BREAKING: Silliness is as silliness does!

SATURDAY, MAY 15, 2021

Forrest Gump visits the Times: This morning's New York Times offers high-visibility personal profiles of three different people.

One profile appears on the paper's front page. The other two top the newspaper's International section. Here are the three principal headlines:

Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die

Miss Universe Myanmar Arrives in Florida With a Message for the Junta

Prince Harry Shares ‘Pain and Suffering’ of Growing Up in Royal Family

Sad! Needless to say, the former punk-rocker nun with the skull on her desk was hurried to the front page. At the New York Times, sub-headlines like this sound extremely deep and intriguing.

Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die
Suffering and death are facts of life: “Everyone dies, their bodies rot, and every face becomes a skull.”

Intriguing! No really, that sounds extra-deep!

For ourselves, we hadn't realized, until this very day, that Ruth Graham, a good decent person, had achieved an escape from Slate. Graham wrote the front-page profile of Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, complete with a triggering dateline.

The profile graces the paper's front page. The profile starts like this:

BOSTON—Before she entered the Daughters of St. Paul convent in 2010, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble read a biography of the order’s founder, an Italian priest who was born in the 1880s. He kept a ceramic skull on his desk, as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Sister Aletheia, a punk fan as a teenager, thought the morbid curio was “super punk rock,” she recalled recently. She thought vaguely about acquiring a skull for herself someday.

These days, Sister Aletheia has no shortage of skulls. People send her skull mugs and skull rosaries in the mail, and share photos of their skull tattoos. A ceramic skull from a Halloween store sits on her desk. Her Twitter name includes a skull and crossbones emoji.

That is because since 2017, she has made it her mission to revive the practice of memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning “Remember your death.” The concept is to intentionally think about your own death every day, as a means of appreciating the present and focusing on the future. It can seem radical in an era in which death—until very recently—has become easy to ignore.

At the Times, this sort of thing stacks up as thoughtful and cool.

According to the Times' front page, we live in an era "in which death—until very recently—ha[d] become easy to ignore." Before long, Graham explains what that odd statement means:

"The pandemic, of course, has made death impossible to forget."

Until the pandemic came along, were we living in an era in which death had become easy to ignore? We're prepared to say that the answer is yes, unless you had access to newspapers.

(Or unless you grew up in the Catholic church! Everywhere you look in such churches, you see images of a gruesome death, accomplished amid vast suffering.)

In our own experience, Boston nuns of the 1950s were selling that iconography to small children in  angry and negative ways. Today, the Times is intrigued by the 40-year-old nun with all the skulls, the one who's helping death make a comeback.

Had death become easy to ignore begore the pandemic came along? Not exactly! For example, children were dying in Iraq, often alongside their parents. After that, children were drowning in the Mediterranean. Some people had died in the Holocaust!

Had the nun and her followers heard about that? Did the former punk-rocker nun with the skulls and her followers care?

Today, the Times is treating the nun, with a hat tip to Arsenio Hall, as someone who makes you go oooh. Meanwhile, Miss Universe Myanmar is deeply invested in courageous behavior with respect to the dying and dead in her dangerous nation. Remarkable people of her stripe deserve every person's respect.

As for Prince Harry, he didn't ask to be born a royal. He has every right to think his situation through.

That said, does the Times have to hang on every word? Dearest darlings, use your heads! In its finer precincts, out in the Hamptons, this is the reigning culture of the fatuous, failing enterprise widely described as Our Town!

Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die? In our view, Miss Universe Myanmar—Ma Thuzar Wint Lwin—shows us what a very insightful, very brave person might be willing to do after that!

Also, Greta Thunberg: Also, Greta Thunberg! She shows us what a very bright person might be willing to undertake on behalf of the young and the living.

Top report in National: Also this! The top report in the National section appears beneath this headline:

A.O.C. Had a Catchy Logo. Now Progressives Everywhere Are Copying It.

Please don't get excited! This top report doesn't focus on AOC's policy views. It covers "the slanted text in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s logo, and its break from the traditional red, white and blue color palette." 

(Presumably, no pun intended!)


Statistics can be amazingly hard!

FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021

Especially for upper-end journalists: Statistics are amazingly hard, especially for upper-end journalists.

For today, let's consider an error which doesn't matter. After that, let's consider an omission which pretty much does.

An error which doesn't much matter:

Yesterday, Jonathan Chait was having some fun with the latest report about Trump. Along the way, he made this obvious error:

CHAIT (5/13/21): We should pause the narrative to point out that getting somebody in Washington to call Donald Trump an idiot is almost a trivially simple task. This is in fact one of the most widely held opinions in the United States as a whole. (One poll found that 39 percent of Americans volunteered the description “idiot” for the President.)

We didn't even have to fact-check the highlighted claim. Even before we checked it out, it was obvious what Chait had done.

First things first! Chait provided a link in support of the highlighted claim. Unfortunately, it was a classic "link to nowhere." It took us to this report from May 2017—a report which doesn't make the highlighted claim.

That earlier report did identify the specific poll to which Chait was referring That earlier report included a classic "useless link"—a link to the Quinnipiac web site, not to the specific poll to which the report referred.

Still, we were able to locate the specific poll in question—this Quinnipiac poll from May 10, 2017. Obviously, that poll didn't "find that 39 percent of Americans volunteered the description 'idiot' for [Trump]."

Obviously, that didn't happen. Here's what happened instead:

Question #9 in that poll was a classic "first word that comes to mind" question. Here's the text  of the question, exactly as it appears in the Quinnipiac report about the poll's results:

9. What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump? (Numbers are not percentages. Figures show the number of times each response was given. This table reports only words that were mentioned at least five times.)

Which part of "numbers are not percentages" don't journalists understand? We ask because journalists constantly make the kind of mistake Chait made in this case.

As Quinnipiac reported the results of that survey question, it reported that 39 people had volunteered the word "idiot" when asked about Donald J. Trump. But that wasn't 39 percent of the survey's respondents. It was 39 people—39 people total.

For better or worse, Quinnipiac had interviewed 1,078 people in conducting this poll. That means that 3.6% of respondents had volunteered the word "idiot," not the larger 39 percent.

Why do public polling companies keep asking such "top of mind" questions? We have no idea. They always include the statement saying that the numbers posted "are not percentages," and journalists always respond by acting like they are.

It doesn't matter how often this mistake is made. The next time around, the mistake will be made again. Which part of the simple word "not" don't top scribes understand?

An omission which likely does matter:

Chait's mistake is a classic head-scratcher but no, it doesn't matter. An omission in a new report by the Washington Post pretty much does, unless we prefer unfettered Storyline to full-blown depictions of fact.

Yesterday, this new report appeared online. It hasn't yet appeared in print editions. Its dual headlines say this:

Police shootings of children spark new outcry, calls for training to deal with adolescents in crisis
A Washington Post database of fatal force incidents finds most children shot by police are minorities and less likely to be armed than adults shot by police

The report concerns the number of "children"—actually, people under age 18—who have been shot and killed by police officers since the start of 2015.

The report's data come from the Post's Fatal Force site. The report offers this overview:

KINDY ET AL (5/13/21): [Stavian Rodriguez] is one of 112 children who have been fatally shot by police between Jan. 1, 2015, and Monday, according to a Washington Post database that tracks fatal police shootings. Over the same period of time, 6,168 adults were shot by police.

[...]

The database shows that the circumstances leading up to the shootings of children are varied, with about half beginning with a robbery, a traffic stop, a stolen car or a 911 call. Most of the incidents took place during daytime hours; only one appears to have involved alcohol use by the child; and 19 of the children were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of the shooting.

The database shows that children are frequently armed with a gun or knife during these fatal police encounters, but not as often as adults who die by police gunfire—63 percent of the time for children vs. 76 percent for adults.

Sixty-six percent of the children who died in fatal police shootings were Black, Latino, Asian or Native American compared to 44 percent of adults who were racial minorities.

Again, the word "children" in this report refers to anyone under age 18. Allowing for that bit of nomenclature, we'll focus on the (accurate) statement made right in the headline:

Most children shot by police are minorities.

Allowing for that bit of nomenclature, that statement is perfectly accurate. The specific percentage of non-white decedents is 66%, the Post's report says. That figure involves a minor statistical error on the part of the report's authors, but we'll call that number close enough for journalistic work.

It may or may not seem surprising to read that only 34% of under-18 decedents are white. At this point, though, we note a fairly basic statistical omission in the report—we note the fact that white kids are now a minority of the American public school population.

We'll guess that a lot of people are unaware that fact. This was the rundown from the National Center for Education Statistics as of September 2017:

NCES: In fall 2017, of the 50.7 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, 24.1 million were White, 7.7 million were Black, 13.6 million were Hispanic, 2.8 million were Asian/Pacific Islander (2.6 million were Asian and 185,000 were Pacific Islander), half a million were American Indian/Alaska Native, and 2 million were of two or more races. 

Between fall 2000 and fall 2017, the percentage of students who were White decreased from 61 to 48 percent, and the number of White students decreased from 28.9 million to 24.1 million.  Similarly, the percentage of students who were Black decreased from 17 to 15 percent, and the number of Black students decreased from 8.1 million to 7.7 million. 

