce Back From a Bad Dog Experience."

Let's stick with movie imagery! The article about West Side Story seems to be hiding among the others, as E.T. once hid among the large stuffed animals clogging Gertie's closet. Meanwhile, the article about "cognition boosters" almost seems like a bit of peak irony, perhaps like an inside joke.

We assume this relentless flood of pap represents what Slate has to do, on a daily basis, in order to keep its doors open. Meanwhile, when we clicked on the piece about West Side Story, we found an over-intellectualized, fuzzy essay by a (roughly 34-year-old) eternal graduate student. 

For the record, Daniel Wortel-London is plainly a good, decent person. Near the end of his piece, he says this:

WORTEL-LONDON (12/13/21): For most of my life, I rushed to West Side Story’s defense. Lonely, introverted, fearful of conflict, I looked to the burning chords of West Side Story like I looked to Whitman’s poetry or New York’s public spaces—as hymns to the possibility of communication across divisions. To criticize West Side Story’s treatment of empathy and understanding as na├»ve—or worse, malevolent—was to confirm my personal isolation, and foreclose the civic potential of urban life. I recognize the vehemence with which defenders of West Side Story rally to their icon’s defense. I recognize how the transcendent strains of “Somewhere” can hold the allegiance of humanists.

Wortel-London is thirteen years out of college (Ramapo, class of 2008).  Beyond that, he's plainly a good, decent person. 

He describes himself as a Public Policy Researcher | Project Manager | Civic Storyteller | Urbanist. He says that, for most of his life, he had been rushing to West Side Story's defense—but who's been debating West Side Story over the course of those years?

We don't have the slightest idea what Wortel-London is talking about at various points in his essay. It seems to us that his essay is unlikely to inform any useful debate about the value and meaning of West Side Story, whether back then or today.

It seems to us that Wortel-London's essay sails over the head of any useful current debate. Meanwhile, his piece is surrounded by the kind of low-IQ pap Slate relentlessly publishes, apparently in order to keep our self-impressed tribe coming back in sufficient numbers.

As our nation slides toward the sea, large parts of the conservative tribe seem to be losing touch with reality, or perhaps with Enlightenment values. It falls to us in our liberal tribe to keep our systems, such as they are, afloat.

Do we have what it takes to accomplish that task? It isn't clear to us that we do, but our self-impressed tribe, like all human tribes, tends to have a very hard time imagining any such fact.

Over the weekend, Kevin Drum offered a perfectly sensible post about a very basic question. He wondered how many Republicans—in the leadership and in the rank and file—really believe the current claim that the last election was stolen.

We thought Drum reasoned in certain sensible ways, drawing some basic distinctions.  But then, the comments began to come in. We thought they were instructive.

The other tribe is routinely quite daft—but what about our tribe? How much faith can we actually put in our logic, our facts, our instincts?

We'll examine such questions all this week, starting tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Several distinctions

Film factoids: West Side Story was apparently the biggest-grossing film of 1961. It exceeded the second highest-grossing film (The Guns of Navarone, which we did see) by roughly 50 percent. Plainly, it must have been speaking to quite a few people.

In April 1962, West Side Story won the Oscar for Best Picture. The Guns of Navarone was also nominated. So was Judgment at Nuremberg, which we saw, having walked to The Palm, and were deeply impressed by.

Regarding the box office race, The Parent Trap and The Absent-Minded Professor came in fourth and fifth. La Dolce Vita came in ninth! In more ways than one way, go figure!


  1. "He describes himself as a Public Policy Researcher | Project Manager | Civic Storyteller | Urbanist. "

    Yeah, dear Bob, every brain-dead liberal (that is: every liberal) is a researcher and/or a manager.

    None of them, not a single one, has done a day of honest labor in their life. Not a single day of honest labor in all their miserable life! Can you imagine, dear Bob?

    1. Liberals taxing your Establishment bosses to give blacks everything they want is delicious.
      No wonder everyone loves liberals nowadays.

    2. This Mao character is quite the snowflake. His bitchy little takes are a great reminder of how if you aren't a bigot, there is no place for you in the Republican Party.

    3. You have to wonder what job Mao works, as he is always available to zap us with hate based nonsense moments after Bob posts

    4. I guess that makes you a manager, Mao...what was it that you said about all liberals being researchers and managers?

    5. Q. How many Right-wing accusations are really confessions?
      A. All of them Katie.

    6. Heh. You figure it out, dear Ilya. Check out logical fallacies.

    7. I see. All liberals are managers/researchers and none of them has done any actual labor; however, it doesn't imply that none of the managers/researchers is useless. In this case, the expression can be reduced to 'no liberal has done a day of labor'. Anyways, just goes to show that you need to work on your mathematical logic skills, Mao. It also sounds a bit tautological, since a liberal is defined as someone who has done not a day of labor in their life.
      Anyways, carry on, Mao. You're doing a great job...managing.


    8. @Ilya: " doesn't imply that none of the managers/researchers is useless"

      It doesn't follow that all managers/researchers are useless. Or: '...that none of the managers/researchers are useful'.

      Thank you for your kind suggestion about our skills, dear Ilya. Please rest assured that it'll receive all the attention it deserves.

      All your liberal comrades are managers/researchers (and such) who haven't done a single day of honest labor in their pathetic lives. What is it that you find tautological in this assertion, dear Ilya? What is it, another logical fallacy?

    9. Says the clown who's paid to troll the Left for his Establishment bosses.

    10. @Anon 7:12: Mao is managing...doing god's work!
      It's tautological -- and, true enough, I am anticipating a particular response from you -- in that if someone were to show up, say myself, and tell you that they have done something useful, even obtaining a patent in the process, you would come up with (a) they are not a true liberal; or (b) it wasn't useful labor if it was done by a liberal. In other words, it's a "No true Scotsman" argument. This is how it's tautological.
      Now, some may say that I am giving entirely too much consideration to some obviously trollish gibberish, which may very well be true, but I can't help mentoring the lesser amongst us.

  2. “by a (roughly 34-year-old) eternal graduate student.”

    As opposed to, say, David Brooks and Somerby himself, who have important jobs.

  3. “who's been debating West Side Story over the course of those years?”

    If Somerby doesn’t know this, then how can he possibly judge whether Wortel-London’s essay can “inform any useful debate about the value and meaning of West Side Story”?

    You have to know about that debate first!

  4. “It falls to us in our liberal tribe to keep our systems, such as they are, afloat.”

    Are you paying attention, right-wing Somerby admirers?

    I might agree with Somerby here, and I can even acknowledge that Somerby isn’t wrong about everything.

    But I do not believe the way to help liberals keep our systems afloat is to excoriate liberals on a daily basis, accusing them of believing nothing and caring about nothing. That just feeds the right wing narrative and ends up further undermining liberals’ ability to keep our systems afloat.

    Has Somerby ever expressed the areas where he agrees with liberals on various matters?


    1. Yeah, without dear Bob, dear mn, and psycho-dembots here all the systems would've collapsed in a blink of an eye.

      No question about that. Who'd be doing all the super-important 'researching' and 'managing'? How would we know to drive on the right side of the road? To stop at the red light? Oh noes! We would all be lost.

  5. Glad Bob has West Side Story to think about. For decades now he’s essentially ignored or rationalized the worst of the right, now he wonders how the left will save us from them, if they have the character to.

  6. Why does is matter how many Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen?

    1. Because it shows a certain disconnect from reality.

    2. Why does it matter that the Right only care about bigotry, and everything else is negotiable?