Just how big are some of these countries?


For example, Belarus: "Back out of all this now too much for us?"

Maybe it's time to walk away from the invention of novelized tales—to return to the acquisition of information and basic facts.

With that in mind, we found ourselves wondering the other day. Just how big is Mother Russia? Also, how big is Ukraine?

To tell you the truth, we didn't know—and so we looked it up. Here are the approximate populations of three players on the current world stage:

Approximate population, circa 2021
United States: 331.9 million
Russia: 143.1 million
Ukraine: 41.2 million

In terms of population, Russia is roughly three and a half times the size of Ukraine. And now, Russia may be getting military help from mighty Belarus! 

That said, how big is Belarus? We'll add it to our list:

Approximate population, circa 2021
United States: 331.9 million
Russia: 143.1 million
Ukraine: 41.2 million
Belarus: 9.3 million

How much help could Belarus be? Full disclosure—we don't know!

For today, we'll report the size of three additional nations which are getting mentioned these days.

We refer to the tiny Baltics. All three are NATO members—and two of them border Russia to the east:

Approximate population, circa 2021
Estonia: 1.3 million
Latvia: 1.9 million
Lithuania: 2.8 million

Helpful fact—the Baltics appear on the map in alphabetical border running from north to south. The northernmost pair border Russia to the east, in a straightforward, unfortunate way. 

Lithuania borders Belarus on the east. That said, it borders the Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest. That's the tiny part of Russia—population, just under a million—which is completely cut off from the rest of the country. Welcome to old Europe!

Our liberal world has been deeply invested in the invention of stories and tales. Maybe it's time we returned to the memorization of facts—agreed to know even a tiny bit of whatever we're talking about!

Facts! Remember them?

STARTING TOMORROW: Creating the story of a death!


Defining the shape of an era: No, it isn't just Slate! The New York Times publishes a limited number of advice columns too. 

They're far less numerous than the columns which seem to be propping up Slate. Also, the advice columns at the New York Times aren't transparently clownish.

One such column—The Ethicist—appears each week in the Sunday magazine. It's written by Kwame Anthony Appiah, a well-regarded philosophy professor at NYU.

Below, you see the start of a letter to which Appiah responded this week. We call your attention to an unusual part of the letter.

The letter writer has been asked to write a character reference for a friend. The writer's friend is suddenly involved in a custody dispute.

The letter writer doesn't know whether to write the character reference. Along the way, to her vast credit, the person who wrote the letter to Appiah made a startling admission.

We're scoring the writer as a "she." The letter begins like this:

For nearly a year and a half, we were in a pandemic pod with another family, and our children became fast friends. We saw this family nearly every weekend; it was our only social interaction. A few months ago, just after the children went off to different preschools, the parents suddenly said they were splitting up, much to our surprise. Several months later, one of the parents had sole custody, claiming the other parent was mentally ill and recounting several violent incidents.

The other parent has reached out to ask us to write a letter on her behalf to support regaining some custody of her child. She says that her ex-partner’s claims of violence and mental illness are false. I wasn’t present for any of the incidents, so I can’t say who was right or wrong; we merely heard stories...

"On one hand, the claims of violence could be true," the letter writer says as she continues. "On the other hand," she then says, the claims could also be false.

You can read the full letter here. Some of its statements don't quite make sense, but the letter writer is admirably clear about one basic point:

She's clear about a basic point—she doesn't know if the claims of violence are actually true. She wasn't present to see what occurred, and she has no other reliable source of knowledge. 

The letter writer seems to be surprised by the claims of violence. To our ear, it sounds like the claims of violence are hard to square with her general view of the person being accused.

The writer seems to be surprised by the claims of violence. That said, the letter writer is admirably clear about that basic point—about her lack of actual knowledge. 

The letter writer doesn't know what actually happened! She's admirably clear about that point—and in his reply, Appiah is admirably clear about that basic point too. Here's part of what he wrote:

APPIAH (2/27/22): The legal system for deciding matters of custody is far from perfect. But it’s most likely to work well if decision makers have as much useful information as possible. So accurately describing what you know—and avoiding conjecture about what you don’t—should be more helpful than not.

Appiah offers sensible advice. In writing a character reference, the letter writer should describe the things she actually knows. She should avoid conjecture—avoid making claims—about things she doesn't know.

This may seem like a very basic distinction—and, in fact, it is. The principle here could hardly be simpler:

We humans should always draw clear distinctions in our minds between the things we do and don't actually know.

In fact, we humans are strongly inclined to fudge that basic distinction. At the start of The White Album, Joan Didion described something we're inclined to do instead:

DIDION (1979): We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be “interesting” to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference...We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

According to Didion's analysis, "We tell ourselves stories." Sometimes these stories are quite simple-minded, on the level of the man with the candy leading the children astray.

Some such stories may seem to come from the world of fairy tale or myth. But we're strongly inclined to craft such stories out of the disparate images which constitute our limited experience—or at least, so Didion said. 

We craft simple-minded stories about "the man with the candy"—about "the little lame balloonman [who] whistles far and wee." Didion even seemed to say that writers—journalists—engage in this childish behavior more than everyone else!

At any rate, "We interpret what we see" through the invention of such stories. "We select the most workable of the multiple choices"—of the various ways we could understand a significant set of events.

We humans love to make up stories! But in the course of inventing our stories, we'll often blow right past that basic distinction—the distinctions between the thigs we do and don't actually know to be true.

Meanwhile, we humans! As we invent our stories, we often include factual statements which are flatly false. Beyond that, we may include factual statements which we don't know to be true.

We may discard accurate statements which contradict the basic gist of the story we're inventing. We may put enormous stress on accurate facts which are wholly irrelevant to the question at hand.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans just aren't super-rational. We're strongly inclined to dream up tales which place a simple, even simplistic, shape upon a confusing or threatening world.

Here within the liberal world, we've done this in the past ten years with respect to a fairly large number of public events. One of the stories we've invented concerns the shooting death of Trayvon Martin—a shooting death which occurred ten years ago this past week.

We've invented an amazingly simplified story about that unfortunate event. Some elements of our story are simply false. Other key parts of the story we've fashioned are conjectures about events where we don't know what actually happened.

We've placed an astonishing amount of stress upon an accurate claim about a bag of candy—an accurate claim which is wholly irrelevant to the questions at hand. In short, we've done a stunningly poor job at remaining clear, within our highly fallible minds, about the things we do and don't actually know to be true about this widely-discussed incident.

What actually happened, ten years ago, when Trayvon Martin, age 17, was shot and killed in the dark with no real eyewitness present? To this day, many basic facts about what happened that night remain unknown. 

We've filled the gap with a story we've invented and told about the events of that night. We've engaged in stunningly childish behavior about a tragic event.

That said, the story about Trayvon Martin's death has played a key role in the tribal politics of the past ten years. In the past few days, major news orgs have been observing the ten-year anniversary of that unfortunate shooting death.

Basically without exception, they've been telling a highly novelized story—a story which is often more fairy tale than established fact. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we're a very limited species, and our tribe has proved that point in this particular instance.

There's a lot of learn from what we've done with respect to this unfortunate event. As a bit of a spoiler, we'll tell you this:

We've done a stunningly terrible job observing the basic distinction observed by Appiah's letter writer—the basic distinction between the things we do and don't really know.

We humans! When we don't know what actually happened, we'll often start making things up! Tomorrow, we'll start with what Ta-Nehisi Coates has said about this unfortunate and highly novelized event.

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live?" Sometimes our stories are like fairy tales. It's all anthropology now!

Tomorrow: "I interrupt your regularly scheduled programming..."

QAnon belief on the march!


Anthropology lessons: Belief in QAnon is on the march, according to a large new survey described in the New York Times.

The report was done by Tiffany Hsu. Headline included, her report begins like this:

41 million Americans are QAnon believers, survey finds

More than a year after Donald J. Trump left office, the QAnon conspiracy theory that thrived during his administration continues to attract more Americans, including many Republicans and far-right news consumers, according to results from a survey released on Thursday from the Public Religion Research Institute.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan group found that 16 percent of Americans, or roughly 41 million people, believed last year in the three key tenets of the conspiracy theory. Those are that Satanist pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation control the government and other major institutions, that a coming storm will sweep elites from power and that violence might be necessary to save the country.

In October 2021, 17 percent of Americans believed in the conspiracy theory, up from 14 percent in March, the survey said...

Already, we'd have to say that a dollop of confusion has appeared on the scene. If 17 percent of American believed in the theory "in October 2021," why are we told that only 16 percent believed in the theory "last year?"

