How many documents have been recovered?


The best numbers we can offer at this point in time: During or after Donald Trump's presidency, a large number of documents marked as classified found their way to Mar-a-Lago.

During the course of the current year, a large number of such documents have been removed from Mar-a-Lago—first in January, then on June 3, then in the FBI search conducted on August 8.

By this time, how many such documents have been recovered? Also, how many of those documents were marked as "Top Secret?"

At the higher ends of our journalism, statistics can seem to be boring, and statistics can be very hard. 

For that reason, we're going to report the total number of such documents which have been recovered to date, according to official filings by the Justice Department.  Also, we're going to list the number of such documents which were marked "Top Secret."

One bit of confusion is already infesting the way some journalists are describing this matter. Below, we'll offer the dope on that too.

How many such documents have been recovered in all?

How many documents marked as classified have been recovered from Mar-a-Lago? Here are the best numbers available at the present time, according to this newly released DOJ document

Recovered in January: 184 such documents (DOJ document, page 7)

Recovered on June 3: 38 such documents (DOJ document, page 10)

Recovered on August 8: "Over one hundred unique documents" (DOJ document, page 12)

For whatever reason, the newly-released document isn't specific about the number of classified documents recovered on August 8. That said:

Given what we know at present, at least 323 documents with classified markings—and some unknown additional number—have been recovered to date.

How many documents marked Top Secret have been recovered?

How many documents marked Top Secret have been recovered from Mar-a-Lago? Here are the best numbers available at the present time:

Recovered in January: 25 such documents (DOJ document, page 7)

Recovered on June 3: 17 more such documents (DOJ document, page 10)

Recovered on August 8: The newly released DOJ document doesn't give a specific number. It merely says that some unstated number of such documents were recovered that day.

Earlier reporting said that five "sets" of such documents were recovered on August 8. Best estimate at present:

At least 44 such documents have been recovered, though the number may well be closer to 60. For whatever reason, the precise number still seems to be unknown.

A point of instant confusion: 

On page 12 of the newly-released DOJ document the Justice Department says this about the August 8 search:

During the August 8 search, investigators found "over one hundred unique documents with classified markings—that is, more than twice the amount produced on June 3, 2022, in response to the grand jury subpoena."

We've already seen some journalists report this presentation in ways which are misleading, confusing or jumbled. In fairness, it's hard to report such matters on the fly.

Here's what is and isn't said in the newly-released document:

On August 8, the FBI found more than twice as many documents as were handed over by Trump's lawyers on June 3. The FBI did not find more than twice as many documents as had been handed over in January and June combined.

A few last apparent points:

None of this means that there aren't additional classified documents somewhere at Mar-a-Lago. None of this means that additional classified documents aren't present at other of Donald Trump's residences.

Beyond that, is it possible that other classified documents have been given or sold to other parties? As far as we know, that has to be rated as possible. Also this:

Presumably, any of these documents could have been Xeroxed. 

The National Archives has recovered well over 300 documents with classified markings. At least 44 were marked Top Secret, though the number may well be substantially higher than that. 

Copies of those documents could of course exist. As far as we know, there's no way at the present time that any such thing can be known.

EXPLANATION: The Liar's Paradox and Kurt Godel!


Our discussion resumes tomorrow: Last week, a trip off-campus let us revisit a life-long favorite topic.

We revisited a favorite question. We pondered the various ways explanation can go (badly) wrong, even at the very highest academic levels.

During our trip, we revisited one of our favorite recent passages. We refer to the passage in which readers are told that, if you're driving your car on a highway, the trees along the side of the highway will "appear to be moving."

Historically, peculiar formulations of that type have led on to questions like these:

Is there such a thing as empty space?
Is there a difference between space and matter?
How many angels can dance...?

See yesterday morning's report.

As the later Wittgenstein tried to explain, with little success, such peculiar formulations have dogged the history of high-end academic philosophy. Tomorrow, we'll return to our favorite formulation of the current century—Professor Goldstein's formulation concerning "The Liar's Paradox" and its connection to the work of "the greatest logician since Aristotle."

These peculiar formulations are part of the natural history of our species. Tomorrow, we'll continue our discussion—our discussion of the way explanations can go very bad, and have always gone very bad, at the very highest levels of academic discourse.

(Were college freshmen right all along? We'll let others decide.)

We're postponing that discussion for one day due to last night's revelations concerning Donald J. Trump. Later today, we'll post the new numbers which have emerged about the number of documents taken—and we'll comment again on the branch of twentieth-century science our journalists refuse to discuss.

Explanation has always gone bad, even at the very highest levels of discourse. Borrowing from Wittgenstein, bad explanation at the highest levels is "as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing."

Wittgenstein was hopelessly jumbled too. Here on this leafy, student-free campus, we're working to straighten things out.

Later today: The number of documents taken

Tomorrow: Top paragraph of the current century

Friday: Where does the number 2 live?

How many documents did Donald Trump take?


Scarborough defines total down: How many top-secret documents did Donald J. Trump take to Mar-a-Lago?

In the end, the precise number may not matter all that much. Within our failing information systems, almost nothing does. 

But as we watched the first few minutes of Monday's Morning Joe, we saw Joe Scarborough seeming to define the number down. Here's part of what he said:

SCARBOROUGH (8/29/22): You look at what we're talking about here. As Mika said, 184 classified markings on documents.

Twenty-five documents marked "Top Secret"—25! Sixty-seven marked "Confidential." Ninety-two marked "Secret."

And yet, there always seems to be this process of defining deviancy down for Donald Trump, regardless of whether it's his dealings in the 2016 campaign with Russia, dealings that—actually, a Republican committee said it caused grave counterintelligence risks. Or whether you take these documents—

You know, there are a lot of Republican senators and members of Congress—I know this as a former member of Congress that, if we had mishandled documents, if we'd taken one document, one top-secret document, let alone 25, or ten documents with classified markings, the FBI would be at our house the next day. 

And all of these senators and all of these members of Congress who are suggesting, or newspaper editorialists who are suggesting it is much ado about nothing, they'd all be in jail. They would all be in jail.

That was Joe Scarborough, four minutes into Monday's program. From his remarks, a viewer would have thought that Donald J. Trump had taken 25 top-secret documents with him to Mar-a-Lago.

(To see a similar oration from yesterday's show, you should click here, then move ahead to the 3-minute mark. We believe this oration came at the start of the 7 A.M. hour.)

Almost surely, the specific number of top-secret documents doesn't really matter. Within our rapidly failing systems, almost nothing does.

That said, what is the actual number? Did Donald J. Trump take twenty-five (25) top-secret documents to Mar-a-Lago? 

That's what Scarborough seemed to be saying. In fact, the actual number of top-secret documents seems to be substantially larger than that. 

Scarborough was taking his numbers from the Justice Department affidavit which was released last Friday. But that affidavit only listed the numbers of classified documents which were returned to the National Archives in January 2022. 

According to widely accepted reporting, some additional number of top-secret documents were handed over to Justice Department officials in a subsequent personal meeting on June 3, 2022. 

Beyond that, five "sets" of top-secret documents were recovered in the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month. (As far as we know, the total number of top-secret documents in those five sets has never been revealed.)

In short, the total number of top-secret documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago seems to be well more than 25. But Joe and Mika never noted this basic fact as they took text off the teleprompter following what may have been a long, lazy summer weekend.

Over the weekend, we saw many broadcasters who seemed to present the numbers from the DOJ affidavit as it they represented the total number of classified documents in question. We'd seen this done so many times that we were especially struck when we saw Scarborough seem to do it, even as he savaged Trump.

Again, the numbers Scarborough listed were just the numbers from the first batch of recovered materials. Two more tranches of classified documents have been recovered from Mar-a-Lago—first in June, then in August—as this past year has dragged by.

How many top-secret documents did Trump really take? As far as we know, an accurate number isn't available yet—but the number isn't 25. Plainly, the total number is larger than that. Journalists should know enough to articulate that basic fact.

As you can see from the text above, Scarborough complained about the way various people "define deviancy down" when it comes to Trump. He himself was "defining documents down" as he lazily worked from the copy which had appeared on his prompter.

How many top-secret documents did Trump take to Mar-a-Lago? The number seems to be substantially larger than 25, unless you're watching the highest end of American journalism at work. 

Storyline is easy and fun. But as we've noted in the past, statistics can be very hard.

EXPLANATION: "Is there such a thing as empty space?"


Wittgenstein ignored: Explanations, or attempts at same, can go sideways fast.

This remains true at the very top of the academic pile. Consider an early passage in Brian Greene's 2004 book, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality.

(In 2011, the book was turned into a four-part PBS series.)

As of 2004, anyone with an ounce of "philosophical" training might have shifted uncomfortably in her seat as she considered the title of Greene's book. The notion that Greene was planning to discuss as amorphous a concept as "the texture of reality" should perhaps have set red warning lights flashing.

