McConnell's position on government shutdown!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2021

Unmentioned by Rachel last night: There's no better way for a liberal to become underinformed than by watching Rachel Maddow. Last evening's hapless, then embarrassing outing provides a case in point.

The embarrassment started at 10 P.M., when Rachel and Lawrence staged the latest of their embarrassing "handover" conversations—conversations in which  Lawrence kisses Rachel's keister as her program ends and his program begins.

We'll review a few of those spectacles later in the week. For now, let's forget the embarrassment, turning instead to the lack of information emanating from last night's Maddow Show.

We refer to Our Own Rhodes Scholar's failure to explain the funding deadline which approaches this week. On the front page of today's Washington Post, Tony Romm explained this matter rather clearly, drawing  a crucial distinction which Rachel blew right past all during last night's dimwitted imitation of a "cable news" program.

In fact, two different funding deadlines are approaching. Romm explained the difference between them, then described Mitch McConnell's position on the two deadlines:

ROMM (9/28/21): The most urgent deadline is midnight Thursday, at which point Congress must adopt a measure to fund the government or some federal agencies and operations will shutter starting Friday morning. And lawmakers also must act before mid-October to raise the debt ceiling, or they could risk a first-ever default, potentially destabilizing global markets.

In the hours before the Monday evening vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) staked his party’s position—that Republicans are not willing to vote for any measure that raises or suspends the debt ceiling, even if they have no intentions of shutting down the government in the process. GOP lawmakers say raising the borrowing limit, which allows the country to pay its bills, would enable Biden and his Democratic allies to pursue trillions in additional spending and other policy changes they do not support.

“We will support a clean continuing resolution that will prevent a government shutdown,” said McConnell, who has called on Democrats to use their narrow but potent majorities to address the debt ceiling on their own. “We will not provide Republican votes for raising the debt limit.”

Romm is able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Thanks to this skill, he was able to describe the two different deadlines which are approaching:

Deadline this Thursday at midnight: By midnight Thursday, Congress must adopt a measure to fund the government or some federal agencies and operations will shutter starting Friday morning. 

That's one of the approaching deadlines. The other deadline is this:

Deadline in mid-October: By mid-October, Congress must act to raise the debt ceiling, or they could risk a first-ever default, potentially destabilizing global markets.

The second deadline is more consequential. The first arrives this week. 

Regarding McConnell's position on these (two) approaching deadlines, Romm reports the distinction which Rachel blew past in the forty minutes she devoted to budget issues last night:

McConnell has said that Senate Republicans will "support a clean continuing resolution that will prevent a government shutdown" this week. He has also said that Senate Republicans won't vote to raise the debt ceiling—to address the deadline which comes due next month.

We aren't telling you that this is good policy on McConnell's part. We're merely telling you that these are the positions he has stated.

Yesterday's "no" votes by Senate Republicans reflected the fact that the bill under consideration addressed both approaching deadlines. McConnell has said that Republicans will support a "clean" bill to address this week's deadline. 

(In this context, a "clean" bill would be a bill which addresses this week's deadline and nothing else.)

This brings us to Maddow's latest imitation of journalism. Last night, she idiocized and propagandized her way through her program's first forty minutes, focused entirely on budget issues, including the two we've cited.

That said, she never managed to draw the distinction between these two approaching deadlines. Most specifically, she never explained that McConnell has expressed support for addressing the deadline which approaches this week.

Was Rachel being dishonest / disingenuous, or was she simply uninformed? She mugged and clowned in various ways as her latest imitation of journalism proceeded, but we can't tell you what she knew as her latest failed effort proceeded.

Rachel will soon be leaving nightly journalism. This will serve as a major gift to any honest liberal. 

Such people got underinformed by Rachel again last night. Sadly, there's absolutely nothing new about such failed performance.

At 10 P.M., the latest embarrassment with Lawrence began. At some point,  this pseudo-journalistic clown show is slated to reach its end.

Concerning the timing: When did McConnell state his position on the two impending deadlines?

We can't say with precision. That said, Romm's report was filed at 6:57 P.M., two hours before Maddow's show went on the air. 

(She opened with a standard six minutes designed to reassure viewers that The Others Are Much, Much Dumber Than We Are and that Nancy Is Just Extremely Smart. We'll guess that market research has shown that her viewers enjoy this type of twaddle.)

Meanwhile, the distinction between the impending deadlines was clearly explained on Anderson Cooper's 8 P.M. program, even as Cooper raced to finish his opening segment so he could transition to endless, pointless chatter about the death of Gabby Petito. Everyone knows about the difference between the two deadlines—everyone but the unfortunate people who watch the Maddow Show.

Maddow didn't seem to know much; Cooper wanted to talk about young woman who was a widely-discussed missing person, even though there was nothing new to say about the ongoing case. This is the pablum we viewers are served by anti-Trump corporate cable as our failing society wheezes and groans toward its appointed end.

Hat tip concerning impending demise: Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba and fraternal twin sister of Helenus


STOPPED MAKING SENSE: Our own tribe's discourse has stopped making sense!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2021

Crazy, daft all the way down: An un-funny thing happened in Saturday's Washington Post.

We're referring to the famous newspaper's print editions. On page A2, a news report described the situation involving Haitian migrants near Del Rio, Texas. In paragraphs 5-7, this account was offered:

SONMEZ AND MIROFF (9/25/21): The deportations of Black Haitians seeking asylum—and the viral images and videos of White Border Patrol agents grabbing and shouting at them—drew sharp rebukes from Black Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Earlier in the day, Biden decried the migrants’ treatment. Agents were photographed and filmed by news crews cursing at the Haitians and attempting to force them back across the river to Mexico, at times charging with their horses and swinging their leather reins.

There has been no evidence that agents stuck [sic] any of the migrants or used “whips” as some claimed.

A peculiar claim can be seen lurking in that passage. Weirdly, Sonmez and Miroff reported that some Democrats were angry about the fact that border patrol agents had "shouted at" some of the migrants.

Some of the border patrol agents had shouted at some of the migrants! According to the news report, this shouting had drawn sharp rebukes from some Democratic pols.

That said, there had been "no evidence that agents struck any of the migrants," the Post was now reporting.  Also, there had been no evidence that agents had used "whips," as some people had claimed.

There was no evidence that migrants had been struck. There was no evidence that agents had used whips.

Correction! There was no evidence of such behaviors until you turned to page A19 of those same print editions. On that page, columnist Colbert King could be found saying this:

KING (9/25/21): Who would have thought, on Inauguration Day, that a mere eight months down the road President Biden would be faced with: a Haitian migrant crisis on the southern border; schisms in his party that threaten his plans to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and improve health, education and safety-net programs; a rupture with the French over a new U.S.-Australia defense pact...

[...]

The United States’ relations with France will endure. However, in the handling of Haitian migrants, the administration is coming across as its own worst enemy. What kind of government would tolerate for one second mounted Border Patrol agents using horse reins like whips to control Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Tex.?

On page A2, there was no evidence that any migrants had been struck at all, let alone struck with whips. 

But so what? On page A19, mounted Border Patrol agents had been "using horse reins like whips" to control the migrants, and King was strongly suggesting that the Biden administration had somehow "tolerated" this.

So it went on Saturday morning in the Washington Post. For what it's worth, a news report in that morning's New York Times also suggested that earlier reports about the use of whips had been erroneous.

"A photographer on the scene had said publicly that agents had not been using their reins to whip migrants, as had been widely speculated," the Times reporters reported. For the record, this was a change from the original version of their report, which has now been formally corrected.

Meanwhile, the corrected New York Times report still included the fact that Vice President Harris "had likened the pictures of agents on horseback to slavery." Without explanation, a photo caption offered this nugget:

President Biden vowed to hold the agents accountable who chased Haitian migrants on horseback as they tried to cross the Rio Grande into Texas from Mexico on Saturday.

Aren't border agents supposed to "chase" migrants if they're crossing the Rio Grande into Texas without authorization? Such questions went unexplained in the Times' news report—and as the Post's report continued, President Biden was quoted saying this:

SONMEZ AND MIROFF (continuing directly from above): “It was horrible,” the president said. “To see people treated like they did? Horses running them over and people being strapped? It's outrageous and I promise you, those people will pay.”

Had migrants been run over by horses and strapped? That's what the president was quoted saying in the Post report, even as Colbert King seemed to suggest that Biden, or at least his administration, had tolerated such conduct.

Welcome to the wonderful world of a rapidly failing culture! By now, efforts have been made to sift through the thrilling tribal excitement concerning the alleged use of whips, or the alleged use or reins as whip, or the claim that people had been run over by horses, or had even been shouted at.

Yesterday, Max Boot attempted to sort these matters out in the Washington Post, though his column has only appeared online. Kevin Drum offered a substantial excerpt from Boot's column while offering this assessment:

DRUM (9/27/21): I doubt that an investigation will show that CBP officers did anything wrong in their treatment of Haitian immigrants. It made a big impact thanks to a single picture that gave a seriously mistaken impression, but video suggests there was nothing very unusual about the situation.

Did officers do anything wrong in their treatment of the migrants? Was there anything "very unusual" about the isolated events at the border which had been captured in a single viral photograph—a single photograph which our own flailing and failing anti-Trump tribe found especially thrilling?

People can judge such matters for themselves. For now, we'll briefly return to Saturday's Washington Post:

On page A2, readers were told that there was no evidence that migrants had been struck at all, let alone that any agents had been using whips. 

But on page A19, on that very same day, a leading figure at the Post was telling readers something quite different—and he angrily suggested that the Biden Admin had tolerated the whipping of migrants.