We can imagine an explanation. But as that third paragraph continues, an additional question arises:

HSU (continuing from above): In October 2021, 17 percent of Americans believed in the conspiracy theory, up from 14 percent in March, the survey said. At the same time, the percentage of people who rejected QAnon falsehoods shrank to 34 percent in October from 40 percent in March. The survey covered more than 19,000 respondents and was conducted across the country throughout 2021.

Back in October, 17 percent of Americans believed in the theory; 34 percent rejected it. That leaves 49 percent unaccounted for. What the heck is the story on them?

These questions never get answered in Hsu's relatively truncated report. For whatever reason, she never links to the PRRI's report on its study. To peruse their report, just click here.

At any rate, who are these QAnon believers? Who believes such peculiar ideas? A bit misleadingly at times, Hsu breaks it down like this:

HSU: Among Republicans, 25 percent found QAnon to be valid, compared with 14 percent of independents and 9 percent of Democrats. Media preferences were a major predictor of QAnon susceptibility, with people who trust far-right news sources such as One America News Network and Newsmax nearly five times more likely to be believers than those who trust mainstream news. Fox News viewers were twice as likely to back QAnon ideas, the survey found.


More than half of QAnon supporters are white, while 20 percent are Hispanic and 13 percent are Black. They were most likely to have household incomes of less than $50,000 a year, hold at most a high school degree, hail from the South and reside in a suburb.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans are much more likely to believe in QAnon than we Democrats are. Among consumers of "conservative" media, Newsmax viewers were much more likely to believe than Fox viewers were.

We were surprised by the racial / ethnic breakdown of QAnon supporters. In our view, it came remarkably close to mirroring the Census Bureau's demographic breakdown of the American population overall. 

Just to add a bit of precision, the actual survey actually says that 58 percent of QAnon supporters are white. In fairness, that is indeed "more than half." 

Still, this brings the numbers remarkably close to the numbers for the American population overall (though possibly not for the adult-age American population).

Some of the writing in the actual survey is flatly ambiguous. Elsewhere, the writing is perhaps a bit hard to follow. At first glance, nowhere is this problem more glaring than in the general area of race.

We'd say that the PRRI report could be much more clearly written. We'd say that Hsu didn't clarify several points.

In closing, though, we'll direct you to one simple fact—and this fact is very important:

According to the actual survey, a full 16% of Americans either completely agreed, or mostly agreed, with the following statement during the past year:

"The government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation."

According to this extensive survey, roughly one in six American adults believed that remarkable claim. We'd strongly urge you to view that as an anthropological fact.

Skillfully, let's be fair! QAnon believers weren't all Republicans. Adjusting for population, QAnon believers were only slightly more likely to be living in the South. 

At one point, the survey seems to say that black Americans and Hispanic Americans are substantially more likely to believe in QAnon than white Americans are. But the survey's writing is so murky and technical at that point that we aren't entirely sure what was being said.

Our overall plea would be this:

Let's stop insisting that that claim about the global Satanic trafficking ring was only believed by Others. One in six of our fellow citizens believed that remarkable claim. In short, the world of human cogitation, thought and belief differs greatly from what Aristotle is so famously said to have said.

The people who believed that claim may be outstanding friends and neighbors. But the world of human cogitation is not what we've always been told.

Shortcomings run rampant in our tribe too. We all have a lot of learn.

THE JOURNALISM OF RACE: She's made a mint off broken bodies!


Now she's moving on: What is an "imitation of life?" An imitation of journalistic / intellectual life?

Almost surely, opinions will differ. For one possible example, consider the latest letter to one of Slate's  advice columnists—the latest letter of a certain type.

The columnist in question is Jenée Desmond-Harris, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a good, decent person. She was previously a senior staff editor at the New York Times, where she's now a contributing opinion writer.

Desmond-Harris currently serves as Slate's latest incarnation of "Dear Prudence." As such, she sits at the helm of one of the site's roughly three million advice columns.

There's nothing "wrong" with advice columns; sometimes they're even instructive. Increasingly, though, Slate columnists seem to be prepared to respond to letters of this possibly suspect type:

Dear Prudence:

I recently moved to a new state a few thousand miles away. My family and I found a home online and randomly moved next door to a guy from our previous town with a relative who works at my previous office. Small world. He’s been nice and recently gave our family a Christmas gift. I would like to reciprocate, but he left town the next day and didn’t get back until after New Year. I feel weird giving a Christmas gift that late. Would it be weird if I gave him Juneteenth cookies? The better half says it would be weird. I think it would be weird to give him a Valentine’s gift, and I don’t want to wait until the 4th of July. Also, part two, would sugar cookies with Pan-African flag icing be a good Juneteenth cookie? Advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time.

— Cul-de-sac of Confused Caucasians

Tell the truth! Does anybody really believe that this was an actual letter stating an actual concern? 

Everything is possible, of course. But does anyone really believe that?

Desmond-Harris, the Harvard Law graduate, doesn't really believe that. But then again, so what? In one of two reports Slate devoted to this letter, Desmond-Harris began her discussion as shown:

Jenée Desmond-Harris: I hope you found this question as hilarious as I did. I don’t even know if it was fake, but it was too entertaining not to answer.

It was too entertaining not to answer, even though it was maybe fake! Disclaimers like this are amazingly common at this devolving site.

With sadness, we'd be inclined to describe that statement by Desmond-Harris as an "imitation of life." That said, Slate now seems to be running on the rocket fuel of advice columns, in which columnists respond to entertaining letters whether they're real or fake.

Slate still sprinkles in the occasional serious essay. But advice columns built around race and sex increasingly seem to be the way the site pays the bills. This seems to be what Slate has to do to get us lunkheads to click!

This particular Prudence went to Harvard Law School. She'll respond to all your concerns, even if you made them up and they carry a bit of a smell.

That said:

When Roosevelt looked around the country, he saw a nation ill-fed and ill-clothed. When we look around our tribal redoubts, we see an ever-increasing array of journalistic / intellectual imitations of life.

And yes, that's basically what we thought we saw when Michele Tafoya spoke. 

As we've noted in the past several days, Tafoya spoke about a certain practice at her children's schools—the institution of race-and-ethnicity based "affinity groups." In Tafoya's view, this practice is "teaching [kids] that the color of their skin matters" in an inappropriate way. She also seems to think that it's driving groups of kids farther apart.

We don't know if that's right or that's wrong. Also, nobody cares!

Tafoya discussed this topic for the first time last November 2, in a guest appearance on The View. Last Wednesday, she appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, where she restated her view.

You can watch the bulk of last week's appearance here. As you can see, Carlson played videotape of Tafoya's earlier statement on The View, along with Whoopi Goldberg's instant reaction and a brief exchange between the two which we'll show you below.

Carlson praised Tafoya for her viewpoint. At this point, Tafoya described the "affinity groups" in a bit more detail, then offered this recommendation:

TAFOYA (2/16/22): It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters...If the world is integrated, let's continue that and have everyone find out what we all have in common, not just what we have in common with people who look like us. 

At this point, Tafoya's statement of principle was still pretty fuzzy. On the whole, Tafoya doesn't strike us as a hugely insightful spokesperson on matters of race—but then again, almost no one is, and at this point we'll offer a small political warning:

Carlson responded by praising Tafoya's statement. "Man!" he said. "I bet you twenty bucks that 95% of Americans agree with what you just said!"

Carlson's percentage might be a bit high, but we're inclined to agree with the general thrust of his statement. Tafoya seemed completely sincere, and her "pro-integration" stance emerges from a general framework which has largely become sacred American writ.

Tafoya still hadn't been asked to describe those "affinity groups" in any detail. For that reason, the actual merits of her complaint are impossible to assess.

That said, within the political realm, our tribe may tend to get out over its skis with our progressive views about matters of race, a possibility which was suggested by that recent recall election in San Francisco.

We've been fascinated with Tafoya's presentations because of the imitations of life with which her statements were greeted. 

The floodgates really opened after her appearance with Carlson. In this lengthy report in the Washington Post, Timothy Bella described the way one team leader reacted to Tafoya's statements:

BELLA (2/18/22): Tafoya has swiftly shifted from covering the NFL—where she was interviewing players and coaches in the midst of a racial reckoning within the league—to emerging as the latest conservative voice to lash out against critical race theory and diversity initiatives in schools nationwide.

“It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters,” Tafoya, 57, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on his Wednesday show.