Greene is a highly-regarded physicist. Without any question, Brian Greene knows a ton—a major boatload—of physics and math.

That said, physicists and mathematicians can go badly wrong when they wander outside the boundaries defined by their areas of expertise. And so it goes, it seems to us, early in Greene's highly-regarded book, when he starts a section he puckishly calls "Space Jam" with this muddle-adjacent passage:

GREENE (page 29): Einstein once said that if someone uses words like "red," "hard," or "disappointed," we all basically know what is meant. But as for the word "space," whose relation with psychological experience is less direct, there exists a far-reaching uncertainty of interpretation. This uncertainty reaches far back: the struggle to come to terms with the meaning of space is an ancient one. Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and many of their followers through the ages wrestled in one way or another with the meaning of "space." Is there a difference between space and matter? Does space have an existence independent of the presence of material objects? Is there such a thing as empty space? Are space and matter mutually exclusive? Is space finite or infinite?

"Is there such a thing as empty space?" So begins several pages of muddle-adjacent material. 

 In fairness, Greene is mainly speaking, at this point, about various questions which were posed by (very) ancient "philosophers." That said, Greene—he's an extremely learned physicist—is quickly introducing linguistic and conceptual muddles pretty much of his own.

What does Greene tell us as he starts? Paraphrasing something Einstein is said to have said, he sets out to discuss "the relation with psychological experience" of "the word 'space.' "

According to Greene, that word's "relation with psychological experience" is "less direct" than the  "relation with psychological experience" of such words as "red" and "hard." 

Already, the formulation is rather murky, but the obedient reader will likely decide to read on. 

Greene, after all, is a major public intellectual and a high-ranking theoretical physicist. Respect for intellectual authority may lead readers to assume that Greene won't already, on page 29, leading us far away from Clarity Road and onto uncharted ground.

Alas! The serious reader shouldn't make such assumptions. When they start explaining or musing about their work, our mathematicians and physicists are quite often, and sometimes quite quickly, perhaps in over their heads.

All too often, they'll offer the kinds of muddled musings the later Wittgenstein tried to diagnose. In the case of this early passage in Greene's book, the reader is soon asked to fight his way through this:

GREENE (page 30): Such philosophical and religious musings on space can be compelling and provocative; yet, as in Einstein's cautionary remark above, they lack critical sharpness of description. But there is a fundamental and precisely framed question that emerges from such discourse: should we ascribe an independent reality to space, as we do for other, more ordinary material objects like the book you are now holding, or should we think of space as merely a language for describing relationships between ordinary material objects? 

The great German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who was Newton's contemporary, firmly believed that space does not exist in any conventional sense. Talk of space, he claimed, is nothing more than an easy and convenient way of encoding where things are relative to one another. Without the objects in space, Leibniz declared, space itself has no independent meaning of existence...

Let's be perfectly clear. Leibniz believed that space does exist; it's just that it doesn't exist "in any conventional sense!" 

That's what Leibniz is said to have believed. As for Greene himself, he regards the following as "a precisely framed question:"

Should we ascribe an independent reality to space? Or should we think of space as merely a language for describing relationships between ordinary material objects? 

If that is our idea of precision, is it possible that, as of page 30, we've already wandered off the road into a world of hurt?

Full disclosure! Down through the ages, college freshmen had always suspected that much of what passed for academic philosophy was a big barrel of incomprehensible nonsense.  In the middle of the last century, along came the later Wittgenstein, perhaps and possibly seeming to say that those skeptical college freshmen had actually been right all along! 

Is there such a thing as empty space? The inquiring minds of the great philosophers had always wanted to know!

Also, does "space" exist? According to Leibniz, yes, it does—but not in any conventional sense!

Confronted with material like this, courteous readers continue along, convinced that they're in good hands. At this site, we'd ask this question:

Brian Greene knows tons of physics—but is it possible that, in ancillary "philosophical" discussions, he (along with many others) may be in over his head?

In several surveys of philosophy professors, Wittgenstein has been chosen as the most important philosopher of the 20th century. That said, he was highly inarticulate himself—and go figure! The basic thrust of his ministry has been almost wholly ignored.

Things fall apart, Yeats said. So does the art of explanation, in a wide array of realms.

Tomorrow: Revisiting Goldstein's paragraph—a paragraph we adore

Full disclosure: In the fall of our junior year, we failed Kant. Or could it be that Kant failed us? We've never been totally sure.

At any rate, because we were handed that failing grade, we had to take a summer school "make-up" course. We took a course called "Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz" while working on summer dorm crew.

Wittily borrowing from Jonson's description of Shakespeare, we've always said that we learned little Spinoza and even less Leibniz. Descartes, of course, got something quite right. 

Just barely, we stumbled through. Someone went to Nam in our place.

Statistics can be extremely hard!


Counting those (top-secret) documents: Joe Biden has cancelled some college debt. In this fairly recent report, two Forbes reporters described a related phenomenon:

MCGURRAN AND HAHN (3/28/22): In 1980, the price to attend a four-year college full-time was $10,231 annually—including tuition, fees, room and board, and adjusted for inflation—according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2019-20, the total price increased to $28,775. That’s a 180% increase.

In what follows, we'll assume the accuracy of those basic statistics concerning annual cost. The key takeaway is this:

Even after adjusting for inflation, the cost of attending college soared over those forty years. This is the kind of topic you won't see discussed on MSNBC, where the only known topic is this:

Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail Jail Jail Jail Jail!

For the record, discussing statistics is often extremely hard, even for our top journalists. In the example from Forbes, consider this possible problem:

Even after adjusting for inflation, the cost of college almost tripled over those forty years! But the Forbes reporters chose to describe that as "a 180% increase."

Their statement is accurate—but the cost had almost tripled! Had we been their editor, we would have replaced their (accurate) account—their "180% increase"—with the other (accurate) account of that state of affairs.

On MSNBC, you'll never see anyone reporting the way those costs have risen, or asking why they've risen so much. The channel's hosts have only one topic, and it's entertaining: 

Trump Trump Trump Trump Prison!

The current news about Trump is important, of course—but it isn't the nation's only significant topic. That said, you're routinely denied information about the topic of college costs as you get fed that one pleasing topic:

Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail.

The news about Trump is important. This morning, it occurred to us that some of our leading journalists are having a hard time with a basic statistical question. That question goes like this:

How many top-secret documents did Trump take to Mar-a-Lago?

That's a very basic question. It seems to us that a misleading account is being widely offered in the wake of last Friday's release of the DOJ affidavit.

It seems to us that this misleading account tends to understate the actual number. Statistics are often extremely hard, especially for those at the top.

Tomorrow: How many such items in all?

EXPLANATION: What did Einstein discover or learn?


Can anyone explain it? We start today with a question:

Even at this rather late date—at this particular point in time—how widespread is Albert Einstein's name recognition?

That is to say, how many people could recognize Einstein's name? How many people could give a basic account of who or what he was? 

("Major league shortstop" would be judged incorrect. "Famous physicist" would be accepted.)

Even today, we'll guess that many people would recognize Einstein's name. As to what he discovered or learned, we'll guess you'd get two basic answers:

We'll guess that a lot of people would connect Einstein to the "theory of relativity," whatever the heck that is. Also, we'll guess that many people would link him to a famous equation:

E = mc2.

We'll guess that people who recognize Einstein's name would link him to that famous theory, or to that famous equation. Having floated that suggestion, we'll pose a different type of question:

To what extent could those people explain, describe or summarize the theory of relativity? Also, to what extent could such people describe or explain that famous formula: E = mc2?

Albert Einstein is still well-known, but how well could non-specialists— people who aren't famous physicists—explain or describe his work? For the record, the leading authority on Einstein starts its account as shown:

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest and most influential physicists of all time. Einstein is best known for developing the theory of relativity, but he also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics. 

Relativity and quantum mechanics are together the two pillars of modern physics. His mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which arises from relativity theory, has been dubbed "the world's most famous equation." His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. 

He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect," a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory. His intellectual achievements and originality resulted in "Einstein" becoming synonymous with "genius."

Sure enough! According to the leading authority, Albert Einstein was "a theoretical physicist."

According to that leading authority, he's best known "for developing the theory of relativity." Also, he came up with "the world's most famous equation:"

E = mc2.

We'll guess that many people would state such facts about Einstein, even at this late date. But how well could non-specialists describe or explain that famous theory? How well could such people describe or explain that equation?

How well could people perform such tasks? Almost surely, things would get a great deal murkier when people were asked to do that. 

For our money, the famous equation is easier to discuss than the famous theory. We humans have seen the equation at work in the world. The larger theory strikes us as quite hard.

Does it matter if regular people can't explain such matters? Basically no, it doesn't. That said, we often gain a window on the world—on the world of human cognition—when leading academics and journalists attempt to explain such matters.