In contrast, the percentage of students who were Hispanic increased from 16 to 27 percent during the same period, and the percentage of students who were Asian/Pacific Islander increased from 4 to 6 percent...

Between fall 2017 and fall 2029, the percentage of public elementary and secondary students who were White is projected to continue decreasing (from 48 to 44 percent)...

As of September 2017, the percentage of white public school students nationwide was 47.5 percent and slowly falling. 

It we use that as a starting point, the number of white youths shot and killed by police is still disproportionately low in simple statistical terms. But the disproportion may not be as large as people might be inclined to imagine or assume.

Why is there a disproportion at all? That would be a larger question, calling for careful analysis. For better or worse, we humans love our Storylines, even here in our self-impressed town.

Statistics can be very hard. They can also be misleading. 

It seems to us that the Washington Post made a significant omission in this new report. Just how large is the disproportion to which the Post may seem to be pointing? You'd think we'd all want to know that.

Where would an analysis go from there? In large part, that would depend on the extent of our love for preferred Storyline. In recent years, that love has been strong in Our Town.

That said, statistics can be amazingly hard, especially for upper-end journalists. According to international experts, Storyline is more pleasing by far. Our attraction to Storyline is hard-wired, these experts consistently tell us.

We'll say it again: Very few actual children get shot and killed by police. We'd like to see the Washington Post compare those Fatal Force numbers to the overall population of Americans aged 12-17, whatever those numbers may be.


SCRIPTED, ARROGANT, DUMB AND TOWN: Who failed Ma'Khia Bryant?

FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021

Who killed Davey Moore? It's routinely amazing to see the things which appear in the New York Times.

We're struck today by the cosmic indifference reflected in one line of Sarah Vowell's opinion column—the line in which Vowell blithely declares that Bozeman, Montana is blessed with "good schools."

We'll discuss that blithe claim below. We were also struck by this passage from a letter on today's letters page:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (5/14/21):With respect to my own decision not to get the vaccine, I had Covid in February, and therefore almost certainly am immune to infection.

According to the letter writer, she had Covid in February. For that reason, she doesn't need to get vaccinated.

Blithely, the New York Times put that assessment in print, furthering that understanding. But is that understanding well founded?

We can't necessarily answer that question. Luckily, one major newspaper already has.

That newspaper is the New York Times. In February, the Times devoted an analysis piece to that very question. The Times report started like this:

MANDAVILLI (2/20/21): Nearly 30 million people in the United States—and probably many others whose illnesses were never diagnosed—have been infected with the coronavirus so far. Should these people still be vaccinated?

Two new studies answer that question with an emphatic yes.

Who knows? Maybe the science has changed since that time. That said, the Times report was "updated [on] April 22" and that emphatic judgment remained.

Maybe that letter is expressing sound science. But does anyone actually think that the editor who put that letter in print gave as much as a second of thought to that obvious question? Also this:

Vowell says that Bozeman boasts "good schools." That certainly could be true.

That said, what she actually means—most likely, all she actually knows—is most likely something like this: 

Bozeman's student population is almost entirely white and Asian-American. Presumably, a healthy dose of that student population is connected to highly educated parents who work at Montana State University in the small city Vowell describes as "my beloved college town."

Almost surely in part for those reasons, Bozeman's test scores exceed average scores across the state of Montana. To the dilettantes who control Our Town, this sort of thing has always been taken as a marker of "good schools." 

Full and complete total stop. In fact, these people don't care.

Such judgments betray a gruesome indifference to the question of where test scores come from. This gruesome indifference has always been screamingly evident in the way the Hamptons-based New York Times reports on the public schools. 

The truth is, the Times doesn't care about the kids who attend our public schools; almost surely, the Times never will. 

Above-average test scores = "good schools" has long been the watchword of those people in Our Town who simply don't care to give such matters a single thought. Such people dominate the major news orgs which drive the prevailing dumbness here in Our Town.

The Times is routinely uncaring about such matters as this. This observation brings us to a related question—a question concerning the late Ma'Khia Bryant, age 16 at the time ofher death, and the upbringing and the fate of her three younger siblings.

On Sunday morning. above the fold, the Times turned one of its kid reporters loose to address that important question. He opened with a passage right out of Storyline.

"Who killed Davey Moore?" the observer known as Bob Dylan once asked. In this case, the Times' "diaper dandy" pointed his finger at the state of Ohio's foster care system. His analysis went like this:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL (5/9/21): Ms. Bryant’s tragic death was also preceded by a turbulent journey through the foster care system, which had cycled Ma’Khia through at least five placements in two years—after her own mother was found to be negligent—despite efforts by their grandmother to reunite the family.

Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average, and child welfare officials here are considerably less likely than in the country as a whole to place children with their relatives. Black children, like Ma’Khia and her sister, account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population.

A review of Ma’Khia’s pathway through foster care shows that it failed her in critical ways.

Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, a practice known as kinship care. It also shows that each successive placement causes additional trauma, further setting back a child in crisis.

“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” said Ronald R. Browder, the president and chief executive of the Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”

Those were paragraphs 7-12 of the Times' 81-paragraph front-page report. Right off the bat, Times readers were told this:

Her grandmother had tried to reunite the family. But the Ohio foster care system failed the late Ma'Khia Bryant in various ways.

That indictment could be true, of course. Unfortunately, because we read this lengthy report in the New York Times, we have no real way of knowing.

Is there really something wrong with the rate at which Ohio banishes kids to foster care? As we noted yesterday, nothing in this young fellow's report gives a reader any way of making such an assessment.

Does Ohio consign too many kids to the Hell of foster care? We don't know how to answer that question. As we noted yesterday, judging from appearances, neither does Bogel-Burroughs.

That said, the claim that Bryant was failed by Ohio's foster care system suits modern Storyline. Rather, it allowed the Times to slide away from a more obvious source of the inadequate care which led to this young person's death.

Was Ma'Khia Bryant, age 16, failed by the gummint bureaucrats of the state of Ohio? Everything is possible! But to identify someone who plainly failed this teenaged girl, let's consider something we're finally told very late in the dandy's report.

While we're at it, let's consider an obvious question—a question which went unasked and unanswered in the diaper dandy's report.

The question which went unasked

A violent fight was underway when Ma'Khia Bryant was shot and killed in Columbus, Ohio. Her younger sister, Ja'Niah Bryant, was present at the scene, in front of the house where the two had been living in foster care.

A violent fight was underway. Early in Sunday's report, Bogel-Burroughs briefly describes it:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL: [On April 20], Ja’Niah called 911 again, telling the police that she and her older sister were being threatened by two young women who used to live at the house. Officers arrived in the middle of a melee outside the house, and one of them fatally shot Ja’Niah’s 16-year-old sister, Ma’Khia Bryant, who was lunging at one of the women, brandishing a steak knife.

Judging from the bodycam tape, the fatal shooting of Ma'Khia Bryant may have saved the life of the young woman at whom she was lunging with that knife. 

For that reason, it's been hard to blame the police officer in the case of this fatal shooting. The Ohio foster care system was quickly subbed in by the Times.

Much, much later in his report, Bogel-Burroughs adds a bit of detail to his account of that deeply unfortunate fight. Included are the names of the two young women with whom Bryant was involved in the fight.

As best we can tell, Ma'Khia Bryant never received sufficient help in the course of her young life. In the highlighted sentence, we finally get the answer to one question about that fight—the answer to a question which has largely been avoided:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL: A police officer stepped out of his car and walked toward the driveway just as Ma’Khia turned her attention to Ms. Craig-Watkins and could be heard on a video from a neighbor’s surveillance camera threatening to stab her. 
As Ma’Khia charged, Ms. Craig-Watkins tumbled to the ground, and Ma’Khia’s father tried to kick her. Ma’Khia turned to Ms. Bonner and backed her up against a car. 
Ma’Khia raised a knife, and Officer Nicholas Reardon, a white 23-year-old who was the first officer to approach the scene, shot four times at Ma’Khia, who slumped down. 
As Ma’Khia’s body lay on the ground, police officers led Ja’Niah inside Ms. Moore’s house, along with her father’s young son.

Ja’Niah turned on the television to find some cartoons for her younger [half-]brother to watch...

That passage describes the death of a teenage girl who had perhaps been failed by the people around her. In the highlighted sentence, we learn that the man who is seen kicking, or attempting to kick, that one young woman in the head was, in fact, Ma'Khia's father, Myron Hammonds, who had been called to the scene of the dispute.

Who killed Davey Moore? Let's restate the question like this:

Was Myron Hammonds, Ma'Khia's father, the family member to whom the foster care system should have assigned the Bryant sisters and their two younger siblings? 

In fact, he was the father of the four Bryant kids. But as Bogel-Burroughs had mentioned in passing, "Mr. Hammonds, Ma’Khia’s father, did not live with the family and [the children's mother] described herself as raising the children largely on her own."

Was the foster care system supposed to assign the four Bryant kids to their father? When he was called for help that day (apparently by the children's grandmother), he came to the house with a younger son and proceeded to help matters out by kicking a young woman in the head as she lay on the ground.

