The Post tells (half of) the sexism story!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021

Jessica Goldstein gets it (half) right: We'll guess that Jessica Goldstein's report is headed for the magazine in this coming Sunday's Washington Post.

Repeat—that's just a guess. At any rate, Goldstein's essay appeared online yesterday morning. As best we can tell, Goldstein does an excellent job telling one half of a story.

Goldstein's essay tells the sleazy story of sleazy media misogyny around the turn of the century. Rather, it tells the story of sleazy media misogyny as directed at young entertainment stars like Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson.

We weren't reading the sleazy magazines, Rolling Stone not excluded, on which Goldstein focuses. But here's a taste of the media culture she's talking about:

GOLDSTEIN (3/2/21): What exactly was going on in the early 2000s? From one vantage point, it was an encouraging period for young women, a real you-go-girl time in entertainment. All-female acts like TLC and Destiny’s Child climbed the charts with anthems about kicking scrubs and cheating exes to the curb. Smart, plucky heroines led box office hits like “Erin Brockovich,” “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Legally Blonde,” while “Buffy,” “Dark Angel” and “Alias” duked it out on TV. It seemed like a pretty good time to be a girl, considering the alternative (all of human history up to that point). 

But it was also the era of “Girls Gone Wild” and MTV Spring Break live-streaming wet T-shirt contests from Daytona Beach. Terms like “slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” had yet to enter the lexicon and “revenge porn” was neither a concept nor a criminal offense, though sex tapes released without the consent of their participants (like Paris Hilton’s) were treated as major news and entertainment events.

“There was a lot of talk about the word ‘raunch,’ ” said Vanessa Grigoriadis, who, as a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, spent the 2000s profiling celebrities, including Simpson and Spears. “What is raunch culture and why is it taking over America? Why are people interested in Jenny McCarthy and Jessica Simpson and Jenna Jameson and Anna Nicole Smith? . . . I think everybody thought this was a real moment in American pop culture history where we had reached the bottom.”

"What exactly was going on in the early 2000s?" Goldstein focuses on the raunch culture of magazines which adopted an exploitative stance toward young female celebrities.

What kind of exploitive stance is being discussed? Exploitive raunch like this:

GOLDSTEIN: Dan Peres, who became editor in chief of Details in 2000, noted this shift in his 2019 memoir: “Edginess and cool had given way to T&A and bosomy midriff-baring cover models,” he wrote. “Fighting to compete, most traditional men’s magazines, including Details, followed suit, and their covers became virtually indistinguishable from the Playboys I used to try to peek at as a kid.”

Even the more literary-minded men’s magazines got in on it. In 2003, Britney was pantsless on Esquire; three years later, Aguilera was topless on GQ. The articles pretty much matched the pictures. “The male writer would go and basically flirt with a female celebrity to see if the female celebrity would take the bait,” said Grigoriadis, her eye roll nearly audible through the phone. “That was a trope that was used constantly.”

Goldstein discusses the extent to which these young female stars can be said to have played a willing role in this culture. But there's one thing Goldstein doesn't discuss:

She doesn't discuss what was happening in the early 2000s (and in the 1990s) with respect to our sleazy and deeply stupid high-end political culture.

As far as we know, Goldstein has done an excellent job with this aspect of entertainment culture. If she has the stomach for it, we'd like to see her roll up her sleeves, extend her range, and tackle the political side of the coin:

The misogyny aimed at Hillary Clinton from the 1990s on. The misogyny aimed at Naomi Wolf during Campaign 2000.

The ridiculous conduct of Chris Matthews, followed by the ridiculous conduct of Keith Olbermann, all of it aided by the ridiculous conduct of their various manchild sidekicks and by the silence of a wide range of enablers. All of this was permitted by the lazy indifference of the liberal and feminist worlds, who let this garbage-can culture continue until Donald J. Trump reached the White House.

Our resistance began the very next day! Literally, that's when we "rose from our warm beds" and began to pretend to resist.

In June 2008, Clark Hoyt devoted a column to the misogyny Maureen Dowd had aimed at Candidate Hillary Clinton during the previous year of campaigning. At the time, Hoyt was the New York Times' public editor.

On the upper ends of the mainstream and liberal worlds, Hoyt's column generated exactly zero discussion. Even after such a jump start, the behavior of such a major New York Times star simply could not be discussed.

This is one of the basic ways we got Donald J. Trump. This is also one of the basic ways we got George W. Bush.

On the brighter side, a bunch of people scored outstanding careers in mainstream and liberal journalism. They were rewarded for their silence. Everyone else got Trump.

(Have you ever seen Rachel talk about this? No, and you never will. Last night, she made an utter fool of herself beating on Joe Manchin. We aren't especially sharp in Our Town, although we do know what we like.)

We think Goldstein did an excellent job. Half of the story remains.


TIMES AND TOWN: We loved what Professor Kendi said...

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021

...until we possibly didn't: On Sunday, in its Book Review section, the New York Times interviewed Ibram X. Kendi about his reading habits.

It's the latest in a weekly Book Review feature—a feature called "By The Book." On Sunday, we became at least a partial Kendi fan based upon this statement:

NEW YORK TIMES (2/28/21): Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

PROFESSOR KENDI: Without question, “All About Love: New Visions,” by bell hooks, brought me closer to my partner, Sadiqa, years before we met. “All About Love” taught me how to love; that love is a verb.

Sadiqa Kendi is a pediatric emergency medicine doctor—and she identifies as a woman. Dating all the way back to Buddy Holly's unembarrassed "girly-man" persona, we like a straight man who speaks (and think) in such ways about his girl friend or his wife. 

(Unashamedly, Holly would burble and coo as he sang his songs. Routinely, his songs established a basic point—it was easy to fall in love because of what his girl friend was like.)

That brief statement to the Times helps make us a Kendi fan. We wish that boys and young men were vaccinated with larger doses of such speaking and thinking by men.

That said, we sometimes chuckle at the general form of the weekly "By The Book" feature. We've been told that we're sometimes joined by the gods on Olympus.

In a brief search this morning, we couldn't find the (perhaps imagined) Platonic ideal of the By The Book interview, the version of this weekly feature which lives inside our brains. Sometimes, though, we chuckle at By The Book's presentations, which may go exactly like this:

NEW YORK TIMES (11/22/20): What books are on your night stand?

AUTHOR: At night, I mostly read either poetry or gumshoe noir. Right now it’s (for poetry) Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition,” Jorie Graham’s “Runaway” and “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through,” an anthology of Native Nations poetry edited by Joy Harjo; plus (for gumshoe): Arnaldur Indridason’s “Strange Shores” and Ace Atkins’s “The Revelators.” I’m a bit of a “library cormorant,” to borrow Coleridge’s memorable phrase—always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that, here and there.

NEW YORK TIMES: What’s the last great book you read?

AUTHOR: Bao Ninh’s “The Sorrow of War,” part of a recent deep dive into the Vietnam War in fiction and historical writing. A haunting, brutal account of the conflict from the perspective of a young North Vietnamese soldier.

NEW YORK TIMES: Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

AUTHOR: Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

AUTHOR: In a tent, by torchlight, at the end of a long day in the mountains, with another to follow tomorrow. Tired in the legs, content in the mind. The first stars beginning to show in a clear night sky, a silhouette-sense of the ridgelines around. Breath misting in the cold, and a few pages of a good novel before deep sleep.

NEW YORK TIMES: Which writers—novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets—working today do you admire most?

AUTHOR: Alexis Wright: I’m awed by the range, experiment and political intelligence of her work, from fiction such as “Carpentaria” and “The Swan Book,” to her “collective memoir” of an Aboriginal elder in “Tracker.” As essayist, activist, novelist and oral historian she is vital on the subject of land and people. Barry Lopez has always been an immense inspiration: I value the grace and luminosity of his sentences, the moral charge of his writing, and the symphonic patterning he embeds over the length of books like “Arctic Dreams” or “Horizon.” Among others, then, I’ve huge admiration for the ways Robin Wall Kimmerer, Jedediah Purdy, Rebecca Solnit and the theater-maker Simon McBurney go about their work.

NEW YORK TIMES: Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

AUTHOR: Heroine: Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.”

And so on from there.

We'll admit to a guilty pleasure. When we peruse such portraits and/or self-descriptions, we're frequently overtaken by an anthropological musing:

We're struck by the fact that none of these giants of vast erudition ever noticed what was happening in the lowbrow public discourse over the past many years.

They didn't notice the con involved in the repetitive claim that the Social Security trust fund was "just a bunch of worthless IOUs."

They didn't notice the con involved in the claim that Candidate Gore had said that he invented the Internet (or in the claim that Gore had said a thousand other such things.) 

They didn't speak up when Rush Limbaugh told millions of people that Hillary Clinton was involved in the murder of Vince Foster, a murder which didn't occur. They didn't say boo when Reverend Falwell peddled his Clinton Chronicles tape, a tape which chronicled the Clintons' many murders.

When the newspaper which publishes By The Book spent a month sliming Naomi Wolf in overtly misogynist fashion, they didn't seem to notice. (In lengthy Nexis searches, we managed to find two people who rose to speak on behalf of Wolf—William Safire and Bill Kristol. As for Gore, he was repeatedly trashed for "hiring a woman to teach him to be a man." It was an MSM script.) 