Again and again and again and again, such explanations are rife with incoherence—and other academics and journalists rarely seem to notice. This opens a window onto a much larger world—the world of explanation.

We humans are fairly good at building things. (So are beavers, wasps and ants, but rather plainly, we're better.)

We've also created advanced technologies, and those technologies work. All the way back in 1969, we'd already somehow built a spaceship which was able to go to the moon. 

We've made it from the earth to the moon! But when it comes to more mundane analytical tasks, we routinely have a very hard time getting from here to there.

All in all, we lack the tools which produce clear explanation. At the highest academic and journalistic levels, this widely ignored but basic fact has been proven again and again.


Could you explain what Einstein did? Putting it a different way, has anyone been able to do that?

Tomorrow: That famous equation, out in the world

This afternoon: Journalistic attempts to count those (top secret) documents

Probably later this week: True story! Brian Greene, in The Fabric of the Cosmos (page 29):

"Is there such a thing as empty space?"

Do we all "know what he (must have) meant," as with those trees which "appear to be moving?"

People like Greene know tons of physics. But in the course of devising their explanations, they routinely craft groaners like that!

(Deferring to presumed authority, your lizard will say that it must make sense. As the later Wittgenstein helps us see, your lizard is frequently wrong in such matters.)

Yes, we took Brian Greene along!


"Muddled thinking" / "linguistic illusion:" Yes, we took Brian Greene's book along on the week's three-day trip (see yesterday's report). We've long been fascinated by this early, highly instructive passage:

GREENE (pages 24-25): It is perhaps surprising that the essential concern of special relativity is to understand precisely how the world appears to individuals, often called "observers," who are moving relative to one another. At first, this might seem to be an intellectual exercise of minimal importance. Quite the contrary: In the hands of Einstein, with his imaginings of observers chasing after light beams, there are profound implications to grasping fully how even the most mundane situations appear to observers in relative motion.

Intuition and Its Flaws

Common experience highlights certain ways in which experiences by such individuals differ. Trees alongside a highway, for example, appear to be moving from the viewpoint of a driver but appear stationary to a hitch-hiker sitting on a guard rail. Similarly, the dashboard of the automobile does not appear to be moving from the viewpoint of the driver (one hopes!), but like the rest of the car, it does appear to be moving from the viewpoint of the hitchhiker. These are such small and intuitive properties of how the world works that we hardly take note of them.

Special relativity, however, proclaims that the differences in observation between two such individuals are more subtle and profound...

In this early part of The Elegant Universe, Greene is attempting to outline the basics of special relativity. As he starts, he offers the highlighted statement about the differing experiences of 1) the driver of a car, and 2) a hitch-hiker the driver is motoring past.

Even at this early point, Greene describes that difference in language which seems to have been drawn from somewhere on or near the dark side of Mars. 

Already, we've moved perhaps a hundred yards off a clear, well-lighted path.  In our view, the clarity quotient heads downhill from there.

"What difference does it make?" obedient reviewers will cry. "We all know what Greene meant!"

And yes—as we noted yesterday, we all do (pretty much) know what he must have meant. But as such slippages in clarity continue to occur, we move farther and farther away from that clear, well-lighted path.

Why don't we see that we're lost in the woods? One thinks of Warren Zevon's description at the end of his 1977 hit, "Werewolves of London:"

I saw a werewolf drinkin' a piƱa colada at Trader Vic's.
His hair was perfect.

The werewolf's hair was perfect! This may have distracted observers in London from noticing that everything else about the werewolf was wrong.

Or so Zevon seemed to suggest. But so too with our "Einstein made easy" books!

As Greene continues, his sentence structure is perfect, much like the werewolf's hair. This may keep us from realizing that, at some fairly early point, we don't have the slightest idea what he's talking about.

Sadly, the later Wittgenstein had little skill at the basic task of explaining what he himself was talking about. Still and all, Professor Horwich tells us this—at the New York Times, no less!

HORWICH (3/3/13): Wittgenstein claims that there are no realms of phenomena whose study is the special business of a philosopher, and about which he or she should devise profound a priori theories and sophisticated supporting arguments. There are no startling discoveries to be made of facts, not open to the methods of science, yet accessible “from the armchair” through some blend of intuition, pure reason and conceptual analysis. Indeed, the whole idea of a subject that could yield such results is based on confusion and wishful thinking.

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

If so, then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking....Therefore, traditional philosophical theorizing must give way to a painstaking identification of its tempting but misguided presuppositions and an understanding of how we ever came to regard them as legitimate. 

Greene isn't "doing philosophy" in the passage we've posted. He's simply trying to explain special relativity in a way general readers can understand.

But he wanders off the path of clarity as soon as he begins. And he wanders farther afield, in successive small steps, as his book's pages fly pass. 

According to the later Wittgenstein, this same tendency toward "linguistic illusion and muddled thinking" has always dogged classic academic philosophy at its highest ends. Horwich goes into more detail in the full text of his short essay.

That said, such errors of clarity also dog our nation's "political discourse." We humans tend to reason very poorly, and this tends to lead on to very bad ends.

We've long been fascinated by the way this works at the highest ends of the spectrum—for example, when Einstein tried to explain his own revolutionary work in a way general readers could understand.

In his 1916 general interest book, Einstein offered an explanation of "the relativity of simultaneity" which transparently didn't make sense. He was trying to explain the same topic Greene is dealing with in the passage we've posted.

Transparently, Einstein's explanation didn't make sense—but so what? A hundred years later, there it was, that same explanation, lying at the heart of a tribute broadcast by the high-end PBS program, Nova.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep—but we humans are strongly inclined to trap ourselves in linguistic illusions and attendant muddled thinking.

No, Virginia! The trees along the side of that highway didn't "appear to be moving" to the driver of that car! That was Greene's first small step off Clarity Road, with other such steps to follow.

Brian Greene knows tons of physics. Stating the obvious, Einstein did too. But explaining physics to us general readers is a daunting task.

So is dealing with the basic topics which drive our political discourse. At present, our nation is dividing into tribes, and tribal war draws on.

Indeed, the latest of our species' many wars seems to be upon us. One thinks of Gene Brabender, saying this to Jim Bouton this in the classic book, Ball Four:

"Where I come from, we only talk so long. Then we start to hit."

Jumbled logic rules our discourse. Eventually, as pressure builds, our tribes begin to hit.

We humans! We've built a complex technology, and it actually works. Everywhere else, we're strongly inclined to build conceptual chaos.

In the very basic ways Wittgenstein clumsily tried to explore, we reason very poorly. We know how to go to the moon, but in matters which aren't technology / engineering-based we tend to have a very hard time getting from here to there.

Other examples of linguistic illusion / muddled thinking / conceptual chaos: Mathematicians who say they believe in "mathematical Platonism," which can (fairly) be described as an incoherent theory about where the number 2 lives.

No one could be so dumb, you insist. And we're sorry, but otherwise brilliant mathematicians keep proving that your sensible assumption is wrong!

They get tangled up in forms of language which lead them far away from Clarity Road. They believe they're engaged in Very Deep Thought as they voice absurdly muddled "ideas."

Even so, their hair is perfect! They're known to be brilliant mathematicians, so reviewers follow along!

Tall trees, but also The Elegant Universe!


Short trip with a lifelong friend: Even after all these years, we still score it as a bizarrely flawed, and therefore as a fascinating, paragraph.

The paragraph comes from Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (1999). In 2003, the book became a three-part PBS series. 

Early in the book, before he gets to ultimate theories, Greene offers an overview of Einstein's work on relativity. Oddly, he offers this: 

GREENE (page 25): Common experience highlights certain ways in which experiences by such individuals differ. Trees alongside a highway, for example, appear to be moving from the viewpoint of a driver but appear stationary to a hitch-hiker sitting on a guard rail. Similarly, the dashboard of the automobile does not appear to be moving from the viewpoint of the driver (one hopes!), but like the rest of the car, it does appear to be moving from the viewpoint of the hitchhiker. These are such small and intuitive properties of how the world works that we hardly take note of them.

Special relativity, however, proclaims that the differences in observation between two such individuals are more subtle and profound...

Say what? Do trees alongside a highway really "appear to be moving from the viewpoint of a driver?"

Presumably, we all know what Greene apparently means. Presumably, he means something like this:

As the driver motors along, a clump of trees is ahead of him along the roadway.  Moments later, as the car moves along, the same clump of trees is behind him.

Presumably, that's what Greene is referring to. But what an odd way to say it!

No driver would ever describe that state of affairs in the way Greene does. If the driver's 6-year-old child said, "Daddy, the trees appear to be moving!" the driver would wonder if something was wrong with his child, even at six years old!

Brian Greene knows a ton of physics. That said, the later Wittgenstein attempted to demonstrate the ways we humans are strongly inclined to get tangled in forms of language.

