Fourteen independents speak to the Times!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2022

The things they don't care about: The New York Times has opened a new "focus group" division. This may or may not make sense.

Last week, the Times published edited transcripts from discussions with two different groups—one group of nine Democrats, and another group of eight Republicans. 

Today, they've published an edited transcript of a discussion with fourteen independents. Everyone in the group had voted at least one time for Obama and at least one time for Trump.

A person can only learn so much from such limited discussions with such small numbers of people. Here's one part of today's transcript which is largely a waste of time:

(Moderator) Frank Luntz: Anthony Fauci, who has a positive view towards him?

[Five people raise their hands.]

Luntz: Who’s got a negative view of Anthony Fauci?

[Eight people raise their hands.]

In this fourteen-person group, five had a positive view of Fauci; eight had a negative view. But that's the kind of up/down question which can be part of a standard survey with a much larger number of respondents. It doesn't make a lot of sense to pose a question like that to such a small group.

On the other hand, there are certain things you can take away from this sort of exercise. For starters, we would suggest this:

Many perfectly decent people are highly "unsophisticated" regarding national policy and politics. 

Many people—this includes people of all political leanings—don't follow "the news" with great care. In discussions like these, it shows! This can be both instructive and sobering.

That said, "God must have loved the common people, he made so many of them!" (Famous apocryphal quote.) Reading the transcript of this discussion, we'll suggest that you notice how little these people seem to care about the topics which dominate our blue state "cable news."

They don't seem to care about getting Trump locked up:

During this discussion, the moderators never ask about the million-and-one investigations which dominate our blue tribe cable news. But no one in this focus group shows any sign of wanting to voice such concerns.

They don't seem to care about January 6:

Moderator Patrick Healy did ask about January 6. Here's the full text of the (edited) exchange:

(Moderator) Patrick Healy: The anniversary of Jan. 6 was pretty recent. How concerned are you that in the next presidential election there will be some kind of attempt to undermine the election, to change the outcome of the election, violence, or are you not concerned about that?

Jules: I am not concerned. I also did not think that Jan. 6 was remotely the disaster that it’s being made out to be.

Nick: I’m not too concerned. We’ve always had those issues, with chads in Florida. There’s always been questions about what’s been called into our elections and said that they were unfair.

Dickie: I’m only concerned if Trump is running again. I think our elections are safer now than they’ve ever been and more tabulated.

Alice: I’m not concerned. The United States knows how to lock things down.

Our tribe puts tremendous stress on this topic, perhaps for very good reasons. Whatever a person may think about that point of concern, these people don't seem to have heard.

These fourteen people are among the people who show up and vote. The topics on which our corporate stars focus don't seem to be on their radar.

By the same token, our corporate stars show very few signs of caring about average people. On a nightly basis, they maintain an amazingly blinkered, insider discussion—a discussion in which one vastly overpaid insider group wages war on another.

The topics on which our cable stars focus may well be important (or not). But our cable stars seem to care about nothing—and no one—else.

All fourteen of these people voted for Obama at least once. Based on the way they responded to several questions, they don't seem to be tilting that way now.

In the comments sections at our tribe's sites, we routinely call such people names. This has been part of our failing tribe's culture for a very long time now. 

It's part of our culture to name-call such people. Disconsolate experts widely say that this isn't going to change.


OUR OWN RHODES SCHOLAR'S FRAMEWORK: The piffle was already general that night!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2022

Our Own Scholar gave us more: Last Wednesday night, on blue state cable, everyone knew what the day's key bit of "breaking news" had been.

As we detailed yesterday, all the stars began the same way as they helped us get ready for bed. On CNN at 8 P.M. Eastern, Anderson opened as shown:

COOPER (1/12/22): Good evening. We begin tonight with breaking news that is not only a major step in the January 6th investigation but could also be a clear sign of where the House Select Committee is taking it.

The Committee late today asking the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to volunteer information about communications he had with the former president and the White House—former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on and around the day.

Exciting! The committee had asked McCarthy to please volunteer information concerning Donald J. Trump. 

By 10 P.M., McCarthy had of course said no. But "the breaking news" had been intensely pleasurable for the few hours it lasted.

The stars of blue state "cable news" have been selling us this childish gruel for more than five years now. We always seem to be moments away from the exciting break in the case which will bring Donald J. Trump to his knees—or Rudy, or maybe Ivanka, or Meadows, or maybe one of Trump's friends.

They keep selling us this product. We keep gulping it down. 

This approach has been good for ratings and profits, possibly quite bad for politics. Last Wednesday, the enjoyment was general (until 10 P.M.), with McCarthy now center stage.

In all this sameness, there has always been one "cable news" star from whom we liberals can expect to get a little bit more. In truth, Our Own Rhodes Scholar had always been a little bit different, if she and her parents did say so themselves:

BAIRD (12/1/08): Maddow was, according to her parents, a curious, serious child who never spoke baby talk. When her mother, Elaine, would walk into the kitchen to prepare breakfast, the 4-year-old Rachel would be perched on a stool, with her nightgown and bed socks on, reading the newspaper. Maddow remembers when she was 7, standing in front of their black-and-white television during the 1980 election and loathing Ronald Reagan, although she is not sure why now: "All I remember is the feeling of dislike," she says, laughing. "Maybe I have reverse-engineered it into my memory." As a teenager, her dreams revolved around basketball, swimming and volleyball—she wanted to be an Olympic athlete until a serious injury dashed her hopes. She was a fierce performer who insisted on playing through injuries and amassed a collection of crutches of varying heights. When she wanted to learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels, she circled the streets day and night. Her father, Bob, says it took one weekend.

When Chairman Mao swam the Yangtze, it is said that Maddow was there—and that she swam it faster! Only later did her three-sport Olympic dreams die.

Beyond that, she was the TV star who didn't own a TV set! (Not that she was saying that she was smarter than everyone else.) 

That passage comes from Julia Baird's lengthy profile of Maddow in Newsweek, written at a time when Newsweek was still a major entity. We're assuming that Baird gave an accurate account of the various things she'd been told, but many such profiles were written of Maddow as she became the undisputed darling of our failing tribe.

The star was even weirdly praised in the New Yorker for "her performance of the Rachel figure." As our self-impressed tribe continued to fail, she was sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar, and she was always a little bit more. 

So it was last Wednesday night. As everyone else pretended that the "breaking news" about McCarthy was a very big deal and was very important, Our Scholar found a way to go along—but also to make our pleasure more.

In truth, her endless opening monologue that night was built around that same "breaking news"—but she didn't mention the committee's request to McCarthy until she was a bit more nine minutes in. 

The schadenfreude and the tribal pleasure were still built around McCarthy. But using a wide array of tools, Rachel made our pleasure more.

On this one cable program this night, a whole new framework was built around the miseries of McCarthy. Wonderfully enjoyably, the cable star started like this:

MADDOW (1/12/22): And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here.

You know, it is not the kind of problem that should come up all that often in politics. I mean, it happens from time to time, but really it seems like the kind of thing that would arise maybe, if you had a long career, it might arise once during your career. I mean, maybe if you had a really long career, it might arise twice if you were particularly star-crossed.

But people would talk about it because that's crazy. I mean, it's just a rare thing. At least it ought to be a very rare thing.

But for House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, it must feel like it happens all the time to him. In his time as a Republican leader in the House of Representatives, it has happened three times in the past five years already, and now it looks like it might happen to him a fourth time.

So completely enjoyable, and just so wonderfully cool! We were still allowed to focus on McCarthy, but we got to start with a type of mystery to solve.

Something had happened to him three times—and now, it looked like whatever it was might happen to him a fourth! Never mind the pair of qualifiers—this was good solid fun!

All over our childish "cable news" world, the stars had gone directly to the committee's request that McCarthy should share information. On her program, Maddow didn't mention that "breaking news" until nine minutes and 15 seconds had passed,

During that opening 9:15, she constructed a totally different framework concerning McCarthy's (imagined) miseries. Along the way, she misrepresented basic facts; wasted time on total trivia; went crazily over the top in praise of the brilliance of her cable and network colleagues; took a major flier on a very shaky speculation about another widely loathed Republican figure; and generally played the cosmic fool in the way she quite frequently does.

Tomorrow, as our week reaches its end, we'll run you through the various parts of this monumentally stupid nine minutes. We're speaking of nine minutes in which this multimillionaire TV star could have been discussing something of real importance—but she decided to play it this way, chuckling as she went.

Sitting at home, in our failing communities, we liberals have never quite been able to see what a clown Our Own Scholar quite frequently is. She has played us again and again, possibly with the best of intentions.

She should have been off the air long go. Those nine minutes provide one example.

Tomorrow: False, misleading, speculative—and just amazingly stupid


The way our liberal party talks!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2022

The way our press corps reasons: For ourselves, we know of no major reason to eliminate voting by drop box.

In the now-famous 2020 election, we voted by drop box ourselves! There may be a slight administrative cost involved in supplying and maintaining drop boxes. But barring some other substantial objection, we'd favor extending the practice.