Was the Ohio foster care system supposed to assign the four Bryant children to him? Were they supposed to continue to assign them to the paternal grandmother, to whom they'd initially been assigned? 

Repeat! Initially, protective services had assigned the children to their grandmother. Later, as Bogel-Burroughs reports, she had become homeless, living at times in her car. At that point, the Bryant children went into foster care.

Was the foster care system supposed to tell the four Bryant kids to report to their grandmother's car? Was that the assignment which would have let the siblings "fare far better?"

These children were in the child protective system in the first place because their mother had placed them there. When the mother appeared on CNN's disgraceful Chris Cuomo show, it seemed fairly clear to us that she was intellectually or emotionally challenged in some way. 

That doesn't mean that she's a bad person. But was the Ohio system supposed to send the kids back to her?

How about the showboating cousin—the city council member in Mansfield, Ohio who kept telling the world what a fabulous kid Ma'Khia had been? 

At that time, we asked why Ma'Khia Bryant hadn't been living with him. Should Ohio's foster care system have called on this high-achieving, showboating cousin?

The Times report doesn't mention this guy. Did reporters bother to ask whether he had been willing to help?

"Who killed Davey Moore?" Bob Dylan once asked. In his song, he offered a list of people, all of whom said, "Not I."

Today, we ask a similar question:

Who failed to help Ma'Khia Bryant in the course of her sixteen years?

There seems to be a fairly obvious initial answer to that question, if the Times feels it has to be asked. It looks like the four Bryant kids didn't get the kind of help all children deserve to get, where possible, from their immediate family.

This may not have been anyone's "fault." The mother and the paternal grandmother may have done the best they could—and the problems with which they may have been struggling may reach all the way back into our nation's brutal history.

Ma'Khia's mother and her paternal grandmother may have done the best they could. But how about the New York Times? Did they do the best they could?

At the Times, they quickly fingered the foster cares system, suggesting that the Bryant kids would have "fared far better"  had they remained in the care of family members. In fact, the protective system had placed them in their grandmother's care, until the grandmother turned ended up homeless.

At that point, they went into foster care. But also, imagine this:

At no point did the Times' diaper dandy ask, or answer, an obvious question! That question would be this:

When the four children's grandmother no longer could provide care, why didn't their father step in? Why didn't the Bryant kids' father take in one or all of his kids?

As the New York Times flayed the foster care system, that question went unasked. The Times aggressively implied that the kids should have stayed in family care. But the New York Times' diaper dandy never pointed a finger at him.

It may well be that Ma'Khia's father was doing the best he could. Based on what he did on the day she died, his best doesn't look especially good. Should Ohio's foster care system should tried to rely on him?

In fact, the cub reporters at the Times were working from preferred Storyline. In the current environment, we don't discuss the shortcomings and the misbehaviors of black decedents in cases like this. We don't even discuss the shortcomings of their families.

Instead, Our Town's favorite stars go on TV and misstate basic facts about these fatal incidents. And a bright young kid one year out of college puffs himself  up and blames the Ohio foster care system, based on the flimsiest possible type of analysis.

The children would have fared far better had they been assigned to family members! That's what this vastly inexperienced kid said as the start of his piece, with the permission of his slumbering editors.

Bogel-Burroughs didn't assign himself the task of composing this unintelligent takedown. If there were such a thing as very bad people—we don't think that's a helpful way to view the world—we would say that this high-achieving diaper dandy was badly failed by his elders, a bit like Ma'Khia before him.

Who killed Davey Moore? At the routinely gruesome Times, arrows of blame had to be aimed at public servants first. The people who struggle with family situations like this don't live in the Hamptons, after all—nor are they the wretched of the earth, about whom the New York Times is now pretending to care.

Ma'Khia Bryant is dead and gone. The dysfunction into which she was born certainly wasn't her fault or her doing. In a somewhat better world, all American  kids would be born in the Hamptons, with major Timespersons for their parents. Or possibly out in Bozeman!

Meanwhile, can Our Town expect to survive this arrogant, dumb journalistic regime? Leading experts across the globe despondently say that we can't.

Who killed Davey Moore?: To hear Bob Dylan sing the song, you can just click here.

What the heck is herd immunity?

THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2021

Slate attempts to say: We're so old that we can remember when Slate was a smart, high-end mainstream web site.

Today, Slate largely panders. If you want to know how dumb we actually are in Our Town, you just have to visit Slate.

Slate often aims extremely low in an apparent attempt to attract and hold readers. So far today, for example, the site has offered such think pieces as these:

Pooping at the Office Again Is Going to Be Terrible
BY ANGELA LASHBROOK / MAY 13, 2021 / 5:45 AM

My Boyfriend Is Desperately Obsessed With a Pop Star
BY DANNY M. LAVERY / MAY 13, 2021 / 5:58 AM

Yesterday, some Slate readers got Schwedeled again, along with other clatter: 

Help! My Cat Caught My Friend Spying on Me Having Sex
BY DANNY M. LAVERY / MAY 12, 2021 / 11:35 AM

Help! My Ex-Husband Slept With My Mom
DEAR PRUDENCE / MAY 12, 2021 / 8:00 AM

What Trump Toilet Paper Can Tell Us About His Election Chances in 2024
BY HEATHER SCHWEDEL / MAY 12, 2021 / 5:47 AM

Some traditional articles are still scattered in, but you may be starting to get the general idea.

At certain times, Slate still tries to offer basic explanations. So it goes in today's new essay, "Most People Are Thinking of Herd Immunity All Wrong."

Readers, you've probably heard of herd immunity. But how well could you explain it?

We'll guess you couldn't explain it well. We certainly know we couldn't!

We have a rough idea of how it works, or at least we think we do. But we don't think we've ever seen anyone actually try to explain the phenomenon, and it isn't entirely clear in our mind.

For that reason, we hungrily clicked the link to the new Slate report. The report was written by a PhD scientist at Wisconsin Madison. We'd have to call her effort incoherent.

The human capacity for incoherence has been a lifelong interest of ours. A certain type of (unrecognized) incoherence was the principal concern of the later Wittgenstein, who was very hot at one time. For us, this tracks all the way back to college, back to the street-fighting days of 1969.

Certain types of incoherence are remarkably widespread. Einstein himself couldn't make Einstein easy. In the hundred years which have passed, no one else has been able to do it either, but our journalists and our academics tend to insist that various people have.

Slate's PhD. scientist writer composed a wholly jumbled mess as she tried to explain what herd immunity is, or perhaps how herd immunity works. She didn't seem to know that her essay was incoherent.  Apparently, no one else at Slate noticed the problem either.

(Go ahead—read her piece! If you think the essay makes sense, we think you should read it again!)

Concerning the piddle which keeps Slate afloat, we would ask this question:

Can a group as dumb as we have become really hope to prevail or survive? (Experts uniformly suggest that the answer is no.)

Concerning Slate's attempt to explain herd immunity, we would offer this:

Complete and total incoherence has been in the saddle and riding humankind since the dawn of the west. Naming one name, Plato almost never made a lick of sense in his "philosophical" work—but Alfred North Whitehead famously offered this assessment: 

"The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." Arguably sad but true!

Some Slate readers got Schwedeled again. Technological progress to the side, has it been that way all along?


SCRIPTED, ARROGANT, DUMB AND TOWN: Did Ohio's foster care system fail?

THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2021

Let's take a look at the "research:" Did Ohio's foster care system fail the late Ma'Khia Bryant  and her three younger siblings?

Did it fail her "in critical ways?"

We can't answer that question! In fairness, the front-page report in the New York Times didn't exactly make that claim, though it certainly seemed to make that claim. As we noted yesterday, here's what the Times report said:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL (5/9/21): Ms. Bryant’s tragic death was also preceded by a turbulent journey through the foster care system, which had cycled Ma’Khia through at least five placements in two years—after her own mother was found to be negligent—despite efforts by their grandmother to reunite the family.

Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average, and child welfare officials here are considerably less likely than in the country as a whole to place children with their relatives. Black children, like Ma’Khia and her sister, account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population.

A review of Ma’Khia’s pathway through foster care shows that it failed her in critical ways.

Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, a practice known as kinship care. It also shows that each successive placement causes additional trauma, further setting back a child in crisis.

“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” said Ronald R. Browder, the president and chief executive of the Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”

"Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members," Bogel-Burroughs and his fellow reporters said.

(Their editor or editors went unnamed.)

“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” one local activist was quoted saying. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”

(Was he speaking about foster care in the state of Ohio, or was he speaking about foster care nationwide? There's no way to tell from the way he's quoted. So it goes at the New York Times.)

At any rate, whatever! Despite the fact that everyone allegedly knows these things, "Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average," the young Timesman thoughtfully said. And not only that:

:"Black children...account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population." 

Is that in Ohio, or is that nationwide?  There's no way to tell from this front-page report, but the whole compendium sounded quite bad for Ohio.

Please note: Bogel-Burroughs never explicitly said that the Ohio system "failed [Bryant] in critical ways." He merely said that "foster care" failed her in critical ways, but he plainly seemed to be pointing the finger at the Ohio system.