Wittgenstein had a very hard time explaining what he was talking about. But Greene's extremely peculiar construction fits into the cast.

We were off campus for three days this week. We had driven north with NAME WITHHELD to visit a mutual friend for reasons we won't disclose.

As for ourselves, we hadn't struggled with The Elegant Universe for at least several years. We decided to take it along, to see how it scans at this point.

The book still seems to scan poorly. Brian Greene knows a boatload of physics, but virtually no one, Greene included, is able to explain modern physics in a way general readers can grasp.

You can say every word of the book to yourself as you read The Elegant Universe. But almost surely, you won't understand what is being said.

Our trip took us to New York State. Quoting the late Kate McGarrigle:

And the trees grow high in New York State
They shine like gold in autumn

Never had the blues from whence I came
But in New York state I caught 'em.

The trees do grow high in New York State. That said, none of the trees alongside the highway "appeared to be moving" as we motored along.

Brian Greene knows tons of physics, but very little of his book strikes us as coherent. We humans are strongly inclined to get tangled in forms of language, and thereby to get led astray. In our view, so it goes for Danielle Paquette in today's Washington Post.

We may look at Paquette's use of the term "free speech" tomorrow. All in all, though, the other situation is, in the end, more important.

BREAKING: We expect no fish until Friday morning!


But surely, no fish today: We're going out to clear the pasture spring—or, at the very least, to visit friends in the Hudson Valley.

We don't expect to post again until Friday morning. But we can make this statement with certainty:

We'll have no fish today.

In the meantime, recommended: Tim Miller is one of Nicolle Wallace's "favorite reporters and friends." He has written a book about his days as a self-described Republican "hit man."

The book may be very good. That said:

Yesterday, Miller appeared for an extended interview on the NPR program, Fresh Air. When he did, he met with some instant, serious pushback from guest host Dave Davies concerning his past behavior as a Republican strategist. 

(Headline at the Fresh Air site: "This former GOP hatchet man didn't support Trump—but still enabled him." To Miller's credit, he discussed his past behavior in a straightforward way, as he apparently does in the book.)

Davies said he found Miller's book instructive. Having gotten to know Miller as one of our favorite reporters and friends, we were surprised by much od what we heard on this Fresh Air interview, which you can listen to here.

BACK-TO-SCHOOLED: One day only, at least for now!


Alex Wagner in Florida: The statement came in the first few minutes of Wednesday night's cable news program:

WAGNER (8/17/22): Tonight, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig joins us live.

And then, we'll be going down to Florida, where Republican governor Ron DeSantis has ordered some new lessons for the start of school this week—revisionist history and Christian nationalism. New Yorker writer and dean of the Columbia Journalism School Jelani Cobb will be in the studio to discuss.

The teacher who stood at the head of this class was MSNBC's Alex Wagner. She's host of the new Alex Wagner Show, which now appears in four of the Maddow Show's original time slots. 

Wagner's show will air on Tuesday through Friday nights, at exactly 9 p.m. The show may turn out to be very good—or it could turn out to be less helpful.

Wagner comes to MSNBC from Showtime, a network whose journalistic standards are even lower than those maintained on modern-day "cable news" channels. In recent years, she has served as a co-host on the aptly-named program, The Circus, a politics-adjacent infotainment show.

During her MSNBC debut last week, Wagner featured lengthy reports connected to back-to-school week in the Sunshine State. These lengthy reports appeared on Wednesday and Friday nights.

That said, is it true? Is Governor DeSantis really injecting "revisionist history and Christian nationalism" into that state's public schools? 

Those sound like highly significant claims. To what extent are they accurate?

About twenty minutes into Wednesday's show, Wagner began fleshing out those claims. The rest of that evening's program concerned public schooling in Florida.

What hath Ron DeSantis wrought? Near the start of that evening's lengthy report, Wagner offered this:

WAGNER: Since he took office in 2019, he has made it a priority to refashion the Florida school system according to right-wing conservative principles

You may recall two signal pieces of legislation in particular, courtesy of DeSantis: the so-called Don't Say Gay bill, which restricts teaching on sex and gender...and the so-called Stop WOKE Act, which bans the teaching of any lesson, especially about race and racism, which makes any student feel discomfort which could be anything to suggest that systemic racism is real and then make students who benefit from it feel guilty.

Wagner's lesson this night started there, with a capsule description of two DeSantis bills. In citing the names of the bills, she used the term "so-called."

(For better or worse, each of those names is the fruit of snark. Don't Say Gay is a mocking name fashioned by liberal snark. Sadly, "The Stop WOKE Act" comes close to being the actual name of the second bill, an apparent product of the governor's perpetual snark.)

For the record, nothing in the "Don't Say Gay" bill explicitly says that teachers can't say the word "gay" in the classroom. 

Meanwhile, how about the "Stop WOKE Act?" Does it really "ban the teaching of any lesson, especially about race and racism, which makes any student feel discomfort?" 

That sounds like a fairly dumb thing to do. But does the Stop WOKE Act actually do that? 

We decided to take a look at the text of the legislation. The lengthy text is a bit of a jumble—but so was the journalism Wagner performed in discussing the fruits of the act.

Under Wagner's tutelage, liberal viewers were getting schooled about the Florida bill and attendant practices. Were they also being fully informed, in an instructive manner?

Full disclosure! We're not suggesting that The Stop WOKE Act is perfect legislation. We're not even saying it's good legislation, or that it should even be as seen as acceptable on balance.

That said:

In the main, we aren't here to discuss the quality of the Florida bill. In the main, we're here to discuss the quality of the journalism Wagner performed last week. 

Full disclosure! If DeSantis ends up on the ballot in 2024, we won't be voting for him. That said, we also wouldn't vote for the bulk of the journalism we saw Wagner perform last week.

In Florida, the children are starting a new school year. Elsewhere, it might be said that we'll soon be starting a new year of political journalism.

What kind of journalism do we blue tribe voters want our tribunes to perform? If we want to ponder that civics question, Wagner's reports about Florida's schools might be a good place to start.

That said:

We'll be visiting friends in the Hudson Valley for the next few days. We expect to post tomorrow morning before we depart, but we'll postpone further reports about the way blue viewers got schooled by Wagner's reports until we've made our way back.

Wagner's new prime-time program could turn out to be highly instructive. But as with all such undertakings, it could turn out to be something else.

The way of our blue tribe's world: We can't link you to transcripts of the two programs to which we've referred. 

Based upon what you can see at this site, it seems that Wagner's corporate owners have adopted an even weirder transcript policy than the ones they've maintained in the past.

Transcript delayed is transcript denied! All the top experts say this.

UNDER THE BIG TOP: Was Kaplan's account of those emails correct?


Where does knowledge come from? This morning, we spent the 7 o'clock hour watching the heartbreaking C-Span program, Washington Journal.

This morning, viewers were asked whether they believe that current extreme weather is linked to climate change. Last Sunday, viewers were asked to say which party they trust to handle crime. 

Each day, hearts were broken by various viewer responses. Washington Journal can be highly instructive, though in a heartbreaking way.

We still haven't shown you the full text of last Sunday's first phone call, nor will we do so now. That said, the caller alleged that "a "clear double standard" exists in the way Donald J. Trump is being treated with respect to the recent search for classified material.

The caller listed many areas where major Democrats have been let off easy, with Trump instead being subjected to "Gestapo tactics." At one point, he mentioned those famous old Hillary Clinton emails, just as Trump himself had been doing in the days since the Mar-a-Lago search:

JOHN FROM NEW YORK (8/14/22): I'm not trying to make excuses for President Trump, but it seems that there's a clear double standard. A clear double standard with Hillary Clinton—30,000 emails that she had acid washed...

As part of a lengthy presentation, the caller referred to those famous old "30,000 emails," just as Trump was now doing. 

The caller seemed to think that there had been a serious problem with a very large cache of emails. Presumably, he'd heard Trump (and others) repeating that number. He now repeated it too.

In yesterday's report, we showed you what Fred Kaplan had written about those emails just two days earlier. Kaplan, a veteran journalist, had briefly reprised his earlier work on this topic in this new report for Slate:

KAPLAN (8/12/22): While we’re on the subject, what about Hillary’s email? Of the 30,000 emails that the FBI examined, eight were found to contain Top Secret information. Seven of them were about CIA drone strikes, which had been reported in the newspapers (but were still technically classified). The other one was an account of a telephone conversation with the president of Malawi. (All conversations with foreign leaders are, by definition, Top Secret.) In other words, she revealed nothing remotely about nuclear weapons, signals intelligence, or anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy.

According to Kaplan, here's the way it broke down:

Of the famous 30,000 emails, only eight (8) dealt with information classified as Top Secret. Also according to Kaplan, those eight emails dealt with material which was technically classified that way, but pretty much shouldn't have been.