Then again, there's this:

If a person can deliver his ballot by way of a mail box, we don't exactly know why you absolutely have to have a drop box in the neighborhood too. We cite this point because of what we saw Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) say during today's Senate "debate."

We didn't see Bennet's entire address, but we didn't much like what we saw. He was boasting about the fact that they have a lot of drop boxes in Denver. Also, he was saying—rather plainly, and perhaps a bit sneeringly—that Houston should have a lot of drop boxes too.

Quite often, that's the way we liberals talk. We're very, very, very sure that we're the good and bright and decent people, and that you pretty much aren't.

In fact, we aren't nearly as bright as we think. Our tribe has been proving that for decades. We prove it in our public "discussions" every single day of the week, but only The Others can see this.

At any rate, we didn't much like what we saw Bennet say. To our ear, it was snooty and dumb. (For a much better tone, see Jon Tester.)

That said, don't make us go on to "the way our press corps reasons." It was going to take us back to such unexplained questions as this:

Two years along in the endless pandemic, what the heck is "a fitted mask?"

Restating our original point: Personally, we would favor the use of drop boxes. Did your lizard allow you to see that?


TOP RHODES SCHOLAR MUGS AND CLOWNS: The stars all knew how to open their shows!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2022

The Scholar made us wait: Last Wednesday night—it was Wednesday evening, January 12—all the hosts on anti-Trump "cable news" knew how to open their TV programs.

Everyone knew what the key event had been that day! On CNN, at 8 P.M. Eastern, Anderson opened like this:

COOPER (1/12/22): Good evening. We begin tonight with breaking news that is not only a major step in the January 6th investigation but could also be a clear sign of where the House Select Committee is taking it.

The Committee late today asking the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to volunteer information about communications he had with the former President and the White House—former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows on and around the day.

Now, McCarthy as you know could have volumes to say about what the former President was saying and thinking as violent supporters assaulted the Capitol.

He was on the phone with him begging him to call off the mob he incited, only to be answered with the following, quote: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." That's according to a Republican congresswoman who memorialized the exchange and notes at the time.

According to Cooper, this "breaking news" had been "a major step."

In fact, this "breaking news" could hardly have been much more underwhelming. The January 6 committee had asked Kevin McCarthy to volunteer information about his communications with former president Donald J. Trump! 

This "breaking news" could hardly have been less impressive. Consider:

The committee hadn't received any information from McCarthy about those communications. For that reason, the committee hadn't released any information on that topic.

Also, the committee hadn't subpoenaed McCarthy—hadn't issued a formal order that he should provide information. The committee had merely invited him to do so, possibly saying "please" as they did—and this request would be turned down before the evening was done.

This "breaking news" could hardly have been any less significant. Still, it neatly fit industry guidelines for prime time cable news product.

This "breaking news" was the type of product blue state cable had been selling us for years, dating back to the days when the fiercely independent Robert Mueller was going to lock Trump up.

Night after night, then year after year, the silly stars who people our cable had been pleasuring us with dreams of Trump's impending legal destruction. After Mueller crashed and burned, the silly stars on whom we rely moved on to other such empty assurances.

For the past five years, this has been the pleasing pablum with which they'd been sending us off to bed. And so, on this latest enchanted evening, all the vacuous cable news stars knew they should start their TV shows with this utterly pointless piddle, concerning which the wide range of non-tribal voters take no interest at all.

The stars all knew where to start that night. On CNN, Erin Burnett had started her show the same way, one hour before Cooper:

Erin Burnett, CNN: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Outfront tonight, the January 6 Select Committee raising the stakes, asking the House Minority Leader to meet with them, offering up to specific dates for his testimony. 

And here's their letter tonight to the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. They write, "We write to request your voluntary cooperation on a range of critical topics, including your conversations with President Trump."

So it's about five and a quarter pages here....

It was five and a quarter pages! The committee had raised the stakes by making that request!

And no, it wasn't just CNN. Over on The One True Channel, the 6, 7 and 8 P.M. stars had opened their programs as shown:

Ari Melber, MSNBC: Welcome to The Beat. I am Ari Melber.

We begin with breaking news in the January 6 probe. Congressional investigators are making it clear they want to hear from numero uno, Trump ally and the leader of the House Republicans Kevin McCarthy. They have asked him for an interview. That would be testimony, a big deal, as well as cooperation and provide information.

And they also are signaling, as they have in some of these other dramatic letters—there was the one that went out to Sean Hannity and other people—the information they have already gathered.

Joy Reid, MSNBC: Okay, good evening, everyone. We begin The ReidOut tonight with big news from the select committee. They have officially requested cooperation from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in their investigation of January 6th.

Now, while it's not a subpoena, it is a necessary step given McCarthy's extensive communications with Trump, including a phone call while the siege was underway. 

Chris Hayes, MSNBCGood evening from New York. I'm Chris Hayes. The committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is asking that the top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, come and give them testimony before them.

This is the man poised to become Speaker of the House should Republicans take back control in the midterm elections later this year, which is certainly a strong possibility. But before that happens, they want to hear about what McCarthy knows about the insurrection.

Hat in hand, the committee was asking McCarthy to testify; it would be "a big deal" if he did! Their letter constituted "big news." It had been "dramatic!"

The stars have been feeding us this gruel for more than five years now. By 10 P.M., the buzzkill had been delivered, though a good time had been had by all:

Don Lemon, CNN: This is Don Lemon Tonight. And here is our breaking news. 

We're watching the Djokovic decision that should come down during the show and we'll get you on that. But the big breaking news, Kevin McCarthy—you know who he is—he says that he will not cooperate with the January 6th committee, claiming that the committee's only objective is, and I quote here, "to attempt to damage its political opponents."

In fact, the committee is charged with getting to the truth of what happened on January 6th and who is responsible. The committee believes that McCarthy knows more than he is telling about January 6th and the days leading up to it and the then president's state of mind.

So, from the committee's letter, I have it right here and I quote, it says....

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, Lemon said as he continued. Forget the tennis fight for now. This was the big breaking news!

Again, it wasn't just CNN. Over at The One True Channel, Lawrence listed the names of his upcoming guests, then formally started as shown:

Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC: All of that is coming up. But the breaking news of the night is that Kevin McCarthy has proved himself a liar once again. After last year saying he would testify to a committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, tonight, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is refusing to testify to the committee.

In a written statement tonight, Kevin McCarthy said he is refusing to cooperate with the committee because the committee, quote, "wants to interview me about public statements that have been shared with the world and private conversations not remotely related to the violence that unfolded at the capitol. I have nothing else to add."

Lawrence always calls someone a liar. He can be sharper than the others, but that's the value he reliably adds.

Back to our basic point! The stars all knew how to open their TV shows this evening. Last night, everyone opened their shows the same way, with the exciting news about some actual subpoenas, which may simply be ignored.

Here in our utterly childish tribal world, the story has long been the same. Mueller is days away from locking Trump up. (He already has his tax records!) Or maybe Ivanka will get locked up. Or maybe those fake electors! (The ones the Michigan Attorney General doesn't seem willing to charge.)

This silly gruel gets ladled out night after night after night. It's the way we get sent off to bed, possibly alienated from the interests, frameworks, needs and concerns of the wider range of voters.

These investigations are actual news—but to us, they're the only news. Last Wednesday night, the various stars all knew that the dramatic letter about the request had been the day's breaking news. 

That said, one big star within the stable knew how to stretch out this "news." That major star was Rachel Maddow, best known as Our Own Rhodes Scholar. 

This major star had been a bit different—a little bit more—ever since she seceded from Tucker Carlson and set sail on cable news on her own.

She'd been reading the newspaper since she was 4—and she never talked baby talk. She'd never owned a TV set. More on these signs tomorrow. 

More on those auguries tomorrow! But on this latest special night, she too would build her endless opening spiel around that request to McCarthy—but she wouldn't specifically mention this breaking news until she was nine minutes in.

This particular cable star always offers a little bit more. On this evening, she mugged and clowned, and misled and misinformed viewers, for a full nine minutes and 15 seconds before she unveiled the day's major news.

Based upon that very strange nine minutes, she may have been having one of those possibly manic nights. At any rate, she mugged and clowned and entertained and gave us a look at one of the reasons why this nation's in big trouble—why we may be sinking fast.

Tomorrow: The Scholar's opening framework


"Civilization is fragile," he thoughtfully said!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2022

A bit later on, he helped prove it: "Civilization is fragile." 

Tucker Carlson said that last night, midway through his hour-long program on Fox.

That's a very important and accurate point. Late in his program, Carlson proceeded to prove it. 

Journalist Charlie LeDuff claims that he has unearthed a scandal in Michigan. We don't know if LeDuff's claims are accurate.

After speaking with LeDuff, Carlson transitioned directly to a new topic.  Here's what he said at that point. 

CARLSON (1/17/22): You see the point. It just took one person who was interested and aggressive to get to the truth.

And that matters! The truth does matter.