Speaking very frankly, this presentation by the Times' "diaper dandies" struck us as arrogant, but also as strikingly dumb. It also struck us as scripted—as the kind of easy, Storyline-derived novelized work which spills from the soul of the Times.

Where does Storyline enter this picture? We would suggest starting here:

In the case of this fatal shooting, it was hard to blame the police officer, who arrived at the scene of a violent fight in which it seemed that Bryant was about to stab a young woman. With that avenue closed down, why not blame the foster care system, employing the kind of underfed analysis which gives Times readers an easy-reader novel but explains nothing in the end?

In our view, it's plain that Ma'Khia Bryant and her three younger siblings have all received insufficient help in their young lives—have been failed in various ways. 

Tomorrow, we'll try to sketch that story for you. But no, we won't be inclined to start with Ohio's foster care system.

That said, is something wrong, in some systematic way, with that state's foster care practices? We don't have the slightest idea, in part because we read the New York Times' front-page report.

How weak was the journalism these "dandies" provided? Let's take a look at the research!

The passage we have posted above came right at the start of the Sunday front-page report. We've posted paragraphs 7-12 of a lengthy, 81-paragraph report.

Right at the start of this front-page report, the diaper dandies take their shots at the Ohio system. But just how strong were there analytical skills? 

How strong were there analytical skills? Let's take a look at the record:

We'll start with the initial claim about the Ohio system. That initial, foundational claim goes exactly like this:

"Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average."

For all we know, that claim may even be accurate! That said, the intrepid Timespersons offered no source for this foundational claim, nor did they offer a link to any data source.

Meanwhile, and it ought to be said—we aren't entirely sure what that claim specifically means. 

Does it mean that, after adjusting for population, Ohio has ten percent more kids in foster care than the national average? Does it mean that, among children referred to child care services, the state sends ten percent more into foster care as compared to other states?

Whatever the claims specifically means, might we note a basic point? That particular claim, even if true, doesn't strike us as recording a mind-blowing level of difference: 

Does our nation condemn 1% of our kids to foster care, while Ohio banishes 1.1%? That would be ten percent more. Is that the magnitude of difference which we're talking about?

Meanwhile, is it possible that there could be local reasons for some such ten percent difference? As we noted in Monday's report, when the Washington Post assigned two veteran reporters to profile the Ohio system, they started by mentioning this:

CRAIG AND LUDLOW (4/30/21): Over the past decade, Ohio has been hit hard by the nationwide opioid crisis, leading to a surge in the number of foster children, officials said. The number of children in the state’s care has grown from 12,000 in 2012 to about 15,000 today.

That construction is a bit clumsy, but has Ohio been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis? If so, might that explain why the state has been exceeding the national average of banishments to foster care by ten percent, if it actually has been?

Also this:

Might other demographic factors explain the state's alleged divergence from the norm? We don't have the slightest idea, but you can make the following bet:

The diaper dandies at the Times don't have the first idea either! Almost surely, such fundamental statistical questions never entered anyone's head, including those of their editors. In one major area after another, that simply isn't the way reporting is done at the modern Times.

If Ohio exceeds the national foster care rate, does that mean it's failing its children? We don't have the slightest idea, and neither does anyone who read the Times' pleasing report.

That said, the Times report tracked familiar contemporary ground. Too many kids are being condemned, and too many of those kids are black! We can't easily blame the policeman this time, and so we'll find our scapegoat in this other available place.

In these ways, Times subscribers are reassured about their moral goodness. The Times subscriber is better, far better, than the troglodyte rustbelt types who are bungling their state's foster care in the ways the Times has described!

Ohio is condemning too many children to foster care! Indeed, "research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, " we're instantly told—although we aren't told whether it would have been better to leave these particular kids with their particular family members in this particular case.

At any rate, the diaper dandies did offer a link when they referred to the "research." Hungrily, we clicked the link, eager to learn what we could.

When we clicked the dandies' link, we found what we often find in such cases, given the way Our Town's biggest news orgs work. We found a single opinion column—a single column which simply says that "research" has made that demonstration.

Here is the passage in question. No further link is offered:

EPSTEIN (7/1/17): Research confirms that compared to children in nonrelative care, children in kinship homes fare better, as measured by several child well-being factors. Children in the care of relatives experience increased stability, with fewer placement changes, decreased likelihood of disruption and not as many school changes. Relatives are more likely than nonrelatives to support the child through difficult times and less likely to request removal of problematic children to whom they are related. The children themselves generally express more positive feelings about their placements and are less likely to run away.

On average, the highlighted statement may be perfectly accurate! (Or not.)

That said, we note that the passage only says that children "fare better" when they remain with family, not that they fare far better. In fairly typical fashion, the diaper dandies—or their unnamed editor—decided to spin this claim up one additional notch.

That one claim, by that one person, is the only source the dandies provide in support of their foundational claim. Again, we aren't saying the claim made by that source is wrong. We're merely saying that the dandies show no particular sign of knowing whether the claim, which someone chose to embellish, is actually correct.

That claim, about what "research confirms," may be perfectly accurate! Having said that, we'll also say this:

The opinion column to which the Times links was published by the American Bar Association. The ABA isn't a fly-by-night social media site, but we can't help noting the fact that the ABA appended this disclaimer to the opinion column:

ABA (7/1/17): The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

That doesn't mean that those views are wrong. But again, if those views are actually right, they're only right on average. They can't tell us whether officials in the state of Ohio made the right choice in deciding that the Bryant kids wouldn't "fare far better" if left in their family's care.

The ABA was careful to note that the views expressed in that column don't represent ABA policy. We found something far more comically awful when we fact-checked the sources of Petula Dvorak's recent claims about the gender wage gap in the Washington Post.

We expect to return to that column in Saturday morning's report. For today, let's offer the following overview about the New York Times front-page report:

We've referred to the Times' listed reporters as "diaper dandies." We've done so because Bogel-Burroughs, the lead reporter, is just completing his second year out of college, and he was joined by another reporter who's at the Times for one year as part of the program which recently replaced the paper's intern program.

These cubs were joined by Ellen Barry, a fully experienced reporter.  Helped along by their editors, the trio presented an instant critique of Ohio foster care which came straight out of clown school.

Is something wrong with Ohio's system? We have no idea. Neither does anyone who drew that conclusion from reading this front-page report.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But the dandies' critique of Ohio foster care should get any college journalism student a flat-out failing grade.

As a general matter, is something wrong with the way Ohio condemns kids to foster care? Does the number of kids so consigned suggest that something is wrong?

Does the fact that black kids get consigned to foster care at a disproportionate rate suggest that something is wrong? Under current rules,  that judgment comes close to being required! But let's leave that for tomorrow.

Also tomorrow, we'll examine the central question in this tragic case. Was the state of Ohio wrong to send Ma'Khia Bryant and her siblings into foster care? 

Who actually failed this teenaged girl, who died at age 16? Could it have been the state of Ohio, or might it have been someone else?

By the current rules of the game, only one answer was possible. 

Scripting and Storyline may have kept the diaper dandies from speaking freely to that point. For our money, though, we will say this:

The Times assigned two diaper dandies to handle this very important topic. In this way, the famous newspaper may suggest that it loves Storyline, and low labor costs, more than it actually cares about kids like Ma'Khia Bryant.

Beyond that, Times subscribers are routinely failed when this newspaper plays this way. Can Our Town survive this culture?

Major experts suggest it cannot!

Tomorrow: Who seems to have failed these kids?


The desire to lock The Others up...

WEDNESDAY, MAY 12, 2021

...Slate and Lithwick edition: We've often commented on an unfortunate tendency of us the humans. 

We refer to the tendency to divide ourselves into tribes—and after that, to try to get The Others locked up. 

This tendency was quite pronounced in the public behaviors of former president Trump. We liberals may have a harder time spotting this ancient tendency here in the streets of Our Town.

Monday afternoon, over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick put this tendency on rather vivid display. She spoke with Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.  Their conversation was published beneath these headlines:

How Close Are We to Criminal Charges for Donald Trump?
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on accountability, Rudy, and the death of truth.

How Close Are We to Criminal Charges for Donald J. Trump? Here in Our Town, it seems that we've been asking that question since roughly the dawn of time.

In our view, Bharara was basically sensible during his conversation with Lithwick. It seemed to us that Lithwick was perhaps a bit too involved in the desire to Lock Others Up.

Someone at Slate had posted an introduction to the interview feature. "It’s 2021, but there’s still an awful lot of stuff from 2016 onward yet to be litigated," this editor instantly said.

It's always possible that that could be true. That said, pretty much right out of the gate, Lithwick was caught saying this:

LITHWICK (5/10/21): To the extent anyone thinks about Trump anymore, it’s gleefully imagining his criminal exposure in the after times, both in New York and elsewhere in the country. I gather he’s facing what, 29 lawsuits, three criminal investigations, like a lot.

BHARARA: A whole bunch.

LITHWICK: His tax returns are in the hands of Cyrus Vance Jr., the district attorney of Manhattan. They’re working to flip folks in the Trump organization. I wonder what piece of that you’re watching or are you just watching all of it? What do you expect to see in terms of accountability and having some sense that there is some closure to any of this?

"To the extent that anyone thinks about Trump any more, it’s gleefully imagining his criminal exposure?"