But her interviews in recent days about her jump to GOP politics have been met with backlash from critics decrying her for fueling an already contentious culture war surrounding critical race theory, an academic framework for examining the way laws and policies perpetuate systemic racism. Though critical race theory is not taught in any K-12 systems, the intellectual movement has been a talking point for conservatives nationwide who’ve pushed back against racial equity initiatives by schools, including teaching about racism in American history, that have come in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

“Imagine leaving a high-profile job over a made-up issue,” tweeted Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for the Atlantic and incoming CNN Plus host. “Does Michele Tafoya even know what CRT is? Does she have kids in school being taught CRT? Can she provide any examples?”

We'd call that whole passage sad. 

For starters, was it true? Had Tafoya somehow emerged "as the latest conservative voice to lash out against critical race theory?"

In fact, she hadn't mentioned critical race theory on The View or on Carlson's show at all. She had spoken about those "affinity groups." CRT hadn't been mentioned.

This, of course, didn't stop Hill from offering the condescending tweet which Bella now quoted. 

“Does Michele Tafoya even know what CRT is?" the well-meaning know-it-all asked. "Does she have kids in school being taught CRT? Can she provide any examples?”

We'll guess that Tafoya doesn't have kids being taught CRT in school. In fairness, though, she never said that she did.

She'd said that she had kids in school who were being taught that their skin color matters in a way which was inappropriate and divisive. We'll guess that Tafoya could have provided lots of information concerning the "affinity groups" at her childrens' schools. But no one ever asked her to do so, and the fact is nobody cares.

No one asked any questions about those groups when she appeared on The View. Carlson didn't ask her any questions either. 

Do Tafoya's kids go to public schools? No one even asked that! The truth is, nobody actually cares about any of this, except to the extent that launching pads can be created for our next recitations of script.

Where did Hill get the idea that Tafoya had been sounding off about critical race theory? We don't know, but she linked to a Fox News report about Tafoya's appearance with Carlson which used that term in its headline.

That may have been close enough for journalistic work. Hill proceeded to sound off in the usual condescending way. 

Later in his report for the Post, Bella quoted Dave Zirin's reaction to what Tafoya had said. Zirin seemed to have the inside track on Tafoya's monstrous motives. Greg Sargent was cited too:

BELLA: On Fox, Tafoya told Carlson that her shift from sports to Republican politics came after she had “been waking up every day with a palpable pull at my gut, that my side, my view, my middle ground, kind of moderate viewpoint is not being represented to the rest of the world.”

“And so, rather than just banging it out on Twitter or Instagram every day, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something. I have benefited greatly from the American Dream, and I feel like for the sake of my kids, and because I so love this country, I’ve got to start giving back,’” she said.

Critics, however, have accused Tafoya of arguing against critical race theory in an effort to raise her profile in conservative politics. Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent wrote that “Tafoya plans to devote more time to criticizing critical race theory and airing other views about race, and Carlson is trying to turn her into a new right-wing hero.”

“This is someone who’s made a mint off of Black labor and the destruction of Black bodies,” tweeted Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation. “Maybe this is in Tafoya’s mind the logical next step.”

Skillfully, Zirin knew what Tafoya had possibly been thinking. It's the ugliness of comments like Zirin's which can lead to political defeat.

Many voters have seen Tafoya working as a sideline reporter. Presumably, people had liked Tafoya or she wouldn't have stayed on the air.

Now, Zirin was telling those voters that Tafoya had thereby "made a mint off the destruction of black bodies."  One thinks of the former board member in San Francisco who tweeted that Asian-Americans were acting like a bunch of "house [N-words]" in failing to criticize Candidate Trump in a way she found sufficient. 

We fiery progressives may turn people off in these ill-advised ways.

Tafoya believes that her kids' schools are laboring under a mistake. When she offered that viewpoint on The View, this instant exchange occurred:

TAFOYA (11/2/22): Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters? Because to me, what matters is your character and your values.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but you know—you live in the United States. You know that color of skin has been mattering to people for years.

TAFOYA: Can’t we change it, that it doesn’t?

GOLDBERG: We need white people to step up and do that!

It proceeded from there. On its face, Goldberg's attempt at rebuttal had nothing to do with what Tafoya had been saying. But no one expects conversations on The View to make traditional sense.

You can watch the two segments of The View to see where this "discussion" went next. Click here, and then click this.

To our ear, Tafoya was asked to sit silently by while her four hosts took turns issuing orations about facts which everyone already knows. To our ear, the stars were perhaps a bit rude, and perhaps a bit officious. 

The stars never made their way back to what their guest had said. Instead, they sounded off about the need to teach the full sweep of American history, a topic Tafoya hadn't raised and a point she hadn't challenged.

The View exists to create big fights, thus generating publicity. In that way, the show is an imitation of life, but it reflects the way our national discourse frequently works.

A graduate of Harvard Law responds to letters she knows to be fake. When a parent describes a practice at her childrens' schools, her statement launches a thousand scripts about an array of different concerns.

Everywhere FDR looked, he saw a nation ill-fed and ill-clothed. Everywhere we look, we see imitations of life. 

For ourselves, we're actually curious about what's going on in the schools to which Tafoya referred. We'd like to know what's happening there! Then too, we've always liked kids.

An array of experts have asked us to cite this key anthropological point:

It' easy to see imitations of life when they're produced by Others. It's hard to see these imitations when they emerge from the streets of Our Town.

She's made a mint off broken bodies. Now she's moving on!

Those headlines in the Post and the Times...


...tell a familiar tale: A familiar headline appears above a front-page report from this morning's Washington Post:

Prosecutors in Trump probe quit after new DA seems to abandon plan to seek indictment of former president

A similar headline appears on the front page of the New York Times:

2 Manhattan Prosecutors Quit, Putting Trump Inquiry in Doubt

Back at the Post, Philip Bump analyzes the events in question. The headline on his piece says this:

Once again, Trump appears to evade a legal trap

Bump's text actually says that Trump seems to have evaded a legal threat. Whoever wrote the headline added an unfortunate, perhaps suggestive wrinkle to this latest rather familiar turn of events.

We're speaking here about journalistic product line. Let's explain this matter again:

Over the course of the past six years, it has been a best-selling model on Our Town's car lot:

Trump will soon be frog-marched away! He's on his way to the slammer!

Night after night after night after night, we were aggressively sold this product during the Mueller years. We were told that Mueller, a dogged gumshoe, almost surely had the tax records! 

Eventually, the real Mueller appeared, not quite as advertised.

Corporate hustlers sold us that fully loaded model. For our part, we went to the car lot and purchased each new model as each new model appeared. 

Now, Cyrus Vance's possibly performative criminal probe seems to be collapsing during the reign of his successor.  Vance's successor seems to think that he can't make a criminal case. In the face of that disinterest, two prosecutors have quit.

Will the former president, Donald J. Trump, ever be charged with a crime? We have no way of knowing. But until he has been charged with a crime, we are possibly being played when our corporate stars go on TV and sell us this product line.

By the way:

As they burn away their evenings speculating about these topics, those TV stars aren't talking about other matters of actual interest. They're selling us our favorite dream—and they're lining corporate pockets.

Vladimir Putin's war has briefly forced our cable stars to discuss a real news event. They've been forced to stop their round-the-clock speculation about when Trump will be put away.

For what it's worth, it's a dangerous day when democracies start charging their former leaders with crimes. Sometimes that may have to be done, but it's amazing to see the cavalier way our corporate stooges approach this sensitive issue.

Will Donald Trump ever be charged with a crime? We have no idea. 

Should he be charged with some sort of crime? We can't answer that either.

In the meantime, we can offer you one diversion, but also one hope for the future:

As a diversion, here's the (slapdash) transcript of the Maddow Show from February 18, 2021. On that day, the New York Times reported that a former prosecutor named Mark Pomerantz had been hired by Vance to work on the criminal probe of one Donald J. Trump.

Rachel went on and on, then on and on, about the miraculous Pomerantz's mafia-busting ways. We're not going to copy and paste. You can read her gushing for yourselves.

Rachel has been selling this product line every step of the way, a product line in which we're always going to nail him sometimes next week. So far, it hasn't worked out—and as our stars direct us this way, we're being directed toward a discussion most voters don't much care about.

These criminal probes are actual news, but they aren't the only actual news. Health care costs and schools and crime are news. So are quite a few other topics.

When we focus on locking up Trump, we're signaling to many voters that we don't actually care about the issues affecting them. When our stars behave in these ways, The Others can see them do it.