Two days later, there was Charles Blow, in Monday's New York Times. Blow was still howling about "the outrageous images of agents on horseback herding the migrants like cattle." 

Using the private language of our failing, barely-competent tribe, Blow referred to the migrants as "Black bodies" rather than as people. According to experts, this is the way we humans behave as our societies die.

In fairness, awkward juxtapositions can occur as information emerges about some incident. Perhaps it isn't "very unusual" that Colbert King was saying one thing on Saturday morning, even as his own newspaper's news report was saying something quite different.

That said, something has been "very unusual" about this event, or at least that would be the case in a dimly rational world. We refer to the lunatic way the liberal / progressive / anti-Trump world reacted to that one photograph involving that one border patrol agent. 

Beyond that,  we refer to the slippery, disingenuous was our liberal thought leaders are still pimping their original impressions concerning this incident.

As we learn that no one was actually whipped, we're asked to be upset to think that unauthorized migrants were "chased," even "shouted at." At New York magazine, Sarah Jones—she once inspired so much hope!—offered this as our silly and failing progressive world emitted its many death rattles:

JONES (9/23/21): Some images burn themselves into the brain. In this one, a U.S. Border Patrol agent on horseback lashes a whip near the face of a Haitian migrant; Reuters reports he later grabbed a man by the shirt. The migrants on our border are fleeing poverty and political chaos; they seek the same future we all want for ourselves. They have found a violent welcome in Joe Biden’s America. Asked to comment on the use of whips by border agents, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she did not think “anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.”

Jones included the photo of the (one) agent on horseback—the photo which launched a thousand breakdowns.

In fairness to Jones, it may be that she still believed, at that point, that "agents" (plural) were lashing "whips" (plural) in the incident which had generated that one photograph of that one border agent—that agents (plural) were doing this "in Joe Biden's America."

That said, we offer this to note the insanity which grips human populations as their societies come to an end—the insanity involved when Jones complains about that Reuters report, in which it was said that a border patrol agent had grabbed someone's shirt.

Reportedly, a law enforcement officer had grabbed someone's shirt! As our failing tribe slides toward the sea, that's the sort of thing our thought leaders rail against—"in Joe Biden's America," no less.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our tribe is now nearly insane. In the particular matter under review, we're commenting on our tribe's crazy reactions to an incident which might seem to involve a matter of race. 

That said, the dimwitted nuttiness of our upper-end tribal discourse is all around us now, if we're just willing to look. Our discourse stopped making sense long ago. Our behavior rapidly is spiraling downwards, if we're just willing to look.

We'll offer examples this week. We hope to move, with deliberate speed, to the increasingly nutty conversations between Rachel and Lawrence, and to the studied lunacy of Our Own Rhodes Scholar herself.

As we do, we'll also make reference to Robert Kagan's lengthy, widely-cited essay in Sunday's Washington Post. We're on the eve of destruction, Kagan said—and we'd have to say that he understated the nature and sweep of the challenge.

Our own vastly self-impressed tribe is failing very fast. The Crazy is quite widespread among the pro-Trump population, but the behaviors on display in Our Town are increasingly dim, addled, silly, near-hysterical, "very unusual," daft.

It's all right there if we're willing to see it. Anthropologists insist that we aren't.

Coming: As Kagan paints a frightening picture, Rachel and Lawrence cavort


STARTING TOMORROW: Rachel, Donald and Robert (Kagan)!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2021

But appearing today, Charles Blow: A troubling fact has become fairly clear within, let's say, the past decade:

Enlightenment values are extremely "last millennium" within our failing culture, even within our own  blue tribe. 

This fact becomes more and more evident as the days tick by. For one more example, consider Charles Blow's new column. Also, consider what two commenters said.

What should President Biden, and the Biden Administration, have done? What should they have done  in response to the recent, rather sudden arrival of a large number of Haitian migrants at the Southwest border near Del Rio, Texas?

We can't answer that very good question. In our view, reporting of this sudden event has been remarkably fuzzy, even by prevailing norms.

We do know this:

At the start of the coverage of this incident. a photograph was widely misreported and misunderstood. This produced enormous amounts of outrage. For Kevin Drum's presentation of this matter, including the relevant videotape, you can just click here.

We also know this:

Once the misunderstanding was clarified, a wide range of liberal and progressive "thought leaders" cleaned the cupboard of slippery language as they worked, around the clock, to keep misperception and outrage alive.

Inevitably, Blow follows suit in this morning's column. His slippery, misleading, emotional language appears in this passage:

BLOW (9/27/21): Yes, there were the outrageous images of agents on horseback herding the migrants like cattle, and there was also the administration aggressively deporting the migrants back to Haiti.

In Blow's emotionally-charged rendition, immigration officers were "herding the migrants like cattle." In such ways, tribal beings—humans like us—strain to keep outrage alive.

Full disclosure:

We weren't shocked to learn that law enforcement officials on the Southwest border sometimes work on horseback. 

Mounted police have routinely operated in northeastern cities. In our experience, this dates all the way to the street-fighting 1960s, when mounted police would be used to disperse crowds of (overwhelmingly "white") antiwar protesters.

It's hardly surprising to think that law enforcement would also work on horseback in the desert Southwest. To us, it doesn't seem like a "racial" play—but our tribe's various human beings have stripped the cupboard of emotionally-charged and deceptive language as they fight to perform their Storyline in the current circumstance.

In Blow's rendition, the mounted police were "herding the migrants like cattle." This is the sort of thing it may take to keep tribal outrage alive.

As for Blow, he's deeply upset, as he always is. 

His headline says this: "Joe Biden's mendacity." Soon, he's offering this account of his reaction to those "outrageous images:":

BLOW: Yes, there were the outrageous images of agents on horseback herding the migrants like cattle, and there was also the administration aggressively deporting the migrants back to Haiti.

When I see those Black bodies at the border, I am unable to separate them from myself, or my family, or my friends. They are us. There is a collective consciousness in blackness, born of the white supremacist erasure of our individuality.

Your accomplishment is never your own, but a credit to the race. Your sins are never your own, but a stain on the race. In America, and throughout the diaspora, all Black people are linked together like a chain of paper dolls.

So it has been incredibly painful to witness the treatment of the Haitians, and it has been impossible not to recoil in disgust or burn with outrage. And to think, “This is happening on Joe Biden’s watch.”

When Blow sees those "outrageous images" of the "herding" of those "Black bodies" (Tribal Private Language alert!),  he reports that he is "unable to separate [the Haitian migrants] from himself or from his family and friends."

We're supposed to admire this inability. We'll report a different reaction.

In fact, those unfortunate migrants aren't the deeply "privileged" Blow, his family or his friends. They're a very different group, a group of very unfortunate people, in a very different type of situation. 

That said, Blow is "unable to" keep this distinction in mind. For this reason, he says "it has been impossible not to burn with outrage" at the images in question—images he isn't willing to describe in a reasonably straightforward way.

It isn't clear that those mounted police did anything wrong in the incident which was photographed and videotaped. If they did do something wrong, Blow doesn't explain what it was. At times like these, why bother!

One (highly selective) photograph inspired a great deal of rage. And, at times of tribal war, we burn to keep rage alive.

Even as he keeps pretending that those officers treated the migrants like cattle, Blow seems to blame Biden for their alleged offence. In the larger sense, what should the Biden administration have done with respect to this large group of migrants?

You're asking a very good question! Below, you see the outraged Blow's (lack of) response:

BLOW: It seems to me that Biden tried to simultaneously eliminate the horrible optics the migrants present, and to do so as quickly as possible, and at the same time blunt the already loud criticism from Republicans that he is mishandling immigration and has an open-borders policy. (No wonder, then, that the migrant encampment beneath the Del Rio bridge has already been cleared.)

But those Republicans cannot be appeased. No matter what direction Biden takes they will condemn it. So why not take the moral path, the righteous path, the ethical path?

According to Blow, Biden and his administration should have "take[n] the moral path, the righteous path, the ethical path." 

That said, what was the moral, righteous and ethical path? Married to his sacred outrage, Blow never bothers to say!

At times like these, the center cannot hold. The worst are full of passionate intensity, but so is almost everyone else.

The deep emotions Blow reports are one of the many poisoned fruits of this nation's brutal racial history. That said, his self-reported fact—the fact that he can't see past his emotional reactions—explains why Enlightenment values have ceased to exist for him, as for almost everyone else.

Our own blue tribe has lost its way. There's no sign that we'll be finding our way back, or that the nation's center will be able to hold.

Inevitably, one early commenter to Blow's column said this. This is The Crazy on stilts:

COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK CITY: You know you are in trouble when a liberal progressive like Charles Blow is against you.  Is Joe Biden now a friend or foe to black people?  I would guess the latter. But, of course, only a black person can answer this honestly.

The highlighted statement is crazy. It's also a tribute to our tribe's sole surviving God—to the jealous god, Identity.

A second commenter offers this. Reactions like these have lost the war within our own blue tribe:

COMMENTER FROM CALIFORNIA: Perhaps Charles Blow needs to stop focusing so much on identity. We’ve been shipping non-black migrants home in their thousands for decades. But suddenly a bunch of black migrants, and he gets up in arms. The problem with this issue is, people don’t try to come here unless they think they can get in. If you let them think they’re getting in as long as they show up, what happened last week is inevitable. There’s no shortage of migrants—most seeking the same economic opportunities my great grandparents did—who would undertake this dangerous journey, with limited understanding of the risks and the ultimate (lack of) rewards, if the barrier for entry was dropped. I’m not sure what people want on the left—political suicide by just letting people in, encouraging more to come? I just don’t know how this could be dealt with other than how it was.