Fo ahead—pick a number! The caller was concerned about 30,000 emails. Essentially, Kaplan said it boiled down to only eight—and he said that those eight emails dealt with utterly fatuous stuff.

The caller thought 30,000 emails were in question; Kaplan said it was basically eight. This is the way our broken discourse works when we're living in two different worlds—when viewers of our two warring tribes get their information from segregated news sources.

30,000 emails or eight! The lady or the tiger?

Having said this, a question arises. Should we assume that Kaplan's presentation is right? 

In his original report for Slate, Kaplan says that the vast majority of those 30,000 emails didn't involve any kind of problem. But should we assume that's correct?

As we noted yesterday, Kaplan's basic number came Straight Outta Jim Comey. In his ill-advised presentation on July 5, 2016, Comey himself said that only eight of Clinton's "email chains" concerned material classified as Top Secret.

We're going to guess that John from New York has never heard any such fact. (In fairness, neither has pretty much anyone else, given the way our discourse works.)

That said, of the famous Thirty Thousand, only eight emails (or email chains) concerned Top Secret material. There seems to be no reason to question that part of Kaplan's presentation.

But how about Kaplan's statements concerning the contents of those emails? Kaplan never provided a source that for those descriptions. Is there any reason why we should believe that his descriptions were, and still are, accurate?

We don't know why Kaplan didn't describe his source, or why Slate didn't require him to do so. His sourcing remains a mystery to this day, at least to us. 

Where did Kaplan get his account of those emails? Perhaps the sourcing has been disclosed somewhere, but it's still unknown to us.

For that reason, we don't know if Kaplan's description of those (8) emails is correct. That said, you can see the basic lay of the land through this dispute, as we Americans continue to live within our Two Different Worlds: 

John from New York, and many others, believe that there were major problems with 30,000 emails. But even by Comey's taxonomy, only eight (8) of the email chains contained material marked Top Secret.

Was it 30,000 emails, or was it only eight? This is the way our broken discourse works, now that we live in a brainless environment in which wholly segregated "news orgs" produce segregated tribal "news" on a round-the-clock basis.

Final note:

John from New York believes what he's heard—and he's never heard anything different. For many of us in our blue tribal lands, we're sometimes saddled with the same problem concerning other matters.

We live in our red and blue tribal lands, and rarely the twain shall meet.

Allegedly, it's never too late: What was the source of Kaplan's account? As far as we know, he has never cited his source. 

Why not do so now? According to major credentialed experts, it's allegedly never too late!

UNDER THE BIG TOP: How much (top secret) material did Hillary have?


How about Donald J. Trump? Last week, over at Slate, veteran journalist Fred Kaplan returned to a high-profile theme.

Kaplan returned to the topic of Hillary Clinton's emails. More precisely, he returned to the question of how much top-secret material Hillary's emails contained.

Donald J. Trump was pimping this theme as an instant reaction to the search of Mar-a-Lago. Within a matter of days, complaints about a certain "double standard" began to appear in phone calls to C-Span's Washington Journal.

Allegedly, Clinton hadn't been forced to pay a price for her 30,000 emails. Now, the jack-booted thugs had descended on Mar-a-Lago, beating on Donald J. Trump.

At issue was the amount of "classified material" exposed by Hillary Clinton. Over at Slate, Kaplan recalled what he had reported back in real time, when the endless "Emailgate" scandal helped sent Trump to the White House.

Here was Fred Kaplan, last Friday:

KAPLAN (8/12/22): While we’re on the subject, what about Hillary’s email? Of the 30,000 emails that the FBI examined, eight were found to contain Top Secret information. Seven of them were about CIA drone strikes, which had been reported in the newspapers (but were still technically classified). The other one was an account of a telephone conversation with the president of Malawi. (All conversations with foreign leaders are, by definition, Top Secret.) In other words, she revealed nothing remotely about nuclear weapons, signals intelligence, or anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy.

In that brief paragraph, Kaplan revisited the information he'd presented in real time. To wit:

Under the heroic James Comey, the FBI had indeed examined "30,000 emails" in its pursuit of Emailgate. That said, of the 30,000 emails, only eight (8) contained material technically marked "Top Secret."

According to Kaplan, the whole thing got a great deal dumber from there. Seven (7) of those "Top Secret" emails concerned drone strikes which everyone with access to newspapers already knew about.

The eighth "Top Secret" email included an account of a telephone conversation—a conversation with the president of Malawi. "In other words," Kaplan now said all over again, "she revealed nothing remotely about nuclear weapons, signals intelligence, or anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy."

That's what Fred Kaplan reported again last week. Two days later, the very first phone call to Washington Journal included a complaint about the soft treatment Clinton received concerning her "30,000 emails," followed by the claim that the search of Mar-a-Lago was reminiscent of "Gestapo tactics" and of the East German Stasi.

That first caller voiced a bitter complaint about the "double standard" involved in the soft treatment Clinton received, as opposed to the Gestapo tactics now being employed against one Donald J. Trump.

We're going to take a guess:

We'll guess that the caller, John from New York, had never heard the summary provided by Fred Kaplan. He'd never heard it said that, of Clinton's 30,000 emails, only eight (8) involved "Top Secret" material, and none (0) of the eight revealed "anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy."

How much top secret material did Donald Trump have in his Mar-a-Lago storage areas? As we've noted again and again, we still can't tell you that.

Did he have a lot of top secret material, or did he have just a little? Some day, we'll probably have an answer to that. At present, we rubes don't actually know.

That said, Kaplan was giving a six-year-old assessment of the amount of such material found in those 30,000 emails, and of their fatuous nature. We'll guess that John from New York had never heard that account.

There are several reasons for that. Briefly, one key point:

As with Kaplan, to too here. We're focusing on material classified as "top secret" because of the what Michael Gerson recently said. 

American intelligence circles are famous for so-called "over-classification." According to assessments which were fairly standard when Kaplan wrote his original report, materials classified as "Confidential" are barely worth considering at all as a national security matter, and materials classified as "Secret" aren't worth much more than that.

Only materials classified as "Top Secret" are likely to present a challenge to national security. According to Kaplan, Clinton's 30,000 emails contained only eight (8) which bore such markings, and those eight (8) emails didn't contain anything of interest to any foreign spy.

For the record, Kaplan's inventory largely tracks that provided by FBI director James Comey on July 5, 2016, when he offered his famously ill-advised Overreach Heard Round the World. 

Big-footing his way past his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey had offered a long, remarkably pompous address concerning his view of  Clinton's email. 

According to policy, he shouldn't have made any statement at all. But when he did, he said this:

COMEY (7/5/16): FBI investigators have also read all of the approximately 30,000 e-mails provided by Secretary Clinton to the State Department in December 2014. Where an e-mail was assessed as possibly containing classified information, the FBI referred the e-mail to any U.S. government agency that was a likely “owner” of information in the e-mail, so that agency could make a determination as to whether the e-mail contained classified information at the time it was sent or received, or whether there was reason to classify the e-mail now, even if its content was not classified at the time it was sent (that is the process sometimes referred to as “up-classifying”).

From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.

According to the book, Comey shouldn't have been discussing this matter at all. If anyone had discussed this matter in public, it should have been his boss, Attorney General Lynch.

Despite all this, Comey proceeded to offer a long, extremely pompous speech in which he savaged Clinton for her "extremely careless handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."  The very next day—on July 6, 2016—Kaplan presented this alternate report in Slate, making the same points he recalled on Friday last.

In that original report for Slate, Comey agreed with Kaplan's basic count. Of the 30,000 emails (or email chains), only eight included material classified as "Top Secret."

According to Kaplan, those eight emails (or email chains) contained nothing of interest to any spy. They contained "Top Secret" information only in the narrow technical sense. That represents Fred Kaplan's account of Hillary's 30,000 emails. 

By way of contrast, how much top secret material may have been stored at Mar-a-Lago? At present, no one knows outside the Justice Department, except of course for Donald J. Trump (perhaps). 

How much top secret material did Donald Trump have? As a point of basic fairness and basic integrity, we're prepared to wait a while until we all find out. Others have excitedly plowed ahead, offering thrilling accounts.

Meanwhile, though, the obvious occurred:

Donald J. Trump began to shout about Clinton's "30,000 emails." Within a matter of days, John from New York was calling C-Span, speaking with urgency about the double standard on display in the FBI's Gestapo tactics.

We have no reason to doubt the fact that John from New York is a good, decent person. We feel quite sure that he fully believed the various things he said in that call. 

Why does John believe the things he believes? The reason for that tracks back to Trump, but also to a wide range of multimillionaire "corporate liberals," including such widely-trusted tribal leaders as Rachel Maddow.

Comey went all pompous on Candidate Clinton on July 5, 2016. From Day One, it was widely noted that he had gotten way out over his skis by making any statement at all.