Well, speaking of the truth, this is a story we're going to look back at with jaws open. The city of Washington, D.C. is threatening to fire all members of its fire department who don't have the mandated number of injections, despite the fact they don't work.

Despite the fact they don't work! Having said that vaccination doesn't work, Carlson interviewed a D.C. firefighter about the department's mandate policy.

During that brief transition, Carlson stressed the fact that the truth really does matter. He quickly proceeded to make a wildly inaccurate statement about a matter of life and death.

Earlier, Carlson had said that civilization is fragile. Our own civilization is now breaking down under the weight of assaults of this type.

The truth is also shaded and misstated every night of the week on our own tribe's "cable news" channels. Two tribes of corporate pundits have long since gone to war with each other. Civilization is coming undone under the weight of their conduct.

Carlson's strange conduct is hard to explain. You may think our pundits are better.

Such an assessment could even be right. Given the trouble this nation is in, we need something much better than that, and it's very unlikely we'll get it.

Are our pundits, pols and academics really up to that task? We see no sign that they actually are, and a "silent secession" is proceeding apace everywhere else that we look.

Fuller disclosure: Many viewers don't know that they're being misled when they hear comments like Carlson's. They feel quite sure they can't trust us. They believe that they can trust him.


SCHOLAR MISSTATES AND CLOWNS: We were given Our Own Rhodes Scholar!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2022

Last Wednesday, she mugged and she clowned: We're so old that we can remember the start of Our Own Rhodes Scholar's career in the racket called "cable news."

She got her start as a sidekick for Tucker Carlson! The leading authority on her career recalls her arrival as shown:

"In June 2005, Maddow became a regular panelist on the MSNBC show Tucker, hosted by Tucker Carlson." 

Actually, Carlson's MSNBC program had a different name at that time.  In real time, Larry Parnass offered a fuller account of the matter in the Daily Hampshire (Mass.) Gazette:

PARNASS (6/15/05): Broadcaster Rachel Maddow of Cummington, who got her start on [local] airwaves, is now working both ends of her day to inject a liberal perspective into the day's news.

On Monday night, Maddow, who spends her weeks in New York City, debuted as a regular panelist on a new MSNBC cable TV show, ''The Situation with Tucker Carlson.''

Maddow is now closing her weekdays with the TV program, which runs from 9 to 10 p.m. daily, after opening them with her nationally syndicated drive-time program on the Air America Radio network.

She said Tuesday she expects to appear on Carlson's program four or five nights a week. The MSNBC studios are in Secaucus, N.J., across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan.

In fairness, Carlson was substantially less ridiculous then. In total fairness, the same was true of Our Own Rhodes Scholar. 

Today, the cablemates have risen to the top of the ranks in so-called cable news. Over at Fox, Carlson is the top-rated personality in the entire field. The Scholar is the highly popular, top-rated personality at MSNBC. 

When Maddow was ascending to prominence, she was being sold to us liberals as Our Own Rhodes Scholar. She was just so super smart, we were persistently told.

A vast array of gong-show incidents followed. Offhand, we think of the week-and-a-half of teabagger jokes, often aimed at regular people, one of the ugliest episodes we've ever seen on cable.

We think of her ludicrous feigned incomprehension concerning her misstatement the previous day, on Meet the Press, about the gender pay gap.

We think of her claim that she only bought her first TV set because she and Susan got blackout drunk—so drunk that neither one could remember going online and ordering the infernal machine.

We think of the way she kept playing Governor Bentley's thrilling sex phone call tape, repeatedly claiming that she was embarrassed and that she'd never play the (utterly pointless) audiotape again.

There have been many other ludicrous incidents and episodes. Those four come quickly to mind. (Don't make us think about Flint.)

Sadly, the network vouched for The Scholar's ridiculous story about buying that first TV set. So it goes when someone in corporate "cable news" is exceptionally gifted at the skill of "selling the car," as it's known on corporate suites.

Maddow was sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar. Steadily, she has evolved into Our Own Cable News Clown. 

On a nightly basis, she provides us with tribalized entertainment, along with highly selective presentations in support of preferred Storyline. We love her for providing these gifts, much as The Others love Tucker.

The mugging and clowning are quite persistent. So is the sheer stupidity The Scholar now brings to her nightly air—and so it was last Wednesday night, during her first nine minutes.

Last Wednesday night, Our Own Rhodes Scholar may perhaps have been enjoying one of her "manic" outings. She opened with reference to a minor but pleasing news event, as did everyone else on pseudo-liberal cable that night. 

She opened with that minor news event. But dear God, the wonderful, mindless fun which prevailed in the program's first nine minutes, before the fabulous cable news star even identified the evening's key  event!

We'll speak this week of those first nine minutes—more precisely, of that evening's first 9:15. She mugged and clowned and misstated freely, giving us ways to feel all warm and cuddly as we tucked ourselves in for bed.

Over on Fox, her former partner may have been engaged in even more ludicrous conduct; we don't plan to go back and look. This week, we'll be talking about our own tribal star—about the product she keeps providing as she allegedly prepares to go off the air.

In that opening 9:15, she mugged and clowned and misstated facts and handed us tribal pleasure. In the next three days, we'll walk you through different aspects of that performance, recalling what Jon Stewart said:

Long ago and far away, he once told the rising star to stop all the cable news clowning. Her job was more important than his, he directly told her that night.

In that particular instance, we'd have to say Stewart was right.

At any rate, she started out as Our Own Rhodes Scholar. We were told she was just super bright.

We think you should see where this experiment has gone. Our nation is sliding into the sea, and the way we've enjoyed Our Own Clown's work is an unmistakable part of that ongoing major disaster.

Tomorrow: As she starts, an idiotic framework


Sometimes our values sound strange to The Others...

MONDAY, JANUARY 17, 2022

...perhaps because they are: We didn't know the late Bob Saget, although we did hire and host him, for one weekend, a very long time ago.

We think it may have been our comedy club's anniversary weekend in November 1987. If that's correct, he was already well-known in the comedy world, but his very large fame and popularity—the result of the sitcom Full House and the TV show called America's Funniest Home Videos—wouldn't have happened yet.

In the past week, we've been very impressed by the (very large) number of people who have said he was the nicest guy and the best friend in the world. We also know how strange the headline shown below will sound to a wide range of Others:

The Sublime Beauty of My Friend Bob Saget’s Filthy Comedy

That's the headline on a guest essay in today's New York Times. The essay was written by Penn Jillette, who seems like a very nice person.

That said:

It's amazing to see how hard our tribe is sometimes willing to work to advance and advertise our outré, offbeat values and inclinations. In this case, that includes our love of "filthy comedy," a love affair which sometimes seems to overlap with other values we say we disapprove of.

What exactly was the "sublime beauty" of which Gillette's headline speaks? Gillette, who seems like a thoroughly good and decent person, opens his essay like this:

The Sublime Beauty of My Friend Bob Saget’s Filthy Comedy

My children are teenagers, ages 15 and 16, and they know the comic Bob Saget was my friend. They know he died earlier this week, and that I’m grieving. They want to comfort me. But when they saw clips of Bob on the internet, making hard-core jokes about pedophilia and incest, they were offended. They thought my friend must have been a bad person, and it was hard for them to understand how I could have loved him.

I don’t know if I can blame them. How could they understand that doing transgressive comedy was, in Bob’s hands, not about hate and pain but, rather, a daredevil act of mutual trust?

We're inclined to say, as a general matter, that Gillette's kids are right to be a bit suspicious of the impulse to give voice to "hard-core jokes about pedophilia and incest." As a general matter, we sometimes find that such impulses overlap with values and impulses which may not be entirely decent, respectful, healthy. Progressive.

Gillette say it wasn't that way with Bob Saget at all. As far as we know, he's entirely right—and we think his kids should listen to what their father says about his dear and departed friend.

That said, we don't think Gillette does a very good job explaining that "sublime beauty"—the "sublime beauty" involved in the fact that his friend, onstage and possibly off, "told filthy, disgusting, offensive jokes."

Where and when did that "sublime beauty" enter the scene? After some foofaw about Allen Ginsberg, Gillette is soon telling us this:

GILLETTE: I first got to know Bob when we were shooting “The Aristocrats,” an arty documentary from 2005 where we recorded comics telling the filthiest version they could of an inside comedy joke. It was a joke that comics loved—Johnny Carson was a big fan—but was never told to the public. It was meant for other comedians—siblings who understood the fun challenge of pushing boundaries while keeping trust.

Johnny Carson was a big fan of the joke! It's also true that, entirely brilliant though Carson was at what he did in the world of show business, his gender politics—at the Tonight Show and in real life—weren't necessarily always the absolute best.

We think Gillette's kids should retain their sense of concern, but should also listen to what their father has to tell them. Regarding their father's fairly ridiculous search for that "sublime beauty," we will only say this:

All too often, something makes our tribe work very hard to show The Others how remarkably different we are.  (We're often so inclined with respect to our high regard for the work of various types of "artists.")