The commenter says he doesn’t know "how this could be dealt with other than how it was."

Nowhere in his column, as he flips out, does Blow attempt to address that obvious question. As is often true as we humans move to war, it's outrage all the way down.

The Times should have given Blow a rest a long time ago. His emotions may be understandable, but they defeat the journalistic purpose.

That said, Our Own Blue Tribe seems unable to grasp the danger of the moment. Starting tomorrow, we'll examine that problem all week. We'll focus on Rachel Maddow, plus a Donald and a Robert

The Donald will be Donald J. Trump, a deeply disordered figure. The Robert will be the man who wrote this widely cited essay, an essay which actually understates the problem we're all facing.

Tomorrow: We'll start last Thursday night


Even as the Times gets it right...

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2021

...Rachel entertains us: In our view, Epstein and Corasaniti did an excellent job with yesterday's Arizona / Cyber Ninjas "election audit" presentation.

Their news report appears in this morning's New York Times. As they start, they note that the ridiculous group with the stupid name reported / acknowledged a basic fact:

Joe Biden really did defeat Donald J. Trump in Maricopa County!

They start their news report with that basic fact. Quickly, though, they move to the deeply troubling place where the rubber is meeting the road. This is the current problem we're all living with:

EPSTEIN AND CORASANITI (9/25/21): Significant parts of the right treated the completion of the Arizona review as a vindication—offering a fresh canard to justify an accelerated push for new voting limits and measures to give Republican state lawmakers greater control over elections. It also provided additional fuel for the older lie that is now central to Mr. Trump’s political identity: that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“The leaked report conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over,” Mr. Trump said in a statement early Friday evening, one of seven he had issued about Arizona since late Thursday. “There is fraud and cheating in Arizona and it must be criminally investigated!”

For Mr. Trump, Republican candidates vying to appeal to voters in primary races, and conservative activists agitating for election reviews in their own states, the 91-page document served as something of a choose-your-own-adventure guide. These leaders encouraged their supporters to avert their eyes from the conclusion that Mr. Biden had indeed won legitimately, and to instead focus on fodder for a new set of conspiracy theories.

Sad but true—and also, extremely important. According to this news report, "significant parts of the right," including the aforementioned Mr. Trump, are now "treat[ing] the completion of the Arizona review as a vindication."

Trump is saying it proves his case—and vast numbers of people are going to believe him!

In such ways, The Other Tribe is engaging in a type of "epistemic secession." It's very, very hard to see how the American experiment, such as it is, will find a way to survive this ongoing mess.

The Other Tribe is deeply involved in an "epistemic secession." This bizarre behavior is largely enabled by the rise of modern technologies and modes of interaction—talk radio; cable news; the Internet; social media—but its ongoing success reflects the deepest realms of pre-rational, highly tribal human mental impulse.

That tribal imperative is now in the saddle among The Other Tribe. That said, Our Own Tribe is bowing to those same human impulses. This was evident as we watched Rachel Maddow mug and clown and reassure / entertain our own failing tribe last night

Maddow is Our Own Rhodes Scholar and Our Eternal Child. For her, the release of the Arizona report was mainly a cause for hilarity last night. 

The Times reporters quickly stressed the disturbing underside of this event. By way of contrast, Maddow opened her program with a very large dose of her standard clowning and tribal reassurance. 

Fourteen minutes into this performance, she summed it up as shown:

MADDOW (9/24/21): But we're back to where this started. Which is that it is hilarious.

[PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER] 

And you can't take that away from me.

Maddow's performance continued from there. But no one will rob Our Eternal Child of her sense that matters like this are mainly hilarious.

No one is going to take that away from her! Jon Stewart told her to stop doing this long ago—that her job was more important than this. She told him that she wouldn't.

We expect to focus on last night's performance in our reports next week. We'll also mention the parts of Maddow's performance in which she mentioned the troubling side of the Cyber Ninjas report.

With that in mind, we'll leave it here for now. But even as The Other Tribe bows to Trump's reign of crazy misstatement, Our Own Tribe has never been able to quit this Eternal Child.

Meanwhile, we have our own sprawling performance of epistemic secession, a performance which largely concerns deeply important matters of gender and race. Again and again, our devotion to this regime leaves us saying the darnedest things. 

This helps harden the epistemic secession underway in The Other Tribe. The Others think our statements are nutty or even dishonest. All too often, it's hard to say that The Others are wrong.

More on these tribal secessions next week. These dueling secessions are very dangerous.

"Hilarious," Our Own Scholar said!


WE CALL IT READING A BOOK: In dumbness is the end of the world!

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2021

Norman O. Brown got it right: It was our former neighbor Thoreau who said it, though it's sometimes misquoted:

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."

No, he didn't say "wilderness." But that tiny misquotation is certainly close enough.

Our neighbor Thoreau made this remark in his lecture-turned-essay, Walking. As part of the essay, he also made the highlighted remark, as was his perhaps unfortunate wont:

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them—as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon—I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago. 

Our neighbor had a tendency to extend such left-handed sympathy to those who worked for a living. In Walden, this tendency produced one of his most widely-quoted remarks:

"The mass of men [sic] lead lives of quiet desperation."

Do you ever wonder how such statements may have sounded to that "mass of men" as they led their lives of desperation? As they received a type of credit for not having taken their own lives?

We don't know how our neighbor's statements sounded to the masses of his own time. That said, we've thought of these statements in the past few days as we've reviewed the way the elites of Our Own Blue Tribe are conducting themselves in public.

"In wildness is the preservation of the world," our neighbor once said. Unfortunately, in cluelessness is its possible termination. 

Each morning this week, often as we peruse the devolving on-line version of the Washington Post, we've been stunned by the overpowering dumbness. We refer to the dumbness which currently sits in the saddle and rides the  humankind which almost seems to be working, around the clock, to ensure that Trumpism triumphs.

To our ear, the cluelessness of our current blue elite is widespread and ever-present. For those who wonder how a person like Trump could possibly have received so many votes, we'll only say that the answer may be easier to see for those who are willing to look.

To our ear, the cluelessness to which we refer is cluelessness all the way down.  Each day, it's more haughty and more potent, and we'll guess it's more counterproductive.

After perusing the on-line Post and a few of Our Town's other journals, we've been finding it hard to proceed with the project we've been planning. We'd planned to proceed with the reading of a "most important" book—a book whose author said this in his preface:

"I should have liked to produce a good book. That has not come about."

After perusing Our Town's journals, we keep finding it impossible to proceed with that task.

A number of years ago, we began quoting Norman O. Brown from the street-fighting 1960s. Brown was very hot at the time. At one point, he offered this:

BROWN (1966): I sometimes think I see that societies originate in the discovery of some secret, some mystery; and end in exhaustion when there is no longer any secret, when the mystery has been divulged, that is to say profaned...And so there comes a time—I believe we are in such a time—when civilization has to be renewed by the discovery of some new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the imagination, by the undemocratic power which makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of all mankind, the power which makes all things new.

We can't say that we understand what Brown was talking about in that passage. That said, he plainly was saying this:

Absent the discovery of "new mysteries," he said we might be at the point when our society is going to "end in exhaustion." Reading the efforts of Our Town's thought leaders, we keep suspecting that Brown, a classicist by training, may have had it right.

About a decade ago, this statement began showing up in our dreams, and so we began to cite it. We don't think it's ever been so clear that those new mysteries haven't been discovered, and most likely aren't going to be.

In wildness is the preservation of the world? Possibly so, but in tribal cluelessness may lie a society's termination.

We'll try to return to our project next week. Perhaps we need to stop perusing Our Blue Town's journals in the morning. To our ear, the cluelessness we keep encountering in those places is making a mockery of everything else. It's newly surprising each day.

Why aren't we posting examples today? Simple! We can hear the tribals responding! We know what the tribals will say!

As The Others show the world every day, there's no way to talk a true believer out of a tribal true belief. Also, we can hear the experts and scholars as they keep telling us this:

As humans, we're wired to produce tribal dogmas as we make our way towards our latest war. And when we blue voters produce our own (unintelligent) dogmas, we harden The Others in theirs.

In fairness, our brains are wired this way, or so the top experts have said. It's painful to read the present-day Post. To our ear, the tribal dumbness being churned within Our Town just keeps getting worse and worse.

The tribal dumbness, how it burns! Their tribal dumbness, and ours!


The 710 versus the more than four thousand!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2021

Statistical dumbness is Us: Just as the experts have said, we simply aren't up to the task of conducting the most basic journalism.

Consider the statistical shakiness which starts to appear in this passage from this morning's New York Times news report:

ROBERTSON (9/23/21): [Gwen] Ifill, who died in 2016 after a distinguished career that included stints at The Washington Post, The Times and NBC News before she became co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” raised the issue of what she called “missing white woman syndrome” at a journalism conference in 2004. “If there’s a missing white woman, we are going to cover that, every day,” she noted wryly.

In the years since, national news outlets have continued to deliver frequent, detailed reports that made young, white women such as Natalee Holloway, who disappeared in 2005 while vacationing in Aruba, into household names.

To what "statistical shakiness" do we refer? We refer to this statistical shakiness:

In that passage, the Times reporter, Katie Robertson, quotes Gwen Ifill seeming to say that the mainstream media covers every case in which a there's a missing white woman. Indeed, Ifill seems to say that every such case gets a lot of coverage.

Robertson proceeds to offer an example. She cites a case which did get a lot of attention—back in 2005!