They didn't speak when Diane Sawyer asked Marla Maples if sex with The Donald was the best sex she ever had. When Diane Sawyer ambushed Candidate Gore with that silly "farm chores" pop quiz. When Diane Sawyer, live and direct from her many fine homes, ambushed Candidate Hillary Clinton with the claim that the two houses she and her husband owned were too fine and too large.

When the Times ran that astonishing Uranium One takedown? Dearest darlings, use your heads! Do you have to ask?

In spite of all the vast erudition, does anyone ever notice anything that's happening in the world? We'll admit that we sometimes think such thoughts when we peruse these By The Book features and other such presentations.

In the exchanges posted above, the author in question was willing to make some concessions.  He was prepared to admit that he's a bit of a “library cormorant”— that he's "always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that." 

He admitted that he values the symphonic patterning embedded over the length of certain books. 

Has he ever read a book anyone else has heard of?  We can't be entirely sure when hit with a question like that.

We sometimes think we see performance and branding in such presentations—performance and branding on the part of the New York Times if not on the part of the author. We wonder how so many high-quality books can be read with so little public value emerging.

More often, we just chuckle at the performative erudition. In this way, the New York Times is telling us subscribers that we are extremely bright too, which we just basically aren't out here in the streets of Our Town.

We'll admit it! We thought we saw a hint of this flaw in Professor Kendi's By The Book outing. We loved what he said about his partner, but where did things go after that?

Our view? The man is an antimisogynist god. That leaves us with an important question:

How's his antiracism?

Tomorrow: Antiracism and Town

Also this: Our own favorite fictional heroine is the "fair maiden, her name I don't know" in the traditional western ballad, The Ranger's Command. 

She rose from her bed in the dead hour of night, then taught a bunch of wavering cowboys that they had to fight for their land. Might we see a hint of Promising Young Woman in this traditional heroine?

For the Joan Baez version, just click here. We think it's her best recording ever.

Before that, you had Woody Guthrie.


What kind of person is Donald McNeil?

TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2021

We can think of several answers: Yesterday afternoon, we read Donald McNeil's lengthy account of the events which led to his recent forced departure from the New York Times.

What kind of person is Donald McNeil? Obviously, we can't tell you.

After reading his account of these widely-discussed events, he strikes us as a person who may be inclined to say a bit more than is necessarily required in some particular circumstance.  Some people are so inclined, and it may get them in trouble.

It might be better if McNeil weren't so inclined, if he actually is. That said, according to the leading authority on his career, McNeil, who is 67 years old, is also this kind of person:

From 1995 to 2002, he was a foreign correspondent [for the New York Times] based in South Africa and France. It was during this time that McNeil began covering HIV/AIDS and took an interest in vaccine-preventable diseases.

In 2002, McNeil joined the science staff of The New York Times and was assigned to cover global health. At the time, McNeil had to convince his editor, Cornelia Dean, to allow him to cover "diseases that poor people die of." McNeil's later work on a series of stories about diseases on the brink of eradication was awarded the top prize by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Prize in Journalism in 2006.

In 2013, he was featured in an acclaimed documentary about AIDS drugs, Fire in the Blood.

McNeil began covering the outbreak of the Zika virus for The New York Times in late 2015. He gained attention for his coverage of viral outbreaks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he became known for his early and persistent warnings about the severity of the situation. McNeil appeared on The Daily to talk about COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, marking him as one of the first to bring widespread attention to the COVID-19 virus in the United States. He also interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci about Fauci's working relationship with President Donald Trump. His early coverage and acclaimed writing made him one of the prominent journalists covering COVID-19.

We aren't qualified to assess McNeil's reporting on global health. Nor can we vouch for every claim in that account. 

That said, the claims are derived from such sources as this interview / profile in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. It's also true that McNeil is the kind of person who won the John Chancellor Prize  for Excellence in Journalism, just last year, for the quality of his reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's part of what the announcement alleged:

Columbia Journalism School announced today that Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter at The New York Times, is the recipient of the 2020 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. For over a quarter-century, McNeil has dedicated his career to writing about infectious diseases that afflict people in developing countries and pandemics that have swept the globe. Since working as a correspondent based in Africa in the mid-1990’s, he has mastered reporting on viral outbreaks covering HIV-AIDS, Ebola, swine flu, malaria, Zika, and now coronavirus, among others. This year, his authoritative coverage helped inform and prepare millions of readers for the gravest health crisis the world has faced in a century.

"Sometimes the perfect reporter meets the perfect story. That happened this year. Donald knows science and medicine, and he is a determined and ambitious reporter who doesn't stop till he finds the truth," said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.

[...]

“Donald McNeil’s deeply reported work reflects an expertise rare in daily journalism,” said Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School and a member of the Chancellor jury. “His dedication to the well-being of all people and his passion for justice reflect the integrity of the late John Chancellor.”

We can't vouch for any of that. At any rate, that was then, and this is post-Peru.

For ourselves, we're willing to guess that McNeil knows a lot more than we do about a range of significant topics. We'll even guess that he knows more than many teen-agers at our most elite prep schools.

For whatever reason, the summers of 2018 and 2019 found McNeil on Times-sponsored educational junkets to Peru. He was cast in the role of public health expert for a bunch of middle-school and prep school kids who were paying $5500 to study public health issues.

According to Ben Smith's account of these events, those junkets began as a source of revenue for the Times. 

"In 2012, when The New York Times was panicked about its financial future, this newspaper went into the travel business," Smith wrote. A few years later, this side venture had McNeil traipsing through Peru.

After reading McNeil's account of that trip, it sounds like he may have frequently said a bit more than was required. It sounds like he may have said such things to a bunch of prep school kids who may conceivably know a bit less than they believe they do.

(Teen-agers tend to be like that.)

We were struck by the early, gruesome "journalism" surrounding these events. The Daily Beast broke the non-story about the way a few of these kids had been offended by McNeil's alleged remarks. It was clear that the Beast had no idea what McNeil had actually said to these prep school students.

It was also clear that the Daily Beast wasn't concerned about that. The Beast had heard (correctly, as it turned out) that McNeil, on one occasion, had spoken the N-word to a few of those kids in a discussion of racist language, and that was enough for The Beast. 

The Beast produced inflammatory accounts of McNeil's overall conduct, ignoring the fact that The Beast had no real idea what had ever been said.

Has our journalism ever been dumber? We're not sure it has. 

After reading McNeil's account, it sounds to us that he frequently may have said a bit more than the occasion required—especially given the fact that he had been thrown in with a bunch of kids who may have been extremely sure of the things they thought they knew.

Based on what McNeil himself wrote, it sounds to us like he showed poor judgment on two occasions. That said, whose bad judgment had sent him off on this dumb money-making adventure in the first place?

The technical dumbness of our upper-end journalism is on constant wide display. Back in 2018, the New York Times' initial reporting on the incident at Smith College is a museum-level example of very bad, very dumb reporting.

Offhand, we can't think of a reason ever to say the N-word aloud. There are quite a few other words of that type which we'd never say aloud—insulting words in the realms of gender and race, words which have caused mountains of pain down through the long ugly years.

In our view, McNeil showed imperfect judgment in saying the N-word aloud, even in the context described. (One of the students raised the general topic.)

That said, we also can't think of a reason to produce the kind of journalism The Daily Beast did; to produce that initial report on the incident at Smith College; or to force the resignation of a reporter who actually knows a great deal about important subject matter, at least not over the events which seem to have occurred in Peru.

The vast range of people will think we're weirdly dumb in Our Town when we behave in these ways. People will think we're weirdly dumb, and lacking in basic judgment.

Who's to say that those people are wrong? These incidents, piled one on top of the next, send such people over to Trump. They feel that they will be massacred next by us know-it-all Dimmesdales, and who's to say that they're wrong?

We aren't inclined to blame teen-agers for lacking ultimate wisdom. It's the adult behavior at Smith College, and at the Times, which may cost us votes in Our Town.

The teens in Peru had spent the big bucks. Their accounts of what had occurred were quickly assumed to be sensible, accurate, reliable, beyond dispute. 

"Verdict first," The Beast seemed to say. Commenters raced into line to agree.

We think of something the janitor at Smith College said—the janitor who was completely falsely accused by the college freshman:

“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone.”

We aren't inclined to blame teenagers for having imperfect judgment. But after that, the adults step in. Their performances of virtue will quickly clear the room.

Is McNeil an expert on subject matter? Citizen, please! At times of cultural revolution, who needs distractions like that?


TIMES AND TOWN: Lucky Luke (French) as the day's top report!

TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2021

Is this performative virtue?: Last Monday morning, the analysts woke us to say that the Times was possibly at it again.

Scrolling through Monday's "Today's Paper" listings, the youngsters had reached the International section—and there, they'd been brought up cold. Perhaps somewhat oddly, the featured report in that section carried this capsule account:

Lucky Luke, the Comic Book Cowboy, Discovers Race, Belatedly

A few of the youngsters were wondering how a comic book cowboy discovering race could possibly be the biggest topic in international events on that day—or on any other. 

Others wondered how a comic book cowboy named Lucky Luke could qualify as international news, whatever it was he had done. We agreed to sort it all out.

As it turns out, Lucky Luke is the principal character in a "Franco-Belgian comic book classic." That's how his belated discovery of race qualified as an international event. 