Maybe that's not what she meant. It seems to us that people are still thinking about Trump a great deal of the time. Beyond that, it seems to us that there are plenty of reasons to do so.

Trump continues to involve vast numbers of people in various wild, irrational claims, including the deeply destructive claim we like to call the big lie. It seems to us that "to the extent that anyone thinks about Trump," we might be trying to think about ways to intervene in this malignant process.

That would involve thinking about Trump in terms of political communication and political persuasion. In Lithwick's mind, the only reason to think about Trump is to dream about locking him up.

That said, whatever! But in her next question for Bharara, Lithwick kept dreaming these dreams:

LITHWICK: Is there anything that you feel is urgent and exigent that should have been looked at and that should be investigated and that slipped through the cracks somehow? Do you feel as though these handful of criminal investigations and the civil suits he’s facing kind of get us there in terms of accountability?

Lithwick had already listed the three hundred different ways Trump might be facing legal exposure, whether in the realm of civil or criminal law. Now she was asking Bharara to dream that there might be something else beyond that—that there might be something more, something we've all somehow missed!

Needless to say, Lithwick also wants to lock up Rudy. Here was her question on that:

LITHWICK: Let’s get to the great, luminous, searing, scorching crazy of Rudy Giuliani. Before we dig in, can you just remind us what Giuliani is probably on the hook for, this influence campaign to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden? What’s the backstory?

"Please, please, please," she said to Bharara. "Please tell us the story again!"

For what it's worth, the dream of locking these idiots up continues to make regular appearances on Our Town's "cable news" channels. These conversations have dominated Our Town's cable diet dating back to the days when we were told, again and gain, that Saint Mueller Already Had His Tax Returns And Would Surely Be Locking Him Up.

For people like Lithwick, there can never be enough such conversations. Also, there is no other reason to talk about Donald J. Trump!

Lithwick's desire seemed carnal and strong. In fairness, we were also struck by a few things Bharara said.

In response to Lithwick's question about what the current investigations will :get us there in terms of accountability," Bharara offered the response shown below. We were struck by a famous dog which didn't bark:

BHARARA: There’s two categories of things that I think about. One is stuff we don’t know. I find it hard to believe we know the full scope and landscape of the things that Donald Trump did behind the scenes that were improper, unethical, and perhaps criminal...

Then the other stuff that’s big ticket that happened out in the open for which there was an attempt to hold him accountable: the “Big Lie” of the election, his involvement in the incitement of the riot and the insurrection on Jan. 6, the stuff he did with the interference in the election in Georgia. I don’t know if he’ll get any accountability there. I don’t know that the administration has the interest and stomach to do something there, especially when there’s an interest in moving on.

We agree with Bharara on that first point. We'll guess that Trump has engaged in all sorts of illegal financial behavior over the course of his business career. More on that point below.

Regarding Bharara's second point—his point about "big ticket [stuff] that happened out in the open"—we were struck by his failure to mention the obstruction of justice allegations we once loved in Our Town.

Those imagined obstruction allegations always struck us as a bit shaky—but at one time, they were all we had in Our Town. Now that we have the Capitol riot to dream about, it almost seemed to us that those early, less dramatic charges may have gone the way of all flesh.

When Bharara spoke about Rudy, we were a bit surprised to see him mention a possible FARA violation (Foreign Agents Registration Act). It wasn't very long ago when everyone was saying how rarely such violations have ever been charged in the past. In recent weeks, folks in Our Town have been dreaming exciting new dreams about that type of criminal charge.

Finally, Bharara said something we've often wondered about. Speaking about Trump's long career, Bharara offered this:

BHARARA: It doesn’t sound farfetched to think, “Well, when it suited him, Donald Trump inflated the value of his holdings. Otherwise he understated the value of his holdings.” Both of which can incriminate him criminally and subject him to exposure. That all sounds like it makes sense. There’s also the reporting that Michael Cohen, his former lawyer who was prosecuted by SDNY, has met with prosecutors and investigators with the DA’s office like a gazillion times.

We agree! That doesn't sound farfetched at all! It doesn't sound farfetched to think that Donald J. Trump may have engaged in illegal behavior all through his long, checkered business career.

That said, Bharara was once in charge of the Southern District of New York. Especially during the Mueller days, our cable channels crawled with self-impressed alumni of the SDNY—with alumni who endlessly boasted about how fearless and tough the SDNY has always been.

We'll guess it also wasn't farfetched to think that Trump was breaking the rules back in those earlier years, but he was never charged. Does Our Town know how it would look to see this ex-president indicted on various types of  charges now?

Bharara said he doesn't know what you do about "the death of truth." We can tell you this about that:

The death of truth will be helped along if anything but the most serious and most obvious charges are brought against this former president.

Any other types of charges will be seen as political charges. Given the way people like Lithwick have begged and pleaded for prosecutions, it will be very hard to persuade The Others that a political hunt isn't on.

Lithwick has always struck us as the world's nicest person. According to major experts, such impulses tend to go the way of all flesh when it comes time to lock Others up.

Our human brains are wired that way, these top major experts have said. We're wired for locking the Others up, not so much for political suasion.


SCRIPTED / ARROGANT / DUMB AND TOWN: Youngsters battle the state of Ohio!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 12, 2021

State's system lousy, scribes claim: In print editions, the headline on the front-page report had a heart-rending headline:

Teenage Girl Killed by Officer in Columbus Ached to Go Home

The report appeared atop the front page of last Sunday's New York Times. The shooting victim to whom the headline referred was the late Ma'Khia Bryant, who was shot and killed last month, at age 16, outside the foster home where she and her younger sister Ja'Niah Bryant were living.

Because Bryant was shot and killed by a police officer, the fatal shooting had produced national press coverage. (When teens are shot and killed by civilians, there will rarely be national coverage.) The fact that Bryant had been living in foster care added an unusual element to this latest fatal event.

In Sunday's front-page report, the New York Times presented its overview of this widely-reported case. The assignment had gone to Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, a young journalist listed as lead reporter on the report's three-person byline.

(For a fuller roll call of the troops, see yesterday's report.)

In their report, Burroughs and his colleagues described the events which had placed Bryant and three siblings in foster care. In substantial detail, they described the events which led to the fatal shooting itself, largely relying on accounts provided by "Ma’Khia’s family members and acquaintances."

Why was Ma'Khia Bryant in foster care? Tomorrow, we'll review the account which was offered in its front-page report.  But as young Bogel-Burroughs began his lengthy report, he seemed to offer a stark indictment of the system which had placed the Bryant children in foster care. 

"A review of Ma’Khia’s pathway through foster care shows that it failed her in critical ways,“ the youngster wrote at an early point in his report, possibly giving the impression he knew what he was talking about. 

Tomorrow, we'll look at Bogel-Burroughs' account of this young person's "pathway through foster care." For today, let's examine the early passage in the front-page report in which Bogel-Burroughs' unnamed editors let him pose as an expert on Ohio's foster care system.

Ma'khia Bryant, age 16, had been shot and killed by a Columbus police officer. In this case, though, bodycam video had interrupted a prevailing Standard Narrative, in a way Bogel-Burroughs quickly described:

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL (5/9/21): [On April 20], Ja’Niah called 911 again, telling the police that she and her older sister were being threatened by two young women who used to live at the house. Officers arrived in the middle of a melee outside the house, and one of them fatally shot Ja’Niah’s 16-year-old sister, Ma’Khia Bryant, who was lunging at one of the women, brandishing a steak knife.

The shooting, which occurred moments before a jury in Minneapolis convicted Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd, released a new wave of anger over shootings by the police. To calm the furor, the Columbus police quickly released body camera footage, which showed some of the fight outside the house and, they said, demonstrated that the officer had acted to protect the other woman.

The bodycam footage complicated initial suggestions and claims that the police officer had misbehaved (as officers sometimes do). After reporting that fact, Bogel-Burroughs began to target the Ohio foster care system.

What is the overall state of Ohio's foster care system? Like Bogel-Burroughs and his colleagues, we have no real idea.

We would assume that foster care is very difficult to run. Does Ohio perform this service more poorly than other states do?

We don't have the slightest idea. Nor can we find the slightest sign that the three Times reporters and their unnamed editors do.

Did the foster care system behave in some inappropriate way in earlier decisions concerning Ma'Khia Bryant and her three siblings? We can't answer that question, any more than the New York Times can.

That said, Bogel-Burroughs fingered the system early in his report. As he did, he engaged in some of the incompetent analytical practices which are now completely routine in the journalism currently practiced in Our (self-impressed) Town.

Below, you see the indictment. In our view, this is embarrassing, yet thoroughly typical, journalistic work;

BOGEL-BURROUGHS ET AL (continuing directly): But Ms. Bryant’s tragic death was also preceded by a turbulent journey through the foster care system, which had cycled Ma’Khia through at least five placements in two years—after her own mother was found to be negligent—despite efforts by their grandmother to reunite the family.

Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average, and child welfare officials here are considerably less likely than in the country as a whole to place children with their relatives. Black children, like Ma’Khia and her sister, account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population.

A review of Ma’Khia’s pathway through foster care shows that it failed her in critical ways.

Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, a practice known as kinship care. It also shows that each successive placement causes additional trauma, further setting back a child in crisis.

“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” said Ronald R. Browder, the president and chief executive of the Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”

What the Bryant sisters wanted, Ja’Niah said, was to return to their family.

“We can go to Mommy or Grandma, it doesn’t matter, as long as we can get off the system,” Ja’Niah recalled Ma’Khia telling her younger siblings, who were also in foster care. “That was her biggest thing, she didn’t want to be in the foster care system until she was 18.”

A spokeswoman for Franklin County Children Services, which had custody of the siblings, declined to comment on Ma’Khia’s case, citing confidentiality laws...

Those are paragraphs 7-14 of an 81-paragraph report. In this early section, Bogel-Burroughs seems to say that the Ohio foster care system "failed [Ma'Khia Bryant] in several ways."

"Easy to be hard," top experts frequently tell us. Meanwhile, consider this:

As you can see if you look very closely, the\at passage doesn't explicitly say that Ohio's foster care system failed Ma'Khia Bryant in several ways. But that's the likely impression the passage will leave with Times subscribers, and the passage does seem to criticize the Ohio system in several specific ways.

Is there something notably wrong with Ohio's system? Like the intrepid Times team, we have no idea.

That said, the intrepid team seems to scold the Ohio system, including its treatment of Bryant and her siblings. The charges include these:

Criticisms of the Ohio foster care system:

Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average. 

Ohio's child welfare officials are considerably less likely than in the country as a whole to place children with their relatives. 

(Apparently) in Ohio, black children account for nearly a third of children removed from homes—nearly twice their proportion in the population.

Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members.

According to one source, "the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin.” 

 In these ways, the Times team conveys the impression that something is notably wrong with Ohio's foster care system, and that they know what it is. 

They link this apparent claim to the tragic outcome in Bryant's case, without quite attempting to show how their overall criticisms might relate to the decisions which were made in her particular case. 

Meanwhile, much of the Times' account of her particular case is drawn from reports by her family and friends. As would presumably be the case almost everywhere, local officials weren't allowed to comment on her case.

Near the start of a lengthy report, the Times team lowers the boom on the Ohio foster care system. Their effort strikes us as pseudo-journalism, though of a highly familiar kind. 

A cynic will tell you this:

The bodycam video robbed the scribes of the chance to work from a standard Storyline, in which a police officer will be said to have stepped way over the line. 

(Sometimes, officers do step over the line.)

Robbed of that standard narrative, the scribes turned to a related claim. In this case, it was the Ohio foster care system which had "failed" Ma'Khia Bryant, apparently in several ways:

It's better if children stay with their relatives!  They're putting too many black kids in foster care! It almost sounds like the Bryant kids shouldn't have been in foster care at all! 

The Times' strikingly young reporting team advanced these suggestions, claims and accusations early in their front=page report.

Tomorrow, we'll consider the merit of these claims, both as a general matter and in the way they may relate to this particular case. As we do, we'll ask an important question:

Can Our Town hope to survive in thrall to major news orgs with such lowbrow intellectual tastes?

For the record, no one should be shot and killed when she's just 16. Even more radically, we'll say that no one should ever be shot and killed at all.

We'd also say that Ma'Khia Bryant and her siblings had apparently been exposed to many influences and events from which young people deserve to be spared. It sounds like these problems, which didn't start with these kids, were underway long before Ohio's foster care system became involved.

On the whole, we thought this New York Times front-page report was arrogant, scripted, dumb. Anthropologically, we shouldn't expect anything better, despondent top experts all say.

Tomorrow: Let's take a look at the "research"


Kevin Drum hits it out of the park!

TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2021

Kevin Drum gets it right: We may discuss Kevin Drum's new post in more detail at some point, but we especially recommend this one observation:

"As near as I can tell, progressives are willing to support any idea that's completely hopeless."

In Drum's post, examples follow.  Taken literally, that assessment isn't completely fair, but it comes somewhat close. 

Progressives will support any idea that's completely hopeless? To the extent that Drum's claim has merit, we'll recommend that you ask yourself this:

How is it that we keep telling ourselves—and everyone else—that we're the ones who are bright? Might it possibly make some sense to scale back our loud self-regard?


Maddow attempts to interview someone!

TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2021

Cable star blown off course: Rachel Maddow was sold to Our Town as Our Own Rhodes Scholar.

According to this corporate branding, Maddow is very smart. With that branding exercise in mind, consider the "imitation of life" interview the star conducted last night.

Maddow attempted to interview Oregon senator Jeff Merkley. She spoke with him about "the Democrats` big voting rights bill, the For the People Act."

She's widely believed to be our brightest "corporate cable" star This was the (thoroughly sensible) premise to which she gave voice before introducing Merkley:

MADDOW (5/10/11): This is the Democrats' big plan for trying to beat back all of the voter suppression bills that are being rammed through Republican-controlled states all over the country—Georgia, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, state after state after state. Tomorrow is going to be a real food fight over that and what's in that bill.

But is that bill going to pass? It does right now seem like there is something interesting going on strategically with that bill. 

Tomorrow, Democrats say they plan to introduce several amendments to the bill. And again, remember, it's their own bill. They're going to introduce several amendments that are aimed at creating broader support for the bill with an eye toward eventually getting it passed and getting it to President Biden's desk.

Now, Mitch McConnell has said there won't essentially be any Republican votes for anything the Biden administration supports. What does Democratic strategy look like in the face of that? And what is the path toward getting this voting rights bill done?

Let's get clear on what Maddow seems to have said:

She seems to have said that Democrats will be amending the bill to create broader support. On the other hand, McConnell has said  there won't be any Republican votes—or at least, no significant number of Republican votes—for this or any other Biden bill. 

This raises an obvious question. Will Democrats be amending the bill in hopes of gaining some Republican support, perhaps enabling them to beat back a filibuster through a 60-vote override? 

Or will Democrats be amending the bill to appease a few recalcitrant Democrats, perhaps hoping to pass some version of the bill with nothing but Democratic votes, under some 50-vote version of "reconciliation?" 

The last time we looked in on Maddow, she was butchering two attempts to explain what the Senate parliamentarian had said about the Democrats' ability to use the reconciliation process again this year.

Back then, about a month ago, Maddow completely mangled two attempts to explain what the parliamentarian had ruled. Since that time, we've seen no further attempt, by anyone, to clarify that widely bungled matter.

By all accounts, it would be difficult to pass a voting rights bill under the reconciliation process. So what's the Democrats' plan?

Maddow was bringing Merkley on to explain the Democrats' plan for passing the For the People Act! How exactly were they planning to do it?

The first exchange went wonderfully well. The transcript reads as shown:

MADDOW (continuing directly): Senator Merkley, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you so much for making time.

MERKLEY: It's great to be with you, Rachel.

So far, so good! Now, Maddow asked the first of her two (2) actual questions. That first question went like this:

MADDOW (continuing directly): I think that our audience and the American people pretty broadly understand why this is such a big priority for you and for the Democrats right now, particularly when we look at what's happening in Republican- controlled states around the country, the big lie on the Republican side that it was somehow election fraud that explained why President Trump lost his reelection bid. This crackdown on voting rights is like nothing we've seen in a generation.

The question, though, is whether or not you have a plan to get to it President Biden's desk. Do you?

Do Democrats have a plan to pass the For the People Act and get it to Biden's desk? If so, how do they plan to do it?

Maddow had asked the obvious question. In response, Merkley wandered the countryside, completely failing to address the question he'd been asked.

After Merkley's rambling non-response, Maddow posed her follow-up question. Except by now, she had completely lost the thread of her original question.

As usual, she spent a bit of time discussing herself. That said, this was the second of her two (2) questions for Merkley, and no sign of her original question survived:

MADDOW: I think that you're exactly right that the Arizona shenanigans with this recount is designed to keep alive among Republicans this idea that there is something wrong with the security of the vote and that the most important thing should be that we should make it harder for people to vote because somehow too many people are voting and we have to be suspicious of it. Their deliberate slowness in Arizona, their effort to spread that kind of a road show to Georgia, Michigan, even New Hampshire, any other place they can spread it to, I think is designed to keep that narrative alive.

I struggled covering this in the news with whether or not to keep talking about what they're doing because I feel like to a certain extent, we're helping them promote that idea just by covering what they`re doing.

On the other hand, I feel like they've been effective at persuading Republican voters that there was something wrong with the election and the security of the ballot must be sort of cranked down on in a way that impedes voting rights. How do you balance those two considerations?

Whatever happened to the original question? By now, remarkably enough, the original question was gone.

How are Democrats going to pass the For the People Act? That had been the original question. It was an obvious, very good question.

But Merkley wandered the countryside, and Maddow got distracted. She asked a totally different second question, and after another Merkley ramble, the short "interview" was done.

Go ahead—read the transcript of this completely pointless "interview." As you do, remember this:

Maddow is understood to be our smartest corporate-picked star. Corporate branding has convinced us, here in Our Town, that Our Own Rhodes Scholar is the best and brightest ever. 

The reality is quite different. Ain't corporate entertainment grand?

Discourse on method / interview length: Maddow routinely opens her show with extremely long monologues. 