The very next day, Kaplan appeared with an inventory of the emails in question. And then, a giant silence settled over the world—the Silence of the Corporate Liberal Lambs.

Gack! From July right through to late October, Maddow never mentioned Comey's name on her nightly program—not once. 

Kaplan appeared on zero MSNBC shows to discuss the taxonomy he had reported. For reasons which have gone unexplained, the corporate lambs of The One True Channel kept their mouths tightly shut.

We discussed this silence again and again back at the time it occurred. Why was Comey granted this pass? Why wasn't Kaplan interviewed on The One True Channel?

To this day, we can't tell you that. That said, that first phone call to Sunday's Washington Journal helps us see where corporate silence of this type has taken us down through the years. 

(We would date this liberal silence at least to early 1992. No one spoke as the bullshit rained down on Clinton and Clinton, and then on Candidate Gore.)

Back in 2016, everyone understood, from Day One, that Comey had been out of line just by making that pompous address—but so what? Until he did it again in late October, Comey was granted a total pass by Maddow and her various "friends" on The One True Liberal Channel, the friendliest place on Earth.

In large part for that very reason, very few people have ever heard the inventory Kaplan presented. He presented it again last Friday. Once again, it disappeared.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But our nation, such as it has been, has started to disappear. 

People like John are being misled. But so are we Over Here, locked inside our own blue tribal lands. 

On cable news, the various stars, and their very good friends, have routinely shown poor judgment down through the many long years. This dates back to the endless liberal silences of the Clinton-Gore years.

In our view, MSNBC's latest recruit has been showing that same poor judgment in the 9 o'clock hour this week. But as we listened to John's phone call on Sunday last, we recalled what Fred Kaplan said.

Kaplan is a veteran reporter. His report about The Hillary 30,000 was met with total silence, back then as well as now.

First in July 2016 and then again in late October, Comey's inappropriate conduct sent Donald J. Trump to the White House. To this day, the pitiful story behind the story has pretty much never been told.

John from New York has never heard it. Neither has anyone else!

UNDER THE BIG TOP: When Biden's gun thugs conducted a search...


...C-Span viewers responded: We were called away from our campus this morning. For that reason, we're a bit disoriented, and we'll therefore be forced to be brief.

That said:

Last Sunday morning, C-Span's Washington Journal began accepting phone calls from viewers. For better or worse, the very first call to the heartbreaking show went like this (in part):

JOHN FROM NEW YORK (8/15/22): ...I think the American people have to wake up and they have to see gradually, maybe incrementally, that this government is moving in a direction where it is starting to use force, kind of like Gestapo tactics, something like Stasi of an East German nature, to intimidate and coerce the average American so that they won't, you know, object to their methods.

As that caller pondered the search of Mar-a-Lago, he thought of the Gestapo, the Stasi. In a somewhat similar vein, the third caller of the day offered this assessment: 

BRAD FROM KENTUCKY: I want to talk about the unprecedented nature of what Biden has done here...He has sent us down a path that could spin out of control very quickly. Using federal troops on a former president is a pretty bad move. I mean, this is something that has gone--it's an attack on the peaceful transfer of power.  Biden sending gun thugs on a former president is the insurrection that people find January 6 was...

This caller seemed to believe that President Biden had ordered the search. In this caller's assessment, Biden had turned a bunch of "gun thugs" loose on his predecessor.

A short while later, a woman calling from Wyoming had a different type of complaint. She wasn't the only caller this day who mentioned Melania's things:

JUNE FROM WYOMING: ...They all go down there. They were nine hours—nine hours!—in that place. They go through her negligees, her closet, they take everything...

They get in there and they go through her closet. They go there for nine hours.

We've now cited a few of the calls from just the first half hour. For the record, these people are fully sincere in the things they say and believe.

Donald J. Trump had been floating talk about the disrespect shown to Melania's things. Meanwhile, a wide array of Republican pols had been floating imagery about gun thugs—in the IRS, let's say:

GRASSLEY (8/11/22): Are they going to have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s [sic] already loaded, all ready to shoot some small-business person in Iowa with these? Because I think they’re going after middle-class and small-business people.

That was Senator Grassley (R-Iowa), last Thursday morning on Fox & Friends. He was behaving in a remarkable way concerning those new IRS employees.

Modern-day anthropology lessons can be painful and hard. They can also be instructive—and all three of those C-Span callers seemed to be completely sincere in the things they believed and said.

We now live in a complex media world. People hear all kinds of things said by all kinds of people. 

The anthropology lessons are everywhere. These lessons can be painful and hard.

People like Grassley egg feelings on. Lessons which would have been hard to believe at one time are offered to us in this way.

In closing, we'll mention another reference made by that very first caller. He complained about "Hillary's 30,000 emails." It's one of the greatest hits of this failing political era.

Trump had been citing the emails too. We'll revisit that topic tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Formulations from two different worlds

Why were the documents there at all?


Inquiring minds want to guess: How large was the volume of top secret material found at Mar-a-Lago?

While we're at it, why were any such documents at Mar-a-Lago at all?

Regarding the first question, we just saw CNN's Alisyn Camerota describe the volume roughly as follows—the FBI found "something like twenty boxes of highly classified materials" in its search of Mar-a-Lago.

(We'll post the exact transcript when it becomes available.)

For the record, the "box" is not a standard unit of measure! Still, Camerota's statement makes it sound like the FBI found a very large volume of "highly classified material" when it conducted its search.

In all honesty, Camerota has no obvious way of knowing that statement is true. (Where did she get the number twenty? We have no idea.)

We humans! Anthropologically, we're "the story-completing animal"—the creature inclined to draw conclusions before we can know what's true. 

We're disinclined to acknowledge how many things we don't know. Socrates noted this tendency long ago, when he described his fruitless search for the wisest man [sic] in Greece. 

We humans are strongly disinclined to say that we don't know. Instead, we rush to complete the story in ways which fit our preconceptions. Our thumbs go clank upon the scales, creating a story we like.

This brings us to a letter which appeared in yesterday's New York Times. Essentially, the writer is trying to figure out why there were any top secret documents at Mar-a-Lago at all.

The writer rambles the countryside before stating his basic point. Essentially, he thinks Trump was (likely) planning to sell highly classified documents to the highest bidder:

To the Editor:

As a defense for moving reams of highly classified documents to his home, Donald Trump and some of his allies have begun floating the defense that he had “declassified” these documents.

Setting aside for a moment the highly dubious merits (and truthfulness) of that argument, I’d like to see Mr. Trump have to answer a simple question: Why? Why would Mr. Trump declassify some of the most sensitive and highly protected U.S. information for all eyes to see?

Why would he declassify documents that could contain information related to highly sensitive sources and methods, secret weapons technology, the names of covert agents and possibly even secrets related to our nuclear programs?

Isn’t that extraordinarily dangerous? Couldn’t countries hostile to the U.S. use that information to their advantage? How does any of this make America safer?

I’ve yet to hear an explanation from Mr. Trump and his allies regarding the “why” question. I doubt any coherent explanation will be forthcoming.

Personally, I don’t believe the declassification defense. I think there is a much simpler and far more realistic explanation. Mr. Trump took the documents for the same reason he does everything—for money. He likely sees the documents as “his” property that can be sold, leveraged or used in other ways to generate income for himself.

What keeps me up at night is the knowledge that copies of some of these documents may already be in the hands of some very bad actors.

M— S— / Newbury Park, Calif.

The letter writer is underwhelmed by the (transparently implausible) claim thar Trump automatically declassified a wide array of highly classified documents. Eventually, he states his basic belief about the motive behind these events: 

"Mr. Trump took the documents for the same reason he does everything—for money. He likely sees the documents as 'his' property that can be sold..."

Does that explain why those documents were present at Mar-a-Lago? We'd have to say it's one of the possibilities, but it's only one.

In fairness, the letter writer only says that this is the "likely" explanation for the presence of the documents. Beyond that, he says the documents may be in the hands of bad actors by now, not that they definitely are.

Still, what makes him think that he can "likely" puzzle this out? What makes the New York Times decide to publish a rather long letter built on pure speculation?

Were lots of top secret documents found, or were there a relative few? Beyond that, why were any such documents at Mar-a-Lago at all?

The first part of a logical answer is this: 

At present, we simply don't know! We don't know how many documents were found, and we don't know why they were there.

That said, we humans are strongly disinclined to say that we don't know. In this circumstance, we're strongly inclined to pretend we know how many highly classified documents the FBI hauled out. Also, we're strongly inclined to think we can puzzle out the reason why the documents were there.

We've been wrong many times in the past on matters of first impression. We were wrong about the Duke lacrosse case. We were wrong about the UVa gang rape.

Most people now seem to think that we were wrong about the Steele dossier. Our wishful impressions have often been wrong, but we just keep churning them out.

Readers, listen up! 