Some of the youngsters still wondered how Luke's discovery of race could be the day's top international event:

"That just the Times being the Times," one other young analyst said.

The full set of headlines which appear online help explain the newspaper's editorial judgment this day. How could this be a top international event? Online, here's what the headlines said:

Lucky Luke, the Comic Book Cowboy, Discovers Race, Belatedly
For the first time in the Franco-Belgian comic book classic, Black characters have full-fledged roles and are drawn without the racist depictions that marred the genre.

Was anything "wrong" with the Times' editorial judgment this day? Not necessarily, no.

According to this news report, black characters will now be appearing in a comic book series to which many French children are exposed. (According to the Times report, Lucky Luke was "last year's best selling comic book" in France.) 

French and other francophone kids will now be getting a different experience. In this passage, Norman Onisji explains the way the comic book will be changing:

ONISHI (2/22/21): The story of a cowboy in the American Old West, Lucky Luke was only one of a handful of comic book series that, for generations, had been an integral part of growing up in France and other francophone countries. Children read Lucky Luke, along with Tintin and Astérix, at their most impressionable age when, as Mr. Berjeaut said, the story “enters the mind like a hammer blow and never comes out.”

But as he sought new story lines, Mr. Berjeaut grew troubled as he reflected on the presence of Black characters in Lucky Luke. In the nearly 80 albums published over seven decades, Black characters had appeared in only one story, “Going up the Mississippi”—drawn in typically racist imagery.

“I’d never thought about that, and then I started questioning myself,” he said, including why he had never created Black characters himself, concluding that he was subconsciously avoiding an uncomfortable subject. “For the first time, I felt a kind of astonishment.”

The result of Mr. Berjeaut’s introspection was “A Cowboy in High Cotton,” which was published late last year in French and is now being released in English. His aim, he said, was to tell the story of Lucky Luke and recently freed Black slaves on a plantation in Louisiana, with the book’s narrative and graphic details reimagining the role of the cowboy hero and the representation of Black characters in non-racist terms. For the first time there is a Black hero.

With one exception in seven decades, there had never been any black characters in Lucky Luke at all. Having received one image of the Old West, French kids will now be getting a different portrait, courtesy of the kind of historical expert who writes and draws comic books in France.

Does any of this actually matter? At least in theory, it does.

Reading Onishi's report, we recalled our own early TV experience. We returned to the 1950s, at a time when Lucy Ricardo was being portrayed a hopeless infant and the vintage radio/TV program, Amos and Andy, was still in syndication. 

The NAACP fought to get Amos and Andy off the air; eventually, the NAACP succeeded. But it matters what (impressionable) children are told and shown in their earliest years—even if, in the Lucky Luke case, French children were said to be suffering from a lack of black cowboy characters, not from gruesome stereotypical renderings.

To some extent, it really was "the Times just being the Times" when Lucky Luke led the International section that day. In our measured assessment, we would say this:

To some extent, this was a genuine topic. Also though, to some extent, the Times may perhaps and possibly have been posturing a bit. These things are hard to measure.

Rather plainly, the Times has chosen to err on the side of being progressive, perhaps even Woke, when it comes to matters of race. The widely-discussed 1619 Project would be the most obvious example of this editorial decision. 

In our view, there's nothing wrong with such a decision, until such time as there is. 

On occasion, the Times does seem to stretch things a bit in its pursuit of a new, better approach to matters of race. Imaginably, such decision-making could sometimes be counterproductive—could work against our desire to create a more perfect union, to build a better and fairer world. 

Yesterday could imaginably have been such a day. We thought we may have been seeing thumbs on the scale in topic selection and topic placement all over the famous newspaper. Also, there's the fallout which could ensue from Donald McNeil's account of his recent dismissal from the Times—a dismissal based upon the charge of imperfect conduct when discussing matters of race.

(More on that this afternoon.)

On occasion, the Times tends to go out of its way to feature reports about race. Then too, there's the constant betrayal of upper-class values when the Times tries to pursue a better racial world. 

In our view, this problem appears early and often when the Times discusses race and the public schools and the food decent kids who attend them. This is an area in which the Times' reporting constantly strikes us as a gruesome, disgraceful, unwell.

To some extent, last week's report on Lucky Luke really was the Times being the Times. In our view, the modern Times is inclined to be highly performative on matters of race, but such motivations are hard to assess and such performance won't always be bad.

That major report about Lucky Luke was a fairly standard expression of prevailing New York Times culture. So was Sunday's interview with Professor Ibram X. Kendi, a very good, very decent person whose ideas may not always be best.

Tomorrow, we'll start with that interview. It was a standard Book Review feature, of a type which tends to make us chuckle. 

We'll move from there to one of Professor Kendi's ideas about the proper way to discuss and report on the public schools. We share the reservations he describes, but we find it hard to share his overall assessment.

In territory like the Times, Kendi's word is currently perhaps being viewed as something approaching law. Guilt and performance to the side, this approach by those in Our Town won't necessarily be in the interests of the millions of good, decent kids who attend our low-income schools.

They want and deserve to be full participants in our wider failing world. We're forced to say that there are times when the occasionally performative Times doesn't much seem to care.

Tomorrow: Today we have naming of books


Donald J. Trump and Madison Cawthorn!

MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021

We live in extremely strange times: As you've probably noticed by now, we live in extremely strange times. 

If our only goals are anthropological, we live in interesting times. A Chinese proverb is said to have warned us against that.

We live in a time when people seem to be crazier—perhaps more deluded—than people have ever been in the past. Or it may just be that the widespread rewards are too darn high, and that people are hugely dishonest.

It's hard to say just how it works, but we'll offer two current examples:

Donald J. Trump's lunatic comments at yesterday's CPAC session. For a summary of those remarks, just click here.

Also, Rep. Madison Cawthorn's ongoing gruesome behavior, as described in a front-page report in today's Washington Post. The gentleman is "a new pro-Trump star of the far right," the Post headline points out.

Due to new technologies, there has never been a time when it was so easy to spread so many bogus claims on such a mass scale. As an example of what we mean, consider the start of this morning's front-page report in the New York Times :

GRYNBAUM ET AL (3/1/21): At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol—and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

It entered the head of a right-wing host that the invaders were Antifa. Or maybe BLM!

In the words of Grynbaum et al., "What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of" the  ability to spread bogus ideas and ridiculous claims, given the power of certain modern  technologies and media.

It increasingly seems that our human discernment is extremely poor. This surprising fact is being put on display in a remarkable way, due to the ease with which we the humans can now be confronted with ridiculous claims straight outta La-La Land.

Does Trump believe the various claims he bruited at CPAC? We don't have the slightest idea. But ten minutes after he made the claims, millions of others did!

Lack of discernment and sociopathy seem to make excellent partners. For what it's worth, Donald J. Trump is 74, Cawthorn just 25.

In many locales, their bogus claims are accepted on face. As a basic matter of basic persuasion, how do we undermine this process?

Inquiring minds need to figure that out. Also, whose possibly imperfect claims do we possibly buy Over Here? According to major credentialed experts, the lack of discernment isn't restricted to one set of human towns. 

They have at heart our not getting lost! They come to us in the dead of night and dance their disconsolate waltz.


Starting tomorrow: TIMES AND TOWN!

MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021

Performative, insincere, phony, dumb—counterproductive, unhelpful?: At the end of last week, we were thrilled by a couple of things we saw in the New York Times.

On Thursday morning, we encountered Michael Powell's front-page report about an unfortunate incident at Smith College and its sad, stupid, silly, dumb aftermath. 

In our view, Powell's lengthy front-page report adopted a (highly instructive) approach to issues of race and class—a high instructive approach which would normally be avoided in the Times.

After that, the comments! We saw the comments to Michelle Goldberg's fuzzy opinion column about "critical race theory," a school of thought which largely went undefined in her piece.

In print editions, the fuzzy column was published in yesterday's Sunday Review, the newspaper's highest platform. In its explicit and implied praise for the tenets of CRT, the column represented a return to form for the Times concerning matters of "race."

Goldberg's column was poorly reasoned but completely familiar in its implied point of view. But then, dear God, the comments! 

We sampled the comments to Goldberg's column, in which one self-identified liberal after another savaged what might be described as the "Woke" point of view.

Could it be true? Is it possible that denizens of Our Town are prepared to engage in a bit of self-criticism concerning the way we tend to approach this very important topic? Could we possibly imagine that this might be true?

Based upon Thursday's front-page report, could we imagine another possibility? Could we imagine the possibility that the Times might be prepared to rethink the way it has approached this very important, very large topic in the past quite-a-few years?

According to experts, that would be a consummation devoutly to be wished! That said, on Saturday morning's front page, the Times returned to its standard, almost comical approach to the role of race in the public schools.

And this morning—good God, this morning! This morning, there the Times went again!

We're speaking here of what we saw when we scrolled through this morning's "Today's Paper" listings.  In our view, a person could almost say that the Times' offerings for this day border on a type of journalistic parody.

Tomorrow, we'll tell you what we saw when we performed that act of scrolling. From there, we'll proceed to the near-parodic, unhelpful way the New York Times covers race in the public schools. 

We'll link that topic to this interview with Ibram X. Kendi in yesterday's Book Review section. To be perfectly honest, that interview could almost be seen as a bit of a parody too.

