STARTING TOMORROW: Rhodes Scholar's first nine minutes!


"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


  1. Yeah, dear Bob. Liberal-fascist regime is trying to frighten the people, but no ordinary humyn being cares.

    No ordinary humyn being listens to the establishment-owned liberal-fascist media.

    Trust us, dear Bob, this attempt at distraction is gonna fail...

    1. Let me give you the name of someone on the internet on almost a daily basis who is obsessed by everything liberals say:
      Mao Cheng Ji.

  2. Getting blocked today… can Mr Free Speech send me a transcript?

  3. That’s better. I guess Bob rests easy knowing Fox is out there providing great coverage on Covid, that “Democratic Hoax.”

  4. "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."

    Somerby seems to be entirely unable to place articles in any kind of context.

    There is more talk about "quality" masks now because of the shift from Delta to Omicron. Omicron doesn't spread the same way as Delta or previous variants of covid. The CDC recentlt decided to recommend BETTER masks because the two-play cloth variety isn't working as well against Omicron. Further, it would have been nice to have issued N95 masks to everyone at the beginning of the pandemic but there were insufficient supplies so these were reserved for those in health care and critical occupations. Over time, anyone with half a brain and half an interest in covid prevention has already shifted to the better masks.

    Somerby seems to be asking "why now"? The answer is because a new variant is on the scene and there are now plenty of N95 masks for whoever wants them.

    But that doesn't make the New York Times bad, wrong, foolish or any other adjective Somerby wishes to apply to them, for featuring this information up front where everyone can benefit from it, and it wouldn't be wrong for them to do this at random intervals either, to catch those who do not read the paper religiously.

    But this excessive negativity when the NY Times is trying to help people cope strikes me as unhelpful in the midst of a pandemic, and I find myself wondering why Somerby is singing this tune. If you think of this pandemic as a sort of wartime (against a virus) and the efforts to combat it as a war effort, how would citizens react to someone working so hard to undermine those engaged in that battle on the homefront? That's what Somerby looks like to me. Someone who would rather see people hurt by covid than endure an article about masks on that precious front page.

    1. How is the new York times helping people cope if the information people need is only provided ... By you .. in a blog comment they won't see?

  5. "An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. Note that the edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth. "

    Since no one knows this info, supposedly, it would have been nice of Somerby to include it in his essay. For some reason, whenever Somerby complains that info is not given by someone, he never supplies it himself, never tells his readers what it is that is missing.

    Yes, we can look it up ourselves, but why go to lengths to repeat the same crime as the writer he is criticizing.

  6. "Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve."

    Note that MLK did not say "morally great" as Somerby expands on his words latter on in his essay.

    Certainly everyone can serve, but does that make anyone great? I don't think so. It makes them useful, helpful, engaged in a good use of their time with benefits for others, but does that make them great?

    When someone is so self-abnegating that they ONLY engage in service for others, it doesn't make them great, it makes them mentally ill and dysfunctional when it comes to meeting their own needs, because people NEED other things than to engage in service to an extreme that interferes with living their own lives. Too much service becomes a symptom, not a sign of greatness.

    And when others permit someone to serve to the neglect of their own needs, they are abusing that person. People who receive service from others need to be watchful of how much that person is giving and set reasonable limits.

    In our society, men tend to be takers and women givers. When MLK urges service upon men, he is suggesting a more fair balance. Those in minority positions in our society similarly are more likely to be givers (e.g., in service occupations) expected to sublimate their own needs to those with higher social status. Making a "greatness" out of a disadvantage is a way to restore dignity to oppressed classes, especially when there is little to be done about their position in life.

    Somerby is supposed to be the great arbiter of which narratives are self-serving, pleasurable or comforting to hear. Yet he completely misses the way in which MLK encourages his followers to effort by adding valor to their social roles, ones which they are stuck in and cannot change. They cannot gain that education that might permit them to be great in other ways, even if they were permitted to hold such jobs, so why not praise what they can do -- everyone can serve in some way. This is pleasing talk, but it directs attention away from the loss of talent imposed by subjugation of black people, when those folks cannot pursue their more natural paths to greatness by following their interests and abilities to the fullest extent, as white people are encouraged to do.

    Somerby thinks we should all be as humble as those former slaves, making lemonade out of their lemons. I disagree. I think people serve BEST by educating themselves and seeking their highest level of expertise in order to make the kinds of contributions that others cannot, because our society needs people in a wide variety of roles (scientists, writers, competent legislators and public officials, doctors, epidemiologists), not just as givers and takers.

    Of course discussions will appear "failed" to Somerby. He doesn't understand what people are talking about, including Dr. King.