At present, we don't know why the documents were there. If we wait, it's always possible that some day we'll find out!

Our sources: Remember, it's all anthropology now. These musings came to us from experts.

For extra credit only: On yesterday's Deadline: White House, John Bolton was asked if he thought Trump took the documents for the purpose of selling them on the "black market."

This was Bolton's full reply:

"I don't think he's capable of holding an attention span that long."

For ourselves, the answer would start like this: We have no way of knowing.

UNDER THE BIG TOP: How many boxes can dance on the head of a pin?


Lawrence hears confession: How many "boxes of top secret material" can be found on the head of a pin?

For the record, Lawrence was educated by the almost Jesuits before moving on to Harvard. Last evening, on The Last Word, he didn't specify the number of boxes, but he did offer this:

O'DONNELL (8/16/22): Last week was the worst legal week of Donald Trump's life, and so far this week is just as bad. Because Donald Trump learned today, just today, that his top lawyers in the White House have both spoken to the FBI about everything they know about the boxes of top-secret material that the FBI found in their search of Donald Trump's home.

To watch Lawrence's opening monologue, you can just click here. Move to the 5-minute mark for that particular passage.

For the record, we know of no basis for saying that Donald J. Trump "learned today, just today," that those lawyers have spoken to the FBI about the topic in question.

Trump may have known that all along. Lawrence was working off a news report in the New York Times—a news report which makes no claim like the one Lawrence advanced.

That said, how about the claim we've highlighted? How about the claim that the FBI found "boxes of top secret material" when they searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago home?

As far as we know, no one has ever said that the FBI found "boxes of" such material. More careful reporters have generally described the FBI's haul in the manner shown below, at the start of a New York Times front-page report:

HABERMAN ET AL (8/13/22): Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public on Friday.

F.B.I. agents seized 11 sets of documents in all, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI”—shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” according to an inventory of the materials seized in the search. Information categorized in that fashion is meant to be viewed only in a secure government facility.


In total, agents collected five sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, the inventory showed. Also taken by the F.B.I. agents were files pertaining to the pardon of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime associate of Mr. Trump, and material about President Emmanuel Macron of France—along with more than a dozen boxes labeled only by number.

More careful reporters have generally said that the FBI removed five "sets" of top secret documents. Such reporters have made no attempt to quantify the number of documents found in each set, or to report the total number of pages these five sets of documents contained.

(Presumably, there could be thousands of such pages. Or there could be twenty.)

Did the FBI actually find entire "boxes" of top secret material? That makes it sound like they found rather large volumes of such material—material sufficient to fill five separate "boxes," cartons of undisclosed size.

It's always possible that something like that will turn out to be true. But to date, there has been no reliable evidence to that effect. 

It could turn out that the FBI found massive volumes of top secret documents in last Monday's search. It could also turn out that they found a much more limited amount of such material—that they found five slender "sets" of such documents, scattered in among a bunch of dinner menus, weather maps and letters from North Korea.

The inventory released last Friday doesn't make such matters clear. But our regimen of 24-hour, round-the-clock news now sells scandal as news product—basically, as its only product—and certain tribunes have occasionally put their thumbs on the scales, making it sound like Mar-a-Lago's dank wine cellar contained entire boxes bursting with such material.

On Monday night, Don Lemon said that the FBI found "33 boxes of classified material" in last Monday's search. We'll guess that's simply inaccurate.

Last night, Lawrence failed to name a specific number of boxes, but he specifically cited "top secret" material, thereby restricting his account to the highest level of classification. 

He said the FBI found an unspecified number of "boxes" (plural) of such "top secret" material. Careful reporters have only said that the FBI found five "sets" of such documents, with the size of each set undefined. 

How much top secret material did the FBI find at Mar-a-Lago? Did they find a lot or a little?

The day may come when we all know the answer. As of today, we can't really say.

That said, Lawrence was on a roll last night, working from that news report in this morning's Times. Concerning that news report, a bit more must be said:

For starters, the New York Times didn't seem to think that its report contained some sort of bombshell disclosure. In this morning's print editions, the report appears on A19, the sixth page of the National section.

Maggie Haberman wrote the report. She doesn't report, at any point, that Donald J. Trump has now "confessed" to a crime. 

That's the principal claim Lawrence made last night—and he based his claim upon Haberman's report.

Lawrence was stretching matters a great deal, thereby thrilling viewers. Did he deliberately place his thumbs on the scales? We wouldn't assume that he did.

Much of modern-day "cable news" is built upon wishful thinking. It's tribes gone wild, tribe at war against tribe—Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy.

For the record, Lawrence stretched the known facts in various ways last night. Here's  a fuller record of what he said at the five-minute mark of his opening monologue:

O'DONNELL: On June 3, when officials with the Justice Department's national security division went to Donald Trump's Florida home to collect documents, one of Donald Trump's lawyers signed a statement saying that all the material with classified markings had been returned. But that statement wasn't true. 

That lawyer now has a decision to make. Take the fall for the crime of lying to the FBI and the crime of concealing illegally obtained government documents, or tell the Justice Department the whole truth about the documents that were found in the FBI's search.

That was thrilling stuff. It was based on the conflation which is central to Lawrence's ministry—the conflation according to which every inaccurate statement will be described as a "lie."

Uh-oh! If Trump's lawyer believed his statement was true, he wasn't telling a lie. And dagnab it! If the lawyer wasn't lying, he couldn't be forced to "take the fall for the crime of lying to the FBI."

As far as anyone knows at present, the situation is much more complex than Lawrence's presentation suggested. But Lawrence was dispensing pleasing news product, possibly having been swept away by partisan dreams of conquest.

There's no "confession" by Donald J. Trump found in this morning's new report. That's why the news report appears on page A19.

Beyond that, Trump's lawyer may not have known that his statement was inaccurate, It's even possible that Trump himself didn't know, as of June 3, that classified materials were still present at Mar-a-Lago!

(It's also possible that the facts will turn out to be totally different. It could turn out that Trump was selling top secret material, that very day, to some foreign power!)

Matters like these aren't known as yet, unless you're watching cable. If you're watching our tribe's cable, Donald J. Trump has confessed to a crime, in addition to which at least one of his lawyers will soon be frog-marched away.

On blue tribe cable, people like Lawrence and Lemon thrill us with their embellishments and their conflations. On red tribe cable and on the red Net, you'll hear every manner of ludicrous claim about the way the jackbooted thugs rifled through Melania's negligees and undermined the republic. 

You'll also hear such things on C-Span's Washington Journal. We now live in two separate worlds, driven along by wholly separate regimes of fact.

What did the FBI actually find in their search of Mar-a-Lago? While we're at it, why were any top secret documents located there at all?

At this point, such questions can't exactly be answered. Unless you're watching cable news, or unless you're listening to us the people making our phone calls to C-Span.

Tomorrow: Attention, C-Span shoppers!

Still on deck: Hillary's emails return

George Will puts his faith in Snopes!


Who will fact-check the fact-checkers? In a recent column, George Will started out by battering Josh Hawley around.

He did so in the course of praising a new book—a book in which Chris Stirewalt, late of Fox News, offers a critique of our country's "broken news business."

In Will's view, Hawley cast a silly showboat vote against admitting Finland and Sweden to NATO. In Will's account, this is where the performance led

WILL (8/10/22): ...That evening, Hawley appeared on Fox News to receive Tucker Carlson’s benediction.

This umpteenth episode of a senator using the Senate as a stepping stone to a cable television green room illustrates what Chris Stirewalt deplores in his new book, “Broken News.” He was washed out of Fox News by a tsunami of viewer rage because on election night 2020 he correctly said Donald Trump had lost Arizona. Now he says today’s journalism has a supply-side problem—that is, supplying synthetic controversies:

“What did Trump say? What did Nancy Pelosi say about what Trump said? What did Kevin McCarthy say about what Pelosi said about what Trump said? What did Sean Hannity say about what Rachel Maddow said about what McCarthy said about what Pelosi said about what Trump said?”

In all honesty, Stirewalt's call of Arizona came remarkably early—and Biden's winning margin turned out to be scarily slim. Maybe Stirewalt knew what he was doing that night, maybe he just got lucky. 

(If you flip a coin to call a state, you'll get it right half the time!)

That to the side, Will quoted Stirewalt mocking a type of "synthetic controversy" involving our nation's cable news stars. He went on to make the highlighted claim. 

We wondered if it was accurate:

WILL (continuing directly): But journalism also has a demand-side problem: Time was, journalists assumed that news consumers demanded “more information, faster and better.” Now, instantaneous communication via passive media—video and television—supplies what indolent consumers demand.

More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level. Video, however, requires only eyes on screens. But such passive media cannot communicate a civilization defined by ideas. Our creedal nation, Stirewalt says, “requires written words and a common culture in which to understand them.”

Is that statement about our "indolent [news] consumers" accurate? Is it true that "more than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level?" 