The latest criminal probe of Trump may be on the way out. Or maybe not—who knows? 

The war in Ukraine will help our stars get past this latest bit of bad news. But if no such war was underway, they would be selling us this latest bit of hope:

Ivanka Trump in Talks With Jan. 6 Panel About Being Interviewed

What a perfect headline! Ivanka is engaged in talks about maybe agreeing to talk!

Absent the war in Ukraine, our cable stars would be talking that up. Prison for the whole Trump klan would be just a few moments away.

The saddest graf of them all: The saddest graf in the Times report goes exactly like this:

RASHBAUM ET AL (2/24/22): The district attorney’s criminal investigation into Mr. Trump began in the summer of 2018 under Mr. Vance, who initially looked into the Trump Organization’s role in paying hush money to a pornographic actress who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

Sad! According to Stormy Daniels, she had consensual sex with Donald J. Trump on exactly one occasion, back in 2006. Now she was shaking him down for some hush money—and our pitiful tribe thinks the 2016 election should have turned on this.

Have you ever seen anyone tell you why Daniels wasn't charged with a crime? We don't favor sending people to prison unless it's absolutely necessary, and it wouldn't have been in this case. But given the way our favorite stars love the idea of locking folk up, why wasn't Daniels guilty of extortion as she shook the candidate down?

Our pitiful tribe thinks our elections should turn on matters like this. Along the way, we fell in love with Daniels' attorney—with the obvious nutcase who ended up being convicted of stealing from her!

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our self-impressed tribe has its flaws.

We're said to mean well, but our skills and our savvy can sometimes be hard to spot. Despite that, we tend to be quite self-impressed. Some have begun to call this trait our distinguishing characteristic!

THE JOURNALISM OF RACE: Tafoya cited "affinity groups!"


This launched a thousand scripts: Several weeks ago, in reaction to a comment to a certain blog post delivered by a history teacher, we rented the famous film Casablanca and watched it several times.

According to an array of scholars, Casablanca is the greatest known study of our human nature. Its anthropological nugget goes like this: 

We humans prefer to gamble and play. But if you push us far enough, we will fight back in the end.

Casablanca is always at least very good. This time around, we were struck by a line we'd previously always brushed past.

The line is spoken by Annina Brandel, the young, newly married Bulgarian woman who is trying, with her naive young husband, to reach the United States. 

At one point, she asks Humphrey Bogart for help. Why are she and her husband trying to get to America? This is what she says:

We come from Bulgaria. Things are very bad there, M'sieu. A devil has the people by the throat.

"A devil has the people by the throat." For whatever reason, that line jumped out this time.

Not far from Bulgaria, a modern-day army is now getting the people by the throat. Within our own tribe's round-the-clock news feeds, this topic has temporarily replaced our steady diet of Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Giuliani.

This new topic will overshadow the latest way our preferred product line seems to have failed. (More on that latest failure to come.) It has also replaced our steady diet of "the journalism of race." 

This article in the Washington Post reminds us of one of the most striking flaws in the way our tribe has been conducting this journalism. Involved is a widespread type of selective reporting. (More on that article to come.) 

That article points to an embarrassing flaw in the way we've conducted our journalism of race. But for today, let's return to what Michele Tafoya said last November 2—to what she said about her children's schools during a guest appearance on The View.

Tafoya lodged a specific complaint about her children's schools. We don't know how valid her complaint may be. As a matter of fact, we don't know if her complaint is valid at all. 

Below, we'll explain why we know so little about her complaint. But since we're discussing the newly-invented journalism of race, let's throw in a bit more background about who Tafoya and her children are, demographics-wise.

That background goes like this:

Tafoya's father, the late Orlando Antonio Tafoya, was "a first-generation Latino" who grew up in New Mexico. Her mother, the late Wilma Conley, "grew up poor, dirt poor, during the Depression" and seems to have been plain old "white."

(We're quoting Tafoya from a recent appearance on The Dan Patrick Show.)

Her parents met in a calculus class as Berkeley undergraduates. They raised four children in SoCal. 

One daughter became an Obama official. Another daughter became a sideline reporter for NBC Sports who defines herself as a pro-choice conservative with libertarian leanings.

The sports reporter appeared on The View last November 2. Again, we'll show you what she said about her children's schools, but first we'll tell you this:

Tafoya's husband, Mark Vandersall, seems to be plain old Minnesota white. On that basis, we'll assume that their 16-year-old son will be classified that way too.

Their 13-year-old daughter was adopted from Colombia. According to Tafoya, her employer at the time "allowed me to take two months to live in Bogota while we adopted our daughter. That was a phenomenal experience."

We've now had naming of parts! This will let us apply Preferred Storyline in the most effective way possible. (We speak in these unpleasant ways because, in our estimation, vast amounts of our newly-invented journalism of race are almost completely performative.)

Having accomplished our naming of parts, we're prepared to show you, once again, what Tafoya said on November 2. First though, a spoiler alert:

Tafoya's comments about "affinity groups" triggered a wave of lectures about a different topic. Once again, here's what Tafoya said:

TAFOYA (11/2/22): My kids in school—there is a big, big focus on the color of your skin.

INTERJECTION: How old are your children?

TAFOYA: My children are now 16 and 13

INTERJECTION: In what way?

TAFOYA: It's been going on since they were in lower school, all right? And it is that there are affinity groups on campus for each—

My son's first best friend was a little African-American boy. They were inseparable. Get to a certain age, they start having what's called an "affinity group," which means you go for lunch and pizza with people who look like you. Suddenly, my son wasn't hanging out with him any more.

His next best friend was a little Korean boy. Years, inseparable. He started going to his affinity groups. 

Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters? Because to me, what matters is your character and your values.

That's what Tafoya said. As we've noted previously, we're guessing that her kids attend the Edina, Minnesota Public Schools, which instituted a social justice program, "All for All," back in 2013.

Question: Is something wrong with the affinity groups Tafoya mentioned that day? Are they driving wedges between groups of kids? Are they teaching kids "that the color of their skin matters" in some inappropriate way?

In part because of what happened after Tafoya spoke, we have no idea! But before we extend our account of what happened next, we'll deliver this political warning:

Warning! We'll guess that, if the topic was polled, a large majority of American adults would agree with the idea that "what matters is your character and your values." We'll guess that would include a large majority of American adults who hail from various "races."

"What matters is your character and your values?" That's a highly imprecise statement, but it's also modern American scripture. And uh-oh:

When we progressives get a snootful and start seeming to trample on that dogma, we may sometimes tend to trigger backlashes at the polls, even in San Francisco!

Tafoya voiced a negative view about those "affinity groups." But how exactly do those groups work? What are children in her kids' schools invited or directed to do?

We have no idea! In part, we have no idea because of the way The View's four regular panelists reacted to what Tafoya said. 

Long story short:

Tafoya complained about one type of behavior. The four regular panelists from "ABC News" launched a series of filibusters about a different topic—about a topic concerning which they knew the preconceived scripts.

Briefly, a confession! We were surprised to see that The View is listed as part of ABC News

We would have assumed that it was part of the entertainment division. According to the leading authority on the topic, the chronology goes like this:

Beginning in its tenth season [in 2007], the series became subject to on-air controversies and media criticism involving its panel of co-hosts. It was transferred from the helm of ABC's entertainment division to that of ABC News in 2014 following a decline in ratings. By 2021, The View had become the most-viewed news and talk program in daytime television.

The View got re-branded as a "news" show in 2014. That said, the program rather plainly exists to create a series of defiantly stupid pseudo-discussions, resulting in the "on-air controversies" which help keep it number one.

So it went on November 2 after Tafoya lodged her complaint. Tafoya complained about one thing. Her officious, rude, unintelligent hosts took turns sounding off about something different and dumber.

On Monday, we stated a basic principle about the newly-invented journalism of trace:

The great thing about the journalism of race is that we in our failing tribe always get to be right.

So it was when Tafoya spoke about something that's done in her children's schools. She stated her view back in November and then again, just last week, on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

In each case, tribunes of our embarrassing tribe landed on her like a ton of bricks. She had offered a specific complaint. Again and again, our tribunes' self-assured scripts concerned something totally different.

We thought Tafoya's host on The View were officious, unintelligent, rude. If you want to see them orate, you can click this first. After that, you can click here.

Warning! The Others are able to see us when we perform in these ways. It's one of the ways we lose elections, and with those elections the world.

A devil has the people by the throat? So perhaps do our failing tribe's corporate "news" divisions!