Can you think of a more recent case? The Times report seems to say that there are many such cases, but we'll admit that we can't think of examples, and it almost looks like the Times couldn't do so either..

With that in mind, can you see the shakiness which may be lurking there? We ask that question because the editors at the New York Times 1) couldn't see the shakiness, or 2) just didn't prefer to.

Now, let's consider a case of statistical illiteracy. It comes from that same New York Times report, but it also appeared in the Washington Post, and it's being widely copied as the day proceeds:

ROBERTSON: The demographic makeup of major news organizations is another factor in the emphasis on narratives of white women who go missing or are murdered, said Martin G. Reynolds, co-executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

[...]

The disappearances of people of color tend not to generate the same volume of media interest, despite their occurring at a higher rate. A report from the University of Wyoming found that 710 Indigenous people were reported missing from 2011 to 2020 in that state, which is where Ms. Petito’s remains were found.

Can you see the statistical illiteracy lurking there? The breakdown goes like this:

Robertson links to this report from the University of Wyoming. Making a long story short, the Wyoming report includes this passage:

These records  represent 4,884 unique individuals, 710 of whom were Indigenous. Law  enforcement agencies in Wyoming enter nearly 900 missing person records into NCIC annually. Each year, approximately 13% (n = 120) are records of Indigenous people.

In that passage, we learn that there were 4,884 missing persons in Wyoming during the decade in question. Performing the math, the numbers break down like this:

Missing persons in Wyoming:
Total number of missing persons: 4,884
Missing persons who were Indigenous: 710
Missing persons who weren't Indigenous: 4,174

It's true! You never heard about the 710 missing persons. But duh! You never heard about the 4,174 missing persons either.

Putting it a different way, you never heard about any of those missing persons in the way you've heard about the late Gabby Petito this week. In fact, you never heard about any of those missing persons at all.

For starters, that's because, Ifill's pleasing statement to the contrary,  the mainstream media doesn't cover the cases of "every missing white woman." In fact, the media almost never covers such cases. Almost no missing persons get covered this way, including the blonde and the blue-eyed.

The statistical dumbness of this morning's Times report rises to the level of undisguised, flat-out Stupid. That said, it's very typical of the way our high-end journalists work when confronted with any sort of statistical or pseudo-statistical statement.

In this case, the Times was eager to push Storyline, and so it ran with that absurdly irrelevant statistic. For whatever reason, its unnamed editors didn't remove that irrelevant passage from the report. For all we know, it may be the editors who stuck the passage in.

Increasingly, our journalism is Storyline all the way down. Along with that, our Storyline selection is tribal. 

In this instance, these factors led the Times to pretend that oversized coverage occurs all the time with missing white women, even as they couldn't seem to come up with a recent example—and even as they failed to note one of the obvious reasons why the disappearance of the late Gabby Petito has received so much coverage.

In part, this case has received an outsized amount of coverage because Petito was a travel blogger who had posted tons of footage of her cross-country trip. It has also received outsized coverage because the ludicrous behavior of her  fiancĂ© comes straight out of a cable-friendly, Sleeping With the Enemy-style movie.

That said, also this:

This case has received a lot of coverage because, by conventional norms, Petito was stunningly telegenic. Cable loves to run video footage of conventionally attractive young women, just as it loves to hire such women to appear on the air.

Obviously, race and color play major roles in judgments concerning who is and isn't attractive; this fact is extremely unfortunate. But, as judged by conventional norms, Petito was stunningly telegenic. 

That fact played an obvious role in this week's unusual amount of coverage. As part of its general vapidity, CNN loves to air footage like that, along with equally exciting footage of hurricanes, fires and floods.

That said, gaze upon the statistical dumbness of upper-end newspapers like the Washington Post and the Times. 

In this report, the Post subjects that statistic from Wyoming to even dumber use. This dumbness runs through the coverage of almost every matter our upper-end press corps pursues. 

That dumbness is in the saddle and it rules our journalistic humankind. And no, a modern nation can't hope to survive when its tribunes are so vapid and so incompetent, and so ruled by Storyline.

Concerning Ifill's wry remark, we'll only say this—at least she wasn't covering for her warmongering friend, Condi Rice, on that particular day.

Concerning that astoundingly silly pseudo-statistic, it's a case of the 710 versus the more than four thousand! None of those stories got covered this way—in fact, none of those stories got covered at all. That's because what Ifill said was, and is, transparently bogus.

When we saw the figure 710, we wondered about the other figure, as any competent person would. When we looked at the Wyoming report, we were able to cipher it out—4,174!

This sort of thing is beyond the reach of our upper-end mainstream journalists. Many went to the finest schools, but they rarely show the slightest sign of being able or inclined to handle such questions as this.

Our brains aren't wired for this sort of thing. They're wired to pimp tribal Storyline, or so the top experts all tell us!

The earlier missing white woman: As of 2004, the earlier missing white woman was Chandra Levy. Her case received blanket coverage in 2001 because the crackpot conservative world was using it to push the "Democrats chase after interns" line, with the mainstream press corps politely playing along.

In other words, it was part of the ongoing MSM war against Clinton, Clinton and Gore, the war which  put Bush and Trump in the White House—the inexcusable, brain-damaged war which remains undiscussed.

CNN ran with it, night after night, all through the summer of 2001. (As summertime fare, it was even better than shark attacks!) On September 11, al Qaeda hit, and this much adored, important topic was never mentioned again.

This is the way this guild has functioned over the course of the past many years. Within a year, they were savaging Gore for saying, in a major speech, we should stay out of Iraq. Frank Rich was never more angry than he was with the phony, dishonest Gore! Katie Couric went after him too!

This is who and what we are. Simply put, we're wired this way, disconsolate experts insist.


WE CALL IT READING A BOOK: The logicians probably couldn't have helped!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2021

The transparent Dumbness, it burns: Robert Woodward's new book, co-written with Robert Costa, bears a one-word title: 

Peril

Following its 72 chapters, its epilogue ends with a two-word paragraph:

"Peril remains."

The authors refer to the peril facing our democracy in these (ongoing) days of Trump. More expansively, the epilogue ends as shown:

Could Trump work his will again? Were [sic] there any limits to what he and his supporters might do to bring him back to power?

Peril remains.

Even in fuller context, the word "were" doesn't make sense there. But as the book ends, Woodward and Costa are most specifically saying that peril remains if Donald J. Trump seeks the White House again.

Our democracy remains in peril, the authors say in their book. But according to the experts with whom we consult, we've moved past the point of peril. The die has already been cast.

Could the logicians have helped us with this? Most likely, they couldn't have. That said, the logicians—indeed, the "philosophers" and philosophy professors in general—walked off their posts so long ago that the question is hard to assess.

(Could it be they were never on their posts? Yes, that's possible too! It's a point we expect to explore.)

Tomorrow, we'll return to a discussion we introduced last week. We'll return to the preface to Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, "the most important philosophy book of the 20th century."

It was rated the most important such book, but no one has the slightest idea what its author might have said! So it goes within a culture where academic elites, as a group, have walked away from their posts—have ceased to function as a "guardian" class. 

In our view, Philosophical Investigations could have served as a highly instructive guide to what might be called "daily logic." Hard to parse though its text may be, a great deal of instruction can be teased from its bewildering numbered passages.

No such effort has ever been undertaken. That said, we'll plow ahead with an attempt to define the gains which could have been made. Tomorrow, we'll return to Wittgenstein's attempts, in his preface, to describe his intentions in writing the book, and we'll discuss his attempts to describe his book's shortcomings.

For today, one particular news report filled us with instant despair. The statistical dumbness, how it burned! We'll describe that hurtful report in today's afternoon post.

As it turns out, we the people weren't designed to run something like a democracy. Our brains were wired for Storyline, and as it turns out, we're pretty much tribal pretty much all the way down.

Regarding the preface to which we've referred, we briefly discussed it last Wednesday. To review that discussion, click here.

We'll resume that discussion tomorrow. Next week, we'll move on to the start of the most important philosophy book's unexplored text.

Could a different approach to this book have helped? Alas! Even as we continue to work in the garden, we're going to stick with a no.

Tomorrow:  "I should have liked to produce a good book. That has not come about."


Did Quayle call Pence, or did Pence call Quayle?

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

As performed on Morning Joe: Yesterday morning, we made a point of watching Morning Joe. Woodward and Costa were going to be there to discuss their under-sourced new book.

Seven minutes into the segment, Woodward mentioned former Vice President Pence. Was he perhaps a bit too kind in what he said about Pence? 

WOODWARD (9/21/21): [As January 6 approaches], Pence is really working hard to see if he can do something to stay on the good side of Trump. At the same time, as Bob [Costa] pointed out, amidst Dan Quayle, who calls him and reads him the Constitution and the law and says, You are not an actor is this. You simply mechanically count the votes. And Pence is under lots of pressure from Trump, and his lawyers and confidantes are just saying, You cannot do this, and in the end Pence stood up and did the constitutional right thing. At the same time, when he's there and they're voting to certify, if he'd just said, "Oh, I'm confused" and walked off, we would have had worse than a constitutional crisis, because it would have undermined the legitimacy of the presidency.

In Woodward's account, Quayle called Pence and told him that he had to do the right thing. On January 6, Woodward says that Pence did exactly that, despite lots of pressure from Trump. 

This may not have been negative enough concerning Pence. Also, did Quayle call Pence or did Pence call Quayle? Continuing directly, Willie got the overall story back on track, while performing an unannounced correction:

GEIST (continuing directly): But Bob Costa, as you report in the book, Bob, it's, you know—he was fishing around, Vice President Pence, for a reason to get this done for President Trump, calling Vice President Quayle, who shut him down pretty quickly...