She then conducts extremely short interviews with people who might actually know what's going on in the world and/or what they're talking about.

Merkley knows if there's a plan. Maddow got blown off course.


SCRIPTED / ARROGANT / DUMB AND TOWN: The roll call of troops at the Post and the Times!

TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2021

Youngsters attack Buckeye State: Long ago and far away, the western world's first great journalist recorded what he had seen.

He compiled a list of the forces assembled on the wide plains before Troy. His lengthy recitation dominates Book II of The Iliad. This is the way he began:

Sing to me now, you Muses who hold the halls of Olympus!
You are goddesses, you are everywhere, you know all things—
all we hear is the distant ring of glory, we know nothing—
who were the captains of Achaea? Who were the kings?...

For the record, Homer's sexual politics were at times impressive and strong.

After a bit more throat-clearing of this traditional type, Homer's roll call of the troops began. We're using Professor Fagles' translation:

First came the Boeotian units led by Leitus and Peneleos:
Arcesilaus and Prothoenor and Clonoius shared command
of the armed men who lived in Hyria, rocky Aulis,
Schoenus, Sclkos and Eteonus spurred with hills,
Thespia and Graea, the dancing rings of Mycalessus,
men who lived round Harma, Ilesion, and Erythrae
and those who settled Eleon, Hyle and Peteon,
Ocalea, Medeon's fortress walled and strong.

We'd like to post the full roll call, but Homer goes on for more than three hundred additional lines, listing those who journeyed to Troy to avenge a tribal insult. 

(We humans have always behaved in such ways, top leading scholars all tell us.)

Today, we begin a series of reports by reviewing two similar roll calls. The background would be this:

Within the past two weeks, the Washington Post and the New York Times  prepared and published separate reports about the shooting death of 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant. This young person had been in foster care in Columbus, Ohio at the time of her death. 

Each report discussed the particular circumstances of this fatal shooting. Each report discussed the way Bryant had ended up in foster care. Each report offered an overview of the state of Ohio's foster care system.

All three topics are important. Who had these newspapers charged with the task of exploring these topics? We start with the roll call at the Washington Post.

The Post's front-page report appeared on Friday, April 30. Modern Muses say that these reporters were assigned this important task:

The Roll Call at the Post:

Tim Craig: Craig is twenty-one years out of college (Gannon, class of 1999). His official bio at the Post tells us this:

Tim Craig is a national reporter on the America desk, often traveling to faraway places to bring the best and the worst of the country to Washington Post readers. Before joining the National desk in 2017, he served as The Post's Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief from 2013 through 2016. Craig was based in Islamabad, Pakistan, and in Kabul but traveled frequently throughout the region, the Middle East and Europe. In 2011, he also did a stint in The Post's Baghdad bureau. Craig began his career at The Post in 2003, serving as a Maryland government reporter, the Richmond bureau chief, and a D.C. City Hall reporter. Before joining The Post, he spent three years covering government and politics and urban affairs at the Baltimore Sun.

In the byline to the Post's report, Craig was the featured reporter. In a move we don't quite understand, he had joined forced with another veteran journalist:

Randy Ludlow: Ludlow is a "senior reporter" at the Columbus Dispatch. He has worked for major newspapers in Ohio since 1983, spending 19 years at the now-defunct Cincinnati Post before moving to the Dispatch in 2002. 

In what seems to be a self-description, Ludlow tells us this at the Dispatch web site:

Old-school muckraker. Journalist of nearly 50 years. Champion of governmental transparency and access to public records. National, multiple-time Ohio winner of First Amendment awards. Honored by SPJ as Best Reporter in Ohio and for best investigative reporting. Regional Emmy winner for team project with WBNS-TV. Working Capitol Square and the Statehouse since 1992. Alumnus of the late, great Cincinnati Post (19 years).

For good or for ill, the Washington Pot had assigned this important report to a pair of experienced journalists.  At the New York Times, a somewhat different demographic clambered ashore at Troy.

The Roll Call at the Times:

The Times' report on these important topics appeared above the fold on the paper's front page on Sunday, May 9. The byline featured the names of three reporters. The first name listed was this:

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs: Bogel-Burroughs is almost two years out of college (Cornell, class of 2119). He recently created a false impression concerning the death of Daunte Wright. His official bio goes like this:

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reports on national news for The New York Times. He is from upstate New York and previously reported in Baltimore, Albany, and Isla Vista, Calif.

That's it!

The third reporter in the byline was Will Wright. He's almost six years out of college (Kentucky, class of 2016). His company bio says this:

Will Wright is a national reporting fellow for The New York Times. He has reported from Oregon, Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky. He previously covered eastern Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

For the record, the national reporting fellowship program brings young reporters to the Times to serve one-year stints. The program is a recent replacement for the summer intern program.

Bogel-Burroughs and Wright are virtual cub reporters. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that.

They were joined by Ellen Barry, an experienced Times reporter. She graduated from Yale in the class of 1993. Her company bio says this:

Ellen Barry is the New England bureau chief of The New York Times.

She was previously the London-based chief international correspondent, and before that, the paper's South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi.

In 2020, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature writing for “The Jungle Prince of Delhi.” Before India, Ms. Barry was also a correspondent and then bureau chief for The Times in Moscow. While in Russia, she was part of a team which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for a series on impunity in the country’s justice system.

Ms. Barry was also a Pulitzer finalist for feature writing in 2001, for beat reporting in 2004, and for breaking news, as part of a team, in 2007. She covered mental health and rural New England for The Boston Globe, and covered the American South for The Los Angeles Times.

Barry is quite experienced, and award-winning. We don't know how her name ended up on that Times front-page report.

Briefly, let's be clear. There's no reason why someone who's just out of college can't be a capable reporter, even an outstanding reporter. That said, we were struck by the contrasting call of the roll at these rival newspapers.

What happened on the day Ma'Khia Bryant died? Why was she in foster care, and what is the current state of Ohio's foster care system?

These strike us as important topics. The Post assigned two experienced reporters to run these topics down.

The Times took a different approach. They assigned a young reporter just out of college, along with someone in the successor to the paper's intern program. Somehow, the paper's highly experienced New England bureau chief ended up in the mix.

In any given situation, young reporters might bring fresher eyes to a particular assignment. In some given set of circumstances, veteran reporters may be stuck in the past in some way which isn't helpful. 

In this case, we'll only say this:

In certain major ways, the young reporters at the Times offered a front-page report we would describe as embarrassing and hapless. Unless your goal is to stick to the types of Storylines which make Our Town's hearts glad.

As they reported Ma'Khia Bryant's death, the kid reporters went after the whole state of Ohio! They offered an overview of the state's foster care system which we would describe, on a journalistic basis, as arrogant, unintelligent—dumb.

In fairness, we'd have to say that their report did favor modern Storyline, in which official agencies will always be wrong in cases like this and some single study can always be found to support whatever point the "journalist" wishes to (seem to) make.

Hector was slain on the plains outside Troy. In our view, nuance and judgment met similar fates in the Times' front-page report. 

In fairness, editors waved the report into print. In our view, the report is a reflection of prevailing New York Times culture, as devised along the wide sands of the Hamptons, "where the breakers crash and drag."

Tomorrow, we'll start to show you what the young reporters wrote. Can Our Town survive this regime? Experts suggest that it can't!

Tomorrow: Reporters fight the power


How long will cognitive chaos rule?

MONDAY, MAY 10, 2021

For a long time, Haidt says: Earlier today, the Washington Post's Robert McCartney posted a gloomy report. The headline says this:

Even in moderate Northern Virginia, GOP activists buy the ‘big lie’ about Biden’s election

McCartney had spoken to Republican activists from the more moderate parts of Virginia. Here's how his report starts:

MCCARTNEY (5/10/21): Republicans at the national level persist in pushing the “big lie” that President Biden was not legitimately elected, and I’m sorry to report that GOP activists in Northern Virginia mostly seem to agree.

In interviews at Saturday’s state conventions in Loudoun and Prince William counties, a majority told me they believe either that Democrats stole the election for Biden, or at least that enough “shenanigans” occurred to make them doubt the result.

I was disappointed to hear it. I had hoped that Republicans in the two outer suburbs would be more accepting of reality. Loudoun and Prince William residents are comparatively better educated than those elsewhere in Virginia. GOP voters there are also more moderate. 

Examples of his interviews with those activists follow. Even in the more moderate part of the blue-leaning state, McCartney found that GOP activists don't believe that Biden actually won, or feel that they aren't real sure.

In fairness, there's no ultimate way to prove that anyone ever won any election. Did FDR really defeat Herbert Hoover in 1932? If you don't want to believe that he did, there's no ultimate way that anyone can make you.

A person can always imagine, or become convinced, that FDR ended up in the White House due to some fiendish ballot-stuffing scheme—a scheme so fiendish that it escaped detection. Today, there would be plenty of orgs eager to push that idea.

You may think that's a crazy idea. But go ahead—try to prove it! In the end, there's no way to compel belief.

In the end, all examples of widely shared national belief are built upon social cohesion and trust. When social cohesion and trust take a dive, so does shared belief.