Meanwhile, is something wrong with those affinity groups? Like everyone else who was watching that show, we have no idea!

We don't even know where her kids go to school! The fact is, nobody cares!

Tomorrow: Various lectures and putdowns

Can you believe the things you read?


What Greg Sargent said: We still hope to get to what many have said about the Vice President Pence. Here it is, in a recent iteration by Ed Kilgore:

KILGORE (2/20/22): But perhaps the most jarring example of selective memory about Trump’s election coup comes from the man he has singularly and relentlessly blamed for spoiling it all: former vice-president Mike Pence. To be clear, the evidence suggests that Trump’s trusty and sycophantic veep vacillated until the very last moment before he “betrayed” the boss by refusing to abuse his position as the presiding officer of the January 6 joint session of Congress by denying confirmation of Biden’s Electoral College victory. According to the latest insider account, he was shown a tweet by conservative legal luminary Michael Luttig denying any vice-presidential power to change the results before completely making up his mind the very morning of the planned heist.

Somewhat sadly, Kilgore starts with the words "to be clear," then issues a mandated howler. That said, we'll skip this comforting groaner today in favor of what Sargent said.

We've seen people say it a million times. Here it is again, in the latest report about "the latest GOP restrictions on race teaching:"

SARGENT (2/23/22): Tennessee parents objected to the teaching of a book that portrayed the Jim Crow era in blunt and graphic terms, insisting it would make kids “hate their country.” Tennessee law prohibits teaching “concepts” that might make someone feel “discomfort” due to their race.

Oddly, Sargent provides no link to the Tennessee law in question. Last September, a pair of scribes at CNN offered this account of a Tennessee law they were willing to link to and name:

MCMORRIS-SANTORO AND EDWARDS (9/29/21): In May, Gov. Bill Lee signed HB 580, a law aimed at banning so-called critical race theory from schools. Educators argue that critical race theory is not taught or included in the K-12 curriculum and is usually an elective class in college or law school.

Section 51, part 6 of the Tennessee law makes lesson plans illegal if students "feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish."

You can assess the overall law as you like. But is that what the law actually says? Does Section 51(a), part 6 really say that you can't teach something if it makes students feel discomfort? Or does that section of the law really say something different?

You can judge that matter for yourselves simply by clicking here. But as a general matter, it's impossible to have a serious discussion of any topic or any claim under current tribal arrangements, in which it's script all the way down. 

Meanwhile, how about Pence? In the run-up to January 6, did he "vacillate until the very last moment before he 'betrayed' the boss?" 

By now, that pleasing claim is sacred writ within our embarrassing tribe.  But is that what "the latest insider account" really says?

Kilgore links to this Politico report by Ryan Lizza—but that simply isn't what Lizza's report really says. Also, that isn't what Woodward and Costa said in their ballyhooed book, Peril—and it was selective treatment of that book's contents which started this Storyline.

Remember, it's all anthropology now. We'll offer this overview:

The pandemic has seemed to lead to many adverse effects. Homicide is up; reckless driving is up; so are crackpot airline incidents.

Some are now saying that the stress of the pandemic has perhaps driven Putin half-nuts! To appearances, the stress of seeing our nation fail is also having adverse effects on the tribunes of our own tribe.

To appearances, leading members of our tribe no longer know how to make accurate statements. Nuance and accuracy are almost completely gone. Round the decay of our tribal wreck, only recitation of script remains.

Anthropologically, we no longer seem to know how to make accurate statements. On the other hand, a question arises:

Did we humans ever possess that skill? A wide array of scholars and experts say the answer is possibly no!

Tomorrow: Luttig and Pence and Woodward and Costa and precision and nuance oh my!

THE JOURNALISM OF RACE: Whoopi Goldberg's instant retort...


...blew past what Tayofa had said: We'll admit it—we're intrigued by what Michele Tafoya said.

She said it when she appeared on The View.  She appeared on the program last November 2, on Election Day no less. 

Tafoya was nearing the end of a long career as a reporter for NBC Sports. Her comment concerned her children's schools. As we noted yesterday, this is what she said:

TAFOYA (11/2/22): My kids in school—there is a big, big focus on the color of your skin.

INTERJECTION: How old are your children?

TAFOYA: My children are now 16 and 13

INTERJECTION: In what way?

TAFOYA: It's been going on since they were in lower school, all right? And it is that there are affinity groups on campus for each—

My son's first best friend was a little African-American boy. They were inseparable. Get to a certain age, they start having what's called an "affinity group," which means you go for lunch and pizza with people who look like you. Suddenly, my son wasn't hanging out with him any more.

His next best friend was a little Korean boy. Years, inseparable. He started going to his affinity groups. 

Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters? Because to me, what matters is your character and your values.

We didn't see these remarks in real time. But after Tafoya guested with Tucker Carlson last week, her remarks occasioned a fair amount of comment. It's much as Chekhov put it:

"The appearance on the front of a new arrival—a lady with a lap-dog—became the topic of general conversation."

After appearing with Carlson last week, Tafoya's remarks about her children's schools became the topic of general conversation. As the conversation swirled, we watched the tape from her earlier appearance on The View. Once again, we're prepared to confess:

We're interested in her (fleeting) remarks about her children's schools.

For what it's worth, Tafoya is one of The Others. Back in 2015, she described herself, in this Sports Illustrated profile, as a “pro-choice conservative"—as "a conservative person" with "some definite libertarian strains."

For the record, you're allowed to be a conservative person with libertarian strains. And sure enough:

Having left her job with NBC Sports, Tafoya is now an official on the Minnesota gubernatorial campaign of Kenneth Qualls—and Qualls is a Republican.

In spite of these distinguishing characteristics, we retain our curiosity about Tafoya's fleeting remarks about her children's schools. 

On the one hand, we're interested in the kinds of experiences children have in their schools. Then too, there's the unfortunate politics which can emerge in the face of practices which might seem to be "left-leaning schooling gone wild."

What the heck is going on in the Tafoya kids' schools? According to Tafoya, the schools operate some sort of "affinity groups." Apparently, membership in these groups is determined on the basis of ethnicity and race.

Tafoya seems to think that these affinity groups are a bad idea. She seems to feel that the groups are driving different groups of kids farther apart. 

For the record, we have no idea if that impression is accurate. In Tafoya's view, the practice is teaching kids "that the color of [their] skin matters."

Could it be that something is wrong with this particular practice? As we noted yesterday, Tafoya's kids may be enrolled in the Edina, Minnesota Public Schools, a system which initiated a type of social justice program ("All for All") back in 2013.

Assuming that its motives are pure, how good is that school district's judgment? Everyone can make mistakes, and some mistakes can produce blowback at the polls, as the nation recently saw in the San Francisco school board recall vote.

Is Edina showing good judgment in the operation of its "All for All" program? We don't have the slightest idea, in part because Whoopi Goldberg broke in on Tafoya and offered this retort:

GOLDBERG (continuing directly): Yes, but you know—you live in the United States. You know that color of skin has been mattering to people for years.

To watch that segment, click here.

The conversation, such as it was, continued along from there. It was one of the most useless non-conversation "conservations" we've ever seen—and it wasn't even part of our "cable news!"

Tomorrow, we'll show you where the discussion, such as it was, actually went from there. Many monologues were delivered before Tafoya spoke again.

On Friday, we'll show you some of the punditry which resulted from Tafoya's appearance on Carlson's program last week, where she stated her same general view about those "affinity groups." For now, we'll only say this:

We still don't know where Tafoya's children go to school. We've seen no one ask her to speak in more detail about those affinity groups. 

As for what happened on The View, we'll offer this spoiler:

Tafoya was making a specific type of claim in the passage we've posted. The View's panel of pundits proceeded to take turns refuting an array of claims which she hadn't made.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our public discourse concerning "the news" is largely a long rolling joke. Even on the highest levels, our journalists seem to lack even the most elementary skills. 

On Olympus, the gods lounge and laugh. We're told that the so-called "journalism of race" is one of these deities' favorites.

Our nation's TV offerings were "a vast wasteland," Newton Minow once famously said. Can any sane person possibly say that his assessment no longer obtains?

Tomorrow:  Reply with the scripts what brung ya

When Newton Minow gave a speech...


...Gilligan's Island responded: Long ago and far away, Newton Minow gave a famous speech.

He spoke on May 9, 1961. He was delivering his first major address since the newly elected President Kennedy made him head of the FCC.

At that time, a basic view was widely held, at least within certain cultural groups. We refer to the widespread belief that American popular culture tended to possibly be a bit dumb.