We've long been appalled by the way the Times approaches the topic of race in the public schools. For all we know, that approach may even be well-intentioned, but in practice, we regard it as deeply ugly—destructive, performative, vile.

We regard it as the ultimate example of Our Town's modern performative culture. We regard it as the behavior of the Hamptons crowd as they pretend to care about all the kids they have no plans to know.

In fairness, who knows? They may even be sincere!

Ugly, stupid, phony, faux? Silly, stupid, pretentious, performative? Which words will the sages employ, if any sages exist in the future, when they review the way Our Town rampaged around and about, addressing issues of (so-called) race in these, the final days of our rapidly failing republic?

At Smith, a kid who had just finished her freshman year seemed to need some help. (In large part, we base this assessment on the videotape of the interview she did with Boston's CBS station.)

Many young people do need help; ideally, adults should try to provide it. In this case, Smith's president responded by fawning and pandering to this young person, while throwing an array of long-time staffers under a big yellow smoke-belching bus.

On the merits, behavior like this is deeply counterproductive. But this is the way we tend to behave in the more "elite" precincts of Our Town—and we'll even add this:

Almost surely, this is one of the ways Trump voters get born! Beyond that, we're often amazed that the modern white working class isn't more hostile than it seems to be on the general matter of race.

Here in Our Town, we've been looking down on such people ever since Mother and Father told us how special we were. We refuse to take yes for an answer from the denizens of Their Towns, and our biggest newspaper keeps pimping the pap about how much they care in the Hamptons.

Yesterday morning, the Washington Post published an essay by Matthews Yglesias on the front page of its high-profile Outlook section. In his essay, Yglesias offered a critique of Our Town's approach to matters of race! Online, the headlines say this:

Not all ‘anti-racist’ ideas are good ones. The left isn’t being honest about this. 
On some topics, progressives prefer pointing out right-wing hypocrisy to debating substance.

We'd try to stay away from ultimate assessments of "honesty." In theory, though, the publication of that essay should perhaps be encouraging too.

In theory, the publication of that essay is perhaps encouraging. In practice, it seems to us that Yglesias chose his words and his examples with extreme care. 

If we might borrow from Tiny Tim, he may have tiptoed through the tulip craze a bit. We will be a bit more direct in our presentations this week. 

It seems to us that the major tribunes of Our Town tend to be phony, silly, stupid / dumb / faux when it comes to matters of race. Also, extremely unhelpful.

We don't believe a word they say, though it may be that they're fully sincere. But then, we've mined (if only for a while) in their mines. We have (somewhat briefly) gathered in their corn.

Tomorrow: Scrolling through this morning's Times

Coming: Professor Kendi on the way to report on the public schools


The guild regroups at the New York Times!

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2021

Goldberg [HEART] critical theory: Just this once, we're going to let you ask us about our business.

We've been heartened in recent weeks, in a way we won't fully disclose. We will offer this:

It has seemed to us, in recent weeks, that we're finally seeing a difficult topic open up for possible public discussion. 

In part, we had that reaction to Thursday's front-page report in the New York Times—the lengthy report about a set of incidents and decisions at Smith College.

It seemed to us that the Times had agreed to permit and encourage a type of discussion which normally wouldn't take place at that newspaper. Yesterday, we praised the Times for breaking with some of its previous, extremely narrow predispositions.

Tomorrow, the guild will be fighting back at the New York Times! That said, we've been surprised (and heartened) by the comments to the piece in question, which has already appeared on line.

This opinion column by Michelle Goldberg will appear tomorrow (on page SR3) in the Sunday Review. Online, the column appears beneath this pair of headlines:

The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness
How the right is trying to censor critical race theory.

Is "the right" really trying to "censor" critical race theory? "When it comes to outright government censorship," is it really "the right that’s on the offense," as Goldberg's column claims?

Whatever you think of "critical race theory;" whatever you think of the types of pushback in question; Goldberg's column makes no case for these tribally pleasing claims. 

As Goldberg correctly notes, some politicians are trying to keep certain tenets of CRT out of public school curricula.  Also this:

In a typically fuzzy pronouncement, the Trump administration's OMB decreed that federal agencies shouldn't run workshops or conduct training based on CRT. (Joe Biden has killed this decree.)

Whatever you think of such examples of pushback, no one is or was being "censored" by these initiatives. Also, no one is or was being denied "free speech." 

As everyone understands, academics are free to develop whatever theories they like. They don't have a right to see their theories adopted in K-12 curricula or promoted in federal workshops.

Surely, everyone knows that. That said, Goldberg seems to [HEART] critical race theory, a school of thought she makes little effort to define. 

Based upon that assessment of CRT, Goldberg has penned an admiring column about its undefined tenets, a column attacking "the right." 

In print editions of the Times, the column will appear tomorrow, in the high-profile Sunday Review. In this way, an imaginative person might say that the guild has begun to fight back against possible new perspectives.

An imaginative person might say that! For us, we were amazed, and heartened, by the comments to Goldberg's column.

What are the tenets of CRT? How sound are those tenets? As noted, Goldberg makes little attempt to speak to those vital questions.

But as she notes right in her headlines, CRT is largely the worldview of the "Woke" liberal / progressive world. Having said that, good lord!

In the comments to Goldberg's column, a tsunami of self-identified Dems and liberals push back extremely hard against critical theory. Yesterday, as we sifted through the comments which qualified as Reader Picks, the pushback was nearly unanimous.

Briefly, we'll mention the obvious. There's no way to know who's writing the comments in which readers reply to a column. Conservative readers can always pretend that they're commenting "from the left."

That said, we found the comments to Goldberg's column quite convincing with respect to their partisan provenance. And the comments which qualified as the top Reader Picks were almost unanimous in this view:

The standard "Woke" approach to race—the approach one might link to CRT—has become a disaster for liberal and progressive values, and for the Democratic Party. So liberal commenters said!

How does a comment qualify as a "Reader Pick" at the New York Times? It's based on the number of other readers who chose to "recommend" the comment.

Keep that method in mind as we continue along. Late yesterday afternoon, we scrolled through the top thirty or forty "Reader Picks"—the comments which were recommended by the largest number of readers. 

By our assessment, the first 19 Reader Picks were uniformly anti-CRT and anti-Woke. These comments were generally written from a pro-liberal perspective, in ways which seemed convincing to us.

One after another, these readers assailed the effects of Woke/CRT culture. After a single pro-CRT comment, the onslaught started again.  This was Reader Rick comment 24:

COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I consider myself a progressive—part of the Warren/Sanders wing of the Democratic party.  I'd really like to see a more socially and economically equitable society, and that's what I vote for and donate money towards.  But I have to say, I struggle with critical race theory.  

First, there's the tendency to elevate narrative over knowable facts—e.g. San Francisco's decision to continue canceling Paul Revere, even after it had been revealed that the proffered reason for doing so was factually incorrect.  

Second, it is divisive and misguided to examine not only large-scale problems, but rather virtually *all* of life's petty annoyances, through the lens of oppression and resentment.  

Third, in the context of our rapidly deteriorating working and middle classes, it is tone-deaf and counter-productive to continually call people "privileged" when they have honest and legitimate reasons for not believing that they are.  I think CRT is less about solving real problems, and more about progressives' need for performative woke-ism and self-flagellation.

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! We especially agree with the complaint about the (guilt-inducing) shift in language to the framework of "privilege" in place of the traditional language of "discrimination." 

Other comments specifically noted that this shift in language paradigm was designed to induce feelings of guilt among people who are "white." With that in mind, we disagree with the comment we've posted in only one way: 

We think that shift in language isn't about self-flagellation. We think it's about the flagellation of pretty much everyone else.

This paradigm shift strikes us as stupid, hateful, counterproductive. We were amazed and heartened to see liberal commenters making this same point.

On and on the Reader Picks went, assailing the allegedly pernicious effects of Woke/CRT culture. We may have liked this comment best (we're presenting it in full):

COMMENT FROM PROVIDENCE: Social Darwinism, Eugenics, Phrenology…

There are many ideas that have emanated from and been championed by universities that, when they caught sufficient attention from the public, ultimately caused great societal harm.  Using the tools of history, we now understand those ideas as “bad.”

Is Critical Theory an idea that, if scrutinized by its effects on the society, turns out to be "bad?"

CT has roots far deeper than the 1970s: the ideas go back to the Frankfurt School (Germany) in the 1930s (Marcuse, Horkheimer, others; ironically, all “dead white guys”).  Do you not think that MLK as a doctoral student at Boston U. in the 1950s was fully aware of Critical Theory, which he rejected in favor of Personalism?  The idea of classes of people always in conflict certainly cannot lead to a Beloved Community. as envisioned by MLK and championed after his death by others, particularly John Lewis.

I’m an old white guy and a progressive.  A professor, but a physical scientist, which means that in my field and my classroom, strict rules of evidence, which separate carefully empirical observations from their interpretation, keep group-think at bay.  My experience: Critical Theory has had a distinctly negative impact on my campus, truncating or shutting down conversations that could contribute to building community that is open, inclusive and enriching for all its members.  A pity.  It saddens me.

In its tone, this comment came to us straight outta Bergman's Wild Strawberries. Dr. King preferred and chose the framework of "the beloved community," this old professor sadly said. The professor said that Dr. King had privileged love over guilt.

