We strongly recommend Ezra Klein's essay!

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2022

We disagree with Drum: In a new post, Kevin Drum offers a "counsel of despair concerning mass shootings." He begins his post like this:

DRUM (5/31/22): I am one of those terrible liberals who has long-since given up on gun control and mass shootings. The pro-gun sentiment in America—even if it's not a majority—is far too strong to permit any meaningful firearm legislation. Combine that with a pro-gun Supreme Court and I'm unable to see even the slim possibility of any serious regulation in the near or medium-term future. I've never been interested in pie-in-the-sky activism, which is why I don't write much about gun control and don't even think very highly of other liberals wasting their time on it.

We disagree with that assessment; we wouldn't give up at this point. Very large majorities favor certain kinds of regulation. It seems to us that passage is possible if the politicking gets more skillful, especially Over Here in our tribe.

With that in mind, we strongly recommend Ezra Klein's (somewhat wonkish) essay in today's New York Times. Klein does something you never see—instead of explaining what has been wrong with Them, he offers a rather detailed view of what has been wrong with Us.

This is simply never done. In our view, it needs to be done on a regular basis.

We hope to detail our general thoughts in this regard in the next few weeks. But we strongly recommend Klein's new essay. From deep within our self-impressed tribe, it does what is never done.

OUR RATIONALITY, OURSELVES: How rational is the Washington Post?

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2022

Why would they publish such work?: Man [sic] is the rational animal, Aristotle is said to have said.

That said, he'd never been to Texas! In Texas, someone who is 18 years old can't legally buy a handgun (or a glass of beer). But he can buy an AR-15, a vastly more lethal weapon.

Briefly, let's stop messing with Texas! Aristotle had never been to the United States, where, according to federal law, a background check must be conducted if you buy a gun in a gun store, but no such background check is required if you walk across the street and buy the same weapon at a gun show.

According to the leading authority, "Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Lyceum, the Peripatetic school of philosophy, and the Aristotelian tradition...

"It was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry."

It all leads back to Aristotle, or so the leading authority says. That doesn't mean that any of our ridiculous conduct is Aristotle's fault.

He'd never been to the United States, and he'd never been to Texas! Also, he'd never read the Washington Post, where a recent opinion column started off like this:

ABERNATHY (5/28/22): “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Biden asked on Tuesday in the wake of the horrific mass murder of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Tex.

Former president Barack Obama tweeted, “Our country is paralyzed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might help prevent these tragedies.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted, “It’s heartbreaking and sickening how routine mass shootings have become in America. … The Senate must pass gun safety legislation and protect our children.”

Editorial pages and columnists almost uniformly echoed that line of thinking. And those increasingly viewed as the moral leaders of our nation...chimed in to rip Republicans and insist on more gun legislation. In fact, the entire Miami Heat organization had its stadium announcer urge fans gathered for a playoff game to call lawmakers and “leave a message demanding their support for common-sense gun laws.”

So far, a person could imagine that this presentation was going to make basic sense. But did that actually happen? 

The writer here was Gary Abernathy, a good and decent person who hails from the "center right."

Abernathy is a regular columnist at the Washington Post. Beyond that, he's often featured on the PBS Newshour during the high-profile "Week in Review" segment.

Abernathy writes from the very top of our nation's upper-end press corps. But as he continued his recent column, did his presentation rise to the level of making elementary sense?

We cut and paste. You decide:

ABERNATHY: [C]old, hard political calculations are at play in focusing on gun control. But also evident is an unspoken sense of helplessness that is at odds with a natural desire to convince ourselves that we are in control of our surroundings and our fate. Believing that there’s an obvious solution to something so horrific helps us cope.

The latest calls are to pass a law barring 18-year-olds from buying guns. But the El Paso Walmart shooter was 21. The Orlando nightclub mass murderer was 29. The perpetrator of the Las Vegas Strip massacre was 64. Still, maybe Republicans should give in and support banning 18-year-olds from buying guns, and support tougher background checks, so everyone can claim they did something.

For our money, the columnist's basic reasoning here makes no basic sense. That said, it was good enough for the Washington Post, good enough for PBS.

Alas, poor Uvalde! Abernathy focused on one possible proposal—a proposal which would bar teenagers from buying guns. He then noted that there have been mass shootings which would not have been deterred by this specific proposal.

The proposal might have stopped some mass shootings, but it wouldn't have stopped them all! In Abernathy's logical calculus, this seems to mean that the proposal doesn't qualify as "a solution" to our current problem.  He seems to see it as a senseless act, a proposal which would simply let "everyone claim they did something."

Can that possibly be what Abernathy meant? If a proposal wouldn't stop every horrific crime, the proposal is just a dodge—an act of "misdirection?"

Can that possibly be what this high-ranking "thought leader" meant? Because that's what he most directly seems to be saying, and let it be said that such an analysis seems to make no earthly sense.

If we can't stop every mass shooting, we shouldn't try to stop some? So said the star of PBS, and his reasoning was good enough to appear in the Washington Post.

Needless to say, Abernathy's peculiar reasoning wasn't done at this point. As he continued, he kept attempting to refute that statement by President Biden:

ABERNATHY (continuing directly): Biden pondered why massacres are more prevalent in the United States than in other countries that also have “people who are lost” and suffer from mental illness. In fact, the notion that gun violence happens disproportionately here is misleading. The United States has only the 32nd-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world, according to the latest statistics from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

According to Abernathy, the rate of gun violence in the U.S. isn't "disproportionate" after all! According to the latest statistics, there are 31 other countries with higher rates of deaths from gun violence!

Sadly enough, if you click Abernathy's link, you can see who he's talking about. As it turns out, we have a lower rate of "violent gun deaths" than is found in El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia—in tragically war-torn "failed states." 

In his very next paragraph, Abernathy semi-acknowledges the fact that he's been comparing apples to buckshot—that he's been comparing a wealthy developed nation to a bunch of impoverished failed states. As he does, he offers another puzzling bit of logic to explain his odd comparison.

(You can go ahead and check it out. We aren't going to bother.)

For our money, Abernathy's presentation in this column made virtually no sense. But it was good enough for the Washington Post—"close enough [to rational analysis] for upper-end press corps work."

In today's example, we're discussing drivel in the Washington Post which came from the center right. But the Washington Post routinely publishes ridiculous work from people of the left and the center left—from people in our own blue tribe.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans aren't "the rational animal" and we never were. This unfortunate fact is true in their tribe, and it's true Over Here in ours.

The willingness to tolerate world-class howlers suffuses the work of our upper-end press corps. That explains why we started building this site, way back in 1997.

More than 24 years have passed! As our discourse disintegrates, the state of play in 1997 looks like a paradise now.

Tomorrow: A quick look at our nation's "gun culture," and it isn't just found Over There

STARTING TOMORROW: Our Rationality, Ourselves!

MONDAY, MAY 30, 2022

Don from Salinas, but Einstein and Isaacson too: On Sunday morning, we did it again. 

Discarding the "complacencies of the peignoir" of which Stevens so gracefully wrote;  eschewing his heroine's "late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair;" we watched the first hour of C-Span's Washington Journal, its hour-long "viewer calls" segment.

C-Span inflicts this instruction on the world every day of the week. With Jesse in the anchor chair, the focus on Sunday was this:

American "exceptionalism" and mass shootings. Why does this seem to be happening in the U.S. again and again?

By C-Span standards, Jesse's question was a bit snarky this day. Still and all, we watched the whole hour—and, at 7:51 A.M., a California caller said this:

DON FROM SALINAS (5/29/22): Blaming the weapon a monster uses, instead of blaming the monster, is childlike and simplistic. Do you know what really contributed the most to them children dying in Uvalde? Do you think it was the gun he was carrying? No, it was the open doors that he walked through, that he went in through an open door from the outside. He went in through an open door into the classroom. If  the outside door had been locked, he could have had any kind of a gun and he couldn't have done anything.

JESSE: You don't think he'd have been able to shoot his way in through the door?

DON: What, do you think it's a movie?

Guns don't kill people—open doors do! So Don from Salinas now said.

Viewed in the narrowest possible context, Don's analysis wasn't necessarily "false." Imaginably, if just that one outside door had been locked, these killings might never have happened.

That said, "motivated reasoning" is a very powerful impulse within our human species. More generally, our capacities in this general area are extremely limited.

Our capacities are limited all the way down. But also all the way up!

As humans, we're strongly inclined to think that breakdowns in reasoning occur among those in the other tribe. Also, we're inclined to believe that breakdowns in reasoning occur among the "poorly educated."

On Sunday morning, with that in mind, we revisited our of our favorite recent books. In his well-received biography of Albert Einstein, Walter Isaacson described the reasoning behind "the relativity of simultaneity," one of Einstein's "key insights."

Sure enough, there it was! It's one of our favorite, most logically bungled recent major texts. Because what follows doesn't make sense, it's also highly instructive:

ISAACSON (pages 122-124): ...[Einstein] skipped any greeting and immediately declared, "Thank you. I've completely solved the problem."