Needless to say, the question of whether something is dumb always involves matters of judgment. Also, issues of courtesy may arise when popular entertainment, or widely held beliefs, are described as being dumb.

That said, for better or worse, Minow pulled few punches that day. In what became a famous speech, he said the typical contents of American television were unhealthily violent and dumb. 

As Minow spoke, he employed a turn of phrase which became quite famous. Here's part of what he said:

MINOW (5/9/61): When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. 

I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

American television had become "a vast wasteland," Minow famously said. As he continued, he described what you'd see if you were willing to chain yourself to your TV set for a day:

MINOW (continuing directly): You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials—many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it. 

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! Still and all, Minow said it.

We ourselves were just 13 when Minow delivered his speech. That said, the notion that our popular culture was possibly dumb was widespread among many teens of the day. 

Newton Minow took a swing at the TV of the day. Before we make a modern-day point, we'll offer two more observations about his original speech:

First, the speech occasioned some pushback. That said, we have to chuckle when the leading authority on the speech recalls this stinging retort:

The speech was not without detractors, as that lambasting of the state of United States television programming prompted Sherwood Schwartz to name the boat on his television show Gilligan's Island the S. S. Minnow after Newton Minow.

Was commercial television "a vast wasteland?" Aggressively, the fellow who gave us Gilligan's Island decided he had to push back!

Also, there was Minow's sense of who was to blame for what he saw on the tube. Again, we quote the leading authority:

Minow went on to dismiss the idea that public taste was driving the change in programming, stating his firm belief that if television choices were expanded, viewers would gravitate toward higher culture programming.

If television choices were expanded, viewers would gravitate toward higher culture! On balance, we'll guess that Minow was basically wrong in that assessment. 

What makes us think that Minow may have been wrong? We'll cite two relatively recent examples:

First, we'd cite the way modern basic cable channels started out with high-brow aims, then steadily ratcheted their programming downward, presumably in the face of public preferences. 

Bravo "originally focused on programming related to fine arts and film." It now pays its bills thanks to the battles of its fatuous gangs pf "Real Housewives." 

Meanwhile, the History Channel fills its days, and burns away its nights, with silly/dumb UFO shows. The pattern is widely observed among an array of cable channels which started out with high aims.

For a second example, consider the way the Internet was originally expected to serve as "the information superhighway." (Never mind who said it!)

The Internet does provide instant access to astonishing amounts of information. On balance, though, it isn't always used that way, not even by major journalists. 

Instead, the Internet has served as a medium for endless mis- and disinformation, along with lots of puppy videos and rumored boatloads of porn. The information is there for the taking, but we simply don't run on such fuel.

Minow's turn of phrase became famous. The fact remains that public taste may not always turn toward the high-brow, or even the accurate.

Alas! Our "cable news" could perhaps be seen as a type of vast wasteland! Conversations in the medium tilt strongly toward the familiar and scripted. Some basic product tilts toward the insane. Large chunks of the rest tilt toward simple-minded, reassuring and dumb.

What does a person have to do around here to see a good solid discussion? The questions isn't easy to answer. Despite the ways our stars get branded and sold, does Minow's basic point live?

Newton Minow stated his point. Gilligan's Island responded!

Still coming: Can you believe the things you hear? (former vice president edition)

THE JOURNALISM OF RACE: What's happening in Edina's schools?


On The View, no one asked: It's one great thing about membership in our floundering liberal tribe. Especially when it comes to matters of race, you always get to be right! 

Consider what happened when Michele Tafoya mentioned something she doesn't like about her children's schools.

Tafoya did this for the first time back in November, appearing on The View. Last Wednesday night, she did so again, this time on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

She didn't mention critical race theory during either appearance. She didn't say anything about the best way to teach our American history in our American schools.

In each case, she spoke to a different type of concern. Within our nation's discussion-free culture, it doesn't much matter what she said. But just for the sake of maintaining tradition, let's try to establish the record.

When Tafoya appeared with Carlson last week, he started by playing some (lightly edited) videotape from her appearance on The View. Below, you see the fuller chunk of what she said on The View about her children's schools 

TAFOYA (11/2/22): My kids in school—there is a big, big focus on the color of your skin.

INTERJECTION: How old are your children?

TAFOYA: My children are now 16 and 13—

INTERJECTION: In what way?

TAFOYA: It's been going on since they were in lower school, all right? And it is that there are affinity groups on campus for each—

My son's first best friend was a little African-American boy. They were inseparable. Get to a certain age, they start having what's called an "affinity group," which means you go for lunch and pizza with people who look like you. Suddenly, my son wasn't hanging out with him any more.

His next best friend was a little Korean boy. Years, inseparable. He started going to his affinity groups. 

Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters? Because to me, what matters is your character and your values.

At this point, Whoopi Goldberg jumped in, and a discussion of a different topic ensued.

The discussion never returned to what Tafoya seemed to have said. Just for the record, this is what she seems to have said about her children's schools:

She seems to have said that her children attend schools in which kids are sorted into "affinity groups" based on ethnicity and race. She seems to have said that kids are directed to go, for lunch and for pizza, with other kids of their own ethnicity and race.

Rather plainly, she seemed to think that this wasn't a good idea. But that's where Tafoya's presentation came to an abrupt halt. After Goldberg responded, a different discussion broke out.

We'll admit that we were curious about what Tafoya had said. We wondered where her children go to school. We wondered about the actual policies to which she was referring.

No one on the set of The View seemed to have any such questions or curiosities. But just for the sake of creating a record, we'll show you some of what we've learned about this situation from a bit of googling.

By all accounts, Lafoya and her husband live in Edina, Minnesota, a high-income suburb of Minneapolis with a population of roughly 54,000. As of last July, Edina's racial / ethnic demographic breakdown looked like this:

Population of Edina, Minnesota
White: 84.2%
Black: 2.6%
Hispanic: 2.6%
Asian-American: 7.4%

So go Edina's demographics at this point in time. Income levels are rather high. The poverty rate is low.

We've found no record of whether Tafoya's kids attend public or private schools. That said, the leading authority on the Edina Public Schools offers this statement as part of its overview of the highly-regarded school system:

"Since the late 2010s, the district has increasingly gained attention for its social justice curriculum."

There seems to be little doubt that the Edina schools have been engaged in some such effort. In October 2017, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune published a pair of point / counterpoint essays about the system's focus on issues of racial justice. In her critical essay about the effort, Katherine Kersten wrote this:

KERSTEN (10/9/17): District leaders enshrined [a] new mission in EPS’s “All for All” strategic plan, adopted in 2013. The plan mandates that, going forward, the EPS must view “all teaching and learning experiences” through the “lens of racial equity.”


The “All for All” plan mandates sweeping change to how education is delivered in Edina. For example, it dictates that, from now on, the district will hire “racially conscious teachers and administrators.” It also declares that students must “acquire an awareness of their own cultural identity and value racial, cultural and ethnic diversities.”

In education-speak, this means that Edina children will now be instructed that their personal, cultural “identity” is irrevocably tied to their skin color. This directly rejects the colorblind vision that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. pioneered, and that the vast majority of Americans share.

Those are Kersten's views of the "All for All" program. In a counterpoint essay, Professor Annie Mogush Mason voiced a favorable view of Edina's approach, but there doesn't seem to be any doubt that the Edina Public Schools adopted some such new set of procedures during the last decade.

On that basis, we'll guess that Tafoya's kids probably attend the Edina Public Schools. For the record, the district's web site says that its student population is "becoming more diverse," and is now "28.3% students of color."

We'll guess that Tafoya's kids attend the Edina Public Schools. That said, no one asked any such question when Tafoya appeared on The View. 

The program's stars showed zero interest in exploring what Tafoya had said. Instead, they launched an exceptionally dull exposition of various obvious ideas which were cluttering up their heads.

Through the magic of videotape, you can watch the two segments of The View in which this non-discussion occurred. If you choose to do so, you'll be watching a remarkable imitation of life—a virtual Platonic ideal of an imitation of discourse.

Tafoya never said a word about the way American history should be taught. We were intrigued by what she had been briefly permitted to say, but the stars of The View were not.

They staged a remarkable imitation of life, in which they pretended to conduct a public discussion. Is it possible that such blinkered and tribalized pseudo-discussions put our political future in peril?

According to several essays in today's Washington Post, there's every chance that they do! But so what? Along the way, we liberals will grant ourselves the greatest gift of all—we'll grant ourselves the gift of knowing that we're always completely right in our tiny handful of basic ideas, no matter what may have been said.