  7. Every journalist holding a job today is doing a better job than Somerby, the self-styled critic of our ability to hold a discussion.

    Why is Somerby picking on Maddow again? It is because of misogyny. Maddow is usurping a high status, highly paid, highly visible position that should be held by a man. At some level, Somerby perhaps feels that HE should be holding such a position, despite being a miserable failure as a cable news guest when he tried to defend Al Gore, attracting only minor attention from his editorials accusing teachers of cheating on standardized tests. These were surely insults to his own grandiosity and hopes of becoming a political journalist following an isolated appearance on Bill Maher's show. How much more galling it must be to see Maddow daily enjoying what he covets!

    It is no coincidence that Somerby attacks those who are young, gay, black, female, and not those who resemble himself, white males who rightfully occupy the slots increasingly given to usurpers.

    And Maddow is supposed to occupy the giver role in society, not be a taker (of fame, money, status). She is supposed to marry some man, nurture his aspirations and support his needs, raise kids and contribute to strengthening the home. She isn't supposed to have needs of her own. So when she buys a large-screen TV and describes enjoying it, Somerby seethes. When she discusses cocktail recipes or talks about her own struggles or fears or embarrassments, Somerby seethes because she is making things about her (recall his I, I, I diatribe?). Women are not supposed to place themselves in any spotlight, not supposed to be focused on themselves at all, but supposed to attend to and focus upon other people's needs, as help-meets and mothers, as givers.

    So Somerby considers her job illicitly gained, she is an imposter and shouldn't be doing that job. Every word she says it thus a trespass and incompetent by definition. And to the extent that she does anything differently than he would have done, she is wrong existentially, simply by being there. Because Somerby might accept Brian Williams in such a role, but never Don Lemon, or Joy Reid and especially not Rachel Maddow, who has the misfortunate to be both gay and female, thus entirely unsuited to occupy
    HIS stolen place in the sun. It must really suck to be Somerby.

    Of course, he feels the same way about female standup comics. The only ones he likes are those that were nice to him previously (Roseanne Barr for example), because they praised him or sucked up to him and thus acknowledged his superior worth in his occupation. When Maddow tries to be funny, she is even more of a threat to his self worth, his entitlement, his manhood, the more so because people enjoy her jokes and may not have shown him the same appreciation.

    And that is all that this is about here. This is not a critique of public discourse or a comment on our ability to have a discussion. It is Somerby lament that he didn't get his fair share of pie. And what would MLK think about that?

    1. It would be more interesting if you addressed the actual substance of his forthcoming critique of her rather than arbitrarily assigning motives that you could not possibly prove or validate and that make up a noisy, illogical ad hominem

    2. He hasn't stated his critique of her yet.

      I don't have to prove anything about him, any more than he proves anything about Maddow each time he attacks her.

      My comment was about the way Somerby exemplifies misogyny inherent in our patriarchal society. You can take it or leave it, but Maddow remains a highly successful cable news host while Somerby remains a retired standup comedian with a middling career taking potshots at Einstein and anyone else he wishes to bring down to his own level (as if that were possible).

      I'm sure there are lots of blogs elsewhere that you might find more interesting than a rant against the NY Times for suggesting that people wear better masks. Who does that? Oh, yeah, the Anti-mask right wing.

    3. It's insulting to women and gays to say Maddow is the best they can do as intellectuals. She is a corporate entertainer not an journalist.

      Take a breath next time.

    4. It's a really, really, really dumb comment. Barely coherent, comically illogical.

    5. "It's insulting to women and gays to say Maddow is the best they can do as intellectuals."

      I agree that this is insulting, and notice that I didn't say it -- you did.

    6. "When I said Maddow was a highly successful Einstein, I didn't mean to imply she was at the top of her field..."

      You're funny. Most religions are to a degree.

    7. Maddow was a Rhodes scholar -- that isn't an easy gig to get. She has published books about substantive fields (as opposed to autobiographic books) in history and politics. She is smarter than Somerby who talks about Wittgenstein but doesn't understand him, despite being a philosophy major and taking several courses on him.

      Now you are making up fake quotes which you find hilarious, except they are not so fake after all. And I have no doubt Maddow is both smarter and more accomplished than either you or Somerby. He at least has the excuse of being retired. What is yours?

    8. Maddow and her partner raise lambs.

    9. @3:15

      Yeah that's a nice Bat Mitzvah speech. Maddow writes mediocre pop history that no historian I'm aware of has ever cited.

      When you are done with your fanclub bullshit, I'll be here in reality.