In recent decades, shared belief has been worn away by the power of partisan media—by partisan talk radio, partisan "cable news," partisan Internet sites and partisan social media. 

Also, social media allows us to find other people as dumb and deluded as we ourselves are. At one time, it was hard to do that!

This lets Republicans believe that Donald J. Trump really won the election, and it lets us, over here in the streets of Our Town, believe that Daunte Wright was being arrested on a  warrant for a marijuana charge. Or for dangling air fresheners! 

We saw it on Brian Williams' show! We read it in the Times!

Under current arrangements, residents of various towns are told about the crazy beliefs of people who live in the other towns. Fox viewers learn about how crazy we are in Our Town. We, in turn, are told about the crazy beliefs Over There.

Over the weekend, we watched a C-Span book event, during which Jonathan Haidt was asked how long this state of affairs will last. It will last a long time, the gentleman gloomily said:

HAIDT (4/18/21): I'll have to say that, if we channel Steve Pinker or Matt Ridley, in the long run things get better. And as you've pointed out, with every previous major technology there are disruptions. 

So if I had to bet, I'd bet that, fifty years from now, things are going to be a lot better, and we'll have figured this out.

However—however, for the next ten or twenty years, and probably for the rest of our lifetimes—my lifetime, not the younger people here—I think what has happened to us is that the tower of Babel was destroyed between 2009 and 2012. 

In that story, in the Bible, God said, "Let us go down and confound their language so that they may not understand each other." And while it's always difficult to find the truth, I think that, after 2012, we are in Babel. and social media has made it possible for people to create alternate narratives within every company, within every university, and everything is a battle to put your narrative forth.

And so I think that we will never again find shared truth—I shouldn't say never again. In the next twenty years, we will not be able to find shared truth. And so I'm also despairing that good research such as yours—our ability to even agree on the facts, even within the social sciences—is being compromised by this.

So I guess I would say, long-term optimism—you've got to be an optimist long-term if you look at history.  But short term, I'm very, very pessimistic.

Haidt was speaking with Professor Bail about Bail's new book, Breaking the Social Media Prism. To watch the full event, click here. Haidt's assessment comes right near the end.

Professor Haidt has been an apostle of sanity over the past several decades. We may be slightly gloomier than he is about the problem in which we're now deeply mired.

In our view, our nation was well on its way to Babel as early as the start of Campaign 2000, if not long before. We started designing this site in the fall of 1997 because we thought things were already so far out of hand.  In our view, this very much isn't a problem which started with social media.

According to Haidt, things will be fine if we wait fifty years. Along the way, we'll offer this bit of advice:

Stop believing that The Crazy is confined to The Others. Our Town is shedding its sanity too, and The Others are told about the crazy things we say and do on every night on Fox. Some of those reports are crazy, but quite a few of them aren't.

Our Town is losing its sanity too! Experts tell us that human history has always followed this pattern, with tribal breakdown leading onward toward some version of war.

On the brighter side, it's always the fault of the other towns. Our Town has never been wrong!


Starting tomorrow: SCRIPTED / ARROGANT / DUMB AND TOWN!

MONDAY, MAY 10, 2021

Can Our Town hope to survive this?: This very morning, on page A3, the New York Times presents a list of seven Noteworthy Facts drawn from today's editions. 

There are seven "noteworthy facts" in all. This is one of the listings from today's version of this daily feature, which is available in hard copy only:

Of Interest
NOTEWORTHY FACTS FROM TODAY'S PAPER

[...]

In 2016, two media scholars analyzed a data set of 300 million tweets from the 2012 election. Twitter users, they found, “selectively share fact-checking messages that cheerlead their own candidate and denigrate the opposing party’s candidate.” 

These media scholars today! Two such giants had uncovered a noteworthy fact—people [sometimes or frequently] selectively cheerlead for the candidate they favor, while denigrating the candidate they oppose!

To someone inside the New York Times, this seemed like a "Noteworthy Fact." It was a noteworthy fact deemed to be of special interest. 

Nor is this the only example of dumbnification found in today's "Of Interest" feature. Whoever selects this newspaper's "noteworthy facts" had also spotted these. We're presenting each listing in full:

NOTEWORTHY FACTS FROM TODAY'S PAPER

[...]

Edmonton's Connor McDavid, 24, ranks fourth in the N.H.L. with 1.4 points per game in his career, behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy. He has 31 points in his last 11 games.

[...]

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest concentration of warehouses.

The Scythians inhabited the steppes that eventually became Ukraine from the 7th until the 4th century B.C. To the classical Greeks, they were known for their fierce fighting, for their elaborate funerals and for smoking marijuana. 

Those ancient Scythians, with their "Mary Jane!" But also, these noteworthy facts today! 

You've now seen four of the seven listings in today's compendium of New York Times Noteworthy Facts. For the record, we're omitting the "noteworthy fact" about when Cirque de Soleil originated. ("In the 1980s.")

We're often struck by the world-class dumbness displayed on the Times' page A3. This morning's effort seems especially noteworthy, what with the newspaper's shocking discovery  that people (sometimes or frequently) cheerlead for their favored candidate while denigrating the candidate they oppose.

Who would declare that a "noteworthy fact?" In our view, the answer to that question is itself a noteworthy fact.

Remarkably, someone at the New York Times judged that fact to be noteworthy! Someone at the New York Times decided to single it out. 

As a bit of anthropology, that selection strikes us as an extremely noteworthy fact. This is why we say that:

You'd think that no one could be so dumb as to see that blindingly obvious fact as especially noteworthy.  But someone inside Our Town's smartest newspaper did in fact single it out. 

That strikes us as a significant anthropological and cultural fact. Can Our Town really hope to survive this kind of intellectual leadership?

How dumb is life inside the world of the current New York Times? How dumb is life inside that org, but also how scripted and arrogant?

We plan to explore that topic this week, focusing on one major news report. 

In print editions, that report appeared above the fold of yesterday's (Sunday) Times. First, though, consider this:

In its print editions on Friday, April 30, the Washington Post published a front-page report about foster care in the state of Ohio.  The impetus for the front-page report was the recent shooting death of 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant. 

Bryant was living in foster care in Columbus, Ohio at the time of her shooting death. In print editions, the headline on the Post's report said this:

Teen's death ignites call to reform foster system

What followed was a lengthy, competent news report about foster care in Ohio. The report had been written by two experienced, veteran journalists—Tim Craig of the Washington Post and Randy Ludlow of the Columbus Dispatch.

In fairness, the world's isn't going to change because of Craig and Ludlow's report. That said, their report included a lot of information about the stresses on Ohio's system, starting with "a surge in the number of foster children" caused by "the nationwide opioid crisis." 

In somewhat cursory fashion, the reporters described the way Bryant had ended up in the foster care system. They quoted various people with various views about Ohio's overall system, ending with a cautionary note:

CRAIG AND LUDLOW (4/30/21): Many foster parents also say they, too, would like to see the day when their services are not needed. But in Ohio and elsewhere, they know it’s only a matter of time before they get another call from their agency pleading for them to take in another child.

“There is literally nowhere else for these kids to go,” [foster parent Laura] Flynn said. “So for people who want to criticize foster parents, you instead should think whether you can take in a teenager.”

Stating the obvious, a person can criticize some state's foster care system without criticizing foster parents. That said, there's no perfect way to run foster care, these reporters had seemed to suggest.

Yesterday morning, above the fold on Sunday's front page, the New York Times offered a more detailed account of Bryant's history in the foster care system. In something resembling a break from standard practice, they even named the person who kicked the other young woman in the head right before Bryant was shot.

The Times now offered its account of Bryant's history within the foster care system and of her shooting death. It's hard to find the words to describe how scripted, arrogant and dumb this New York Times' effort was.

The lead reporter for the report is one year out of college. (In fairness, approaching two.) He was joined by a second reporter who's working for the Times for one year as part of its Newsroom Fellowship Program, a recent successor to its summer intern program.

These cub reporters were joined by a veteran reporter who ought be ashamed of herself for having her name anywhere near any such report. That said, there seems to be little sense of shame available at the Times, the most famous news org in Our Town.

Does anyone care about Ma'Khia Bryant, or about the many other kids living in foster care? Does anyone care about how kids end up in foster care? 

Does anyone care about what sometimes happens to such kids when they're in foster care? About what happens to such kids after they "age out?"

The report in yesterday's New York times was disgraceful for its arrogance, but also for its world-class dumbness. 

By our lights, the dumbness bled all the way over into the realm of stupidity. In our view, the dumbness was largely driven by Storyline, narrative, script.

The Times had assigned a couple of kids to handle this important topic. Joined by an award-winning veteran, the youngsters produced a front-page report which was arrogant, scripted and dumb.

Some editor or editors waved the report into print—and who knows? Those editors may have been the source of the report's large dumbness!

Briefly, let's be clear. Nothing is going to change at the New York Times. Also, nothing is going to change in the streets of Our Town, where we Townies seem to believe that we're all above average.

Yesterday's front-page report is the fruit of the culture we've chosen. But can Our Town expect to survive in the face of such arrogant dumbness? 

Leading, highly credentialed experts insist that it probably can't.

Tomorrow: The roll call of the scribes