On and on and on and on, the most popular Reader Picks tilted in this direction. Then we looked at the comments listed as "NYT Picks." 

Those comments heavily tended to [HEART] CRT. Was that perhaps a case of the guild fighting back?

Several "Reader Picks" comments cited Thursday's front-page report about the events at Smith. They cited those events as examples of the disastrous effects of Woke/CRT culture.

As described on the Times front page, that's the way those events seemed to us:

We thought we saw a college kid who badly needed some help getting pandered to instead. In this case, it wasn't just the assistant, associate and adjunct professors pandering to this overwrought young person. It was the Smith College president!

That's one of the things we thought we saw in that front-page report. As Smith's working-class staffers got trashed and attacked, we also thought we saw one of the blindingly obvious ways Donald J. Trump gains voters.

Tomorrow, the guild will be fighting back against the sudden appearance on the front page of a possible alternate view. They'll also be fighting back against the Beloved Community. 

At this site, we were heartened by what we saw in the comments to Goldberg's column.  Without any doubt, it's much too late. 

Still and all, more next week.


Words of praise for President Biden!

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2021

Also, remembering Clinton: This very morning, at 7 o'clock, our landlord gave our car a jump start. After that, he followed us over to the place where cars go to get new batteries.

As he drove us back to our sprawling campus, he mentioned how well he thinks Biden is doing. In turn, we mentioned what we saw yesterday, right there on our TV set.

We happened to be watching TV when Biden staged a brief commemoration of the fact that 50 million vaccinations have been delivered. He chatted with a succession of non-famous people as they sat and received their shots. 

After that, he gave a brief pep talk about our ongoing war on the virus.

Here's what we told our landlord about what we thought we saw as we watched this brief event:

It occurred to us that Biden is delivering the best presidential leadership of our entire lifetime. His voice is perfect for the moment. So we thought yesterday, as we watched him interact with regular people, then give a simple speech.

What we thought we saw was this:

We thought we saw that President Biden knows how to like individuals. It isn't a matter of theory with him. He actually seems to like people and persons. It doesn't look like a game.

For ourselves, we're grateful for the way he's performing. This made us think, as we frequently do, of something Bill Clinton wrote.

For our money, the most instructive part of Clinton's memoir, My Life, is the passage he wrote about Arkansas' Pentecostals. At the start of the passage in question, he says he visited a certain Pentecostal  retreat every summer but one from 1977 through 1992.

“Every year I witnessed some amazing new manifestations of the Pentecostals’ faith,” Clinton writes. Then the instruction arrives.

 Arkansas' Pentecostals didn't tend to vote for Clinton. But he said he "liked and admired them:" 

CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.

“Besides being true to their faith, the Pentecostals I knew were good citizens,” Clinton wrote. “They thought it was a sin not to vote.” 

After describing a compromise he reached with Pentecostal ministers about the licensing of child-care centers, Clinton concludes his rumination about this group of people—people who basically don't see things the same exact way he does:

CLINTON (page 252): Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, seeing people live their faith in a spirit of love toward all people, not just your own, is beautiful to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, don’t miss it.

Just a guess. The capacity to like and admire Others can play a significant role in a successful political life. "No people are uninteresting," or so Yevtushenko said.

President Biden seems to like people. Is it just our imagination, or is this helping him set an exceptional tone at this very unusual time?


CULTURE AND TOWN: We want to compliment the Times!

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2021

Where do Trump voters come from?: We want to compliment the New York Times for yesterday's front-page report.

On its face, Michael Powell's lengthy report is merely "anecdotal." At its heart, his report concerns one particular event which occurred at one particular "elite" college—Smith College, in Northampton, Mass.—in July 2018. 

The event in question involved one student. She'd just finished her freshman year. 

She was eating lunch, and reclining on a couch, in the living room of a dormitory which was closed for the summer. Because no one was supposed to be in that place, an extremely polite campus policeman asked her why she was there.

(Their two conversations were recorded. In each instance, the unarmed campus policeman was extremely polite, as of course he should have been.)

The extremely polite campus policeman asked the student why she was there; the soon-to-be sophomore explained.  In a slightly different world, absolutely nothing had actually happened that day.

In a slightly different world, nothing had actually happened. In our world, an enormous amount of fallout emerged from that mid-day event.

The New York Times deserves a great deal of credit for seeing how instructive that one event might be. That one event and its aftermath—that one event and its fallout.

In particular, the Times seems to have seen that this event might help us consider some of the ways we sometimes behave here in the streets of Our Town. Some of the things we may sometimes do imperfectly Over Here, within the liberal / progressive / Democratic Party world.

Last night, Tucker Carlson began his Fox News program with a report on this very event. As we've mentioned, people in the other towns will often be told about the ways our conduct may be less than impressive.

We thought Carlson took an extremely unsympathetic approach toward Oumou Kanoute, the college student who had been lounging and eating her dining hall lunch in a dormitory which had been closed for the summer. 

Don't get us wrong! In many ways, this student behaved imperfectly in the aftermath of that day's (remarkably minor) event. 

That said, college students often do behave imperfectly. Quite often, they could even use some help.

In what ways did this student—she had just finished her freshman year—behave in an imperfect manner? The rundown goes like this:

In the aftermath of the event, she apparently felt that she'd been singled out because of her race. (Her parents are immigrants from Mali.) An investigation by the college found no evidence of that, but there's a lot of pressure on young black kids in the current environment. [her rea;lity]

The student didn't just think that she'd been singled out; she seemed to feel sure that this had occurred. Over the course of the next several weeks, she proceeded to state her views on Facebook. 

She accused several Smith employees, by name, of being racists based on their alleged conduct that day. We say "alleged" for a reason.

The student named a veteran cafeteria worker—a woman who had apparently played no role in what occurred. She named a veteran janitor who hadn't even been on duty when the incident occurred.

She sought the name of another veteran janitor—the person who first saw that someone was in the dormitory which had been closed for the summer. This janitor had called security to report this fact, as he'd apparently been trained to do. 

The student didn't pull her punches in her Facebook posts. According to this Times report from 2018, she described this janitor as  “the racist punk who called the police on me for absolutely nothing.” 

(In retrospect, that initial report was grossly prejudicial and unbalanced.)

According to Powell's report, this janitor—the janitor who was present that day—"was in his 60s and poor of sight." He'd worked at Smith for 35 years. The student wanted to get his name so he could be denounced too.

It's hard to report what the student did without seeming to disparage her. In our view, she showed highly imperfect judgment—but in our experience, college freshmen are rarely mistaken for veteran international diplomats.

The much larger story here involves the behavior of adult authorities at Smith (and beyond). It involves the behavior of various people in the wider reaches of Our Town.

The student's Facebook posts were highly accusatory. Other people simply assumed that her accusations were warranted.

In yesterday's front page report, Powell describes the effect this accusation had on the cafeteria worker who had apparently played no role in sending an extremely polite campus officer to check on the person who was lounging in a building which had been closed for the summer. Say hello to the way we sometimes behave in Our Town:

POWELL (2/25/21): The repercussions spread. Three weeks after the incident at Tyler House, [Jackie] Blair, the cafeteria worker, received an email from a reporter at The Boston Globe asking her to comment on why she called security on Ms. Kanoute for “eating while Black.” That puzzled her; what did she have to do with this?

The food services director called the next morning. “Jackie,” he said, “you’re on Facebook.” She found that Ms. Kanoute had posted her photograph, name and email, along with that of Mr. Patenaude, a 21-year Smith employee and janitor.

“This is the racist person,” Ms. Kanoute wrote of Ms. Blair, adding that Mr. Patenaude too was guilty. (He in fact worked an early shift that day and had already gone home at the time of the incident.) Ms. Kanoute also lashed the Smith administration. “They’re essentially enabling racist, cowardly acts.”

Ms. Blair has lupus, a disease of the immune system, and stress triggers episodes. She felt faint. “Oh my God, I didn’t do this,” she told a friend. “I exchanged a hello with that student and now I’m a racist.”

Ms. Blair was born and raised and lives in Northampton with her husband, a mechanic, and makes about $40,000 a year. Within days of being accused by Ms. Kanoute, she said, she found notes in her mailbox and taped to her car window. “RACIST” read one. People called her at home. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” a caller said. “You don’t deserve to live,” said another.

[...]

As for Ms. Blair, the cafeteria worker, stress exacerbated her lupus and she checked into the hospital last year. Then George Floyd, a Black man, died at the hands of the Minneapolis police last spring, and protests fired up across the nation and in Northampton, and angry notes and accusations of racism were again left in her mailbox and by visitors on Smith College’s official Facebook page.

Powell's treatment of Blair's story continues from there. We can't vouch for her claims about the various ways she was denounced. Surely, though, no one doubts them.

As noted, Smith's investigation found no evidence that Blair had played any role in the fact that the student was told that she was in a closed dormitory by an extremely polite security officer. 

The janitor who wasn't there is also no longer at Smith. According to Powell, Patenaude "left his job at Smith not long after Ms. Kanoute posted his photograph on social media, accusing him of 'racist cowardly acts.' ”

In our view, the student showed imperfect judgment in the days and weeks which followed this event. That said, she was a very young person. Some other people were older.