That was more like it! Willie stressed the way Pence was fishing around for a way to get the election undone. 

Also, in Willie's account, it was Pence who called Quayle, not the way Woodward had it. Heroically, Quayle shut him down!

How about it? Did Pence call Quayle, or did Quayle call Pence? Assuming that any of this occurred, it wouldn't exactly matter.

That said, when Maddow read from the book last Tuesday night, it was Pence who telephoned Quayle, and that is what it says in the book. ("In late December, Pence phoned former vice president Dan Quayle.") 

Yesterday morning, Woodward had that fact turned around. Willie simply plowed ahead, blowing past Woodward's apparent misstatement and getting the overall story back on track.

Did Pence call Quayle, or did Quayle call Pence? More importantly, what happened when the two men spoke, assuming they actually did? And on what basis can Woodward and Costa report what the two fellows said? 

On what basis should we assume that their account of this alleged call is actually accurate? Who or what is the source of their account, in which they literally quote substantial parts of this conversation?

As widely presented on liberal cable, this new book launched a pleasingly unflattering story about Pence. But on what basis should anyone think that Woodward and Costa's account of this matter is accurate? (It certainly may be, of course.)

These are the obvious questions to ask. But given the clownish way our upper-end corporate discourse works, none of the millionaires of "cable news" are ever going to ask them. Our discourse is Storyline all the way down, and the big players all know this.

You'd almost think that our logicians (or our "epistemologists") might speak up at some point. As it turns out, they have better things to do:

Revisionists versus Unitarians, they're debating the (unreadable) Theaetetus!


WE CALL IT READING A BOOK: Did Pence call Quayle, or did Quayle call Pence?

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

We call it reading a transcript: Yesterday morning, we made a point of watching the segment in question.

The bodacious Bobcats, Woodward and Costa, were scheduled to appear on Morning Joe. Their new book was extremely hot—and as with many of Woodward's books, it may have been perhaps a bit  and somewhat shakily sourced.

An irony lurks in that possibility. Back in the day, Woodward and Bernstein became iconic journalistic figures due to their Watergate reporting for the Washington Post.

Out of that iconic episode, an iconic story emerged. They'd managed to get (almost) everything right because their editor, the iconic Ben Bradlee, had required two (2) sources for their factual claims.

That was then, but this is now. Yesterday, over at Slate, Fred Kaplan described an alleged problem with Woodward's current techniques:

KAPLAN (9/21/21): [Woodward's books] follow a pattern, so consistent, over the past few decades, that it might be dubbed “Woodwardian.” The author amasses vast quantities of scoops, some of them extraordinary. He subjects them to little, if any, analysis. Instead, he channels his anecdotes through the viewpoints of well-known characters, who tend to be either heroes (who often coincide with sources who have told him a lot) or villains (who usually haven’t).

Thar she blows! If you cooperate with Woodward, you get treated as a hero in his subsequent book. If you refuse to be interviewed, you find yourself cast as a goat. So runs one of the allegations about Woodward's allegedly shaky methods over the past many years.

We never discuss our conversations with high-ranking federal officials. But way back in the 1990s, one such high-ranking federal official voiced this very complaint to us, explaining why he had turned out to be one of the goats in Woodward's latest Clinton-era book.

(For the record, we have no way of knowing if what we were told was accurate.)

This allegation about Woodward's technique has been somewhat widely voiced in recent decades. As he continued, Kaplan expanded on his theme:

KAPLAN (continuing directly): This last trait is common among Washington journalists who rely too much on insider sources, but Woodward takes the practice to extremes. The main hero in Peril, as many have noted, is Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is portrayed as the warrior-savior who kept the world at peace during Donald Trump’s most turbulent outbursts. Milley exaggerates, and Woodward lets him...

Woodward’s credulity of his favored sources taints his own credibility on matters large and small. For instance, there’s a passage describing the events of June 1, 2020, as protests are erupting, some violent, in reaction to the police killing of George Floyd. News footage that day revealed Milley strutting through the streets of downtown Washington, D.C., in combat fatigues, as if he were inspecting the troops in wartime. He was much criticized for this and, 10 days later, apologized. But Woodward treats the general’s wardrobe as innocuous, writing, “Milley left the White House and headed downtown to visit the FBI command post monitoring the demonstrations. Expecting a late night, he changed into his uniform of camouflage fatigues to be more comfortable.”

I have no doubt this is the explanation Milley fed him. I am stunned that, after 45 years of high-level journalism, Woodward still lacks a functioning bullshit detector.

Kaplan goes on to explain why he says that Woodward has taken "bullshit" from General Milley and presented it as fact. These complaints about Woodward's methods never go away.

In this instance, Woodward has told readers what Milley was "expecting" on the day in question. He has also told readers why Milley changed into his camouflage fatigues, but he's done these things without reporting his sources—without explaining how he can know that what he has written is true.

Woodward rose to fame on the strength of requiring two sources. Today, traditional sourcing of any kind rarely exists in his books.

In Woodward's easy-reader books, we're offered highly novelized easy-reader tales. We're supposed to assume that his statements are accurate, with zero questions asked.

General Milley was the hero of the passages in this book which were released for promotional purposes. At the same time, a pleasing villain was offered—former Vice President Pence.

Last Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow pleased us rubes with the standard account of Pence's supposed behavior. Concerning Pence, this was her nugget presentation:

MADDOW (9/14/21): In this new book, one of the things that [Woodward and Costa] report is that Mike Pence, in their telling, was far more reluctant to do his job, far more reluctant to do his constitutional duty than the public narrative has suggested. Bottom line, Vice President Pence didn't ultimately accede to Trump's wishes to block the certification of the election, to overturn the election results, to leave Trump in power or to render the election results unknowable. But it was not, apparently, for a lack of him trying to find a way to do that.

Thus spake the bulk of the liberal world's Cablethustra! Tomorrow, we'll show you more of what Maddow said that night—but as always, her account was tribally pleasing in the ultimate way.

Question:

How does Maddow know that Woodward's account is accurate? Even if she's interpreting the book's presentation correctly—we're not assuming that she is—how does she know that Woodward's account isn't just the latest version of bullshit? The latest punishment of a possible source who refused to come across?

As she pleased us flunkies that night, Maddow read at length from the pleasing new book. At some points, Woodward is explicitly quoting what Quayle and Pence are said to have said to each other during the phone call in question.

Question: 

How is it possible for Woodward to quote the exact words these two fellows said? Did he have a tape? Did he have a transcript? What's the source for those quoted remarks?

Maddow, of course, didn't raise any such point. As he she performed her tribal services, Our Rhodes Scholar didn't ask.

Maddow's account was the first we saw of this exciting new book. As we watched her discuss Pence and Quayle, we were struck by her gullibility, or perhaps by her lack of something resembling honesty, as she performed in precisely the way a tribal bullshitter should.

Maddow recently scored a $30 million contract as a result of such faithful service. Tomorrow, we'll continue exploring this particular topic, the one involving what Pence and Quayle allegedly said and did, and what Pence allegedly wanted.

As for the service we've rendered today, we call it "reading a transcript." We also call it "an education," much as Tara Westover did.

Woodward's latest book has put pleasing stories in play. But to what extent should we believe that the stories are actually accurate?

None of our nation's vaunted logicians have managed to offer a word on this basic matter of Daily Logic. That said, our logicians walked off their posts long ago, Wittgenstein maybe among them.

Final question:

Did Pence call Quayle, or did Quayle call Pence? To see the comical way our discourse works, come back for this afternoon's compost.

We'll be quoting from Morning Joe. We made a point of watching.

Tomorrow: Back to Wittgenstein's Preface


The standards which govern our public discourse!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2021

Speaking quite frankly, there are none: Consider the standards which now control the making of journalistic claims.

More specifically, consider the lack of such standards. Consider a claim by the New York Times' Charles Blow. Also, consider the links supplied by Blow in alleged support of his claim.

In fairness, Blow's claim is supported by our one extant rule of journalism. According to that one rule, any claim is accepted as true if it supports a sweeping denunciation of some group of Others.

In the case of Blow's most recent column, The Others are fingered in his headline: "White Evangelicals Shun Morality for Power." After a string of  pleasing non sequiturs concerning Franklin Graham, Blow moves on to the claim which is implied by the highlighted passage:

BLOW (9/20/21): I had grown up hearing from pulpits that it was the world that changed, not God’s word. The word was like a rock. A lie was a lie, yesterday, today and tomorrow, no matter who told it.

I had hoped that there were more white evangelicals who embraced the same teachings, who would not abide by the message the Grahams of the world were advancing, who would stand on principle.

But I was wrong. A report for the Pew Research Center published last week found that, contrary to an onslaught of press coverage about evangelicals who had left the church, disgusted by its embrace of the president, “There is solid evidence that white Americans who viewed Trump favorably and did not identify as evangelicals in 2016 were much more likely than white Trump skeptics to begin identifying as born-again or evangelical Protestants by 2020.”

Our question: 

At some point along the way, was there really "an onslaught of press coverage about evangelicals who had left the church, disgusted by its embrace of the president?"

We can't recall any such onslaught, though that doesn't settle the question. Meanwhile, the Pew report to which Blow refers doesn't describe any such onslaught of coverage. 

That said, Blow offers one link in support of the claim that some such "onslaught of press coverage" actually took place at some point. He links to an April 2019 first-person report at Religion & Politics, a relatively little-known online news journal.