That headline in the New York Times is going to sound rather strange to some of The Others. It's typical fare for the New York Times—but in this case, can anyone say that The Others are necessarily all that wrong?

Does "sublime beauty" lurk in "filthy jokes?" Except when we're remembering very dear friends, does anybody really believe that? And does anyone think such things but us, over here in our failing tribe?


STARTING TOMORROW: Rhodes Scholar's first nine minutes!

MONDAY, JANUARY 17, 2022

"Everybody can be great," Dr. King once said: Covid officially hit this nation during the second week of March, in the year 2020.

(On March 11, the NBA suspended its season. Everyone else followed suit.)

As such, it has been almost two years since the pandemic officially started. And yet, consider what readers will encounter in print editions of this morning's New York Times.

In print editions, the featured report in the "National" sections appears beneath the banner headline shown below. Have we mentioned the fact that it's been two years since the pandemic started?

How to Find a Quality Mask (and Avoid Counterfeits)

Two years later—after 850,000 deaths—the New York Times is treating this as the primary topic in its "National" section today. For the vast majority of Times subscribers, this will seem to make perfect sense.

The full report by Tara Parker-Pope consumes the entirety of page A12—the first page in today's National section. This strikes us as very strange news judgment, but the Times is hardly alone. 

Last Friday, the Washington Post published two lengthy news reports under the following headlines:

CDC says N95 masks offer far better protection than cloth masks against omicron variant

How often can you safely reuse your KN95 or N95 mask?

Two years in, the CDC was reporting that the sky is blue and the grass is green when it comes to protection from masks. The Post was supplementing the CDC's Rep Van Winkle-style report with a Winkle report all its own—a report which told us readers, two years later, how often we can safely reuse a mask.

In fairness, no—it isn't just the Post and the Times (and the CDC) who are arriving at the scene of the blaze roughly two years later. This morning, scanning through New York magazine's Intelligencer site, we found a similar report by Charles Danner, a report which appeared last Friday. 

Danner is saying the sky is blue too! On its front page, the Intelligencer summarizes the report through this pair of headlines: 

Seriously, Upgrade Your Face Mask 
Omicron is everywhere. Infectious disease doctor Abraar Karan explains why it's long past time to start wearing high-filtration respirators like N95s.

Seriously though, folks! You need to upgrade those masks—and Danner has found a doctor who can tell you why.

Danner's report appears two years later. That second headline introduces a narrower, but highly revealing, second point of concern.

In that sub-headline, the Intelligencer uses an unexplained technical term. More specifically, it uses a term which has gone unexplained for the past two years.

In that sub-headline, the Intelligencer says we should start wearing "respirators." More specifically, we should start using "high-filtration respirators like N95s."

As far as we know, that's excellent advice. Of course, that has also been excellent advice all through the past two years.

That said, treat yourself to a research project on this latest King Day. Go out and survey a thousand people on the street where you live:

Ask them to explain the difference between a "respirator" and a "mask." Ask them if there actually is a difference.

See if five people out of a thousand can answer those basic questions. Then, read through the four lengthy reports to which we've offered links today. All four use that unfamiliar term without explaining what it means, creating confusion and incomprehension as they go. 

(You'll find other obvious questions going unaddressed, unexplained.)

All four reports use that unfamiliar term "respirator" without explaining what the term actually means. For what it's worth, we've been marveling at this widespread breakdown in journalistic competence for at least the past year.

No one knows what a "respirator" is—but none of our high-end journalists seem to have recognized the fact that this unfamiliar technical term should perhaps be defined at some point. They simply plow ahead, offering their contributions to this latest source of incomprehension—to the types of confusion which plague all attempts at public discourse here in our failing land.

What the heck is a "respirator?" How the heck does a "respirator" differ from a mere mask? In an intellectually competent world, answering these questions would be a blindingly obvious part of the basic blocking and tackling of basic, front-line reporting.

For at least a year at this point, we've marveled at the way our front-line journalists fail to see the need to explain this widely-used technical term. The woods are lovely, dark and deep—but our society's intellectual skills are just extremely limited, and we're all paying the price.

Long ago and far away, Dr. King made an important true statement. His statement went like this:

DR. KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.

You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

Dr. King spoke to, and for, a constituency which had often been denied the fruits of formal "education." In this statement, he was affirming the fact of their moral greatness.

Meanwhile, it's certainly true:

A person doesn't need to be "educated"—doesn't need to be formally skilled—to be morally great. That said, a giant modern society can't expect to function successfully in the widespread absence of basic intellectual and journalistic skills.

As a people, we simply don't have such skills; that fact is increasingly clear. Simply put, we never have a serious discussion of any major issue at all. Simply put, intelligent discussion plays no role—none at all—in our failing national discourse.

Our skill levels don't permit such discussions. As a people, we go straight to tribal narrative—to fabulized novelizations, to Storyline all the way down. We complain about the other tribe's novels while reveling in the pleasures supplied by our own.

Everywhere President Roosevelt looked, he saw "one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Everywhere we look today, we see a failed attempt at public discussion.

We'll focus on Rachel Maddow this week to show you one of the ways this works. But no, a modern society can't function this way. Things may be coming apart.

Tomorrow: Last Wednesday's first nine minutes—protagonist introduced


"We must not be enemies," Lincoln once said!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 15, 2022

Next year in Sarajevo: We well remember, with great clarity, the first time we read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

We were standing in the Lincoln Memorial with a group of Baltimore fifth-graders. The full text of the short address is carved into one of the building's walls.

We were stunned to think that anyone had ever said any such thing in public. Essentially, Lincoln said this:

We in the North did this too.

As Lincoln delivered that address, he had only a few weeks to live. In search of balance, we should note the miscalculation this president made at the end of his First Inaugural Address.

Lincoln's more famous second address was delivered in poetry. The first was delivered in prose. 

At one point, he almost seemed to affirm the "revolutionary right" of the Southern states to attempt to secede, if they so chose. But at the end his speech, he said this:

LINCOLN (1861): I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

We are not enemies, Lincoln said. Within a matter of weeks, the nation was at war, with an astonishing death toll to follow.

For better or worse—consider the outcomes!—the better angels of our nature didn't keep us from mounting that war. In the present day, those better angels are perhaps being tested again. 

Meanwhile, can anyone here play this game? As a people—as a species—do we have the moral and intellectual skills to maintain a grossly imperfect "democracy" under current circumstances?

We'd planned to suggest that the answer may be no. But we think we'll leave it there for today, with this added note:

In the end, any large nation has to run on the fuel of comity. At least to some minimal extent, its citizens have to fall back on the sense that they constitute an actual "people," that they are fellow citizens. On the sense that they aren't enemies, but are something a bit more like friends.

"We must not be enemies," Lincoln advised. For today's most interesting news report, we recommend a fascinating profile of filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, who is negotiating questions like these within the deeply fraught Bosnian context.

The profile appears in today's New York Times. The types of dilemmas we're wrestling with obtain all over the world.


EXPERIMENT'S END: When President Kennedy went to Berlin...

FRIDAY, JANUARY 14, 2022

...some challenges may have been simpler: Is the nation in which we all live "coming apart at the seams?"

We're not sure how to answer your question. To some extent, it all depends on what the meaning of "coming apart at the seams" is!

That said, today's New York Times includes two columns which explicitly suggest that we're "coming apart." 

One column appears beneath this headline:

We Need to Think the Unthinkable About Our Country

"The United States as we know it could come apart at the seams," that column's authors explicitly say. And then, there's the new column today by David Brooks. 

The headline there comes right out and says it. In this morning's New York Times, the David Brooks headline says this:

America Is Falling Apart at the Seams

In his column, Brooks presents a substantial list of indications that things are falling apart. He includes a steady rise in drug deaths and an alarming increase in hate crimes.

That said, why is our nation coming undone? After citing the usual suspects, Brooks says he just doesn't know:

BROOKS (1/14/22): What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.

We can round up the usual suspects: social media, rotten politics. When President Donald Trump signaled it was OK to hate marginalized groups, a lot of people were bound to see that as permission.

[...]

But there must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this. Over the past several years, and over a wide range of different behaviors, Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways. But why?

As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.

That's the way his column ends. He says the situation is dire.

We tend to agree with that assessment. Indeed, experts have been telling us, for quite a few years, that the game has already been lost. We began citing Norman O. Brown's dire words from 1966 (see below) as far back as 2009.

A "silent secession" has already happened, those major top scholars all tell us. Already, we've ceased to be a nation at all, let alone a functioning nation. This fact will only become more clear, these despondent top experts all say.

(Also in this morning's Times: "R.N.C. Signals a Pullout From Presidential Debates." The next step in the silent secession!)

To his credit, David Brooks says he doesn't know why this meltdown is happening. A few weeks back, we thought about this very question, and we came up with three major points.

For a reason we can't remember, our rumination was based around President Kennedy's trip to Berlin in June 1963. The president had five months left to live. When he gave his famous speech in Berlin, he lived in a quite different world:

Our nation's identity crisis: It's hard to remember how much more homogeneous the nation was at that time. 