The larger story in Powell's report involves the behavior of the Smith administration—more specifically, its condescension and prejudicial behavior toward its white working-class employees. The key player was Smith's president, who was and is an adult.

In fairness, she herself had previously been denounced in the streets of Our Town. In this passage, Powell suggests that these earlier incidents may explain the way she handled this latest event:

POWELL: [President] McCartney and her staff talk often of their social justice mission, and faculty say this has seeped into near every aspect of the college. Students can now obtain a minor in social justice studies. That said, the president had stumbled in ways that left her bruised by the time of the 2018 incident.

In 2014, she moderated an alumnae discussion in New York on free speech. A white female panelist argued it was a mistake to ban Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” because he used the N-word; that panelist then uttered the word in hopes, she said, of draining the word of its ugly power. Students denounced Ms. McCartney for failing to denounce that panelist. The president requested forgiveness.

Later in 2014 she wrote to the college community, lamenting that grand juries had not indicted police officers in the deaths of Black men. “All lives matter,” Ms. McCartney concluded in an inadvertent echo of a conservative rallying cry. Again, Smith students denounced her and again she apologized.

Ms. McCartney appeared intent on making no such missteps in 2018. In an interview, she said that Ms. Kanoute deserved an apology and swift action, even before the investigation was undertaken. “It was appropriate to apologize,” Ms. McCartney said. “She is living in a context of ‘living while Black’ incidents.”

The school’s workers felt scapegoated.

In 2014, the president had been foolish enough to say that "all lives matter." 

For this misconduct, she'd been rebuked. Powell suggests that she was determined, four years later, to avoid such "missteps" with respect to this latest event.

That's a subjective assessment of motive. But the president's statements and actions in the wake of this new event help create an embarrassing portrait of the way life is currently lived in the more "elite" parts of Our Town.

Powell describes the many anti-bias "training sessions" staff were now required to attend. Along the way, we're treated to the tribalized forms of language which control the way we now talk about "race" in the streets of our highly self-impressed but less than super-bright town.

Thankfully, Powell quotes one Smith professor concerning the condescension of Our Town's academic elites. This professor describes the condescension these elites may direct at the white working-class people who prepare the food inside their cafeterias and sweep the floors of their residence halls. 

In the higher reaches of Our Town, we've been looking down on such people since the dawn of time, or at least since the 1960s. We return you to Woody Guthrie's brilliantly cutting lyrics, written in the age of the Dust Bowl:

I've mined in your mines and I've gathered in your corn.
I've been working, Mister [or Missus], since the day I was born.

We love the use of the word "your" in those sacred lyrics. Along these same lines, even sacred Thoreau may have betrayed a bit of an air when he wrote one of his most quoted lines. 

Unlike Thoreau himself, "The mass of men [sic] lead lives of quiet desperation?" Within the context of the wider passage from Walden, might that have sounded a bit dismissive to the mass of such men?

Michael Powell (and his editors) did something unusual in yesterday's report. They moved past the easier realm of race into the whirlwind of class.

We recommend that you read his full report. You might also peruse the 35-page report which resulted from Smith's probe of this apparent non-event. 

We've barely touched on the imperfect treatment dished to that cafeteria worker and to those two veteran janitors, one of whom wasn't there. Concerning that imperfect treatment, we will only say this:

Almost surely, this is one of the ways the modern-day Trump electorate gets formed. If you can't imagine that possibility, we'll suggest that you may be one part of the problem here in the streets of Our Town.

We feel sorry for that student. Let us tell you why:

Last night, Carlson played tape of an interview the student did back in 2018. To our eye and to our ear, she was badly in need of counseling help, as is the case for many people in their late teen years.

In our view, that young person got little help from Smith's administration. In our view, Smith pandered to her in an extremely unhelpful way. In the process, several long-time employees got thrown under the bus.

There's a lot of imperfect behavior described in Powell's report. There's also a lot of Stone-Cold Stupid. Our Town has no shortage of that.

The Crazy is running wild in Their Towns. Over Here, where we live, we all understand that fact.

It's harder for us to see the ways we often behave in Our Town. That said, our errors tend to involve matters of gender and matters of "race"—and, as Chekhov memorably wrote, it seems to us that the most difficult part is only just beginning.

For the 35-page Smith report, you can just click here. Plainly, the report describes some of the (avoidable) ways in which Trump voters are born.

Tucker was quite unpleasant last night. That said, on the merits, these events were instructively awful. 

The behaviors were often unseemly, unintelligent, unhelpful. But these are the ways we behave in Our Town, over and over again.

We can't see this about ourselves. Over There, everyone can.


How many people get killed by police?

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2021

The fruits of selective reporting: For several years, we've been wondering what would happen if a certain type of survey question was asked.

The question would deal with the number of people shot and killed by police, justifiably or not. 

(Just for the sake of the record, we'd like to live in a world where the number of victims was zero. As it is, we still live in a rather violent, gun-inflected world.)  

The survey question would go like this. It would be intended as a study of the results of selective reporting:

Imaginary survey question:
According to the Washington Post, 237 black people were shot and killed by police last year. How many white people, if any, would you say were shot and killed by police last year?

(You could drop the words "if any" with half your survey's respondents.)

It's a ghoulish question. But police shootings have played a large role in mainstream reporting and punditry in the past nine or ten years.

In our imaginary question, we'd be citing the actual number of black decedents recorded by the Washington Post's Pulitzer-wining Fatal Force site. Here's what we'd  be curious about:

How many people would say that the answer to our question was "none?" Would anyone say the answer was none? If no one thought the answer was none, what number would people offer?

(Correct answer: 453. Or at least, so says the Post, though no precise number is possible)

This would be a ghoulish line of inquiry, but we'd be curious to see what answers people would give. This would be intended as a study of the results of selective reporting—of the highly selective way police shooting incidents have been reported and discussed over roughly the past ten years.

As it turns out, Michael Shermer's Skeptic.com web site recently asked two variants of this same general question.  We think our question is better than theirs, but in this recent post, Kevin Drum presented their survey's results.

(Drum focused on the first question the survey asked. We think the results of the second question may be even more instructive.)

Survey says? In our view, the survey suggests that selective reporting does, in fact, produce large misimpressions. It also does something worse—it scares the daylights out of a lot of good, decent "black" kids and out of their loving parents.

We love to perform our performative virtue here in the streets of Our Town. But as the poet once thoughtfully asked:

But oh, what kind of love is this / Which goes from bad to worse?

This would be a ghoulish area to explore. That said, a great deal of misunderstanding arises from the performative virtue widely displayed in Our Town. 

A great deal of fear and trembling gets caused as we perform. On the brighter side, everybody gets to see how morally stellar we are.

We get to pose and posture and preen. Many children and many parents get badly scared in the process.

For the record, we also love to remind everyone about the Tuskegee experiment. Last week, we saw Rachel Nichols performing this mandated recitation on ESPN's daily NBA show! 

To watch that segment, click here. Lack of trust in the government is "definitely earned," Nichols impressively said at the beginning and end of the segment. "Look up the Tuskegee study," she thoughtfully said.

We'd be impressed with Nichols' greatness, except we keep reading about the way many black people are avoiding vaccination because they keep hearing that scripted old tale. As we noted several weeks ago, we seem to love our performative virtue more than we love life itself.

(Correct that! More than we love others' lives.)

We have no doubt that Rachel Nichols is a thoroughly good, decent person. But we're drunk on morality here in Our Town. We love to recite and perform.

Final point: Two nights ago, Tucker Carlson opened his show with the Skeptic.com survey. Like Drum, he stressed the part where large numbers of self-identified liberals wildly overestimated the number of black people killed by police. 

That seems to be the fruit of Our Town's relentless selective reporting. On the brighter side, everyone gets to see how much and how deeply we care.

Tucker opened his program with that!  Over There, viewers are constantly told about Our Town's extremely few tiny small flaws. 

Over There, viewers are told. In Our Town, generally not.

Tucker is often (not always) a mess. In Our Town, we tend to ride in on an extremely high horse. 


CULTURE AND TOWN: It's time for Abraham Lincoln to go!

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2021

But also, it happened at Smith: Is it possible that there are some basic failings with the culture currently on display here in the streets of Our Town?

We can see the lunacy Over There, in the streets of the various towns where The Others live. We can see the remarkable dumbness—the widespread lack of basic discernment routinely put on display. 

That much is blindingly obvious, especially to us Over Here. But is it possible that some such shortfalls in discernment, however tiny and well-intentioned, might also exist Over Here? 

Also, is it possible that these admittedly tiny flaws could be contributing to the widespread political / cultural divide now wracking our failing nation? Could any such thing be possible?

Needless to say, it's hard to believe that we could actually at fault in any real way in Our Town. Our intentions are so noble! You can tell that by the things we constantly say, by the inspiring ways we perform.

In a ridiculous excess of caution, we have suggested, at this site, than any such misperceived shortfalls in Our Town's admittedly wonderful culture are likely to involve matters of gender and race. 

In those areas, our behaviors are so pure—so far above the national norm—that they're frequently misunderstood, and they are of course misdescribed. 

No one could seriously think that there are real flaws in Our Town. That said, the misperceptions fly thick and fast. 

In a recent column in the New York Times, Ezra Klein described one such incident. That widely misunderstood incident concerns the belief among some in Our Town that it's time for Lincoln to go.