In that first-person report, Bradley Oinishi, an  associate professor of religious studies at Skidmore College, describes what happened when he himself left evangelical movement for political reasons—when he left the evangelical movement back in 2005.

In the course of his report, Oinishi does refer to “Deconstructing My Religion,” a 26-minute CBS documentary "centered on the stories of the figures who started and have worked to sustain" people who have left the evangelical faith. 

The CBS program aired in December 2018, generating little discussion. As best we can tell, it wasn't focused on evangelicals who abandoned their faith due to Trump.

Did that "onslaught" ever take place? Was there ever "an onslaught of press coverage about evangelicals who had left the church, disgusted by its embrace of the president?" 

We don't know if any such onslaught ever took place. We do know these two things:

First, no one at the New York Times made Blow offer support for his claim. Also, this is the way our clownish discourse works at the highest levels.

Blow's column is a pastiche of non sequiturs and unsupported claims. This is the way a certain former president plays the game. It's also the way of our greatest journalists at the top of our clownish discourse.

Meanwhile, here's Fred Kaplan at Slate, discussing Robert Woodward's standards of evidence and proof. We may touch on that topic tomorrow—but our national culture, such as it is, is clownish all the way down.

Can a modern nation function this way? As Bruce Springsteen once advised, "Son, take a good look around."


WE CALL IT READING A BOOK: What could be gained from reading this book?

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2021

Absolutely nothing: Full and complete disclosure! Nothing will be gained, at this point, from anyone's attempt to read this (most important) book.

It's much too late for some such outcome. The culture is too far gone at this point; most likely, it always was. Also, you have to consider the raw material out of which the culture was formed, or so anthropologists say.

We refer to Philosophical Investigations, the 1953 book which was chosen as "the most important philosophy book of the 20th century" in a 1999 survey of philosophy professors

It was the most important such book of the century, but no one has the slightest idea what its author, Ludwig Wittgenstein, demonstrated, claimed, alleged, suggested or even attempted to say. 

In part for that reason, the book has had zero effect on the western world's discourse. Nor is that going to change.

If we were going to teach this book, we'd start by advancing such gloomy points to a roomful of eager readers. These gloomy thoughts came to mind early today when we perused the New York Times, alighting on the latest "great repartee" between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens.

The new weekly feature in question is called The Conversation. In today's print editions, it eats three-fifths of page A20, filling the space which would otherwise belong to this newspaper's editorials.

"Great repartee," the first commenter said. Where once the culture had Tracy and Hepburn, or possibly Ozzie and Harriett, the Times now gives us Gail and Bret, with such sparkling repartee as that shown below.

Below, you see the repartee which opened today's Conversation. In a hundred words or less, the bon vivants tell us how to feel about last weekend's major D.C. event, The Capitol Rally Which Failed:

Bret Stephens: I can’t say I’m surprised that the rally fizzled: Donald Trump wasn’t there to light a fire, and Mike Pence wasn’t there to get burned by it. Plus, all of the arrests and guilty pleas from Jan. 6 are probably having a deterrent effect.

On the other hand, the fact that Trump is publicly supporting the Jan. 6 rioters who, he says, are “being persecuted so unfairly relating to the Jan. 6 protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election” is a bad sign. The movement may be in remission, but it isn’t going away. It’s like knowing that a deadly virus, capable of infecting millions of people and wrecking the country, is being handled by a mad scientist at an unsafe facility. You might even call it the “Mar-a-Lago virus.”

Gail [Collins]: I do kind of like the idea of D.J.T. surrounded by beakers of deadly bacteria, with wild frizzy hair, laughing maniacally. But only for about 30 seconds. Let’s move on to a cheerier topic. Any further thoughts about the pandemic? Vaccine musings?

"You might even call it the Mar-a-Lago virus," Bret says, showcasing the failed attempts at wit with which he litters these conversations.

In response, Gail says she does "kind of like" a certain image, an image drawn straight out of The Simpsons and other cartoon fare. With that, it's on to a (tongue in cheek) "cheerier topic," as the Times gives readers one last way to pretend that the journalistic vapidity of the past several decades can still, somehow, be maintained as the world falls apart around us—that this can still be fun.

Stephens would do a whole lot better if he'd stop trying to showcase his wit. There's no reason why a journalist has to feel that he has to possess some such skill.

In our view, Collins defined herself for all time with her endless attempts to convey the impression that Mitt Romney, as a young parent, once drove hundreds of miles to a summer vacation with Seamus, his family's Irish setter, "strapped to the roof of his car." That's how vapid our upper-end discourse can get, and Collins seemed eager to prove it.

During the 2012 campaign, Collins inserted that grossly misleading claim into more than fifty (50) of her columns.  Her editors allowed this nonsense to unspool; overwhelmingly, commenters loved it. 

This is the world in which reading that book will do no good at all.

By the way, if Philosophical Investigations was the most important philosophy book of the 20th century, why haven't philosophy professors made its contents better known?

On its face, you're asking a very good question! In fact, those professors walked away from the real events of the actual world a very long time ago.

That history is directly connected to the contents of this most important book. But before we tried to approach its text, we'd also tell readers this:

The book in question is so peculiar that the reader, no matter how determined, shouldn't expect to "understand" it in any conventional sense. 

Do the professors understand the book? We wouldn't assume that they do. But new readers, no matter how hard they may try, aren't going to understand it in the way they might "understand" some other valuable book. 

That doesn't mean that its contents, jumbled and puzzling as they may be, can't be highly instructive.

In theory, the book can be highly instructive. For our money, Professor Horwich was pointing us in the right direction when he offered this, in the pixels of the New York Times no less:

HORWICH (3/3/13): Philosophy is respected, even exalted, for its promise to provide fundamental insights into the human condition and the ultimate character of the universe, leading to vital conclusions about how we are to arrange our lives. It’s taken for granted that there is deep understanding to be obtained of the nature of consciousness, of how knowledge of the external world is possible, of whether our decisions can be truly free, of the structure of any just society, and so on — and that philosophy’s job is to provide such understanding. Isn’t that why we are so fascinated by it?

If so, then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking. So it should be entirely unsurprising that the “philosophy” aiming to solve them has been marked by perennial controversy and lack of decisive progress—by an embarrassing failure, after over 2000 years, to settle any of its central issues.

Say what? (Academic) philosophy's (traditional) "problems" have always been "mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking?" 

College freshmen have always suspected as much. But can it really be true?

We would suspect that it can be true, and that some such understanding can be wrung from the general incoherence of Philosophical Investigations. For our own less lofty purposes, we'll suggest that something else is true:

This book can be used as a brilliant primer in clearer thinking. The dumbness of the public discourse is the sea in which we've all been swimming. Maddening though it may be, Philosophical Investigations points to ways to avoid our ocean of muddled thinking—but given the ways we humans are wired, are we really inclined to long for any such service?

We'd start by telling the new reader that she probably won't understand this book in any conventional sense. We'd also note that it's much too late for the book to do any good.

In that case, why proceed with our effort at all? Borrowing from Tara Westover, we call our effort "reading a book," but also "an education."

Tomorrow: Back to Wittgenstein's preface


One of Cooper's reading preferences...

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2021

...struck us as possibly odd: Back in March, the New York Times profiled Don Lemon's reading habits.

This profile appeared in the Sunday's magazine's weekly "By The Book" feature. The headline on the feature said this:

Don Lemon Organizes His Books by Color

Yesterday, it was Anderson Cooper's turn.

Cooper is very involved in the history of his family. (There's no reason why he shouldn't be.) The family is very famous on his mother's side.

Yesterday's feature was tied to the publication of his latest book on this general topic, Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty, written with Katherine Howe.

How deeply is Cooper tied to his ancestry? This was yesterday's initial Q-and-A:

NEW YORK TIMES (9/19/21): What books are on your night stand?

On my night stand are two small, very fragile books that belonged to my grandfather Reginald Vanderbilt, who died in 1925. One is a Book of Common Prayer. The other is “The Gate to Caesar,” written in Latin by William C. Collar. My grandfather was 14 when he got the books. He wrote his name in them and the year 1894. He also doodled in them (he was not exactly a great student). They sit on top of a biography of Napoleon by Emil Ludwig published in 1926. It belonged to my mom’s maternal grandmother, Laura Kilpatrick Morgan, who was, in my mom’s words, “really kind of crazy.” She worshiped Napoleon and patterned herself after him. She always kept this biography by her bedside and underlined passages that were important to her. I didn’t know her or my grandfather but having these books, with their notes and scribbles, makes me feel connected to them and to all those in my family who came before me.

There's nothing "wrong" with any of that, though that isn't what the Times is typically looking for when it asks that question. 

Four other questions produced responses involving family members. One such exchange is shown here:

NEW YORK TIMES: You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

COOPER: I would ask my mom and dad and my brother, Carter. I know it’s not a very clever answer, but it’s the truth. Carter was an editor at American Heritage magazine and wrote book reviews for Commentary, and I think he would have become a writer full time if he had lived. It would just be us four for dinner, and it would be a long one. Maybe at some point I would invite Truman Capote to stop by. Truman and my parents were once very close, and I remember him very well, but they stopped speaking to him after he wrote some pretty cruel stuff about my mom in a story published in Esquire in 1975. I wouldn’t want Truman to stay very long though, and he couldn’t have any alcohol. Actually let’s make it Truman circa 1966, not the bloated Truman of 1975.

We humans tend to be strongly connected to our family histories. There's nothing "wrong" with any of Cooper's answers along these lines, though they're unusual by the norms of this weekly feature.