    10. No one commented at 3:15

    11. Woah you caught a typo. Hey everyone, this guy caught a typo in a blog comment section. Bookmark this for posterity.

  8. If MLK were alive today, he'd say anyone who doesn't love bigotry, or isn't perfectly fine with bigotry, left the Republican Party more than two decades ago.
    He was super perceptive.

    1. This is interesting because so many former Democrats left the Democratic party in the 60s because they were uncomfortable with the Dems support for civil rights. They deliberately fled to the Republican party because it was perfectly fine with bigotry.

    2. He'd be opposed to Sinema, the white liberal who is blocking progress.

    3. Sinema isn’t a liberal.

    4. Meh. First of all, conservatism is not an ideology. It's resistance to rapid change. It's caution.

      And second, the modern-day liberals are nothing but fascists. Dogmatism and rabid hatred for all infidels. Endless lies and goebbelsian propaganda.

      Hey, and what about this: they had their 'Reichstag fire' moment a year ago, and they've been milking it for all it's worth...

    5. Mao,
      How many abortions are you getting today.

    6. First of all, conservatism is not an ideology. It's resistance to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

      Fixed for accuracy.

  9. Here is what Trump did to celebrate Martin Luther King Day:

    POSTED ONMON, JAN 17TH, 2022
    Vice President Calls Out Republicans For Election Interference In MLK Day Address
    Kamala Harris MLK Day address

    Vice President Kamala Harris said that Republicans are not only trying to take away the right to vote, they are also interfering in elections.

    POSTED ONMON, JAN 17TH, 2022
    Trump Spends MLK Day Taunting Joe Scarborough And Attacking Joy Reid

    Trump's real point seemed to be to attack the most prominent black woman in cable media, the only black woman to host her own primetime weeknight cable news show, one that often focuses on the type of racial justice for which King fought."

    Meanwhile Somerby spends today scolding the NY Times and promising to attack Rachel Maddow.

    Two sorry old men with no idea of what today is about.

    1. Mrs Harris deserves the highest praise for standing up for the voting rights of dead people. It's about time someone spoke up for those who have no voice.

    2. That's Vice President Harris to you.

      There are a considerable number of now buried people who never got to vote during their own lifetimes due to the Jim Crow laws that today's voting rights measures are meant to combat. Which of them are you speaking for?

    3. Why, presumably Mrs Harris is only speaking for the dead people who are planning to vote for the party owned by her sponsors, the global banksters.

      It would be naive to expect anything different from her: politics, dear dembot.

      Still, should she succeed, there is a good chance the rest of the dead will obtain representatives too somehow. It's all for the best.

    4. We speak for ourselves, dear dembot. Just like all the rest of normal ordinary humyn beings.

      Anything else?

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for upsetting the white supremacists of our nation. That is what we should be remembering today, not his exhortations to serve others.

  11. "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."

    I agree. I have never heard Somerby discuss food insecurity, the need for affordable housing or any other poverty-related issue. He positively mocks the NY Times when it talks about clothing. I have, on the other hand, seen such topics discussed by the NY Times and by cable news hosts. It is what the BBB legislation would have addressed, but Somerby doesn't think the Democrats should be pushing that, based on his defense of Manchin.

    It takes some nerve to quote FDR on such matters while opposing the things liberals support to address our nation's problems with poverty, then claim that we don't care about them (as if Somerby does)!

    I think Somerby should spend the day harvesting the pears from his backyard meditation tree and giving them to the ill-nourished. Then he can sanctimoniously quote MLK and FDR without their names burning his tongue.

  12. Here is a liberal perspective on MLK from Rude Pundit:

    "It's more frustrating than ever to hear conservatives who are opposed to legislation that would expand voter participation, supportive of gerrymandering that specifically reduces the power of non-whites, and losing they goddamned minds over teaching the hard truths about the United States's racial history quote Martin Luther King, Jr. like they actually give a single segregated fuck about what King really was about. They sure can trot out the whole "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" without bothering with the radical context. They can directly tie MLK to whatever racist bullshit they want. But they can't be bothered to fucking learn about King.

    Let's put this as plainly as possible: If you are against voting rights or against getting rid of the filibuster so you can vote for the voting rights you claim you're for, you may as well just piss on King's monument in DC. And we will all judge you by the shitty content of your shitty character."

    Compare this to what Somerby has said today...

  13. From Public Citizen:

    "...that’s the directive from MLK’s son, Martin Luther King III, who declares: “No celebration without legislation.”

    Says Senator Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King served as co-pastor:

    “You cannot remember Dr. King and dismember his legacy at the same time.”

    Said Dr. King himself:

    “The denial of this sacred right [to vote] is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.”

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