We'd never seen a claim of that type. We wondered if it could be defended.

For starters, full disclosure! Measuring someone's "reading level" isn't like measuring their height or their weight. 

You can measure someone's height with something resembling perfect accuracy. Measuring the grade level at which a person is able to read simply isn't like that. It involves a much less objective set of assessments.

That said, we wondered if the highlighted statement could be defended as basically accurate. And so, we decided to click Will's link, a link which took us to this August 2 essay at Snopes.

There's little doubt about what the Snopes essay said. The topic was brooked in a Q-and-A format, with Madison Dapcevich starting her presentation like this:

Do More Than Half of Americans Read Below a 6th-Grade Level?

This claim is true, according to a review of the U.S. education system that was conducted in September 2020. Let’s explore.

In essence, Will was simply repeating what Dapcevich had said. (She cited the age range—16 to 74—as she continued.) That led us to wonder if there was any justification for Dapcevich's assertion.

In the next two paragraphs, Dapcevich offers a spectacularly confusing attempt to provide the source for her claim. She offers four separate links in those two paragraphs. Clicking all four links, then clicking additional links within those links, we found ourselves whirled about in a conceptual vortex.

We're not sure we've ever seen a more confounding journalistic presentation. And yet, Will had made his striking statement based upon nothing but apparent faith in the accuracy of the claim in Snopes.

Before the week is done, we may attempt to lead you through the list of Dapcevich's links. For whatever it's worth, we found no place, in any of the reports to which she linked, where evidence was offered in support of the claim which ended up in Will's column.

As we attempted to negotiate the Dapcevich links, we thought of the passage in the Iliad where mighty Achilles is almost swept away by the angry river Scamander. But we never found a way to support the accuracy of her claim.

To be fair, Will is anti-Hawley and anti-Trump. He's also anti-Carlson.

That said, he makes a sweeping claim about adult literacy in this column. For that reason, there's a certain irony involved in the following question: 

Did George Will bother to check the accuracy of his source? 

Similarly, Snopes has long been billed as a major fact-check site. The amazing confusion found in that recent Snopes report leads us to recycle a bit of Plato:

Who will fact-check the nation's fact-checkers? How can we know if they're right?

UNDER THE BIG TOP: CNN ringmaster counts the boxes!


Hillary's emails return: Don Lemon had been out of the country. On Monday night, he was back.

Lemon was BACK under the Big Top which houses our "national discourse." That said, the travels of the CNN star had given him a unique perspective on recent high-profile events. 

More specifically, Lemon had a unique perspective on the FBI's invasion of Mar-a-Lago. He reported this fact as he spoke with departing guest anchor Alisyn Camerota at the top of his 10 P.M. hour.

None of this was Camerota's fault. Their exchange started like this:

CAMEROTA (8/15/22): And with that, Don Lemon Tonight starts right now. All yours, Don!


LEMON: It's good to see you.

CAMEROTA: You too, Don.

LEMON: I was not here last week. I don't think you were either. What a week we chose to take a vacation, right?

CAMEROTA: I got so many texts, saying "How could you take off this week?" But I had to remind people it's a crazy news cycle every week.

LEMON: It's going to be a crazy news cycle for quite a long time.

CAMEROTA: Yes, don't worry. The craziness will continue.

The Crazy will continue, Camerota said. Moments later, Lemon offered a bit of foreshadowing:

LEMON: But I have to say, I've got a lot to talk about with this. And you'll understand, watching it from afar or whatever, not being here, gives you a different perspective...

So this is Don Lemon Tonight. So, yes, I had a—I got a really interesting perspective. I was actually out of the country watching all of this and getting people's perspective on it, and it gives you—

You know, it's good to be away, or it's good to watch things sometimes from afar so that you do get another perspective. Because as Americans, sometimes we are so myopic, we get so caught up in what is happening right in front of us, that we don't see the forest for the trees. O.K., so go with me here. 

It's good to be back, by the way. And I want to talk to talk to you—talk to you about something called CDT. Not CRT, CDT, something I was thinking about on vacation, Critical Democracy Theory. See what I did there on purpose?

For the record, this is what counts as intelligent high-end commentary as we all slide toward the sea. Soon, though, Michael Cohen appeared as Lemon's guest. When he did, Lemon fleshed out his own new perspective. 

First, Lemon offered a muddled account of Donald J. Trump's various explanations concerning the material extracted from Mar-a-Lago.

That was the way the effort began. Soon, though, Lemon was counting those boxes:

LEMON: So, it's surprising to—it shouldn't be surprising to me, but to watch everyone make all these excuses for—for, you know, what happened, and even the former president, because some of these excuses are starting to muddy each other, right? 

It was like, "Wait a minute. Didn't you just say that it was something else?" And now you're saying it's something else and someone is going on television.

One of your people saying, it's—it's now, this. Isn't—

The fact of the matter is, that you did something wrong. You just don't pack 33 boxes of classified information by accident. That just doesn't happen.

Finally, our question had been answered! 

How many top-secret documents had been present at Mar-a-Lago? Had there been a lot of top-secret documents there, or had there perhaps just been a little?

Finally, we the people had the stuff of an accurate answer! According to Lemon, "33 boxes of classified information" had been taken to Mar-a-Lago! ! That's the unique perspective he had acquired by watching this mess from afar.

Cohen didn't disagree. This was his response:

COHEN (continuing directly): No, but not only does that not happen. He already returned more than a dozen boxes. And they signed a document stating that there are no more boxes of information at Mar-a-Lago, which of course is yet another lie.

Apparently, before the jack-booted thugs staged their raid on Mar-a-Lago, , Donald J. Trump had already returned "more than a dozen boxes [of classified material]!" That would suggest that 21 boxes of such material could have been carted away during last Friday's raid.

Here at THE HOWLER, we're prepared to admit it. We don't know how large a haul of top-secret documents traveled with Donald J. Trump from the White House to his sweaty seaside manor. 

We don't know how large the haul really was. We have been noting, in the past few days, that our multimillionaire cable stars have done a poor job clarifying a basic fact:

At this point, none of us know how large the stash of top-secret documents was. Had Donald J. Trump hauled away a very large number of such documents? Or had he hauled away a relative handful, along with piles of dinner menus, weather maps and love letters from North Korea?

Gifted with a unique perspective, Lemon had now answered our question:

Donald J. Trump had decamped to Mar-a-Lago with 33 boxes of classified material—and that sounds like a very large haul.

Lemon didn't say how large each of those boxes was. But it sounded like Donald J. Trump had arrived in the Sunshine State with an extremely large haul.

This foolishness aired last night, right there on CNN. It represents the kind of foolishness which transpires within our own blue tents when scandal is being sold as cable's exclusive "news product."

Elsewhere, the lunacy has been general as red tribe forces have tried to push back against last Friday's search of Trump's seaside bunker. 

Tomorrow, we'll show you what was being said over the weekend on C-Span's Washington Journal. For today, we'll tease the topic with this, the second call to the heartbreaking program on this past Sunday morning:

DOTTIE FROM GEORGIA (8/14/22): The main thing I called about was to ask you to make sure these people stay on topic. 

Because pretty soon, we're going to be hearing about what Hillary Clinton did, what Barack Obama did. They might go all the way back to Ulysses S. Grant. They don't stay on topic!

And on top of that, they don't watch the news. They must not watch the news, because some of the stuff they're talking about has already been in the news. It's already been proven to be wrong, and they are still sittin' here saying it. 

And then they talk too long. Bye-bye!

Dottie's aim was true. All her complaints about "these people" were accurate.

Indeed, the first caller, John from New York, had already complained about the "double standard" from which Hillary Clinton allegedly benefitted with respect to the legal handling of her "30,000 emails."

He had also mentioned Eric Holder, Obama's attorney general. 

As the hour proceeded, Clinton's emails were mentioned several times, just as Dottie had foreseen. This had become a common approach within the red regions of our splintering world, even as those in our own blue world kept enlarging the number of boxes The Donald had carted away.

Tomorrow, we'll return to the question of Hillary's emails. As we do, we'll note a basis distinction concerning "classified materials," a distinction which was widely drawn at the time.

As far as we know, the distinction was reasonable, sound, instructive. For that reason, we've been applying the same distinction as we've discussed Trump's haul.

Way back when, in the 1960s, Malvina Reynolds and even Pete Seeger had ridiculed a bunch of "Little Boxes." In the process, they also ridiculed the lesser people who were living within them.

Those lesser people now call C-Span, repeating the bullroar they keep hearing from their own tribe's trusted sources. Last night, Lemon, fresh from abroad, was counting the boxes of Trump, pleasing our own blue world. 

A new perspective had arrived on the front. Broadcasting from under the Big Top, Lemon's count of the jam-packed cartons had now reached 33!

Tomorrow: Good God! Revisiting what Comey said