Klein's column began as shown below. Having said that, let us also say this—long before this column appeared, the jackals had seized upon the principled conduct described in this opening passage:

KLEIN (2/12/21): You may have heard that San Francisco’s Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to rename 44 schools, stripping ancient racists of their laurels, but also Abraham Lincoln and Senator Dianne Feinstein. The history upon which these decisions were made was dodgy, and the results occasionally bizarre. Paul Revere, for instance, was canceled for participating in a raid on Indigenous Americans that was actually a raid on a British fort.

In normal times, bemusement would be the right response to a story like this. Cities should have idiosyncratic, out-there politics. You need to earn your “Keep X weird” bumper stickers. And for all the Fox News hosts who’ve collapsed onto their fainting couches, America isn’t suffering from a national shortage of schools named for Abraham Lincoln.

But San Francisco’s public schools remain closed, no matter the name on the front. “What I cannot understand is why the School Board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April, when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. I do not want to dismiss the fears of teachers (or parents), many living in crowded homes, who fear returning to classrooms during a pandemic. But the strongest evidence we have suggests school openings do not pose major risks when proper precautions are followed, and their continued closure does terrible harm to students, with the worst consequences falling on the neediest children. And that’s where this goes from wacky local news story to a reflection of a deeper problem.

San Francisco is about 48 percent white, but that falls to 15 percent for children enrolled in its public schools. For all the city’s vaunted progressivism, it has some of the highest private school enrollment numbers in the country—and many of those private schools have remained open. It looks, finally, like a deal with the teachers’ union is near that could bring kids back to the classroom, contingent on coronavirus cases continuing to fall citywide, but much damage has been done. This is why the school renamings were so galling to so many in San Francisco, including the mayor. It felt like an attack on symbols was being prioritized over the policies needed to narrow racial inequality.

Should an American public school be named for Abraham Lincoln? Not necessarily, no.

In our view, it isn't obvious that public schools should be named for Lincoln. In San Francisco—exalted columnist Herb Caen dubbed it "Baghdad by the Bay"— the school board voted, 6 to 1, that it was time for his name to go.

Behaving a bit like a running dog, Klein chose to present "both sides" of the issue. As he did, he quickly betrayed his own need for re-education, plainly suggesting, as he began, that Lincoln isn't an "ancient racist" himself!

Klein found a way to justify pushback against the board's decision, suggesting the pushback was motivated by concern for the welfare  of San Francisco's "black" kids. He even mentioned the bungled research which went into some renaming decisions.

With regard to the Frisco Kids, the names on their schools were being changed even though their schools aren't open! Apparently, Klein would have sent them back into schools still bearing names like "Lincoln!"

Last week, the New York Times reported a somewhat similar incident, this time in Chicago. Hard-copy headline included, that news report started like this:

 In ‘Land of Lincoln,’ Monuments Are Under Review

A Chicago committee has listed five statues of Abraham Lincoln among dozens of monuments that it said needed to be reviewed as part of a project to reconsider symbols that have become “a focal point for conversation, protest and activism,” the city said Wednesday.

The city created the committee in response to last summer’s protests, some of which centered on statues of historical figures, to review Chicago’s collection of monuments and “recommend solutions.”

Even in The Land of Lincoln, it's finally time to craft a solution to the statues in which he appears! Can those license plates be far behind? Should they be thrown in the harbor?

Is there something wrong with removing Lincoln's name from an American school? Not necessarily, no. 

That said, evildoers in Their Towns will seize upon utterly pointless, minor points when such actions occur.

They'll say it's silly to spend oodles of time renaming schools when you haven't spent enough time to get the schools reopened. Defiantly, they'll fail to acknowledge the moral greatness in the various high-minded things we Townies say and do.

This is the way The Others will act; they'll do it every time! For that reason, we Townies need to be especially careful when dealing with gender and race.

Our consciousness-raising in these areas will persistently be misdescribed by those we might call "the lesser breed." (We borrow from Chekhov, admittedly in translation.)  For that reason, we need to proceed with caution in these areas, which are of course enormously important.

We need to proceed with great caution. That said, our conduct will be misdescribed, no matter what we do.

Is it possible that something is wrong with the culture here in Our Town? Is it possible that some tiny, understandable flaw may exist, however well-intentioned?

Anthropologists insist that the answer is no—that it isn't possible that anything could ever be wrong in Our Town. Our brains are wired to give us that answer, these disconsolate experts all say.

Still and all, it's in these areas that Our Town will often come to ruin. This leads us to a truly remarkable news report on the front page of this morning's New York Times.

In print editions, the headline says this: "Tensions Simmer Over Race and Class at Smith." Online, this dual headline gives a fuller picture of the lay of the land within the deeply instructive report:

Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College
A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.
The report concerns a series of incidents at one of Our Town's "elite" schools. We don't think we've ever seen a news report which offered such a teachable moment concerning the way of life on wide display in Our Town. 

Tomorrow, we'll scan some major points in this front-page report. There will be a great deal left to say.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we just aren't "all that" in Our Town. Long ago and far away, Joni Mitchell reported it best:

I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

Putting it a slightly different way, we're often remarkably unimpressive here in the streets of Our Town. We're deeply flawed Over Here too. We just aren't especially sharp, nor are we able to see this.

We memorize our standard scripts, then go on TV and recite them. We're never too tired to perform our famous performative virtue. 

We also tend to be very dumb, even deeply immoral—and quite a few Others can see this. It's even possible that this helps explain the major breakdown which has our flailing nation sliding towards the sea

The Crazy is running wild in Their Towns. With that pleasing point established, how solid are things Over Here?

Tomorrow:  A remarkable portrait of life as it's increasingly lived in Our Town


Hayes scores A-plus on the culture of guns!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2021

Burgeoning anger and menace: Just how bad is our floundering nation's social disintegration? We'll recommend an A-plus segment by Chris Hayes on last evening's All In.

The segment dealt with the culture of guns on the right. More specifically, it dealt with the growing use of guns to menace along political lines.

To watch the segment, just click here; we strongly recommend it. You'll start with some video of Donald Trump, Jr. as he brandishes some guns. From there, you'll move to video of the gun-brandishing Lauren Boebert. 

Along the way, you'll see Hayes discuss the use of guns as symbolic iconography in various revolutionary movements around the world. For us, the questions the segment triggered were these:

What are these people so angry about? Also, should somebody try to find out?

Needless to say, we have a standard answer to that first question here in the streets of Our Town. We expect to discuss a recent example of that familiar recitation in our Friday report. 

Last night, Hayes' segment suggested a fury behind the apparent gun-love of figures like Boebert. We thought the segment was deeply discouraging, but also highly instructive. 

We can't link you to a transcript. The Channel no longer provides them.


CULTURE AND TOWN: Dumbest man in the Senate speaks!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2021

Are we ever that dumb Over Here?: The last few years have given the nation, and the world, some startling anthropology lessons.

These lessons emerge from the general realm of abnormal psychology and/or flawed cognition. They involve the ability of us the humans to believe any damn fool thing. 

These lessons involve a remarkably widespread lack of basic human discernment. Within the past decade, the story can be said to begin with the rise of the birther tale.

We'll admit it! We were surprised by the early surveys which in large percentages of Republican voters said they believed the absurdly implausible birther tale. At one time, it was hard to believe that so many people could believe such a damn fool claim.

Alas! The spread of this absurd belief reflected a new reality. The rise of certain modern technologies and media—talk radio, "cable news," the partisan Internet, social media—were exposing us humans to crazy ideas on a scale our species never had to confront in the past.

In 2011, the situation got worse. Donald J. Trump decided to anoint himself our nation's Birther King.

On Fox News, Greta van Susteren served as his birther caddy. Year after year, Trump appeared on van Susteren's show to spread his ridiculous  claims.

This included the claim that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to probe Barack Obama's alleged birth in that state. His gumshoes were shocked by what they had found, he even claimed at one point.

Van Susteren just kept letting it go. She would offer tiny peeps of performative protest as the con rolled along. 

As Trump became the Birther King, the crazy idea spread and spread.  This became an early case study in the lack of human discernment. 

Concerning that widespread lack of discernment, the lesson would be this:

Human discernment can be extremely poor when crazy claims are being spread by TV stars on major TV channels. Also, when those same crazy claims are being spread by people's best friends on the Net.

Yesterday, another crazy claim was suddenly pushed to the fore. The crazy claim was being pushed by Republican senator Ron Johnson.

For years, Johnson has seemed to be the dumbest person in the Senate. Yesterday, in a widely televised Senate hearing, he offered his most ludicrous performance yet. 

Is it possible that this ridiculous person could actually believe the ridiculous suggestion he was advancing? We don't know how to answer that question, but Willie Geist's attempt to tackle the logic of this question was heart-breaking on today's Morning Joe.

("Is he that corrupt, that he believes it?" the reliable sidekick said. As the analysts screamed and tore their hair, we only said this: "Bless his heart")

However you score it, Senator Johnson offered the world a ludicrous portrait of what happened at the Capitol building during the January 6 riot.  At the Washington Post's web site, Katie Shepherd has offered a (somewhat belated) news report about what Johnson said.

As Shepherd notes, Johnson's ridiculous claim makes no sense at all. That said, have we mentioned our war-inclined species' widespread lack of discernment?