We were a largely vanilla nation at the time of Kennedy's election. With a population of 180 million souls, we broke down roughly as shown in terms of ethnicity / "race:"

United States population, 1960
White: 84.5%
Black: 10.5%
Hispanic: 3.2%
Asian-American: 0.5%

Our family moved from Massachusetts to California in the summer of 1960. We were entering the eighth grade, and also a much better world.

Because of that move, we were lucky enough to go to school with Hispanic and Asian (and Jewish!) kids. And yes, our brand-new, baby-boom era, Cali high school had Hispanic and Asian pom-pom girls, Hispanic and Asian class presidents.

Eddie Diaz was our twenty-something basketball coach. At the time, he was the third-leading scorer in San Jose State history, though we mistakenly thought he stood first. 

Regional anomalies to the side, the nation was largely a two-race collection. Today, an amazing array of identities crowd the stage, and everyone has a complaint.

Those complaints may all be perfectly valid. But it's hard to run a giant nation with a gigantic array of identity groups—and the complaints will often be poorly stated, as it has been within our species ever since we first crawled on the land.

It's hard to run a very large nation which is demographically fragmented, whether by religion, language or "race." This isn't the "fault" of any particular person or group, but it's a fairly obvious fact, widely observed worldwide.

The democratization of media: Back then, there were two ways you could get your news, such as it was. You could get it from Walter Cronkite, or you could get it from David Brinkley. Those were your two basic choices.

Neither man was perfect, of course, but neither man was crazy. It was hard to hear ludicrous statements back then. Today, the promulgation of ludicrous statements and slanted frameworks is a gigantic growth industry.

Tucker Carlson is part of that powerful problem. So is Rachel Maddow. 

(So is the trusted professor whore recently told us that Kyle Rittenhouse was pursuing Joseph Rosenbaum on that unfortunate night in Kenosha. So is Ali Velshi, who let that ridiculous statement pass, as our favorite stars constantly do when they speak with their corporate and brand-assigned "friends.")

This sprawling democratization has been a type of disaster. On the brighter side, the profit margins and the salaries can be amazingly good at the top of the pile.

The external enemy rules: When President Kennedy went to Berlin, he derided the way the Soviet bloc had been forced to build walls around East Berlin to keep its citizens in. This made us look good by comparison:

KENNEDY (6/26/63): Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner." ["I am a Berliner."]

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. 

There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. 

And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. 

And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin!

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us... 

Our democracy isn't perfect, the vibrant young president said. Two months later, Birmingham Sunday occurred.

Still and all, the Soviet Union was the perfect external enemy. In first grade, we'd been taught to hide beneath our desks if or when the nuclear war ever came to Winchester, Mass. A potent external enemy can be a great source of fear, and thus a great unifying force. 

It was actually hard to hear crazy statements back then. Locked in a truly scary Cold War, we tended to trust our leaders. Sometimes, we downplayed our own historical disasters, which were of course still going on.

Today, it's pretty much Crazy and Stupid pretty much all the way down. The profit margins can be very good, but our nation has already come apart—and yes, we liberals have done this too.

Our stars churn novelized Storyline all night long each night. Our tribes are almost completely unable to see this, just as it ever was.

Still coming: Kenosha novelized

Norman O. Brown was very hot: And he sometimes thought he saw 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.

Norman O. Brown was very hot at the time. Everyone was reading his books. He made that statement in a Phi Beta Kappa speech, not in one of his books. We don't recall how we knew that.

We also have no idea what he actually meant. But we began recalling those words in 2009, and they do seem clairvoyant today.

Are we "ending in exhaustion?" Doesn't it seem a bit like that?


The Others believe stupid things, Solnit says!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 13, 2022

Over Here, we Democrats don't: We were strongly underwhelmed by last weekend's Sunday Review in the New York Times.

Talk about first world problems! There was Professor Manne, seeming to say that there are too few somewhat overweight women in the world of academic philosophy:

MANNE (1/9/22): I have lately wondered how much my self-directed fatphobia owes to my career as an academic philosopher. More than one author has remarked that there is a dearth of fat, female bodies in academia in general and in philosophy specifically. Philosophy, with its characteristic emphasis on reason, often implicitly conceives of rationality as the jurisdiction of the lean, rich, white men who dominate my discipline.

Among our elites, it's surprising to see how often such problems prevail.

When last we heard from Professor Manne, she was insisting that we all should believe Tara Reade's claims against Candidate Biden. 

(Headline in The Nation: "I Believe Tara Reade. And You Should, Too.")

Were Reade's accusations true? It's our impression that many people decided they probably weren't. Basically, our tribe largely let her claims fade away—and as far as we know, no one has asked Professor Manne what she thinks of them now.

Instead, the Times published her ruminations about the relative dearth of fat women in academia in general and in philosophy specifically. It can be hard to get liberals to see how underwhelming our tribe can be, especially on its more exalted ends.

The Sunday Review also featured an essay by Rebecca Solnit. She started with a statement which was perfectly accurate, after which she got amazingly fuzzy real fast:

SOLNIT (1/9/22): When called upon to believe that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya, millions got in line...

It's true! If reputable surveys can be believed, millions of people did "get in line" when Donald J. Trump spent four years serving as King of the Birthers. 

After some instantly fuzzy claims, Solnit started her second paragraph with another statement which is basically accurate. Even though it's basically accurate, it's a statement we wouldn't make in the same manner ourselves:

SOLNIT: While much has been said about the moral and political stance of people who support right-wing conspiracy theories, their gullibility is itself alarming...

We wouldn't put it that way ourselves, but widespread mistaken and bogus belief has been a major national problem for at least the past thirty years. What bothers us about good, decent people like Solnit is this:

Perhaps a bit gullibly, such people seem to believe that mistaken and false belief only occurs Over There!

Solnit's column was a classic of the genre, with highly flawed reasoning used to establish the claim that we reason quite well. 

"Democrats operate on the basis of reasonably factual premises and usually accept the authority of science, law and history," Solnit says near the end of her essay, "while Republicans uninhibitedly push whatever’s most convenient for their goals and incendiary for their base." 

Those uninhibited Others today! 

That particular passage could have come with a hat tip to Goofus and Gallant! At any rate, that's the story we creatures have peddled ever since we first crawled up on dry land—or at least, so the experts have always all told us.

At present, the pro-Trump base really has surrendered its trust to a set of unreliable narrators. In very large numbers, they even believe that Donald J. Trump won the 2020 election. 

In very large numbers, that belief has taken hold in the absence of anything dimly resembling serious evidence. A relatively small number of pro-Trump types have even acted out violently in support of this bogus claim.

That said, is it true that we unassailable Democrats "operate on the basis of reasonably factual premises and usually accept the authority of science, law and history?"

Isn't it pretty to think so? we'd say. And we'd say that the answer is no.

Solnit goes on, at some length, about how "gullible" The Others are. As a matter of basic courtesy, and in search of a more successful politics, we'd recommend staying away from that word, except when describing one's own.

Over the course of the past dozen years, our tribe has invented all sorts of false claims! All too often, we've been a bit cruel as we've pushed these false claims, and we don't think we've served anyone well in the process.


EXPERIMENT'S END: We humans don't run on information!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 13, 2022

We run on novelized tales: Is it possible that "the American experiment" is nearing some sort of an end?

Everything is possible, so why would you even ask? Having said that, let's move on:

The American experiment—broadly speaking, a "democratic" experiment—has been based, broadly speaking, on the belief that we humans could run our world on the basis of something resembling rationality, and also on an adherence to so-called Enlightenment values.

Have we humans ever been like that? Emerging evidence continues to tilt the answer strongly towards no. For starters, consider the first nine minutes of last night's Maddow Show.

Based on current estimates, you'll be able to read the transcript of Maddow's first nine minutes by sometime at the end of the next week. That's based on the current "sow-walk" procedures, in which MSNBC seems to be delaying transcript production by roughly one week's time.

Why would this NBC entity delay its transcripts like that? At this point, we'll take a wild guess—it's to limit discussion of the crazy things its top prime-time star says and does.

Briefly, let's be fair. Maddow isn't "crazy" in the way Mike Lindell is. She also isn't crazy in the way of Donald J. Trump.

That said, she's plenty nutty—and our tribe, the liberal tribe, is almost completely unable to see this. In this way, our functioning resembles that of the bulk of current Trump voters, who don't seem to know that they're being misled by the people they feel they can trust.

For the record, you can watch a three-minute, 43-second chunk of Maddow's opening nine minutes. You can do so by going to the Maddow site, then clicking on the video segment bearing this title: 

"McCarthy facing another possible Republican indictment as Gaetz case develops"

That video segment starts in the middle of the nine-minute opening segment. For that reason, you won't be able to see the extremely strange conceptual framework Maddow built around this (largely pointless) material.

That said, Maddow routinely displays extremely strange judgment; she really shouldn't be on the air. Unfortunately, our liberal tribe is completely unable to discern such facts about her.

It works in much the same way with The Others, millions of whom still believe that Donald J. Trump won the 2020 election.