Only five weeks elapsed between that eureka moment and the day that Einstein sent off his most famous paper, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies." It contained no citations of other literature, no mention of anyone else's work, and no acknowledgments except for the charming one in the last sentence...

So what was the insight that struck him while talking to Besso? “An analysis of the concept of time was my solution,” Einstein said. “Time cannot be absolutely defined, and there is an inseparable relation between time and signal velocity.”

More specifically, the key insight was that two events that appear to be simultaneous to one observer will not appear to be simultaneous to another observer who is moving rapidly. And there is no way to declare that one of the observers is really correct. In other words, there is no way to declare that the two events are truly simultaneous.

Einstein later explained this concept using a thought experiment involving moving trains. Suppose lightning bolts strike the train track’s embankment at two distant places, A and B. If we declare that they struck simultaneously, what does that mean?

Einstein realized that we need an operational definition, one we can actually apply, and that would require taking into account the speed of light. His answer was that we would define the two strikes as simultaneous if we were standing exactly halfway between them and the light from each reached us at the exact same time.

But now let us imagine how the event looks to a train passenger who is moving rapidly along the track. In a 1916 book written to explain this to nonscientists, he used the following drawing, in which the long train is the line on the top:

[To see Einstein's drawing, click here]

Suppose that at the exact instant (from the viewpoint of the person on the embankment) when lightning strikes at points A and B, there is a passenger at the midpoint of the train, Mt, just passing the observer who is at the midpoint alongside the tracks, M. If the train was motionless relative to the embankment, the passenger inside would see the lightning flashes simultaneously, just as the observer on the embankment would.

But if the train is moving to the right relative to the embankment, the observer inside will be rushing closer toward place B while the light signals are traveling. Thus he will be positioned slightly to the right by the time the light arrives; as a result, he will see the light from the strike at place B before he will see the light from the strike at place A. So he will assert that lightning hit at B before it did so at A, and the strikes were not simultaneous.

“We thus arrive at the important result: Events that are simultaneous with reference to the embankment are not simultaneous with respect to the train,” said Einstein. The principle of relativity says that there is no way to decree that the embankment is “at rest” and the train “in motion.” We can say only that they are in motion relative to each other. So there is no “real” or “right” answer. There is no way to say that any two events are “absolutely” or “really” simultaneous.

This is a simple insight, but also a radical one. It means that there is no absolute time. Instead, all moving reference frames have their own relative time. Although Einstein refrained from saying that this leap was as truly “revolutionary” as the one he made about light quanta, it did in fact transform science. "This was a change in the very foundation of physics, an unexpected and very radical change that required all the courage of a young and revolutionary genius," noted Werner Heisenberg, who later contributed to a similar feat with his principle of quantum uncertainty. 

[Isaacson's italics]

Isaacson, who's very bright, built a career as a major mainstream journalist. He's now a major biographer. 

That said, that passage makes absolutely no sense—and when Einstein wrote his 1916 book to explain relativity to general readers, his own explanation of this topic made no apparent sense

In part, this was due to the fact that Einstein had selected his awestruck teenaged niece to serve, in effect, as his editor. According to Isaacson's book, she told him she understood every word, though she was actually baffled by her famous uncle's various presentations.

The anthropological point is this:

One major figure after another—one respected news org after another—has presented that explanation of the relativity of simultaneity without noticing the fact that it doesn't make sense. 

Einstein explained it that way in 1916. Our journalists and our academics still follow suit.

On Friday morning, we'll walk you through Isaacson's illogical text once again. But as with Don from Salinas, so too here:

A variant of "motivated reasoning" may have held Isaacson in its grip as he composed that passage from his well-received book.

Back in 1916, Einstein had explained this key insight a certain way in his general interest book. On that basis, Isacson may have assumed that the presentation simply had to make sense.

Deference to academic authority may have held Isaacson in its grip. But so did a certain basic shortfall:

We humans just aren't "the rational animal," and we never were. This brings us back to Uvalde, and to Buffalo shortly before it.

Our own assessment of our nation's prospects is gloomy at this time. Based on what we're told by experts, it seems to us that our nation's systems, such as they were, may have fallen apart in a way which can't be repaired.

In part for that reason, fourth-graders are dead in Uvalde. Meanwhile, alas! As humans, our reasoning ability is extremely limited, even among our mainstream elites—and our instinct for loathing and blaming Others is massive, ginormous, immense. 

Sadly, no! You can't assume that our major journalists, pundits and professors will be able to light us the way past our current breakdowns. Especially within our corporate "news orgs," their abilities are quite limited, and they tend to be highly motivated tribal players.

What follows this week will be a set of snapshots concerning us the people, our instincts and our abilities. Spoiler alert as we begin:

We can see no obvious way out of our tribalized mess.

Tomorrow: Two snapshots of gun culture

Also, coming Friday: Once again, Isaacson's text

We watched the open phones segment today, oh boy!

SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2022

Even worse, we watched Wallace and Glaude: This morning, in the 7 A.M. hour, we did what we often do of a Saturday morning.

We watched the opening, "open phones" segment of C-Span's Washington Journal. The topic today was this:

What is the solution to young men and mass shootings?

Over the course of the hour, "we the people" telephoned in, responding to that highly salient question. We're prepared to acknowledge this reaction:

We fear for our country, such as it is, when we hear "us the people" puzzling such questions out.

We apologize for our language, but the astonishing dumbness of many comments seemed to rule the hour. If you think we must be referring to calls from red tribe members alone, we're willing to offer this:

Quite possibly, you haven't been watching C-Span's Washington Journal lately.

It's a sobering experience to hear "us the people" attempting to puzzle such matters out. Anthropologically, our species wasn't built for such tasks. As individuals, we simply aren't up to the challenge.

(This doesn't mean that we're bad people. It simply means that we aren't moral or intellectual giants—that we've been built in the way we actually are.)

For better or worse, you can hear the hour of calls simply by clicking this link. If you only have time to hear two calls, we'll suggest that you move ahead to the two calls which ended this sobering hour.

This morning, those phone calls poured in from us the (regular) people. Late yesterday afternoon, starting at 5:53 P.M., we watched a remarkable five-minute discussion between two of our own blue tribe's corporate media "elites."

At the end of Deadline: White House, Nicolle Wallace spoke with Professor Glaude. We'll start by stating this:

Princeton professor Eddie Glaude is a good, decent person. That said, his rhetoric yesterday afternoon was astoundingly harsh, borderline crazy, astoundingly ill-advised. Most simply:

If this version of Professor Glaude didn't exist, Fox News would have to invent it. 

We can find no transcript of yesterday's five-minute Q-and-A. Here's one part of what the professor said to the ever-simpering Wallace, who began her career by pimping the invasion of Iraq and anti-same-sex marriage ballot measures:

GLAUDE (5/27/22): Part of what I've been trying to wrap my mind around is the rot—the moral rot—at the heart of our political pathologies...We have retreated into our silos of selfishness, where greed drives our own self-interest...

It's easy for us to identify the Republican Party as the enemy, when the rot is at the heart of the nation. We have to do something much more fundamental if we're going to address this because the slaughter of innocents reflects how monstrous we are, because we keep turning our backs on them. We keep turning our backs every time it happens.

"Where does that healing start?" the simpering Wallace now asked.

"In the streets," the professor said. For the record, his streets include the byways and lanes of Princeton's ivy-strewn campus.

Professor Glaude can't seem to stop discussing how monstrous "we" are. His increasingly lurid rhetoric is a thing to behold—and to fear. 

If this version of Glaude didn't exist, Donald J. Trump would rush to invent it. Earth to the Princeton peacock, who is also a good, decent person:

Vast segments of the American people have not "retreated into silos of selfishness" where greed drives their self-interest. 

(In fairness, Glaude may be conflating the American people with his own "cable news" colleagues and friends.)

Vast segments of the population haven't turned their backs on the slaughter of innocents, thereby showing how monstrous they are. Like the overwrought preacher/professor himself, vast segments of the public simply don't know what to do about this horrible manifestation.

One deranged teen-aged boy (or man) conducted a vicious mass slaughter this week. The behavior of this one teenager can't sensibly be said to demonstrate "how monstrous" Glaude's undefined "we" really "are."

Few things could be more obvious, bne of our failing tribe's ranking professors is unable to figure that out! Concerning which, we'll say this:

Glaude has been authoring a "Loathe Americans First" rhetoric of a type we've rarely seen at this level. The overwrought man who is pushing this gospel recently tweeted this:

GLAUDE (5/26/22): I must admit that I was an emotional wreck on @Morning_Joe today.  Seeing those babies…hearing their stories…I am angry and saddened.

Glaude was an emotional wreck when he appeared on Morning Joe! Of course, so was the ranting Joe Scarborough himself, as we noted that day.

That tweet was supposed to humanize Glaude. We have a different reaction. To the Princeton peacock, we'll only say this:

Mother-frumper, take your ascot off the air until you're no longer a wreck! Go off somewhere and try to calm down. Try to get your thoughts in order, such as they actually are.