SHEPHERD (2/24/21): As security officials testified about the intelligence lapses that allowed an armed group of insurrectionists to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, Johnson repeated unfounded claims about the riot that have become a familiar refrain from those who want to minimize the event’s seriousness and distance the worst participants from Trump.

Quoting an article published on a far-right website, Johnson claimed the “great majority” of protesters had a “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor” and blamed the violence that turned deadly on “plainclothes militants, agent provocateurs, fake Trump protesters, and disciplined uniformed column of attackers.”

In fact, more than 200 rioters have been criminally charged by federal prosecutors, including many who have self-identified as Trump supporters and who have documented ties to far-right extremist groups. Federal officials have said there is no substantial evidence of left-wing provocation or that anti-fascist activists posed as Trump supporters during the riot.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) promptly dismissed Johnson’s claims as the hearing drew to a close.

In fact, Klobuchar's dismissal of Johnson's presentation didn't come all that "promptly." Her end-of-hearing rebuttal came more than two hours after Johnson's inane public reading. 

(On today's Morning Joe, Claire McCaskill criticized other senators on yesterday's panel for their failure to rebuke Johnson as those hours passed. On this C-Span videotape, Johnson's pitiful public reading begins at the 1:45 mark. Klobuchar contradicts him at the end of the hearing, more than two hours later.) 

At any rate, Johnson read from that far-right website at considerable length. Truly, it can't get stupider.

Johnson has always seemed to be "dumbest in show" in the current Senate. Yesterday, he "repeated unfounded claims," Shepherd somewhat mildly says—unfounded claims which "have become a familiar refrain."

Now for a note on our failing national culture:

Misinformation and disinformation have become very big business over the past three or four decades. In part for that reason, many people will continue to hear that same "familiar refrain."

The lack of discernment takes over from there. According to anthropologists, the ability to believe any fool thing is hard-wired inside our species' brains. 

That said, here's the problem:

At one time, it was very hard to hear presentations as transparently stupid as Johnson's. The rise in those modern media means that transparently stupid refrains are now a round-the-clock phenomenon. 

The Crazy is just a click away. Our remarkable lack of discernment keeps taking over from there.

Was Barack Obama born in Kenya? In the past, surveys said that many millions of people came to believe that groaner. 

Was the Capitol riot a "false flag" operation staged by a bunch of Trump-haters? Presumably, millions of people are going to believe that too.

As is becoming increasingly clear, you can't run a modern nation in the face of so much false belief. But false belief has become big business. False belief, even crazy belief, won't be going away.

We see no obvious way out of this burgeoning mess. Under the guidance of major experts, we're merely describing the forces at play as our transparently failing nation continues to slide toward the sea.

As we do, a question arises. Are we liberals ever that dumb in our own town, Over Here?

There's no truck scale to measure the relative lack of discernment put on display by the denizens of warring towns. But we'd have to say, a lack of discernment is also on wide display right here in Our Town.

We think we see it every day. In our view, it's quite widespread.

No, we don't expect that to change. As is always the case when war draws near, we've largely gone all in in Our Town,  as the others have done Over There.

Tomorrow: Ezra Klein offers sound advice, Also, the way Tucker started...


The nation reaches another grim milestone!

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2021

Attempts at information: Sunday morning, on its front page, The New York Times reported the latest grim milestone.

High atop the paper's web site, a link was offered to the report. This capsule account was offered:

A Ripple Effect of Loss: U.S. Covid Deaths Approach 500,000 
Twice as many Americans have died as early worst-case projections.

We'll consider those "early worst-case projections" below. First, though, here's the way the front-page news report started, once you clicked the link:

BOSMAN (2/21/21): A nation numbed by misery and loss is confronting a number that still has the power to shock: 500,000.

Roughly one year since the first known death by the coronavirus in the United States, an unfathomable toll is nearing—the loss of half a million people.

No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic. More Americans have perished from Covid-19 than on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

"No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic?" 

The statement is technically accurate. But one year into the pandemic, on its front page, the New York Times still doesn't adjust for population when it makes such statistical statements.

The United States has endured the most Covid deaths—but we're also the world's third largest  nation by population. (Only China and India are larger.) After adjusting for population, some other peer nations have experienced a higher rate of Covid deaths to date.

We're using the current Financial Times numbers. We're omitting a few smaller nations whose death rates are higher than ours:

Total Covid deaths to date, per million population
Belgium: 1,909
United Kingdom: 1,808
Czech Republic: 1,805
Italy: 1,592
Portugal: 1,560
United States: 1,487

We have the largest number of deaths only by dint of our large population. In our view, it's amazing, and yet not amazing, to see major news orgs and major pundits continue to work outside the boundaries of this amazingly basic type of statistical adjustment.

This is the way it works in Our Town. Having established that basic point, let's flesh out the picture a bit:

After splitting it off from the U.K., England's death rate to date is much higher than ours. Spain is a tick behind the U.S., France a bit farther back.

Here you see the way we stack up against the largest Euro nations, with Canada also thrown in:

Total Covid deaths to date, per million population
England: 1,893
Italy: 1,592
United States: 1,487
Spain: 1,437
France: 1,256
Germany: 822
Canada: 578

England has suffered the highest death rate to date. Germany and Canada have done much better than we have. 

Among those major peer nations, we pretty land in the middle. The numbers for the Pacific nations are still amazingly low.

"No other country has counted so many deaths?" That's true in the narrowest literal sense. That said, it strikes us as amazing that this continues to be the way basic information gets ladled to us on the front page of our allegedly smartest major newspaper. (And on the Maddow Show.)

Now, how about that claim in the headline—the claim about those "early worst-case projections?" Here's the part of Bosman's report from which that headline was derived:

BOSMAN: One year ago, as the coronavirus took hold in the United States, few public-health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height.

At a White House briefing on March 31, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the country, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who was coordinating the coronavirus response at the time, announced a stunning projection: Even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans.

“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Dr. Fauci said at the time.

Less than a year later, the virus has killed more than twice that number.

In part, that passage is accurate. In other ways, that passage illustrates the confusion that almost always develops whenever our upper-end journalists try to deal with numbers.

On March 31, 2020, Fauci and Birx made a high-profile appearance with the commander himself. On that occasion, they made a new high-profile projection in which, using Bosman's language, they said  the virus "might kill as many as 240,000 Americans."

That said, there was a bit of a problem with their presentation. As best we can tell, they never explicitly said what time frame this new projection covered. 

Other public health experts were predicting certain numbers of Covid deaths by certain specific dates. As best we can tell, Fauci and Birx offered no such framework at the widely-discussed public event from which that new projection emerged.

That presentation by Fauci and Birx produced extensive press coverage. In its reporting of their projection, the Washington Post was bright enough to mention the lack of this standard framework. 

(Rucker and Wan: "[N]o time frames or other details were provided...One key question, for example, is what time period the projection of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths covers. If it is only the few months until summer, as is the case in at least one academic model, the true death toll will probably be larger.")

The Washington Post explicitly noted the absence of a time frame. The Post explicitly noted the possibility that "the true death toll" could exceed the stated number in the fullness of time.

At NBC News, Denise Chow reported that the startling new projection did involve a specific time frame. According to Chow, the new projection by by Fauci and Birx  only extended through "mid-June."

In standard fashion, Chow didn't explain the basis for this statement. For all we know, her statement may have been accurate.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, you knew it had to happen!  In its report on the new projection, the New York Times failed to note the lack of a time frame. (The Times did note that the IHME was predicting 84,000 deaths by the beginning of August.) In fairness, this same statistical insouciance was on display almost everywhere else.

Eleven months later, the New York Times is still failing to adjust for population when it makes nation-to-nation comparisons. 

Meanwhile, is it accurate to say, as Bosman does, that "few public-health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height" as the very large number of Covid deaths we have now experienced? Is it true that "twice as many Americans have died as early worst-case projections?"

In part, it all depends on what the meaning of "few" is! But uh-oh:

Two days before the March 31 event, Fauci himself had floated a very large number—or at least, that's what New York magazine said:

STEIB (3/29/20): Though President Trump continues to downplay the necessity of an all-out federal response to the coronavirus, one of his most senior public health advisers, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, issued a grim projection on Face the Nation on Sunday. Speaking with Jake Tapper, Fauci said he anticipated somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, as well as “millions” of cases:

Fauci suggested that the 100,000 to 200,000 death range is a moderate estimate, and that the possibility of 1 million or more Americans dying from the coronavirus is “almost certainly off the chart”—that “it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”

As you know, Jake Tapper isn't the host of Face the Nation. In reality, Fauci made the quoted remarks on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, March 29. 

On that show, had Fauci really floated the outside possibility of as many as a million Covid deaths? On balance, it looks to us like he did. But confusion developed as to whether Fauci was discussing cases or deaths, and Tapper didn't make a point of clarifying what his guest had actually said.

So it goes, here in Our Town, when we try to conduct public discourse. This seems to be the best we can do here in the streets of Our Town.

In the end, you can be certain of two things:

Thanks to our large population, we have experienced the largest number of Covid deaths.

Of that one fact you can be sure. Also, statistics are hard!

Just a guess: Why didn't Fauci and Birx state a time frame for their projection?

Just a guess—the commander didn't allow it. That would be our first guess.