In the next day or two, we'll offer more about the way Tafoya's remarks have been covered. We'll offer more about the way her remarks were received on The View.

For ourselves, we'd like to know more, for good or for ill, about those affinity groups.  Within our vastly self-assured tribe, some others may prefer to sound off.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our deeply self-impressed tribe is just extremely limited. Our basic skills are very few; our sense of certainty is strong.

Increasingly, we're inclined to focus on "the journalism of race." But oh, what kind of journalism is this, which goes from bad to worse?

Could our arrogance and our incompetence possibly lead to future disasters? In the wake of that vote in San Francisco, why yes—of course they could!

Tomorrow: Who is Michele Tafoya? Also, who are Tafoya's kids?

You can't believe a thing you read!


The philosopher and the vice president: Can you believe anything you read or hear from the standard sources?

Not necessarily, no! We'll start with the day's comic relief—with the report which is currently featured at the top of Slate's front page.

On its front page, Slate is offering this tease. If you're willing to click, the comic relief ensues:

A Renowned Scholar Decided COVID Lockdowns Look Like Nazi Germany. The Fallout Has Raged Ever Since.

Who could this renowned scholar be? Inside Slate, Professor Adam Kotsko's report starts like this, dual headlines included:

What Happened to Giorgio Agamben? 
In February 2020, a hugely influential philosopher decided COVID lockdowns looked a lot like Nazi Germany. The fallout in academia and beyond has raged ever since.

The problem began, as a surprising number do, with a blog post. Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosophy giant who is a bit like the Jonathan Franzen of the field—the kind of towering yet idiosyncratic figure you feel you have to respond to, whether you like him or not—had long maintained a blog where he posts short pieces about current events and other musings. Sometimes he’d comment on Greta Thunberg; other times he’d write poetic meditations on social decline. This went largely unnoticed—until he made his first intervention into the debate about emergency measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus in February 2020.

As it turns out, the renowned scholar in question is also hugely influential. He's an Italian philosophy giant—the kind of towering figure you feel you have to respond to, whether you like him or not.

He's also someone you've never heard of, and almost surely will never hear of again. The leading authority on his life and his work offers this quick overview

Giorgio Agamben (born 22 April 1942) is an Italian philosopher best known for his work investigating the concepts of the state of exception, form-of-life (borrowed from Ludwig Wittgenstein) and homo sacer. The concept of biopolitics (carried forth from the work of Michel Foucault) informs many of his writings.



Much of Agamben's work since the 1980s can be viewed as leading up to the so-called Homo Sacer project, which properly begins with the book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. In this series of works, Agamben responds to Hannah Arendt's and Foucault's studies of totalitarianism and biopolitics. Since 1995 he has been best known for this ongoing project, the volumes of which have been published out of order.

As of 2017, these works have been collected and published as The Omnibus: Homo Sacer (2017). 

In the final volume of the series, Agamben intends to address "the concepts of forms-of-life and lifestyles." "What I call a form-of-life," he explains, "is a life which can never be separated from its form, a life in which it is never possible to separate something like bare life. [...] Here too the concept of privacy comes into play."

Perhaps the power of Agamben's work is beginning to come into focus. 

At any rate, Agamben has been working on this project since the 1980s and, despite his massive influence, you've never heard a single word about it. You can decide whether this tells you something about the world of the academy, about your country's national discourse, or about the world of Slate.

Do you believe that any of this makes a lick of sense? Due to our natural respect for authority, you may be inclined to assume that this just has to make sense. If so, we'll suggest that your respect for intellectual authority may in this instance be wrong.

Agamben is said to be an intellectual giant. He's 79 years old, but you've never seen his name mentioned, not even once. Could it be because his massively influential thought is built around such insights as these?

In The Coming Community, published in 1990 and translated by longtime admirer Michael Hardt in 1993, Agamben describes the social and political manifestation of his philosophical thought. Employing diverse short essays he describes the nature of "whatever singularity" as that which has an "inessential commonality, a solidarity that in no way concerns an essence." It is important to note his understanding of "whatever" not as being indifference but based on the Latin "quodlibet ens" translated as "being such that it always matters."

Be sure to pay attention to his understanding of "whatever!"

More and more, the people at Slate pursue advice columns in which they can't even vouch for the authenticity of the slightly suspicious letters to which they say they're responding. Sometimes, you simply get Schwedeled. 

Also, they throw in the occasional "imitation of life" like the essay they feature today.

You've never heard of Agamben. His massively influential musings may not seem to make sense.

In truth, our failing tribe's journalistic and academic horizons are drawn, more and more, from such halls of mirrors. Robert Zimmerman mentioned this general state of affairs a good many years ago:

You've been with the professors and they've all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well-read, it's well known.
But something is happening here and you don't know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?

As far as we know, Dylan has never explained who this "Mr. Jones" was. Tomorrow, we may proceed to the latest nonsense you shouldn't believe—the tribally pleasing, mandated nonsense about the (former) vice president.

We're running on imitations of life. More and more, again and again, our cultural fuel is imitations, pretty much all the way down.

STARTING TOMORROW: Highly selective!


The journalism of race: In her column in yesterday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd was trying to help.

She cited three well-known Democratic strategists—David Axelrod, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg. 

Are Democrats facing disaster in November's congressional elections? According to Dowd, those strategists have been "speaking out with startling candor about the impending Repubocalypse." 

According to Dowd, disaster may be approaching—and many observers agree. Here's the start of what Dowd was told by Carville:

DOWD (2/20/22): Carville, still a Ragin’ Cajun, took time out from his Mardi Gras planning to reiterate points he has made in a Vox interview and elsewhere: Democrats should not be defined by their left wing or condone nutty slogans like “Defund the police.” They should work not to seem like an “urban, coastal, arrogant party” indulging in “faculty lounge politics” that appeal to reason rather than emotion and use “woke” words like “Latinx.”

“Seventy percent of the people in San Francisco tried to warn us,” he said of the battle among Democrats that ended up with voters firing three far-left school board members who mandated a long break from in-person learning during the pandemic and who wanted to rechristen schools named after Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

“They’re not popular,” Carville said of such far-lefties, adding in a line spoken directly to them: “People don’t like you.”

“Seventy percent of the people in San Francisco tried to warn us,” Carville said. 

In fact, most people in San Francisco didn't vote in that recent recall election. On the other hand, the three school board members who appeared on the ballot were all removed from office by votes of more than seventy percent! 

Should that recall election serve as a warning sign for Democrats? You can judge it as you wish. 

But why may such people—such "far-lefties"—perhaps be broadly unpopular? Consider the tweets of Alison Collins, who was removed from the board by a vote of 79 percent.

We don't recommend piling on people when they're down. But over the course of the past year, Collins came under special fire in San Francisco for a set of tweets she posted in December 2016, long before she was elected to the board.

The tweets, which resurfaced last March, were seen as being insulting to San Francisco's Asian-American citizens / neighbors / voters / colleagues / friends. Joe Eshenazi's account of the matter strikes us as admirably fair, but along the way, and with our apologies, Collins had tweeted this:

Many Asian Americans believe they benefit from the "model minority" BS. 

In fact, many Asian American teachers, students and parents actively promote these myths. They use white supremacist thinking to assimilate and "get ahead."


Where are the vocal Asians speaking up against Trump? Don't Asian Americans know they're on his list as well? 

Do they think they won't be deported? profiled? beaten? Being a house n****r  is still being a n****r. You're still considered "the help."

Oof! According to Collins' tweets, many Asian Americans had been engaged in "white supremacist thinking." And not only that! According to Collins, these San Franciscans had been behaving like a bunch of "house [N-words]."

Collins wasn't on the board when she authored those tweets. On the board, she played a role in various unpopular decisions and behaviors. 

Some of the oddest of these behaviors tend to get skipped in the recent news coverage. According to the leading authority on this topic, one such behavior was this:

During its meeting on February 9, 2021, the school board questioned whether a gay teacher, who was father of a biracial child, would add diversity to an all-female parental advisory committee of volunteers, on the ground that he was white and would temporarily tip the racial balance of the committee. Collins was "adamant" that he should not be appointed, although 5 of the 15 positions were vacant at the time, to which no one else had applied. The board discussed the issue for two hours, despite other pressing issues such as school reopening, before rejecting the candidate.

For two hours, the school board fiddled while Frisco burned! Collins had been "adamant!"

(Is that a fair account of what happened? We've been fact-checking other gong-shows all weekend. For KGO's account of this matter, you can just click here.)