In truth, Wallace and Glaude (but especially Wallace) should have been pulled off the air a long time ago. The same is true of the screeching Scarborough—and, of course, of Mike Barnicle, the only person who can successfully pose as a man of the people while being married to a Bank of America vice chair.

Borrowing from Don Corleone, are these high-ranking media elites creating "the rhetoric we have chosen?" No, that isn't the case.

These are the tribal tribunes our corporate owners have chosen for us! They're creating a lurid, deeply unintelligent, politically poisonous rhetoric. Despite their fame and their undisclosed wealth, their judgment is very poor.

We'll continue to examine their rhetoric next week. For today, we'll leave you with this:

If Professor Glaude's rhetoric didn't exist, the NRA would invent it. Our nation's problems only deepen as these deeply unhelpful elites continue to open their mouths.

OUR RHETORIC, OURSELVES: Statistics can be amazingly hard!

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2022

Our rhetoric emerges: At the top of our "highly educated" press corps, statistics can be quite hard.

Consider the report by German Lopez in today's New York Times. Its headline is simple: "America's Gun Problem." Its first presentation looks exactly like this:

LOPEZ (5/27/22): This chart, looking at public shootings in which four or more people were killed, shows how much the U.S. stands out:

Number of mass shootings
Developed countries, 1998-2019
United States: 140
France: 8
Germany: 5
Canada: 4
Finland: 3 ...

The numbers continue from there. Surely, though, you can see the statistical problem. The chart directly compares raw numbers of mass shootings in countries with vastly different sized populations. 

Adjusting for population, Finland's rate of mass shooting would actually be larger than ours! That said, the New York Times didn't adjust for population as it presented these data today. 

This is an astonishing type of journalistic bungle—but it's a type of bungle which is astonishingly common in a newspaper like the Times.

In fact, the U.S. does have a major "gun problem," compared to other developed nations. Within the past few days, that very same New York Times republished this 2017 essay by Nicholas Kristof

Does our country have a type of major gun problem? Kristof's essay makes that point quite clear through the use of non-bungled statistics.

Kristof's statistics were adjusted for population! Even so, they define a major problem for our country—in "Gun murders per 100,000 population," to cite one example.

Today, the New York Times tried to address this matter again. But statistics are often amazingly hard at this famous, peculiar newspaper.

Basic assessment can be amazingly hard

At newspapers like the New York Times, basic assessment can also be very hard. Consider the "Interpreter" essay by Amanda Taub in this morning's print editions. The essay carries this headline:

In the U.S., Backlash to Civil Rights Era Made Guns a Political Third Rail

Why have "gun control" / "gun safety" laws become a major battleground in American politics? Taub presents a thesis which pleasingly serves blue Storyline:

She says that conservative America's focus on gun rights emerged as a backlash against the civil rights era, especially the Brown decision.

Any such thesis will warm the cockles of blue tribe hearts. Who knows? Taub's assessment may even be accurate in some basic sense!

That said, Taub's analysis draws on the conclusion reached in a single academic study. Any journalist can prove any thesis if that is the standard of proof.

In many fairly obvious ways, our struggling country does have a major "gun problem." According to Kristof's numbers, our rate of gun murders—after adjusting for population—is six times the rate of the nearest developed nation, and things get much worse from there: 

Our nation's rate of gun murders is more than 30 times the rate in Australia, in Germany, in England. That's a fairly obvious type of "gun problem." But our society is suffused with journalistic problems as well.

Rhetoric can be very hard

Two weeks ago, a teenaged boy, or a teenaged man, shot and killed ten people in Buffalo, New York. On the "cable news" programs designed for viewing by our own blue tribe, multimillionaire pundits quickly got busy establishing our floundering tribe's preferred rhetoric.

It seems to us that the judgment of these well-known players was often extremely poor. On the May 18 Morning Joe program, it fell to pundit emeritus Mike Barnicle to establish the prevailing narrative, in which the horrific behavior of one teenager was somehow said to have somehow established "who we are:"

BARNICLE (5/18/22): One of the more shopworn phrases that we’ve heard repeatedly over the past few days with reference to Buffalo—this, the latest example of who we are—is the phrase “This is not who we are.”

That’s not true. This is who we are. 

"This is who we are," the shopworn pundit fuzzily said. He was contradicting President Biden. For videotape, click here.

In the face of that assessment, let's take a look at the record! There are toughly 330 million people in the United States. By way of contrast, one person (1) had engaged in an horrific act of murder.

Somehow, though, the gruesome behavior by one teenager had now shown who "we" are. As the pseudo-discussion continued, Barnicle pseudo-explained:

BARNICLE: There will be another Buffalo! And what happens with social media is, the outrageous becomes normal. 

And our fury, our anger, our unrest, our divisions about what happened in Buffalo, where people shopping for groceries were killed because they were Black—That’s all! That’s the single reason they died, their skin color. 

So we’re shocked. We’re upset. We’re angry. We’re mystified. Until next weekend.

MIKA: Right.

BARNICLE: Until a playoff game begins. Until another shooting occurs. And then we’ll start this all over again. I don’t know whether it’s beyond legislation or beyond hope, but I do know one thing.

This. Is who. We are.

Loathing Americans first, Barnicle explained what "we" would do in the wake of these vicious murders. "We" would be angry and upset, he explained—until the next playoff game starts.

The aging mouthpiece didn't explain how he could actually know this. Instead, with Mika chiming in, Barnicle slowly and dramatically restated his fuzzy thesis:

These racial murders show "who we are," he slowly / dramatically said.

At this point, there's something you very much need to know about pundits like Mika and Barnicle. Judged by normal intellectual standards, they just aren't especially bright.

They spend lots of time in makeup and hair. They know about their Q ratings.

As Chris Hayes explained when he went prime time, they absorb their lessons in "showmanship" from their corporate employers. But nothing about these famous figures suggests that they're especially bright. 

This helps explain how our own blue tribe manages, with such regularity, to generate the types of rhetoric which stand in the way of achieving political / policy success.

In what way did that racially-motivated mass murder show the world "who we are?" Consider:

Mike Barnicle didn't commit the murders. In what way did these murders show us who Mike Barnicle is?

The murders in question were committed by one person—by one deranged teenager, out of a total of 330 million people. In what way did those murders show the world who anyone is, aside from that one deranged teen?

What could Barnicle possibly mean by his sweeping assessment? It's possible, though highly unlikely, that he could have answered that question had a real discussion occurred.

In fact, real discussions rarely occur on tribally segregated "cable news" show like the current iteration of Morning Joe. Instead, carefully-selected groups of tribunes will all state, and then restate, the current tribally-sanctioned, mandated points of view concerning the day's basic topics.

Things were somewhat different this day; Joe Scarborough quickly pushed back against what Barnicle said. The racial murders didn't show who we are, Scarborough said at extraordinary length. 

At one point, he seemed to say that they only show who Trump voters are.

In point of fact, no Trump voters had murdered anyone that day, but that's what Scarborough said. Finally, the Princeton peacock rose to defend the original claim:

GLAUDE: I want to say something to Joe, because I was thinking about his hesitancy to agree with Mike that this is who we are. 

Joe, I want to say that this is who we are as a country. I understand, I understand your impulse. I think we have to admit it, man...

"We have to admit it," the peacock said. Along the way, the Princeton professor had offered what may pass for a clarification in these analytical killing fields. 

"We have to admit it," Glaude had said. "This is who we are as a country." Eventually, though, he further explained what we have to admit:

"That racism, that white supremacy, that this ugliness is baked into us from the very beginning."

Professor Glaude told Joe that we have to admit those things. But is that white supremacy, that ugliness, baked into Glaude himself? In what way did the Buffalo murders display any such fact about Professor Eddie Glaude, or about anyone else? 

The professor had committed no racist murders. In what way did the racist murders show us who he is? Rhetoric was being established, but very few answers emerged.

To the extent that this was a discussion at all, it was a very dumb one. Such performances now dominate "cable news," a profit-based format which is now almost wholly segregated by viewpoint.

Quite a ways back, our corporate news orgs abandoned the Crossfire model, in which opposing pundits barked at each other, red tribe offset by blue. Instead, they turned to a more pleasing "homogeneous viewpoint" model, in which satisfied viewers will near nothing in the course of a morning, or in the course of an evening, with which they don't agree.

On that morning's Morning Joe, Mike and Eddie and Mika herself were defining the new rhetorical normal. In these ways, we routinely let corporate-selected multimillionaires define the way our embattled blue tribe is going to lose, lose, lose.

At present, our blue tribe would like to find the way to win certain political fights—fights about abortion rights, fights about gun purchases. The chance to win those fights almost seems to be present. But when we let our peacocks decide, we often manage to invent rhetorical ways to lose.

Unfortunately, when we establish our tribal rhetoric, we define our political selves. It seems to us that these peacocks were making the road to victory extremely long and hard.

Tomorrow: "Exactly who we are"

As heard on NPR's Here & Now!

THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2022

Also, a trio of headlines: We'll start by noting a trio of headlines, two from the Washington Post.