One of Cooper's statements did strike us as possibly odd. Here's the full exchange:

NEW YORK TIMES: Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

COOPER: I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, except if it’s something someone has recommended to me, but when I find a great novel I love nothing more than just losing myself in it.

In theory, Cooper discusses national and world news for an hour or two on CNN every weekday night. Wouldn't you think that a person like that might be partial to works of nonfiction, seeing them as possible sources of wider comprehension?  (There's no "correct" answer to that.)

For ourselves, we lost confidence in Cooper's work some time ago, though we'd say that others can be much, much worse. That said, it's almost impossible to capture the intellectual squalor which pervades the work of our upper-end press corps as it delivers "the news."

Shaky data, shakily construed in support of preferred Storyline? Sweeping generalizations about the undesirable qualities of The Others?

If it weren't for analyses of these types, would we have any analyses in our discourse at all? We'll try to give you samples this week, but we'll start by admitting defeat:

It's hard to convey the relentless D-minus performance of our upper-end press corps. On average, the group's skill levels are stunningly low. Storyline tends to be all.

We'll plan to offer examples this week, but such examples rarely undermine the general assumption of competence. Deference to authority tends to keep us from seeing this sorry situation as it actually is, or so major experts keep telling us, tearing their hair as they do.

Full disclosure: Until we read that first Q-and-A, it had never occurred to us:

One of Jackie Gleason's comic characters, Reginald Van Gleason III, may have been patterned on the grandfather of one of our cable news stars!


WE CALL IT READING A BOOK: First approaches to Wittgenstein!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2021

We call it an education: Last Friday, in his New York Times column, David Brooks explored part of the varied terrain of a certain "philosophical problem."

The problem in question might be called "the problem of free will." It was one of the six "philosophical problems" with which we were confronted in the fall semester of 1965, when we took our philosophy department's introductory course.

"Phil 3: Problems in Philosophy." That was the name of the course.

During that course, we beginners were exposed to six philosophical problems. One of the problems was this:

How do you know that 7 + 5 = 12?

We can't recall the identity of four of the other problems. But one of the other philosophical problems was "the problem of free will."

What is the philosophical problem of free will? That question could be answered various ways. 

That said, we were flung back to the fall of '65 at the start of Brooks' column. His column started like this:

BROOKS (9/17/21): One of the most unsettling findings of modern psychology is that we often don’t know why we do what we do. You can ask somebody: Why’d you choose that house? Or why’d you marry that person? Or why’d you go to graduate school? People will concoct some plausible story, but often they really have no idea why they chose what they did.

We have a conscious self, of course, the voice in our head, but this conscious self has little access to the parts of the brain that are the actual sources of judgment, problem-solving and emotion. We know what we’re feeling, just not how and why we got there.

But we also don’t want to admit how little we know about ourselves, so we make up some story, or confabulation...

Hmm. If we don't know why we do the things we do—if our conscious self has little access to the parts of the brain which control our feelings and our assessments—can we really be held accountable for the decisions we make—for the things we do in circumstances where no external force stopped us from doing something else?

No one stopped you from doing X! On the other hand, you had no access to the parts of the brain which led you to do Y instead. 

Given these circumstances, can you be blamed (or praised) for having done Y? Also, to what extent can it be said that you did Y "of your own free will?"

Can you be blamed for having done Y? At this point, we're fumbling with something which might be seen as part of "the problem of free will."

We don't recall how this "problem" was defined, explained or presented to us rubes in that introductory course. But if memory serves, this was the one problem of philosophy, out of the six, which seemed to be a genuine intellectual problem, not an exercise in a pointless type of academic complexification.

In later years, we sometimes said, on the comedy stage, that we weren't sure who those "problems in philosophy" were supposed to be problems for. 

For whom did knowledge of 7 + 5 constitute a philosophical problem? Even in 1965, inquiring minds wanted to know.

In fairness, the answer was partially clear at the time. These problems were serious problems for Mr. X (NOT REAL INITIAL), the graduate student teaching assistant with whom our section of the class met on a weekly basis.

Mr. X was a perfectly decent person. On the other hand, he would not infrequently stare out the third-story window in Emerson Hall, running his fingers through his hair as he struggled with the maddening difficulty of these philosophical problems.

"Don't jump, Mr. X!" we wanted to shout. Mr. X was taking these philosophical quandaries disturbingly hard.

(For the record, how can you know—how can you be sure—that 7 + 5 = 12? Our advice would be this: Simplify the philosophical problem by changing the example to 1 + 1 = 2. Then, proceed from there.)

Full disclosure: Mr. X didn't jump! He received his doctorate in the street-fighting year of 1969, as was completely appropriate. Today, he's a professor emeritus at a major university. 

Here's something else that happened in the wake of Phil 3. A bunch of us freshmen decided to switch to different majors. Entering college, we hadn't known what academic philosophy is like.

After sophomore year, we skillfully switched back. In the spring semester of our junior year, we took the undergraduate Wittgenstein course, which focused entirely on Philosophical Investigations (1953), the puzzling text which defines the work of the so-called "later Wittgenstein."

The book is almost absurdly opaque. That said, we think it can be read in ways which are highly instructive. Along the way, we've mentioned an oddity concerning this book:

In 1999, a survey of philosophy professors named Philosophical Investigations the most important philosophy book of the 20th century. That said, no one has the slightest idea what Wittgenstein said, suggested, proved or claimed in the jumbled and puzzling book. 

Perhaps for that reason, this most important philosophy book of the 20th century has had exactly zero effect on the bankrupt, clownish public discourse of the 21st century. It's the most important philosophy book, and it lies in the village graveyard, never consulted or used.

This week, we're returning to a daily attempt to draw utility from this most important philosophy text. By all accounts, the book is quite hard to understand. As we noted last Wednesday, its structure is rather unique. 

How should a reader approach this allegedly important book? Returning to where we were last week, we plan to offer possible guidance, though at this point we'll offer a warning:

We plan to move through the text extremely slowly, even with care. 

We call this "reading a book." Borrowing from the closing line of Tara Westover's recent best-seller, we're also going to call it a (possible) education.

In her mammoth best-seller, Educated: A Memoir, Westover described the  unusual way she and her siblings were raised by their semi-survivalist parents. She also describes the ways she developed her own "selfhood"—the ways she instructed herself. We admire the way Westover ended her book:

The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones [my earlier self] would have made. They were the decisions of a changed person, a new self.

You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.

I call it an education.

We like the fact that Westover knows that a certain state of affairs can be viewed in various ways—can be called many things. It seems to us that the game is rarely played this way at the present time.

In truth, there are zero serious discussions within our failing discourse. We plan to discuss Wittgenstein's text quite slowly, possibly even with care.

We expect to move at a slow rate of speed. We're inclined to call that process "reading a book."

Tomorrow: Important book's first paragraph


The ways we reason in our own blue towns!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2021

No Crazy Claim Left Behind: Jason Johnson is a "cable news" professor serving our own blue tribe.

He also has his own podcast at Slate. Yesterday, in a new edition, he spoke about the frequent casting of interracial couples in current TV ads.

Those TV ads are a somewhat surprising manifestation. We've never seen a discussion of the marketing strategy behind these ads.

That said, those ads are also a manifestation which lets kids with parents of different "races" see similar couples on TV. In theory, this could also be instructive for kids who aren't personally familiar with interracial couples. It could let those children begin to see that love and romance and even marriage can work this new, different way too.

At any rate, President Biden has frequently commented on these TV ads. Below, you see what Professor Johnson had to say about this offensive phenomenon. 

Move to the 15-minute mark. He spoke with Khalil Muhammad:

PROFESSOR JOHNSON (9/17/21): Biden has said more than once, he's cited interracial couples in commercials as signs of progress on race. I’m going to tell you this, Khalil, because this is a key thing for me. Not only did I find that offensive. Not only did I write a piece about it in The Grio, but I have actually found the spate of interracial relationships in both commercials and television to actually be kind of an act of violence...

The professor has actually found those TV ads to be "kind of an act of violence." As he continued, he "explained" his peculiar remark:

PROFESSOR JOHNSON (continuing directly): And the reason why is because they are not reflective of actual demographic changes in this country. And second, the relationships still seem to be, they're sort of mock progress. You know, 86 percent of African-American men who are married in this country are married to black women; 92 percent of black women in this country who are married are married to black men. And yet, and I’ve done my own research on this, over 70 percent of interracial couples on television, it's always a white guy and a black woman. 

Yes, that was the "explanation." Let's consider what the professor said. 

(For an error-riddled Slate transcript, you can just click here.)

First, the professor said that these TV ads "are not reflective of actual demographic changes in this country." Presumably, he meant that, on a proportional basis, there are more interracial couples on TV than there are in the general population.

That may or may not be true; let's assume it is. Would that even begin to explain why those ads should be seen as "an act of violence?" 

Tribal loyalty will instruct you to cast about for a way to say that it does. Simple rationality, however construed, will tell you that it doesn't.

The professor's explanation continued from there. He now seemed to say that the interracial relationships which exist in real life "still seem to be, they're sort of mock progress." 

Or he might have meant that about the interracial relationships seen on TV. By the time he got through talking, it wasn't clear what he meant.

Whatever it was he actually meant, he turned to statistics to prove his point. Saying he'd done his own research, he ended with this mangled claim:

"Over 70 percent of interracial couples on television, it's always a white guy and a black woman."