Maddow shouldn't be on the air. At this point, her network seems to be covering for her as they await her impending departure. 

Move with us now to today's New York Times. In print editions, this lengthy, very strange essay sits in the place traditionally occupied by the newspaper's editorials.

As with Maddow, so too here! The Times doesn't provide a record of this essay at its "Today's Paper" site. In print editions, the essay eats a large chunk of space, but its existence isn't acknowledged at that site.

That may be a simple oversight. Why do we mention this essay?

For starters, consider this. Its author is extremely young. He's part of the current class in the New York Times Fellowship program, the successor to the paper's previous intern program.

The author may be very bright, but he's also very young and he's very inexperienced. In somewhat typical fashion, this is the way the New York Times profiles him:

Duy Nguyen
Opinion Graphics

2021-22

Duy Nguyen previously wrote articles and crunched numbers at Saigoneer, Pushkin Industries and CoinDesk. He is passionate about coding, charts and climate change. Duy is expected to graduate from New York University in May with a degree in data science. If you ever catch him in his hometown of Hanoi, Vietnam, chances are he’ll be too busy slurping a $2 bowl of bún chả to chat.

According to the instinctively hapless Times, Duy Nguyen "is expected to graduate from New York University in May"—but they don't say in May of what year! We're guessing they mean May 2022, but we can't say we're totally sure.

Nguyen is very, very young—very young and quite inexperienced. His essay concerns the topic of gerrymandering, and it's stunningly under-informative, possibly even misleading. 

At one point, his artfully fuzzy language even reminds us of an old, great Maddow hook.

(According to Nguyen, "wonky boundaries" for congressional districts are sometimes drawn "with an eye toward giving Hispanic communities a chance to find a common electoral voice, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act." That's unassailably accurate. But what the heck does that mean?)

In what universe is this fuzzy essay, by a college student, the best the Times can do? Answer:

In the same world where NBC News still has Maddow on the air!

In that world, we liberals are generally unable to spot the foibles of our most trusted news orgs. Trump's voters can't see through Donald J. Trump, and we can't see through our own favorite stars.

We're trying to make our way to a very depressing topic. Tomorrow, we'll start with this detailed report about what happened on that unfortunate night, "the night Kenosha burned."

Our tribe invented our usual stories about that unfortunate night. We did that as part of our latest attempt to send a demonized Other to jail.

Of course, sending The Others to jail has long been the central part of Maddow's profoundly unhelpful brief. In fairness, she's isn't as crazy as Lindell seems to be on this particular topic—but she's nutty enough.

Long ago and far away, Klemko and Jaffe wrote a lengthy report for the Washington Post about what happened that night. In each of our badly dysfunctional tribes, we disappeared much of their work. 

At the very start of their report, they offered a very important bit of framing. We highlight that framing below:

KLEMKO AND JAFFE (10/3/20): Anti-police-brutality demonstrators were converging on Kenosha from all over Wisconsin for a second night of marches. An armed right-wing group had put out a call for “patriots willing to take up arms and defend [our] City tonight from the evil thugs.”

Joseph Rosenbaum—depressed, homeless and alone—didn’t belong to either side. He had spent most of his adult life in prison for sexual conduct with children when he was 18 and struggled with bipolar disorder. That day, Aug. 25, Rosenbaum was discharged from a Milwaukee hospital following his second suicide attempt in as many months and dumped on the streets of Kenosha.

His confrontation hours later with Kyle Rittenhouse, a heavily armed teenager who had answered the call for “patriots,” kicked off a chain of violence—the deadliest of the summer—that left Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, dead. A third victim, Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, lost a chunk of his right biceps but survived.

Within hours, the three men and the teenager who shot them were assigned roles in the country’s churning partisan drama. ...

Had we been editing that report, we would have changed some of the language in those first three paragraphs. But in the sentence we've highlighted, the reporters described the actual way our discourse actually works.

Simply put, we modern humans don't run on information. We don't run on logic and facts.

Our discourse runs on the rocket fuel of fabulized novelization. We run on tribalized "partisan drama(s)"—on the highly selective, childish stories our childish minds, "within hours," create. 

Not since E. R. Shipp, in March 2000, have we seen someone state that premise so clearly and so succinctly. Tomorrow, we'll start with Klemko and Jaffe's detailed report—a report filled with the types of nuance and tragedy our childish tribes rush to disappear as we conduct our identity wars.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live?” The late Joan Didion wrote that in The White Album. We don't know what Didion meant, but her bromide fits nicely here.

Maddow was at it again last night; they'll be holding the transcript until next week. Our tribe is almost completely unable to see how nutty this is.

Tomorrow: First Shipp, then Klemko and Jaffe


What if the GOP actually wins?

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2022

With rumblings from Cleveland and Oakland: In this morning's Washington Post, Megan McArdle dares to ask a certain question:

What if the GOP actually wins the 2024 White House election? What if they win fair and square? 

That question anchors an important column. In print editions, McArdle's headline says this:

What if the GOP becomes a majority party?

In some ways, the question may seem silly. Starting in 1992, the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in seven of the last eight White House campaigns. 

That said, the winning margins haven't always been huge. In dystopian fashion, McArdle sets the stage for possible disaster as her column starts:

MCARDLE (1/12/22): What happens if Democrats lose in 2024?

I don’t mean “What if Republican-controlled legislatures override the results of the presidential election?” or even a less noxious “What if a Republican wins the electoral college but loses the popular vote?” I mean, what if Democrats just … lose?

The question is admittedly speculative, but it’s not as far-fetched as my left-leaning readers might imagine. They ought to start imagining it, however, because the more the left assumes it can’t happen, the more likely it becomes.

"The more the left assumes it can’t happen, the more likely it becomes?" We'd say there's a germ of truth to that statement. We'd say it could happen here.

(We have no idea if it will.)

How could such a crazy thing happen? In her column, McArdle cites some indications which may suggest that all may not be going well out in the provinces. 

MCARDLE: [T]he belief in an “emerging Democratic majority” predates any Trumpian alarm bells. It goes back to a 2002 book by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira that outlined how demographic change could give Democrats a durable advantage. Over time, the left elevated the authors’ modest hypothesis into a prophecy; in 2016, one heard repeated suggestions that Republicans might never win another presidential election.

That belief helped shift left-wing politics further leftward—less need to worry about wooing moderates when you can instead just turn out your growing base. Yet that leftward shift alienated a chunk of White working-class voters whom Judis and Teixeira had counted on keeping in the Democratic camp. Now, Teixeira is warning that Democrats risk losing many Hispanic and Asian voters, too.

Are members of various demographic groups sliding away from the Democrats? Only time will tell how such things will shake out.

That said, we've recently read a pair of essays by center-left parents of public school kids who report that our noxious tribal behavior is driving them away from the fold. If you think our self-impressed tribe's relentlessly noxious and stupid behavior can't accomplish this task on a wider scale, we think you may be in La-La Land at this particular juncture.

One of those essays appeared in The Atlantic. It was written by the lefty parent of a white kid in the Cleveland public schools—and there are very few parents like that out there!

The other essay appeared at Politico; it was written by the Hispanic parent of a public school kid in Oakland. Each of these left-leaning women describe the way their faith in the tribe has been reduced, perhaps even broken, by the noxious behavior they've encountered as they've tried to discuss the best ways to run the public schools during the pandemic.

Racialized insults were hurled around; the mothers were of course referred to as Karens. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we liberals aren't nearly as fine as we may say when we start to emote about our own moral grandeur.

Our tribe is frequently stupid, small, petty, dumb—and our tribe is highly performative. These are traits we often can't see in ourselves—but everyone else can see them.

How small, stupid and dumb can we be? We'll recommend that you read the comments to McArdle's column. 

McArdle herself joins in the discussion as Post readers wail and complain. McArdle's comments make perfect sense. By way of contrast, our tribe is relentlessly insulting, small-minded and just plain dumb as we lodge our scripted attempts at rebuttal.

From time immemorial, our liberal tribe has told itself that we are the smart, decent, good ones. As for The Others, they were "all made of ticky-tacky, and they all looked just the same!"

In recent years, our unending streams of dumbness have perhaps begun to put our reign in peril. How many people will quit our tribe? We don't have the slightest idea, but we here in our self-impressed tribe are persistently delusional, phony, fake, faux.

Unfortunately, McArdle's column is well worth considering. So are the comments which pour in from the Post's liberal readers. Those comments may help us grasp a key fact:

We may not be as brilliant and great and morally pure as we constantly claim to be.


EXPERIMENT'S END: Their team can't count to 81 million!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2022

Our team can't count to fifty: We'd call the headline troubling—and the article's contents are worse!

When we arose this morning, the headline was being featured at the top of the Washington Post's web site. In this morning's print editions, it's bannered across the top of the Post's page A5.

In our view, the headline raises a major point of concern. Online, here's what the headline says:

Black activists say the time for pretty speeches is over. They need an action plan from Biden on voting rights.