What kind of rhetoric has perhaps been emerging from our tribe? We'll discuss that question further tomorrow, but these headlines may raise that question:

America’s Hands Are Full of Blood
Writer: David Frum
Publication: The Atlantic
You. This is your fault.
Writer: Christine Emba
Publication: The Washington Post
Yes, this absolutely is who we are
Writer: Paul Walsman
Publication: The Washington Post

Sometimes we wonder about the rhetoric to which our blue tribe is sometimes inclined. More on that tomorrow. For today, though, also this:

Yesterday, we happened to hear this interview with while we were out in the car:

Local pastor reacts to Texas school shooting

Pastor Joe Ruiz of Templo Christiano, a local church in Uvalde, Texas, joins us to discuss how the community is responding to the shooting at Robb Elementary School.

The interview was conducted by the NPR show, Here & Now. At the end of the four-minute session, this question was asked:

Pastor Joe, at some churches in Uvalde, some people prayed, not just for the victims, but the shooter. Is this a moment for forgiveness?

"Yes. There's always a forgiveness," Pastor Ruiz replied. His answer continued from there. 

For ourselves, we aren't religious. Also, we didn't lose a child in this murderous event. Having said that, we'll also say this:

To hear the full answer, click here.

OUR RHETORIC, OURSELVES: Sick and paranoid baby-killers!

THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2022

Does this rhetoric help? Early this morning, we recalled the original red-faced ranter in NBC's "cable news" stable.

Back then, his name was Chris Matthews. He was the number-one red-faced ranter of NBC's cable arm.

For whatever reason, we recalled the ranting he unloosed in March 2000—his several nights of ranting about the so-called "Buddhist temple" incident. 

Over the course of those several nights, he spouted one factual falsehood after another. No one in the rest of the mainstream press corps had a word to say about his red-faced ranting, or about the falsehoods he produced.

That's the way the tribal game was being played back then. Starting abruptly in March 1999, this major cable star's nonstop ranting helped send George W. Bush to the White House. 

In that way, his twenty months of scripted ranting helped send the U.S. Army into Iraq. In that theater, weapons of war took the lives of many children—children our corporate red-faced ranters weren't inclined to rant about.

This morning, we watched the new ranter-in-chief, Joe Scarborough, as he extended his red-faced ranting and that of his gang of enablers. 

They name-called Others, though rarely by name, all through the 6 A.M. hour. These unspecified people were said to be "sick" and "evil," and "jackasses" too. They were "baby-killers," "sick son-of-a-bitches." They were also "freaks."

(During that entire hour, the NRA was never mentioned. The NRA was finally mentioned, though only once, at 7:05 A.M.)

So it is with this new cable ranter and his band of enablers. At present, they're spewing the rhetoric which tends to please the members of our own flailing tribe. But is there any reason to think that their ranting leads to good ends?

We know of no reason to think so. We had a similar reaction to the (well-intentioned) column by Roxanne Gay in this morning's New York Times.

Roxanne Gay is a good, decent person. She isn't a multimillionaire corporate ranter—one who continued to kiss the ascot of Candidate Trump all through 2015.

Roxanne Gay isn't Joe and Mika. That said, her reaction to the current moment is this:

She's had it with the endless calls for civility! Also, she's making little effort to say who's been making those endless calls.

Below, you see the way her column starts. Her column starts as these columns all do, with the columnist restating, for the ten millionth time, the various things her readers already know and believe:

GAY (5/26/22): There is a cultural obsession nowadays with civility, with the idea that if everyone is mannered enough, any impasse or difference of opinion can be bridged. But these are desperately uncivil times. And there is nothing more uncivilized than the political establishment’s inurement to the constancy of mass shootings in the United States: 60 deaths in Las Vegas, 49 deaths in Orlando, 26 deaths at Sandy Hook, 13 deaths in Columbine, 10 deaths in Buffalo. Adults, schoolchildren, concertgoers, nightclub revelers, grocery shoppers, teachers.

The scale of death in Uvalde, Texas, is unfathomable. At least 19 children and two teachers are dead. These staggering numbers will not change one single thing.

Time and again we are told, both implicitly and explicitly, that all we can do is endure this constancy of violence. All we can do is hope these bullets don’t hit our children or us. Or our families. Or our friends and neighbors. And if we dare to protest, if we dare to express our rage, if we dare to say enough, we are lectured about the importance of civility. We are told to stay calm and vote as an outlet for our anger.

According to Gay, the scale of death in Uvalde was extremely bad. Also according to Gay, we've been told, "time and again," that we shouldn't "express our rage," or pretty much even complain, about what happened there. 

If we dare to protest, "we are lectured about the importance of civility." Or at least, so says Gay—and with respect to what she says, we're willing to make this request:

Could someone buy Gay a TV set and get it hooked up to cable? Gay is not a corporate clown, but someone should tell her this:

A giant amount of rage is being expressed by the tribunes of our own failing tribe.

Within the borders of our tribe, we see no one coming forward to tell Joe, and all his pals, to put a lid on their rage. Within the borders of our tribe, it's ragescript all the way down.

Gay seems to be unaware of the constant ranting. She seems to feel that she and others are being stifled by a bevy of unnamed Others. 

Along the way, she finally offers a single example of who is lecturing her. She finally names one specific name, going back several weeks:

GAY: When asked for solutions, Republicans talk about arming teachers and training them to defend their classrooms. We hear about how good guys with guns will valiantly stop mass shootings, even though there have been good guys with guns at several mass shootings and they have not prevented these tragedies.

These politicians offer platitudes and prayers and Bible verses. But they do not care to do what must be done to stop the next gun massacre or the average of 321 people shot a day in the United States—including 42 murders and 65 suicides. It is critical that we state this truth clearly and repeatedly and loudly. That we don’t let them hide behind empty rhetoric. That they know we see through their lies. They must know that we know who they truly are.

They called for civility again and again, as they did during protests after Black people were shot or killed by the police in Ferguson and Kenosha and Minneapolis and Louisville. They called for civility when a draft of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade leaked this month. The draft decision tells people of childbearing age that they have no bodily autonomy. It is barbaric.

In the wake of the leak, there were lawful, peaceful protests outside some of the justices’ homes. Journalists and politicians proceeded to fall all over themselves to condemn these protests as incivility—as if the protests were the problem. The Washington Post editorial board wrote that justices have a right to private lives, that public protests should never breach certain boundaries.

They call for civility, but the definition of civility is malleable and ever-changing. Civility is whatever enables them to wield power without question or challenge.

Who has been lecturing Gay, "time and again," in the manner described? Get ready for a surprise!

In the end, she doesn't name any Republican pols. She doesn't even reference the recent events in Uvalde.

In the end, she names only the Washington Post! She cites an editorial in which the Post criticized a particular brand of protest which, it seems to us, was likely to be counter-productive in the political realm.

Do people like Gay want to hear their own greatness shouted out loud, or do they want to win? Roxanne Gay is a good, decent person, but it seems to us that her judgment is weirdly fallible here.

In our view, our country's systems, such as they were, have already fallen apart in a way which quite possibly can't be repaired. As we've often said, we see no obvious way out of our current mess. 

That said, we don't recommend howling into the wind—and we've often mentioned a pair of scenes from a famous film. 

The movie in question is Gone With the Wind. In an early scene, a bunch of silly Southern boys woo Miss Scarlett with boastful talk about how they can't wait to go to war with the Yankees.

Midway through this famous film, the camera pulls back to show us a scene from a devastated Atlanta. A giant, otherwise empty field is filled with the dead and the dying. 

Those silly boys had longed for war, and now they lay dead and defeated.

The recent events in Uvalde have largely served to wipe away the recent events in Buffalo. Tomorrow, we'll visit the rhetoric which emerged from our own blue tribe in the wake of that first disastrous event.

In our view, our cable stars produced the dumbest possible rhetoric in the aftermath of the Buffalo murders. That said, it's largely been that way for maybe three decades now. 

If you're a liberal—if you're a progressive—then you must promise us this:

You mustn't assume that you get good advice from our corporate-selected "thought leaders." Simply put, it isn't as simple as that.

Chris Matthews was a red-faced agent of deception and destruction. Widespread destruction followed. 

Matthews was a red-faced ranter. On balance, so are the corporate-selected tribunes who have taken his place. 

With respect to our current thought leaders, you must promise us this:

You must promise that you won't assume that these players are acting in full good faith. You must promise that you won't assume that they possess good judgment.

Personally, we would favor massive restrictions on the ability of certain types of people to buy certain type of guns. That said, the question is this:

Do Joe and Mika know how to accomplish that policy goal? Is their stupid, braindead rhetoric—is Joe's nonstop screaming and yelling—really the way we might get there?

Is their rhetoric really helpful? Or are these corporate-paid multimillionaires self-involved and self-impressed—unhelpful, feckless and dumb?

Tomorrow: Mike Barnicle / Stephanie Ruhle

(Alleged) New York subway shooter in custody!


Alleged mental illness, allegedly lenient courts: Some of our many murderous shooting incidents are mass shooting incidents. Some involve one victim only.