Over 70 percent of the time, it's always a white guy and a white woman! Aside from the comical non sequitur involved in that statement, it's unclear how that statistic (if accurate) relates to his previous statistics (if accurate). And none of this begins to explain why those TV ads can be seen as "an act of violence," the statement we rode in on.

Here in Our Town, it's easy to see the craziness which is being widely displayed by quite a few of The Others. But our own blue towns increasingly run on a sad rule of thumb, especially when our cable professors start talking.

Increasingly, our blue towns run on this sad rocket fuel:

No Absurd Statement Left Behind!

Increasingly, this is the way we live Over Here, within our blue tribe, especially when we talk about matters of gender and race. Disconsolate anthropologists insist that our human brains are wired to produce such tribalized claims and have been all along.

We humans are the tribal animal! That's what the experts all say. 

On Fox, they play the tape of our cable professors and tell The Others how crazy We are.  When they make such moves on Fox, it's hard to say that they're totally wrong.


BLUE SKILL LEVELS VERY LOW: Blow explains why he writes...

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2021

...but also, his dinner near Hef: Will Casey Parks' lengthy report generate a discussion?

Actually no, it won't. You've seen it mentioned nowhere but here, and you're going to see it mentioned nowhere ever again.

Her report connects to no prior discussion. The fact is, nobody cares about the topic Parks explored in last Sunday's lengthy, detailed report.

No one has cared about that topic for a good long time. More specifically, no one has cared about that topic here in our own blue towns. 

Within our blue political tribe, our journalists care about which kids will go to Stuyvesant High (or to Thomas Jefferson in Virginia), with a chance to advance to Yale. There's no other part of this topic to which our tribe is known to respond.

Charles Blow's son does (or did) go to Yale. Stating the obvious, there's no reason why he shouldn't. 

Blow himself doesn't write about the general topic addressed by Parks' visit to the Holmes County schools in the Mississippi Delta. That said, this Monday he offered an inspiring column under the headline, "Why I Write."

The column was filled with words of self-praise. Headline included, the column started like this:

BLOW (9/13/21): Why I Write 

One of my favorite aunts was desperately poor, like many people I knew in rural north Louisiana. I don’t know how much money she had or made. I only know the shadow of need that stalked her. She seemed, like many members of my family, one paycheck or severe injury away from insolvency.

Blow described the desperate poverty of the rural South. Eventually, he fell to the task of explaining why he writes. 

Blow described the conditions he found when he visited his aunt "when my [his] children were young." The poverty he described was extreme. In the passage, he described his thoughts and his reactions:

BLOW: I sat there thinking about the great divide among us, about how far removed I now was from this life, but also about how very connected I was, spiritually, to it.

And I was conflicted. How much could I or should I help? I have had long talks with my mother about this. Other than a little money in greeting cards, there wasn’t much that I could do for all the people I knew in need.

The problem was not about personal generosity, but rather public policy and indifference. The best thing I could do was to advocate for all.

When I visited my aunt, I was working at The New York Times. I had been poor, but I no longer was. And yet, it was important to me then, and remains important to me now, that I remained connected to that poverty, so that I could write about it from a genuine place.

Already, Blow was working for the Times. He was no longer poor, but he wanted to remain connected to that desperate poverty, so that he could write about it from a genuine place. 

According to Blow's column, this is why he writes. As he continued, the song of self became more explicit and perhaps a tiny bit maudlin. 

BLOW: There were two bits of advice I remember receiving when I first became a columnist, although I don’t recall from whom they came.

One was to write what you know. Write about some of your most intimate experiences, the things that you can’t stop thinking about no matter how hard you try.

The other was that columnists should be like an orchestra, each playing a different instrument, but together making music.

I decided that in that orchestra I was going to play the banjo. I was not a big-city writer. I was a small-town country boy from the South. I had not grown up with wealth and privilege. I had struggled, and at times, my family had barely scraped by. I had not gone to fancy prep schools or Ivy League colleges, but a small high school that had served Black students since the late 1800s and to a historically Black college, Grambling State University, the closest university to my hometown.

Others can be all fancy and such. He has decided to play the banjo! That's who he is and was.

Apparently, if there's one person who hates the wealth and the privilege, it has to be Charles Blow. In the closing paragraph of his column, he links himself to Maya Angelou, so great is his devotion to these heartfelt themes:

BLOW: Maya Angelou once said that whenever she embarked on a project, she brought everyone who had ever been kind to her with her, not physically, but spiritually. In the same way, whenever I sit down to write, everyone who has ever struggled as I have sits down with me.

As with Steinbeck's Preacher Casey—no known relation—so too here!

For the record, it may well be that Blow does "hate the wealth and the privilege" in some manner or other. We'll only say that he doesn't seem to write about institutional disasters like those which Journalist Casey described in the Holmes County schools. 

Nor does he write about the kids who attend low-income schools right there in New York City. In fairness, no one in the upper-class press corps writes about such topics either. 

In reality, no one cares about those kids here within our self-impressed tribe, and this fact has been apparent for a very long time.

As a general matter, columnists don't bare their souls in heartfelt columns like the one Blow wrote. To our ear, it didn't necessarily ring entirely true.

In general, though, blue commenters loved it. The first two offered these remarks:

COMMENTER FROM YONKERS: A beautifully expressed and written tour-de-soul. I am reminded of the words of Invictus ... [quotation deleted]

COMMENTER FROM WASHINGTON STATE: ...You write for me.  And for all of us who hunt for your columns and re-read most of them.  You write for the voiceless, and for the marginalized and for those who need to listen to your stories because their lived experience is so far removed from yours.  You write to be certain the banjo is heard in the great orchestra of opinions and reporting.  You write to bring compassion and reason and balance and perspective to counterbalance the noise of right-wing media and ignorant pundits.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Some commenters did offer dissents, including some from a conservative direction. But one blue reader after another thanked Blow, a national treasure, for baring his soul in this way.

Why did Blow write this somewhat unusual column that day? We can't answer your question. 

We did think of his previous column, and of some pushback he had received. In print editions, it had been published two days before and it stirred unrest in the ranks.

Blow's previous column was a rumination on 9/11. Many liberal commenters were puzzled by the column, which bore this slightly odd headline:

Our Children Will Never Know the Innocence We Knew

Blow's thesis was that the 9/11 attacks "changed us, fundamentally," removing our previous innocence. He closed by saying this:

BLOW (9/11/21): People of my generation will never know again what my children’s generation only tasted: an innocence and obliviousness about threat and danger. I am—we all are—covered forever with a bit of the ash from those towers.

His children's generation had "tasted an innocence and obliviousness about threat and danger," an innocence and obliviousness which was blown away that day? His own generation had apparently known that innocence over a much longer period.

Taken literally, this struck us as a peculiar statement. In part, it seemed to contradict a prevailing tribal theme about racial danger—a tribal theme which has the advantage of being largely accurate. Many readers took it that way and roasted Blow in comments.

Two day later, Blow was out with "Why I Write." As we read it, we thought of another possible oddity in the 9/11 column—a possible oddity which fewer commenters mentioned.

We had been struck by the point at the time. The passage in question was this:

BLOW: A couple of weeks after the attack, I went to dinner at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, just a mile or two from ground zero, where the massive mound of rubble where the twin towers once stood was still simmering. You could smell the metal in the air.

Hugh Hefner was also at the restaurant that night, surrounded by a group of women who looked remarkably similar. Other women occasionally made their way from their tables to his, smiling and laughing and posing for pictures.

I thought for a moment: Could there be a shoulder shrug any more symbolic and uniquely American than Hefner hamming it up in a banquette full of blondes? Was this what “not letting the terrorists win” looked like?

No, it wasn’t. This whole battle of optics was a fiction. Of course the terrorists had achieved their goal of forever altering us. I, like most Americans, would have to admit that I, too, was irrevocably changed.

We were surprised by that passage. In some ways, it surprised us to think that Blow was dining out within weeks of 9/11 at all. Mainly, though, it surprised us to learn that, as far back as 2001, he was dining in a restaurant which sounded a bit like an upper-end Manhattan celebrity joint.

Several commenters mentioned that very point. Two days later, to the applause of the crowd, Blow explained who he actually is, but also why he writes.

One blue commenter after another swallowed that second column whole. Anthropologists say that we humans tend to be like that—that we tend to believe the things our anointed tribal leaders tell us, especially at times of partisan war.

(According those same experts, we shouldn't reflexively trust tribal leaders. Red and blue alike, however, we humans tend to underperform with respect to this very key skill.)

At any rate, no one has written about Parks' report, and no one ever will. Manifestly, no one cares about the kids who attend those horrific Holmes County schools, or about their parents and aunts, some of whom, to this day, are struggling with rural deep poverty.

Your lizard may say that our assessment is wrong. But Parks' essay connects to no ongoing discussion, and you will never see her essay mentioned ever again.

You'll never see it mentioned! At the Times, they worry about who might get to go to Yale, and they worry about no one else. These are blindingly obvious facts, except to the tribally blinded. 

In closing, two disclosures:

"Hef" may have been dining at Arby's that night!  We don't know where Blow chose to dine that night, or who else might have chosen to dine there.

Also, we don't know the state of Charles Blow's soul. We assume he's a good, decent person, but he mainly produces tribal stock about loathing The Very Bad Others, and he never writes about the type of deep rural poverty which afflicts the Holmes County schools.

In fairness, neither does anyone else. Here in our tribe, as everyone knows, we simply don't care about topics like that, except as a matter of theory.

Also this: As David Brooks notes today, Orwell wrote a famous essay entitled, "Why I Write." 

Blow is aligned with Angelou. Is he aligned with Orwell too?