Sometimes people make unfortunate statements. People may issue unfortunate tweets. 

At their best, Collins' tweets were unhelpful. Other actions by the school board were broadly unpopular—unpopular all the way down.

As Carville noted to Dowd, it doesn't help when our "far-lefties" send racialized insults into the world. That said, it may not help when our anti-lefties issue such comments as this: 

DOWD: Carville is also flummoxed that Republicans could defend the Jan. 6 madness as “legitimate political discourse.”

“Ninety-eight percent of people on the Mall on Jan. 6 were white,” he said. “We need better white people in the United States.”

Are Republicans really defending the January 6 madness as "legitimate political discourse?" In our view, this pleasing, tribally mandated claim is quite hard to defend.

Concerning Carville's fiery claim about the need for better white people, we'd tend to agree with this early comment to Dowd's column:

COMMENTER FROM UNDISCLOSED LOCATION:  About 70% of the country is white and about 70% of them didn't go to college. So, about half our voters are non-college whites.

It's a helluva political strategy to make half the country your enemy. Good luck with that.

We'd be inclined to agree with that assessment. We had a similar reaction to Carville's remark when we read Dowd's column.

According to one of our tribe's far-lefties, many Asian-Americans in San Francisco behave like a bunch of "house N-words." According to one of our tribe's anti-lefties, we need better white people in this country of ours.

According to experts, both remarks are part of what is known to future academics as "the racialization of everything." According to those disconsolate scholars, it's a cultural practice which is hard-wired into our brains, and is therefore "all too human."

Many observers have said that the school board recall vote—in San Francisco, no less!—should serve as a warning to our flailing tribe. Experts say there's little chance that any such warning will be widely heeded.

Our nation is sinking deeper and deeper into a deeply destructive tribal war. According to experts, our own tribe rarely helps itself with its treatment of racial topics and issues.

Such topics are everywhere at the present time. We have the San Francisco school board vote, and the lawsuit brought by Brian Flores.

We have Whoopi Goldberg's comments about the Holocaust, and her subsequent suspension from The View. We have the sentencing of Kim Potter, and the anger that sentencing caused.

We have Joe Biden's search for the next Supreme Court Justice; we also have the public reaction to the way he's conducting his search. We have ongoing issues of gerrymandering and the role sometimes played by race.

Parts of our tribe are baldly performative when it comes to matters of race. Parts of our tribe are angry.

Given the sweep of our history and the shape of our discourse, the anger is understandable. That said, resulting conduct may not be helpful, and reactions may not always be wise.

Meanwhile, the journalism of race continues to be little short of amazing. In almost any matter involving race, our tribe is now subjected to highly selective reporting—to reporting and punditry which seem to come to us Straight Outta Storyline.

Tomorrow, we'll start with the following question as we explore that journalism—the journalism of race:

What is happening in the schools Michele Tafoya's children attend?

That strikes us as an interesting question—until our tribe steps in.

Tomorrow: Last November, on The View, an imitation of life

More like Fox with each passing day!


Adventures in dumbnification: Last evening, a raft of despondent intellectual giants gifted us with their current view of the world.

(Full disclosure: They did so through a series of the nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as dreams.)

In a nutshell, these disconsolate experts said this:

Vladimir Putin spent the past month preparing to gobble Europe's second largest nation. As he did, North American leaders were trying to get a bunch of crackpots to move their trucks off a bridge.

Yesterday, David Brooks sanitized this bleak view as part of a highly insightful column. We refer to this part of his essay:

BROOKS (2/18/22): What is the key factor that has made the 21st century so dark, regressive and dangerous?

The normal thing to say is that the liberal world order is in crisis. But just saying that doesn’t explain why. Why are people [around the world] rejecting liberalism? What weakness in liberalism is its enemies exploiting? What is at the root of this dark century? Let me offer one explanation.


The 21st century has become a dark century because the seedbeds of democracy have been neglected and normal historical authoritarianism is on the march. Putin and Xi seem confident that the winds of history are at their back. Writing in The Times a few weeks ago, [Fiona] Hill said that Putin believes the United States is in the same predicament Russia was in during the 1990s—“weakened at home and in retreat abroad.” 

As we struggle to clear a bridge, does Putin think such thoughts? 

We don't know what Putin thinks. But if he doesn't think that we're "weakened at home," we'd say that he certainly ought to!

We strongly recommend Brooks' column, which was widely praised in comments. In part, we'd call your attention to these parts of the gentleman's thesis:

BROOKS: The real problem is in the seedbeds of democracy, the institutions that are supposed to mold a citizenry and make us qualified to practice democracy. To restore those seedbeds, we first have to relearn the wisdom of the founders: We are not as virtuous as we think we are. Americans are no better than anyone else. Democracy is not natural; it is an artificial accomplishment that takes enormous work.

Then we need to fortify the institutions that are supposed to teach the democratic skills: how to weigh evidence and commit to truth; how to correct for your own partisan blinders and learn to doubt your own opinions; how to respect people you disagree with; how to avoid catastrophism, conspiracy and apocalyptic thinking; how to avoid supporting demagogues; how to craft complex compromises.

We aren't as virtuous as we think, Brooks sagaciously says. He also makes these assessments:

We need to learn how to weigh evidence. We need to learn how to commit to truth. We need to learn how to correct for our own partisan blinders.

We need to learn to doubt our own opinions. We need to learn how to respect people we disagree with.

We agree with all those points! We think our own tribe's recent "adventures in paraphrase" provide a good object lesson.

Friend, do you believe it? Do you believe that the RNC issued a unanimous statement saying that the violent assaults of January 6 were examples of "legitimate political discourse?"

Friend, do you really believe that? Granted, the RNC didn't explicitly say that. 

But do you think that's a valid paraphrase of what the RNC said? Do you believe that that's a sensible account of what they actually meant?

For ourselves, we've regarded the RNC as a major clown show for more than twenty years. That said, no:

We don't think that's a sound paraphrase of what the RNC said. And we see no reason to believe that that's what the RNC meant.

The RNC has long been a clown show—but we don't believe that even they are anywhere near that crazy. (It may be that Donald Trump is.) And here's another key point:

We don't believe it's honest or decent to keep reporting that the RNC said that—to keep presenting that as an established fact—without mentioning these two points:

First, the resolution doesn't say any such thing in an explicit way. And second, major figures in the RNC have repeatedly said that they do condemn the violence which occurred on January 6.

In our view, the RNC is a long-standing clown show. Also, much of what one sees on Fox News may border on the insane.

That said:

The gruesome behavior of our own liberal stars becomes more and more like that on Fox with each passing day. Routinely now, our corporate stars assail us with script in ways which reinforce a pair of major assessments:

First, people will do and say a lot of things to retain massively high-paying corporate jobs. Also, man (sic) is really the tribal animal—the creature which runs on script.

The O'Donnells, the Dionnes, the Woodruffs, the Capeharts? The Velshis, the Melbers, the Kilgores, Chris Hayes?

One after another, the leading lights of our own failing tribe stood in line to make the remarkable claim that the RNC had described those violent assaults as "legitimate political discourse."

The resolution in question had made no such explicit statement; RNC leaders had quickly denied that that was what they meant. But our horrifically tribalized stars all crept forward to recite. This is who and what we humans are, major top experts all tell us.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. If Putin doesn't think we're in trouble here, he's dumber than anyone thinks.

We're largely dissolving into a Babel of exceptionally dumb warring tribes. As we do, very few people seem to know "how to how to weigh evidence" about tribal claims as they attempt to "commit to truth." 

There's nothing so dumb that people won't say it! (We watched C-Span this morning.) Sadly, that's increasingly true within our own tribe, from Woodruff and Dionne right on down.

Importantly, let's be fair. For the average person, it's harder "to weigh evidence" now than it ever was in the past. 

In the past, it was hard to gain access to crazy viewpoints and claims. Today, the promulgation of crazy claims is a very large, round-the-clock business.

On Fox, they're constantly selling such cars. But our favorite stars are selling such cars on our own cable channels too.

Even within our self-impressed tribe, we have very few skills with which to assess such claims. Within each tribe, we tend to believe whatever we're told. In the process, our Babel expands.

We become a dimwitted Babel composed of inane warring tribes. As this happens, the traditional strongmen of the world look on, and they see that it's good.

Putin's about to gobble Ukraine. Over here, the Woodruffs, O'Donnells and Dionnes increasingly make us dumber.

More on this to come next week. As Dylan said, it's a drag to see Us! We need to confront who we are.