So it was on the New York subway this past Sunday morning. Daniel Enriquez, age 48, was shot and killed on the Q train—apparently at random, for no apparent reason. 

A suspect is now in custody—Andrew Abdullah, age 25. We note two possible aspects of this case, based on this morning's New York Times report.

First is the possible role of mental health / mental illness:

MARCIUS AND WATKINS (5/25/22): Lamor Miller-Whitehead, the bishop of Leaders of Tomorrow International Churches, said Tuesday at the Fifth Precinct that he had spoken with Mr. Abdullah’s relatives as the suspect contemplated surrendering.

“I spoke to the family, who said that he suffered from mental illness, mental health challenges,” Mr. Miller-Whitehead said. “I said, ‘Let’s get together. And let’s turn him in.’ And they all agree, even the young man said, ‘I’m going to turn myself in.’”

A surrender had been brokered by Tuesday afternoon, but before it could happen, officers with guns drawn arrested Mr. Abdullah at the Legal Aid Society’s offices, said Mr. Miller-Whitehead. “I don’t want anyone by any stretch of no one’s imagination to believe that this young man ran. He did not run at all,” Mr. Miller-Whitehead said.

Was mental illness involved in this matter? We aren't able to say.

That said, the Times report records a second point of concern—possible leniency within the criminal justice system:

MARCIUS AND WATKINS: “This horrific crime should never have happened,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at a news conference Tuesday, noting Mr. Abdullah had a string of prior arrests. “The violence on the Q train last Sunday morning was committed by another repeat offender, who was given every leeway by the criminal justice system.”


In the last few years, Mr. Abdullah had been charged in connection with several gun-related offenses. In 2016, he was indicted as part of a sweeping gang case in Manhattan, and in 2018 he pleaded guilty to a weapons charge tied to two Harlem gangs. He was paroled after four months in prison, a spokeswoman for the state corrections department said.

He faced new gun charges in 2020 in Manhattan, according to court records, a case that is pending, and he was out on bail. In March 2021, Manhattan prosecutors charged him with assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

John Duvalier, 71, said he recognized Mr. Abdullah as one of a handful of young men who hung around outside twin 15-story apartment buildings at 580 and 590 Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. He described them as “trouble.”

“I don’t mess with those guys,” Mr. Duvalier said. “I advise them to go to school and get some education.”

That's how the news report ends. 

Crime rates had been way, way down in recent decades, preceding the pandemic. That doesn't necessarily mean that our society's various systems had been working wisely and well in all possible cases.

At any rate, our own tribe's rhetoric in recent days, and in recent years, has touched upon mental illness issues, as well as upon the functioning of the criminal justice system.

Tomorrow, we'll start to look at the rhetoric our tribe was promulgating in the aftermath of the Buffalo murders. In our view, it's very important for us to see how unwise we frequently are.

That's even true within our own blue tribe, which tends to be vastly self-impressed and vastly self-assured.

OUR RHETORIC, OURSELVES: We watched the news today, oh boy!


Our rhetoric post-Uvalde: This morning, as we watched Morning Joe, we were treated to examples of our blue tribe's current rhetoric.

The angry host engaged in his various trademark rants. As he did, he excoriated the "barbarians," "liars" and "freaks" who oppose him and his point of view.

(Other names were called during these rants. We're just citing three.)

We aren't sure that rhetoric of that type is likely to be helpful. Of course, we thought our journalistic systems had pretty much come undone as long as several decades ago. That's pretty much the reason why we started this site.

On this post-Uvalde morning, we do compliment the Washington Post for this early bit of reporting:

Gunman was bullied as a child, grew increasingly violent, friends say

Why would someone who's 18 years old end his own life—along with the lives of so many others—in this crazy, violent way? 

Post reporters have already spoken to an array of former neighbors and friends. They had described a disastrous home life, mixed with years of ridicule at school.

(We would assume that a psychological / medical / psychiatric component is part of this puzzle too.)

Buffalo had a racial component; a little more than one week later, Uvalde doesn't. That said, each incident involved an 18-year-old man / boy / teen behaving in a deeply destructive and self-destructive way.

Why would these young people behave in this way? We'd still like to hear from (carefully selected) medical and psychological specialists regarding that question. 


Regarding the rhetoric our own blue tribe brings to these discussions / debates, we still want to review the rhetoric which emerged in the first few days after Buffalo.

We'll return to that rhetoric tomorrow. In our view, that rhetoric was almost surely well-intentioned, but it was also profoundly unhelpful—uninsightful, unintelligent, unwise. 

In the next two days, we'll take a quick look at that rhetoric. We'll ask you what it says about our own blue tribe if this is still the best we can do after all these long, fruitless years.

Next week, we expect to return to a major question. We plan to return to that major question as our nation's attempt at a "diverse democracy" continues to die on the vine:

It involves the way we think about "race." It involves our very belief in the concept. 

We'll be starting with Professor Gates—with "the greatest question ever asked." We praised his question not long ago:

"What difference does it make?" Professor Gates wisely asked.

Tomorrow: Blue tribe rhetoric on The 11th Hour

Say hello to the man with the funny name!

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2022

While you're at it, take a look at his tape: Until this week, we didn't know much about Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga).

In fact, we didn't know anything about him. Watching Rachel Maddow last night, we did learn that he has a funny name.

(For background, see this morning's report.)

After sharing that observation, Maddow treated viewers to an amazingly selective account of a recent flap involving Loudermilk. Included was a brief, selectively edited excerpt from a recent videotape by the Georgia congressman.

We don't know what the ultimate facts might turn out to be with respect to this recent flap. (To date, we've seen no evidence that he did anything wrong in the run-up to January 6.) We do know that Maddow's presentation last night struck us as an example of dissembling all the way down.

If you watched Maddow's show last night, you saw that brief excerpt from that videotaped statement. The excerpt ended with a classic "Maddow edit:" 

Loudermilk's statement was abruptly cut off as he continued to speak. For her part, Maddow mugged clowned and wonderfully joked about the tiny excerpt she'd shown us.

With that in mind, go ahead—take the Loudermilk Challenge! Just click here, then watch the entire tape. This will allow you to see the various disclaimers Maddow edited out of her presentation.

We don't know what the ultimate facts will turn out to be in this contretemps. We do know dissembling and selective presentation when we see them—and given the way our "cable news" works, we see then a lot of the time.

You can't assume that the things you see on "cable news" are accurate and fair. That's plainly true of the various bogus things you see at Fox, but it's also true about the statements and entertainments issued by our tribe's stars.

As a journalistic system, partisan news has totally broken down. Especially if you watched Maddow last night, we'll suggest that you go ahead and look at that (complete) tape. 

You can't assume our stars are right. Our stars are routinely wrong.

OUR RHETORIC, OURSELVES: We watched Rachel Maddow last night!

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2022

Dissembling all the way down: In fairness, no—it wasn't exactly "rhetoric."

That said, we watched Rachel Maddow last night. At present, Monday is her one night on the air.

We watched Maddow's performance. We'd have to say that what we saw was dissembling all the way down.

Maddow has always been like this. The extent of the harm to our failing blue tribe—to our transparently failing nation—would be hard to overstate.

Maddow is currently on a type of "hiatus," performing just one night per week on our own tribe's corporate cable. According to widespread reports, she is being paid $30 million per year by NBC to engage in this hiatus.

What is she doing when she's not on the air? Pathetically, this is what the AP (and many others) originally reported:

BAUDER (1/31/22): Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s most popular personality, said Monday she will be taking a hiatus from her prime time show until April to work on a new podcast and that a movie is being made of her first book and podcast about former Vice President Spiro Agnew.

“Change is good,” she said on her show. “Change is absolutely terrifying, but in this case it’s good.”

She said she’s going to help out with the movie of “Bag Man” on former President Richard Nixon’s disgraced vice president, to be directed by Ben Stiller and produced by “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels.

At present, our "most popular personality" is back on the air, but only one night per week. 

Elsewhere, she's working on a crucial project—a film about Nixon's disgraced vice president, an early propagandist and low-dollar crook—a fellow who was forced out of office forty-nine years ago and was never heard from again.

Try to understand:

Inflation is wildly out of control; parents can't find formula for their babies; Central Europe is being devoured by a vicious, ugly war; crime rates are on the rise; President Biden may be having trouble explaining about Taiwan; and needless to say, immigration.

In the face of these disasters (and many others), Maddow is off in La La Land, feeding her deeply disordered need to locate and showcase the moral depredations of The Others. 

She lost her perspective long ago, to the extent that she ever had it. Still and all, Hollywood fame!

Last night, we were appalled by the non-stop dissembling with which she opened her program. Could NBC possibly pay her $60 million per year to stay off the air for all time?

As for the TV star herself, she chuckled and smiled and mugged and clowned all through last night's opening segment. As part of the entertainment nd tribal reassurance package, she didn't hesitate to tell us that it concerned someone with a funny name:

"Congressman Barry Loudermilk! I mean, one of the most amazing names in Congress by the way, right? Barry Loudermilk! Yeah!"