Does Biden need "an action plan on voting rights?" We think of Hemingway as we respond:

Isn't it pretty to think so! 

Should Biden form an action plan? Given his lack of votes in the Senate, it's hard to know what such a plan would be. 

In fairness, it isn't just a group of frustrated activists who may be struggling to count to fifty. (Or perhaps to the larger number of votes a president actually needs to make things happen in the Senate.)

It isn't just a bunch of "black activists" who may be living in La-La Land, begging Biden for action. The Washington Post's editorial board seems sunk in the same magical thinking today, based on the editorial which appears beneath this headline:

This is why Democrats should push hard on voting rights

The editors want Biden to "push hard" too. But what exactly should he be pushing? The editors never quite say!

Our floundering nation is currently faced with a dueling set of fantasies. On the one hand, millions of Republican voters still believe, in the face of a total absence of evidence, that Donald J. Trump actually won the last White House election.

It might be said that these misinformed souls can't count as high as 81 million. That's the number of votes Candidate Biden won as he outpaced Candidate Trump by some seven million votes.

(Nationwide popular vote: Biden 81.3 million, Trump 74.2 million.)

It's true that our presidential elections aren't decided by the nationwide popular vote. But these millions of misinformed voters can't seem to conceive of the idea that the candidate they favored could possibly have been beaten in any conceivable way.

In this well-documented manner, millions of Republican voters are trapped in a web of mistaken belief. They can't seem to count as high as 81 million—but at the same time, our own endlessly self-impressed team can't seem to count to fifty!

We liberals! We've persistently failed to grasp the math defining our current political status. We've persisted in the silly idea that 50 out of 100 votes constitutes any sort of "majority" at all, let alone a working majority. And we now seem to think that 48 votes, or possibly fewer, may serve our needs just as well!

With only 48 votes in a realm where 50 or 60 are needed, what "action plan" is President Biden actually supposed to "push hard?" We don't have the slightest idea, but fantasy thinking dies hard on all sides. And here's the part of the Post's news report which we found most disturbing:

FELTON AND WOOTSON (1/12/22): More than a half-dozen groups that registered and mobilized millions of voters in advance of the 2020 election opted to boycott Biden’s speech, saying the president had not done enough to advance matters of racial equity, particularly voting rights. Some demonstrated near the campus of Clark Atlanta University. Others opted to live-tweet criticism or air their opinions on social media. Still others just did whatever they would normally do on a Tuesday afternoon. The absence of these groups is an ominous sign for the president, raising the question of whether he can again mobilize Black voters ahead of the crucial midterm elections.

As it turns out, Biden never had the votes he'd need to pass various types of legislation. This may explain why he's now drawing attention to fiery claims about Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis.

Why is he making such fiery statements? It may just be a way of distracting attention from the (apparent) fact that Build Back Better has failed.

Increasingly, it looks like Build Back Better has failed. On our tribe's favorite "cable news" shows, the stars have agreed to ignore that fact as they move to the calls for an "action plan" in this new arena—to the calls which don't seem to make sense.

Meanwhile, as frustrated activists lose faith in a political dream which never really made sense, it's increasingly possible that Biden won't be able to get out the base come next fall. The other tribe will show up and vote, but many of ours may stay home!

One team can't count to 81 million. The other can't count to fifty. Quite conceivably, this is one of the ways democracies can die.

The pro-Trump tribe is deeply sunk in wide arrays of false belief. People they trust tell them crazy things. They don't know that they're being fooled.

Over Here in our self-impressed tribe, we've established a long list of false beliefs and implausible notions too. We think it's well past time when we should lay them out. 

Tomorrow, for starters, we'll return to Kenosha—to a set of tragic tales.

Tomorrow: Our discourse runs on the rocket fuel known as the novelized tale


The logic of gerrymander, Part 2!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2022

The role of those "wasted votes:" Last Friday, we offered a lesson in the logic of gerrymander. 

For better or worse, the logic of this hoary practice is often counterintuitive. Today, we offer Lesson 2. We'll take our reading from a new column by Michael Li in the Washington Post

Li says the current wave of gerrymandering is "deeply pernicious." That may be perfectly accurate. 

That said, consider this passage from his column. After that, consider one part of the relevant logic:

LI (1/10/22): To be sure, new maps might not significantly increase seats in the near term for Republicans (who already enjoy a large advantage as a result of aggressive gerrymanders of the 2010 maps). But the maps remain deeply pernicious gerrymanders—and, in many ways, are even worse than before. By shoring up last decade’s gerrymanders, line drawers have breathed new life into distorted maps and ensured that elections in 2022 and beyond will be skewed, uncompetitive and deeply biased against voters of color.

With a showdown on the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act coming this month, it has never been more urgent that Congress act. Just ask voters in North Carolina and Texas. Under the congressional map passed by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature, Republicans could win 71 percent of the state’s congressional seats with only 48 percent of the statewide vote...

As he continues, Li describes a similar possibility based on the structure of the new congressional map in Texas. For today, let's consider that possible outcome in North Carolina—and as we do, let's consider the logic of gerrymander.

On its face, Li seems to be describing a state of affairs which makes no apparent sense. If Republicans win less than half of the statewide vote, how could they end up with 71 percent of North Carolina's House seats? (That is, with ten of the state's fourteen seats.)

As a basic point of fairness, that probably shouldn't happen. But let's consider the (very real) phenomenon of concentrated populations and attendant "wasted votes."

Imagine a very unusual state with ten congressional districts. In this very unusual state, there's no sign of any "gerrymandering." The ten districts are all compact, and they tend to be drawn along obvious geographical and jurisdictional lines.

No one has created any "gerrymandered" districts! But in this very unusual state, the electorate in four districts is 100% Democratic. In the other six districts, the electorate is 60% Republican.

Statewide, this means that the electorate would be 64% Democratic. But due to their concentration in those four districts, Dems would only end up with 40% of the seats—and that's before anything like "gerrymandering" has occurred!

There will never be so strange a state, but the point this illustrates is simple. Populations are rarely distributed in an even way across a state's various regions. And where certain areas—large urban centers, let's say—have especially heavy concentrations of voters from one party, "wasted votes" will occur, producing an unbalanced form of congressional representation.

At present, the nation's big cities tend to be heavily Democratic. This produces a lot of "wasted votes" in congressional races—and that's before anyone comes along and conducts any gerrymandering.

As in our previous lesson, the takeaway is this:

There's nothing in our congressional frameworks which guarantees a distribution of House seats that will, on the surface, be "fair." Gerrymandering can make a bad situation worse—but heavily Democratic populations in big cities are already tipping the scales against proportional representation between the two major parties.

In North Carolina, could Republicans win ten of 14 House seats while garnering just 48% of the statewide vote? In theory, of course they could! There's nothing in our congressional practices designed to stop such things from happening! 

Of course, the GOP would lose both Senate seats in North Carolina with 48% of the vote. Since Senate elections are conducted statewide, Senate seats aren't subject to gerrymander.

But could a party win more than its "fair share" of House seats, even without gerrymandering? As a matter of fact, yes it could—and nothing in our congressional system is designed to keep that from happening.

Fuller disclosure: Given the way our discourse works, these basic points, no matter how obvious, could basically never play a role in our public discussions.

Our discourse runs on the smoke-belching fuel known as the novelized tale. More on that point all week.


EXPERIMENT'S END: Accurate statement appears in the Times!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2022

But also, childhood's end: We were struck by an accurate statement in today's New York Times—but also, by the latest possible evidence of childhood's (unfortunate) end.

We'll start with the accurate statement.

The analysts rushed the accurate statement to us even as we continued to slumber. We were intrigued by the headline on the news report in question:

Friend Who Bought Kyle Rittenhouse’s Gun Gets Reduced Charges

As it turns out, the young man who purchased a rifle for his 17-year-old friend won't be going to prison. Mainly, though, we were struck by an accurate statement in this part of the report:

BOSMAN (1/11/22): During Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial, Mr. Black told the court that he bought the gun on a trip with Mr. Rittenhouse to northern Wisconsin, where Mr. Black’s family owned a hunting property, and stored it at his stepfather’s house in Kenosha for Mr. Rittenhouse. He said that on the day of the shooting in August 2020, as protests were unfolding in Kenosha, he and Mr. Rittenhouse brought their guns from Mr. Black’s stepfather’s house and drove downtown, where they cleaned graffiti and, at night, guarded used-car lots.

Say what? Rittenhouse was "guarding used car lots" on the unfortunate night in question? We congratulate the Times' Julie Bosman for speaking with such specificity—for making an accurate statement.

(Bosman attributes these statements to Rittenhouse's friend, but these statements are not in dispute.)

For the record, the Times has published such accurate statements in the past. That said, within the punditry of our liberal tribe, it has been more common to say that Rittenhouse "crossed state lines" in order to "take his gun to a protest," where he cast himself in the role of a "vigilante."

What did Rittenhouse actually do that day and that night? Given the way we liberals tend to behave, we think it's worth recalling:

As Bosman notes, he spent several hours that afternoon scrubbing graffiti off a Kenosha school. That evening, he helped guard a trio of used car lots, one of which had been subjected to extensive arson the night before.