So she said at 9:12 P.M. Eastern, rolling her eyes as she did. By now, this TV star's spectacular dumbness seems to observe no limits of any kind.

MSNBC has been slow-walking transcript production for months. We take it as fairly obvious why the network is doing this.

We aren't going to do the transcribing which would let us discuss last evening's reams of selective presentation. But we can certainly tell y ou this about the crumbling state of American "journalistic" culture:

At the highest ends, the rewards are too damn high.

We first told you many years ago. You can't have a middle-class democracy with a multimillionaire press corps. 

The wealth and the fame attract the wrong people to start with. To the extent that sensible people end up landing the superstar jobs, you'll see a very strong tendency for them to lose their way—to abandon their principles and their dignity—as their corporate careers continue.

Those who resist disappear forever. They're never heard of again.

Maddow had limited judgment right from the start—but that was mixed with a tremendous ability to "sell the car." She's been selling the car—more precisely, the fully-loaded model known as The Maddow—ever since the fall of 2008, and most of us in our blue tribe are unable to see the problem with what she endlessly does.

Quite routinely, The Others can't see the obvious flaws with their own "cable news" gods. At this time of tribal war, we can't see the flaws with Ours.

Last night, it wasn't exactly rhetoric. It was something worse.

Tomorrow: Back to our tribe's sorry rhetoric?

Gotham's kids tackle New York State!

MONDAY, MAY 23, 2022

Let's take a look at the data: New York City "is facing a literary crisis," New York Times readers were told.

Are the city's novelists moving upstate? Actually, as it turned out, the actual crisis is this:

New York is facing a literacy crisis: Fewer than half of all third to eighth graders and just 36 percent of Black and Latino students were proficient on the state reading exams administered in 2019, the most recent year for which there is data. Research suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened those outcomes.

Those numbers came from the annual statewide reading exams—and they didn't sound very good. 

Last week, we showed you that Gotham's kids (grades 3-8) seemed to outperform their counterparts around the state on that particular test. We also noted a few of the shortcomings built into those annual tests.

Today, we'll offer you a quick look at some data which may be more reliable. They come from the reading test on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Naep), the federally-run program which has long been considered to be the gold standard of domestic educational testing.

How did Gotham's public school kids fare on that reading test? Here are the "proficiency rates" for Grade 8, in reading and in math:

Proficiency rates, New York City Public Schools
Grade 8 reading, 2019 Naep
White kids: 46.3%
Black kids: 13.9%
Hispanic kids: 20.3%
Asian ancestry kids: 41.3%
Proficiency rates, New York City Public Schools
Grade 8 math, 2019 Naep
White kids: 48.3%
Black kids: 10.0%
Hispanic kids: 14.4%
Asian ancestry kids: 60.4%

We remind you that any measurement of "proficiency" involves the setting of a subjective standard. It has been said that the Naep sets the bar for "proficiency" artificially high, driving proficiency rates down. 

That said, the demographic "achievement gaps" are easy to spot in those data. Meanwhile, we'll take a quick guess:

Quite a few of Gotham's Asian kids may be English language learners. That may explain why their proficiency rate was substantially higher in math.

How did Gotham's kids compare to their peers, across the state and across the nation, on these two Naep tests? Long story short:

Gotham's white kids slightly outperformed their peers, across the nation and across the state, in both reading and math. Average socioeconomic status and parental literacy may start to explain this conquest.

For other groups, maybe not. Here are the reading stats for the state and the nation:

Proficiency rates, New York State public schools
Grade 8 reading, 2019 Naep
White kids: 41.2%
Black kids: 18.5%
Hispanic kids: 21.0%
Asian ancestry kids: 46.1%

Proficiency rates, U.S. public schools
Grade 8 reading, 2019 Naep
White kids: 41.3%
Black kids: 14.7%
Hispanic kids: 21.4%
Asian ancestry kids: 54.2%

You can scope the comparisons for yourselves. All in all, of course, nobody cares.

For all Naep data, start here.

STARTING TOMORROW: Our Rhetoric, Ourselves!

MONDAY, MAY 23, 2022

How diverse democracies die: Over the past (let's say) ten years, rhetoric from the MAGA world has turned into a deeply disturbing anthropology lesson. 

The rhetoric is often jaw-dropping, as are the widespread beliefs. This rhetoric, and this capacity for unfounded belief, raises a question about the ability of us human beings to conduct our own political affairs.

Then too, we now have the remarkable rhetoric which increasingly emerges from our own blue tribe. Consider Brian Broome's recent opinion essay in the Washington Post.

Brian Broome, age roughly 52, is a good, decent person. His essay appeared in the aftermath of the Buffalo massacre, in which ten good and decent people were crazily shot and killed.

It's clear that Broome was upset by these murders. Stating the obvious, there's no reason why he shouldn't have been. 

Early in his essay, though, the peculiar rhetoric began—rhetoric which was disseminated to the public by the Washington Post. For example, Broome's third paragraph read like this:

BROOME (5/17/22): The alleged shooter, Payton Gendron, is a man who is reported to have been concerned about immigration and decreasing White birthrates. It’s the same concern that Tucker Carlson shares with his Fox News audience almost every night. Gendron isn’t mentally ill. He isn’t “troubled,” nor is he just a misguided teen. These are terms you will hear when he is discussed. The truth is that he’s simply hateful in the same way that right-wing politics have instructed him to be.

"Gendron isn’t mentally ill," Broome peculiarly said. According to Broome, the Buffalo shooter isn't even "troubled." 

(He left open the possibility that the shooter had been "misguided." But that was as far as he'd go.)

Regarding the claim about mental illness, Broome didn't say how he could possibly offer such an assessment—how he could possibly know such a thing. 

Discussions of "mental illness" involve a challenging set of concepts and distinctions. Broome has no apparent background in the field.

How in the world could Brian Broome know if the shooter is mentally ill (in some particular way)? There seems to be no way that Broome could possibly know such a thing—but in a MAGA-adjacent way, he just went ahead and said it.

Broome just went ahead and said it—and the Post put his statement in print.

In comments, quite a few liberal commenters called attention to the oddness of Broome's  unsupported psychiatric assessment. As for Broome, he moved on to some mind-reading work about Justice Alito's recent draft opinion:

BROOME (continuing directly): It is easy to draw a straight line between the hateful actions of white supremacists and popular right-wing conservatives. It seems that neither group can imagine a world where all people are equal. In their minds, one group must be on top. And the fear of losing the top spot has mutated into an ideology known as the great replacement theory...[T]his fear-fueled, binary thinking will continue to bring harm to people of color.

The same sort of thinking about race and birthrates now dominates the conservative Supreme Court. The leaked draft opinion isn’t about protecting babies. It is about protecting Whiteness. Specifically, White babies.

Say what? Alito's draft opinion is "specifically" about "protecting white babies?" 

For the record, the draft opinion doesn't specifically say any such thing. But in a more general sense, how could Broome possibly think that he knew something like that?

How could Broome know such a thing? In what follows, he fails to explain. Instead, he offers the type of sweeping, unsupported rhetoric our blue tribe has increasingly come to enjoy:

BROOME (continuing directly): Many others have pointed out that if Republicans really cared about babies and children, they’d help provide help for poor infants, child care, health care, better funding for schools, and the like. But their concern is not about babies and children in general—only certain babies. The Supreme Court draft decision is about protecting what conservatives believe is a diminishing demographic and their most valuable resource: White people.

For the record, Broome now seems to be reporting what all Republicans think. According to Broome, "Their concern is not about babies and children in general—only certain babies."

Once again, Broome doesn't explain how he knows such a thing. He then mind-reads, once again, about the motives which lie behind the Alito draft opinion:

The opinion "is about protecting what conservatives believe is a diminishing demographic and their most valuable resource: White people." Or at least, so Broome declares.

How could Broome know that? He seems to feel no need to explain. Instead, he gives Post readers a further look at his various "beliefs:" 

BROOME (continuing directly): Some will accuse me here of indulging in conspiracy theories—or of believing the worst in people. But, as a Black American living in a racist society, I don’t find it difficult to believe in the worst in people. One tries not to. But we see evidence of it every day in our lived experience. And we have firsthand knowledge of how important Whiteness is to some people. We’ve seen how they conflate Whiteness with righteousness and innocence. And we’ve lived with how the power that this culture bestows upon Whiteness affects us negatively. It is my belief that conservatives couldn’t care less about whether or not mothers of color terminate pregnancies.

The real agenda here is to boost White birthrates, because among the biggest fears of conservatives is the fear of being outnumbered.

According to Broome, the "real agenda" behind Alito's opinion involves the desire to boost white birthrates. This would eliminate (white) conservatives' fear of being outnumbered in the future as demographic change proceeds.

Under the circumstances, this strikes us as a remarkably odd statistical theory. As best we can tell from the basic numbers and from the basic sociology, eliminating abortion would increase birthrates in "minority" communities much more than the birthrate of whites.

You can Google the data yourselves—or you can read this recent AP report, courtesy of The PBS Newshour. In this separate report, the Guttmacher Institute offers this brief overview:

"This much is true: In the United States, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women."

It's hard to imagine how five Justices could actually think that overturning Roe v. Wade—or eliminating abortion rights altogether—would be a way to turn back the clock on demographic change. But that's what Brian Broome has said—and the Washington Post chose to print it.

During these Trump-adjacent years, rhetoric from the nation's red tribe has becoming increasingly illogical, unfounded, unhinged, bizarre. Something else has become remarkably clear:

We humans are capable of believing almost any claim, no matter how illogical or unhinged, at times of tribal conflict. Sadly, as these Days of Trump move on, our own blue rhetoric increasingly seems to come from a Trump-adjacent realm. 

Brian Broome is a good, decent person. That said, large chunks of his recent essay read like the sort of thing you used to hear in corners bars, though only if you were unlucky enough to be physically present.

Today, newspapers like the Washington Post—and "cable news" channels like MSNBC—are increasingly ready to publish and broadcast such rhetoric. The rhetoric goes out to us the people—and we the people will be inclined to believe and parrot its various statements and claims.

(Cynics say this practice is good for the corporate bottom line. These cynics may well have a point.)

In conclusion, consider this:

In his new book, Professor Mounk warns about the historical difficulty of maintaining "[racially] diverse democracies." According to Mounk, crazy rhetoric from each of two warring sides can help doom such fragile attempts at human governance.

The rhetoric we approve and advance helps define our selves. In this morning's Washington Post, an opinion essay appears beneath this headline:

Disturbing, even inaccurate speech must be protected

Trust us! At present, the U.S. army isn't big enough to protect all that unfettered speech!

In all honesty, nothing is going to change the decline in the rhetoric—in the logic and the rationality—of our own flailing blue tribe. Even so, we'll explore the decline in our tribe's rhetoric during the course of the week.

Does our rhetoric really define our selves? In the face of the Crazy from major elements of MAGA world, is our tribe's devolving rhetoric really the tool with which we should respond?

Tomorrow: Stephanie Ruhle agrees

TIMES AND SCHOOLS: How severe is New York City's crisis?

SATURDAY, MAY 21, 2022

A, B and C, long ago: Long ago and far away, we were teaching fifth and sixth graders in the Baltimore City Schools.

We started in the fall of 1969; we left in the early 1980s. We came for the draft deferment, left because the time had come when we pretty much had to.

Along the way, we spent seven full years teaching fifth and sixth grades. We also spent two full years teaching junior high math, with time off for research endeavors.

In the grade school years, we generally taught the kids who were judged to be farthest "behind." Some of these kids really were far "behind." In some cases, we didn't know how they'd received that designation.

In some of these cases, the kids in question had already repeated one or two grades. They were fifth or sixth graders by designation, but they might be eighth graders by age—and they might be reading on (something like) "third grade level."

(You can't measure a child's "reading level" the same way you can measure her height. Also, test scores are higher today.)

These kids hadn't grown up in "high-literacy" homes. As a general matter, they hadn't had the types of reading experiences which are enjoyed by children from higher literacy homes—experiences which may begin before the new-born child even comes home from the hospital.

One of the interesting things about growing older involves the surprises you may experience as you remember the people you've known along the way. Somewhat oddly, we remember some of those fifth and sixth grade kids as some of the best people we've ever known.

In the past, we've mentioned three girls—A, B and C—who we taught for both fifth and sixth grades. By this time, we had come to believe that the best way for kids to learn to read and write was by doing a lot of reading and writing, so we would spend time, every day, just letting everybody do that, in whatever manner they chose.

Often, they were reading paperback books we had bought ourselves, generally six at a time. These were books about more mature subjects written on accessible "reading levels."

In the past, we've described some of the things we saw during those sessions. For example:

We would see A, B and C sitting together in a small circle, gravely listening to one another as they took turns reading aloud from one of these high-interest books. (A readable biography of Florence Nightingale comes to mind.)

A few years later, B asked us for help with a terrible personal matter. (As it turned out, there was nothing we could do, or at least that's what we decided.) Some years after that, A telephoned us out of the blue, telling us what was going on with other kids from that class.

When we look back on A, B and C, we can still see them sitting in their reading circle, having the kind of experience, at age 13, that other kids have at much earlier ages. Especially in the case of A and B, we think of them as two of the best people we've ever known.

It's odd to think about people so young in that way. But our memory breaks through to let us know what we actually saw way back then.

Due to our nation's brutal racial history; due to our nation's unfortunate class structure; some kids grow up having a bevy of reading experiences. Other kids do not. 

Except for the kids who lose their way, they're all good, decent kids. Similar good and decent kids are found all over the world.

At the New York Times (and elsewhere), our tribe doesn't pay a lot of attention to the interests of these good, decent kids. 

At the Times, they produce highly performative front-page reports about the interests of the top few percent. Good, decent kids like A, B and C rarely make the cut. 

When a new mayor suggests a new plan to address the needs of those kids, the Times assigns an inexperienced non-specialist to report on the mayor's proposal. Little experience or expertise is brought to bear in reporting the new mayor's new plan.

(This isn't that young reporter's doing or fault.)

Our tribe is convinced that we're the good, decent, very smart people. The Others are known to be deplorable, irredeemable—racist, misogynist, stupid.

According to legions of major experts, this is a classic human mistake. According to experts, our brains are wired to produce such beliefs at times of tribal conflict.

How bad is the "literary crisis" the new mayor's plan is (said to be) designed to "turn around?" Also, is there any serious reason to think that the new mayor's plan could or will accomplish any such task?

At the Times, you'll never find out! The New York Times [HEART] the kids who might get into Stuyvesant High, then move on to Yale. 

The Times shows every few signs of caring about kids like A, B and C.

Unless they can posture about "segregation," the New York Times doesn't ask us to think about the needs of those millions of kids. The Times likes to perform about "segregation"—and it likes kids who might end up at Yale, especially if they aren't of Asian descent.

A, B and C weren't headed for Yale! B, who is no longer living, spent her (somewhat shortened) adult life as a home health care worker.

Back when she was in sixth grade, she was eighth grade by age. She was bigger than a lot of the other kids and she was a Jehovah's Witness.

She took a lot of teasing. This badly hurt her gentle sensibility.

Also, she sat in a circle with A and C, listening gravely as three girls took turns having a series of belated reading experiences. Those three girls were very good people. 

How bad is the crisis in New York City? How do kids in New York City compare to their peers from around the state of New York? To their peers from around the nation?

You'll rarely read about such boring topics in the New York Times. Next week, we'll show you the data from the 2019 Naep and we'll answer as best we can.

Our tribe doesn't much care about A, B and C. Also, very few members of our tribe are aware of this ongoing fact.

Nothing that's said won't be good enough!

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022

Carlson tackles replacement: Last Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson offered his take on the so-called "great replacement theory." At one point, he said this:

CARLSON (5/17/22): You've heard a lot about the great replacement theory recently. It's everywhere in the last two days and we're still not sure exactly what it is. 

Here's what we do know for a fact. There is a strong political component to the Democratic Party's immigration policy. We're not guessing this. We know this, and we know it because they have said so.  

They've said it again and again and again. They've written books on it and monographs and magazine articles. They have bragged about it endlessly. They talk about it on cable news constantly, and they say out loud, "We are doing this because it helps us to win elections."

That's not something that is said once. It's something they've gloated about again and again and again and we think that's wrong and in case you doubt us, here they are. 

To read the transcript or watch the tape, you can just click here.

Are the highlighted statements true? Is there, or has there ever been, some sort of "strong political component to the Democratic Party's immigration policy?"

If so, what is that political component? And when have "they"—presumably, Democratic officials and office holders—actually said so out loud? Who has written the books and the articles bragging about this (alleged) component of policy?  

We don't doubt that there may have been some such political component to Democratic policy thinking, but it's Carlson who's making the claim. He said that Democrats "have gloated about it again and again and again."

After that, he played videotape of four alleged examples.

He played tape of Stacey Abrams, of Julian Castro, of Dick Durbin and even Joe Biden (on C-Span in 2015). At this point in the monologue, Biden was offered to viewers as Carlson's fourth and final example. Here's the way it went down:

BIDEN (videotape): An unrelenting stream of immigration, nonstop, nonstop. Folks like me, who are Caucasian, of European descent, for the first time in 2017 will be in an absolute minority in the United States of America, absolute minority. 

Fewer than 50% of the people in America from then on will be white European stock. That's not a bad thing. That's a source of our strength.  

CARLSON (laughing): So you play clips of them saying it, and you're the deranged conspiracy nut!

You aren't required to agree with or to like what Biden said. But where did he say, let alone "brag," that Democratic immigration policy was somehow being affected by some demographics-based political assessment?

Answer: Biden didn't say any such thing in that videotaped statement! Did Carlson believe that he did? 

We don't know how to answer that question, but you can feel fairly sure that some of Carlson's viewers believed that they had just seen Biden making some such statement. At times like these, we're all inclined to hear the things we came in wanting to hear, or to hear the things our tribal leaders tell us that we just heard.