(His lifeguard job was in Kenosha. His father, and several other relatives, lived there.)

Around midnight, Rittenhouse attempted to walk four blocks from one of the used car lots to another. He was carrying a fire extinguisher as he did. He had received a phone call asking him to help extinguish some newly-set fires at the second lot.

As he attempted to walk those four blocks, he was suddenly chased by Joseph Rosenbaum, a tragic figure who had been setting fires in the streets that night and who, earlier that evening, had apparently threatened to kill Rittenhouse and others. 

Earlier that day, Rosenbaum had been released from a hospital where he had been receiving treatment for serious mental health issues. He was unable to join his girlfriend upon his release because she'd been granted a protective warrant barring contact between them "after a fight in which he knocked her down and bloodied her mouth."

As we'll describe at some point this week, Rosenbaum had suffered terrible sexual abuse as a child. Later, he had visited terrible sexual abuse upon five children, for which he'd spent most of his adult life in prison.

Now he was chasing Rittenhouse through the streets as Rittenhouse carried that fire extinguisher. Unless you watch our tribe's "cable news," in which case you can see a prominent and trusted professor saying that Rittenhouse had been pursuing him!

In these and similar ways, our own lost tribe has created a series of ugly, novelized morality tales over the course of the past dozen years. Disgracefully, we keep trying to get people thrown in jail on the basis of our fabulized narratives.

In these ways, our own tribe has shown the limits of human capability and morality at such times as these. The other tribe has also been wildly misfiring, in ways our own tribe widely discusses.

We were struck by Bosman's accurate statement because we've read and heard so many other statements which basically aren't. We keep hearing that Rittenhouse "crossed state lines" to "attend a protest," where he played the role of a "vigilante."

Members of our own lost tribe continue to make these claims in comment sections. Almost surely, they make these statements because they believe that the statements are accurate.

The other tribe is deeply invested in a separate array of misstatements at this point in time. Our tribe is also deeply invested, though our tribe's fanciful tribal tales carry a different hue.

Are we the humans possibly reaching a point called "childhood's end?" Are we reaching a place where our limited capabilities no longer allow us to function even minimally within the boundaries of "the American experiment?"

Only time will tell! But even as The Others keep insisting that Donald J. Trump won the election, our own infallible liberal tribe spills with semi-delusional ideation like that outlined below.

We quote a second report in this morning's Times. That news report starts like this:

CORASANITI AND EPSTEIN (1/11/22): When President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris deliver major speeches on voting rights on Tuesday in Atlanta, there will be notable absences in the crowd.

[...]

[S]everal leading voting rights and civil rights groups are pointedly skipping the speech, protesting what they denounced as months of frustrating inaction by the White House—which they said showed that Mr. Biden did not view Republican attacks on voting rights with sufficient urgency.

“We do not need any more speeches, we don’t need any more platitudes,” said James Woodall, former president of the N.A.A.C.P. of Georgia. “We don’t need any more photo ops. We need action, and that actually is in the form of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, as well as the Freedom to Vote Act—and we need that immediately.”

We assume that Woodall is a good, decent person. Unfortunately, while The Others seem to think that Donald J. Trump won the last election, our own tribe often seems to think that President Biden won a working majority in the United States Senate.

As everyone knows, he didn't! Indeed, fifty Senate seats out of a hundred is only a technical majority, to the extent that it's a majority at all. 

It doesn't come close to the sixty votes you need to get most measures passed. It ceases to be any sort of majority if even one of those fifty senators refuses to vote in the way Biden might prefer.

Can anybody here play this game? Casey Stengel once famously posed that question.

It seems to us that the answer may be no. As our failing society nears an experiment's end, we'll focus this week on our own tribe's recent behavior, as well as on the cockeyed work of Others.

Our own leadership is very soft. That's journalists and academics alike.

What makes us say such a thing? On Sunday, we stumbled upon the perfect answer—we read the New York Times!

 We read the essays in the Sunday Review. We reviewed the responses by the two focus groups the Times had tried to conduct.

Is the American experiment nearing an end? Only time will tell, of course, but the skill levels of both major tribes are extremely poor at this time, and the mutual loathing is general.

Tomorrow: "Within hours, the three men and the teenager who shot them were assigned roles in the country’s churning partisan drama."


We're taking a day of personal leave!

 MONDAY, JANUARY 10, 2022

We'll have no fish today: We're taking a day of personal leave.

Putting it a different way, we'll have no fish today!


Blaming the people, not the powerful!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 8, 2022

But first, no transcripts this year: As of this morning, we're in the eighth day of the new year—except at MSNBC.

At MSNBC, it's still New Year's Eve! We can't tell you why that is.

You can peruse the evidence here. Our link takes you to the "liberal" channel's transcript site. As of 9 o'clock this morning, the most recent transcripts dated from December 31, 2021.

Why has The One True Channel begun withholding its transcripts (again)? We can't tell you that. But the conduct is part of the passing parade—part of the ongoing tragicomedy known as the human pageant.

For the record, MSNBC is a giant corporate venture. Indeed, the "MS" in its name refers to Microsoft—one of its original founders.

Today, the channel "is owned by the NBCUniversal News Group division of NBCUniversal (a subsidiary of Comcast)." Or so the leading authority on MSNBC says.

The channel can afford to produce transcripts of its various "cable news" shows. Periodically, though, the channel decides to stop doing so, for reasons which go unannounced.

Other news channels and other news show do provide prompt transcripts. CNN produces error-riddled transcripts of all its shows, and does so on a timely basis. News programs like The PBS NewsHour produce transcripts which are more carefully prepared.

When MSNBC does transcribe its shows, it doesn't waste its time, or reduce its profit margins, by proofreading such documents. Still, the practice allows the public to review what the channel's various multimillionaire TV stars have said and done on the air.

Powerful people often don't like transparency of that type. This may explain the unpredictable way this frequently clownlike "cable news" channel decides to provide, then decides to withdraw, this basic journalistic service.

At any rate, at this corporate "cable news" giant, it's still late last year! The clowning never stops at this heavily scripted channel, where you'll only hear the statements and claims your lizard brain most prefers.

It's a reliably slacker operation. It's not as bad as Fox, we tend to say—but then again, nobody is!

Also, protecting the powerful: When Ted Koppel spoke with a trolley car full of tourists last June, he encountered a major national problem:

All across our "democratized" media, powerful interests have been spreading misinformation—and tens of millions of regular people believe the false and misleading claims they hear. So it was with Koppel's interview subjects, who believed all sorts of discredited claims about the 2020 election.

That said, who would you say is more at fault in this destructive process? Is it the powerful people and powerful interests who peddle misinformation and disinformation? Or is it the regular people who don't know that they're being misled?

Who's more at fault in this deadly dance—the people or the powerful? Adjusting for issues of mental illness and cognitive failure, the answer strikes us as fairly obvious. That's why we were surprised by William Saletan's recent essay at Slate, which appears beneath these headlines:

The Real Threat to American Democracy
It’s not Republican politicians. It’s their conspiracy-addled voters.

Say what? We're supposed to blame the regular people, not the vastly better-informed Republican politicians?

Surely that can't be what Saletan said! And yet, he started his essay like this:

SALETAN (1/5/22): Republican politicians have spent the year since Jan. 6, 2021, working to undermine democracy and the rule of law. They’ve condoned or ignored Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, purged colleagues who spoke the truth, and tried to cripple the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. But beneath this corruption lies a deeper problem: a toxic GOP electorate. Republican politicians are entertaining the lies, ousting the truth-tellers, and sabotaging the investigation because that’s what their voters want. It’s the surest way to survive a Republican primary.

Please don't blame the Republican pols! Those voters leave them no choice! Indeed, those voters are "toxic!"

We met Bill Saletan, on at least one occasion, a long time ago. Obviously, he's a good, decent person. That said, we're all human.

Everybody makes mistakes—and the desire to loathe The Others is bred deep in the human bone. At times of tribal division like these, the desire to demonize and loathe runs especially strong.

For the record, regular people have been misled all through the annals of human history. In the present day, regular people get misled by "cable news" stars (and contributors) all the time—but also by hugely powerful people like the baldly disordered Donald J. Trump.

The reason we have an FDA is because of this well-known fact. By Saletan's reckoning, we shouldn't blame the people who create and sell phony prescription drugs or engage in dangerous practices in the production of food. The real problem lies with the people who buy and ingest their products!

These are very difficult times, and we all make mistakes. But the desire to demonize and loathe Others is strong. According to leading major top experts, that blood runs in all our veins.

Few Einsteins found around here: While you're at Slate, you can also ponder this: 

Help! My Dead Friend Had Three Girlfriends Who Still Don’t Know About Each Other.

Increasingly, it's the kind of fare they produce at Slate in order to keep up self-impressed liberal geniuses coming back.

We liberals have always believed that we're the smart, decent people. The Others are all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same!