In fact, none of those four Democratic officials actually said, in the tape Carlson played, that their party's immigration policy was being affected by the desire to change the political balance of the electorate.

That doesn't mean that Carlson's original claim might not be true in some respect. It means that, when Carlson gave four (4) examples of Democrats allegedly saying that and bragging about it, none of the Democrats actually said any such thing.

Later in his monologue, Carlson cited several magazine articles from 2013 in which journalists seemed to say that the immigration reform package of the day was going to make Democrats unbeatable in future elections. 

One of these essays came from Politico. The other came from the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-aligned think tank.

Those writers did seem to say that the proposed immigration reform of that day would be a massive political boon for future Democrats. But those writers weren't Democratic officials, and even they weren't directly saying that Democratic policy had been shaped by the desire to affect future elections.

Is there now, or has there ever been, a political component to Democratic Party immigration policy? We'd be surprised if the answer was no, just as we'd be surprised to learn that there has never been a "low wages for business owners" component to Republican immigration policy.

Having said that, we'll also say this:

We've reached the point where any purported bit of evidence will be "close enough for Storyline work" for tribal true believers. We wish that practice only obtained among the reds, but we increasingly see that sort of behavior all over blue cable too.

Nothing that's said won't be good enough. If it's said by our tribunes, it's true!

TIMES AND SCHOOLS: New York City's proficiency rates!

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022

Let's take a look at the record(s): Long ago and far away, we performed at an annual meeting of Baltimore City teachers.

Or was it teachers from the whole state of Maryland? Actually, we think it was, but we can't exactly recall.

We were no longer a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher ourselves. Operating now as a comedian, we joked about the various "simple solutions" we Baltimore teachers had been encountering over the past dozen years.

We'll briefly recall that moment below. First, let's focus on an important question:

How serious is the "literary crisis" Mayor Eric Adams is (said to be) hoping to "turn around?"

In a recent report in the New York Times, a young reporter framed the situation that way. The mayor had proposed a plan "to turn around a literacy crisis in New York City," she inexpertly said.

Four paragraphs later, this young reporter described the shape and the size of the "crisis." Once again, and for the last time, this is what she wrote:

New York [City] is facing a literacy crisis: Fewer than half of all third to eighth graders and just 36 percent of Black and Latino students were proficient on the state reading exams administered in 2019, the most recent year for which there is data. Research suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened those outcomes.

Fewer than half of Gotham's kids were proficient on the 2019 reading exams, the young reporter said. And not only that:

Thanks to the pandemic, things are believed to be worse today. Black and Hispanic kids seemed to have the lowest rates of proficiency back in 2019.

Question! Does it make sense to suppose that Mayor Adams can "turn [that situation] around?" Also this:

In the vast sweep of things, just how severe is that crisis?

The New York Times rarely bothers itself with questions of that type. The famous and famously upper-class newspaper rarely assigns itself the task of defining the shape and the size of this problem. 

Today and tomorrow, we'll try to show you some basic data—data from the annual New York State exams, but also from the National Assessment of Education Progress (Naep), the federally-run program which is considered to be the gold standard of domestic educational testing.

What is the shape and the size of New York City's "crisis?" Below, we'll run you through the types of information you'll never find in the New York Times, which routinely restricts its focus to kids who might end up at Yale.

We'll start with the annual New York State exams—the exams which Lola Fadulu cited in her report for the Times.

The New York State exams

Fewer than half of New York City students were proficient on the state reading exams in 2019, Fadulu noted in her lengthy report.

As best we can tell, that's an accurate statement. (It's amazingly hard to find full data sets from New York City for this annual testing program.) That said, we should quickly add this:

Across the entire state of New York, the proficiency rate seems to have been slightly lower than it was in New York City. New York City's proficiency rate trumped that of the state as a whole!

At this official site, the state of New York reports that the proficiency rate for the entire state stood at 45 percent. In Gotham, the overall proficiency rate was slightly higher. 

In Gotham, the proficiency rate on the 2019 reading exam seems to have been 47.4 percent. That is indeed "fewer than half," but it's slightly higher than the proficiency rate for the state as a whole. 

And not only that! If you "disaggregate" those test results—if you look at the proficiency rates for different groups of kids by ethnicity and race—then Gotham's kids tended to outperform their peers across the state in those measures too. At the Manhattan Institute, Ray Domanico broke it down as shown:

DOMANICO (3/26/20): Students in every racial group in NYC traditional public or charter schools outperform their peers in the rest of the state.


In traditional public schools, white students in New York City score well above white students in the rest of the state. Other racial groups do better in NYC than in the rest of the state by smaller margins than white students.

That may not be what a subscriber might be inclined to suspect. As best we can tell from the scattershot availability of reliable data, Domanico's account is fully accurate, at least as far as it goes.

That said, several problems lurk. For starters, this doesn't erase the "achievement gaps" found within these data. Here are the proficiency rates for different groups of kids in the New York City Public Schools:

Proficiency rates, 2019 statewide reading exams
New York City Public Schools, Grades 3-8
White kids: 66.6%
Black kids: 35.0%
Hispanic kids: 36.5%
Asian ancestry kids: 67%

Those are the data on which Fadulu drew in her brief account of the "literacy crisis" the city is facing—the literary crisis the mayor's new plan is (said to be) designed to "turn around."

Is there any reason to believe that the mayor's plan might accomplish something like that? We're going to guess that the answer is no, for reasons we'll touch on below.

Now for a few other problems:

A significant number of parents across the state of New York refuse to let their kids take the annual statewide exams. Our guess would be this:

Those refusals may tend to tilt the results of the statewide tests in the favor of Gotham's kids.

With that in mind, we'll turn to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federally-run testing program we mentioned above. 

On the Naep. the bar for proficiency is set a good deal higher than on the New York State exams. (In the end, these are always subjective assessments.) 

Some experts have said that the bar for "proficiency" on the Naep is set artificially high. Keeping that assessment in mind, we'll show you Grade 8 proficiency rates from the 2019 Naep for New York City, for New York State, and for the nation's public schools as a whole.

We'll present those data tomorrow. As you will be able to see, Gotham's kids will no longer be outperforming their statewide peers in every case. Also, they won't be outperforming their counterparts nationwide in every case, though in general they'll come fairly close.

While we're at it, please remember this:

In the end, "proficiency" is a subjective assessment. You can't measure a student's "reading proficiency" in the same precise and "objective" way you can measure his height and his weight. 

That said, the achievement gaps are still visible, and are quite substantial, in the Naep reading data. This is part of a long-standing American "literary crisis" which does, in fact, need to be "turned around."

Evening at the Teachers' Meeting: a comedy performance

Long ago and far away, we entertained a group of Baltimore City and (we think) Maryland public school teachers. 

If memory serves, the commissioner was there. She was quite good-natured and gracious.

We joked about the endless array of miracle cures which urban teachers of that era had been asked to negotiate—the endless array of programs designed to "turn around" our nation's public school problems.

We recall joking about the one-year reign of "open classrooms"—the weird idea that there shouldn't be any actual walls between kids in different classrooms. 

That revolutionary idea came and went within the space of a single year. From there, it was on to the next miracle cure. And yes, the audience laughed.

Over the past sixty years, many proposals have come and come—proposals designed to "turn around" the deeply engrained shortcomings in our public schools. In the modern era, newspapers like the New York Times no longer seem to care about matters like this, or about the vast number of good, decent kids who are involved, through no fault of their own, in this undesirable situation.

Mayor Adams has made a proposal. We applaud him for his interest in the vast array of Gotham's kids, as opposed to the top few percent.

That said, no experienced person with an ounce of sense would accept his proposal at face value. The fact that his intentions seem to be pure doesn't mean that his ideas are sound.

Meanwhile, sure enough! When the mayor released his plan, the New York Times assigned a young non-specialist to report on the proposal. 

Lola Fadulu is very bright; as far as we have ever heard, she's done everything right in her life. But the Times was showing its endless disdain for Gotham's kids when it made that assignment.

Is there  any reason to think that the mayor's proposal can "turn around" New York City's public schools?

History suggests that the answer is no—that experienced and savvy people should function here as skeptics.  On the brighter side, you won't likely be asked to encounter such downers in the New York Times (or in the Washington Post).

When it comes to New York City's schools, the New York Times writes about the top few percent—the kids who might end up at Yale, or maybe just at Brown.

It throws the rest of the students away. This pattern is quite well established. 

We've never seen a "career liberal" journalist say even one word about this journalistic preference. Dearest darlings, use your heads! It simply isn't done!

In part, this is who, and this is what, our self-impressed, endlessly moralizing blue tribe really is. 

We care about black kids when they get shot (but only when they get shot by policemen). Other than that, we pay such good and decent kids amazingly little mind.

This doesn't mean that we're bad people over here in our tribe. It simply means that we're people people. 

It tends to suggest that, in the end, our treasured journalistic elites just don't ginormously care. They do like to entertain and edify us with endless dreck like this:

In Court, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Dress to Suggest

None of this is Fadulu's fault. This is in no way her doing.

Tomorrow: For whatever it may be worth, proficiency rates from the Naep