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!


  1. "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."

    Meh. 'Startling' is in the eye of the beholder, dear Bob.

    We hope we can all agree that a talented comedian (like George Carlin for example) makes, occasionally, startling observations. And we don't see why a talented 'philosopher' can't do the same. Except that it's published in academic magazines.

    1. Talented comedian, yes. Yet, a dembot.

    2. Wittgenstein mistakes the value of philosophy and Somerby repeats his error.

  2. Einstein's discussion of the relativity of simultaneity makes perfect sense. It's great science writing. Just read it carefully!

  3. “…dealing with basic topics that drive our political discourse…” is equated with understanding very complex science. Makes perfect sense.Communication is a two way street. If you want to purposely misunderstand what Greene is saying in the car-trees analogy and then spend 2 blog posts bitching about it, by all means make a fool out of yourself.

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

    Aside from the fact that werewolves don't exist, a fanciful song lyric doesn't prevent physicists from talking about their theories. Somerby seems to be suggesting that if we allow figurative language then it will undermine scientific precision. That's nonsense. People interpret language by looking at context. There is a different expectation and different interpretation of meaning, depending on context. No one thinks "The moon was a ghostly galleon" is literal and such a phrase will not affect how the Apollo mission might have talked about the moon.

    As a commenter pointed out yesterday, math is the language of science. Greene is talking to non-scientists and his language is adjusted to use metaphors in explanation because non-scientific readers will not understand if he uses math.

    Somerby pretends to have discovered some linguistic bungle, but it is his own misunderstandings that are at the heart of this discussion, not Greene's. And no, Frost's poem has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else in today's essay. Nor do any of the speculated meanings attributed to Frost's poem by literary critics. Somerby attaches his own meaning to Frost, drops the attribution to the original author (it is his most famous poem), and uses it for his own purposes, now repeating it more times than Frost ever did.

    One can get lost in musing about how relativity works and forget that there are more important "promises to keep" in life, but for physicists, psychophysicists and cognitive psychologists, the perception of relativity of motion IS their life's work, their own promise to explore. It is not foolish or esoteric, but central to their thoughts. For Somerby to continually deride knowledge, as if it were peripheral and deluded, is about as offensive as anything he says these days, other than that women invite their own rapes by drinking the fruit of the vine. Civilization advances on the backs of its scholars, scientists, poets, but not the destructive work of envious men like Somerby who deride what they don't understand.

  5. Somerby seems to be using his werewolf references to describe those who hide behind a perfect facade but are in reality drinking the lifeblood of others. Is that what scientists and academics do? Do they pretend to be providing useful contributions while draining resources, while others admire their hair?

    To me, it seems obvious that the research done at universities has contributed to our technological and cultural advances, the comfort and prosperity of our lives, in manifest ways that are indisputable because they are all around us and would not exist without the revolution in thinking of the Enlightenment, because they didn't exist before the invention of scientific method, measurement and observation, and empirical testing of ideas.

    College taught the ideas of the Greeks for over 1000 years before the invention of ways of testing theories and accumulating knowledge occurred. The divergence of science from philosophy was the beginning of expertise.

    Somerby might be wealthy enough to imagine living in a world without its modern advances, but the rest of us are counting on science to pull us through the global warming crisis we have created, but developing non-polluting energy sources and finding ways to combat the greenhouse gases and restore water supplies to populated and agricultural areas. We don't have the luxury of denigrating those with the skills and knowledge to do this work.

  6. If you were going on a trip to visit friends in the Hudson Valley, would you take along a 20-year old physics for non-physicists book that you never understood? Or would you take a recent bestseller or a favorite fiction author or that book a relative gave you last Christmas?

    When someone prefers non-fiction to fiction, it is often because of difficulty visualizing (imagining) the settings and people described in fiction. There are people who never enjoy fiction because they don't visualize well, but there are also people who shift from fiction to non-fiction as they age, because they loose visualization abilities as cognitive deterioration.

    I don't know what Somerby's problems are with visualization, because I have no ability to assess him (just as others have no ability to assess Trump without evaluating him), but Somerby's insistence that the world is wrong, not him, strikes me as another symptom of his problems with thinking, not his brilliance or the sliding of our nation into the sea.

    Somerby's own writing becomes less coherent with each year, perhaps due to laziness and verbal short-cuts but perhaps due to inability to invest the effort into making himself better understood. Meanwhile, his tone of complaint and criticism, his negativity remains strong and is aimed at the people who are trying to make this a better world, liberals and Democrats, not at the people who are trying to pull us back into the dark ages, conservatives. And if Somerby doesn't know who to attack, that is yet another symptom that something is wrong with his thinking and he needs to find another way to spend his days.

    1. “And if Somerby doesn't know who to attack, that is yet another symptom that something is wrong with his thinking and he needs to find another way to spend his days.”

      No, Somerby does not. YOU do.

      Go ahead. Let the screen door hit you where God split you.

    2. If Somerby won't point out the deficiencies of the right, clearly someone has to.

      It is ironic that conservative you trespass on a liberal blog and tell left-wingers to get out, because they have the nerve to suggest attacking the right.

    3. No, I don’t trespass. The blogger is liberal, but places no ideological restrictions on commenters.

      I don’t attack anyone for attacking the right or suggesting an attack on the right.

      On the contrary, YOU tell him to hang it up and to go away. Who’s got a gun to your head, keeping you here reading ?


    4. I tell him he would be happier with another hobby.

      Notice how the right goes straight for the guns, even in rhetoric?

      You don't belong here. Somerby doesn't need the likes of you to defend him, because you are an embarrassment to him (or should be, were he any kind of liberal).

      One of my ongoing criticisms of Somerby is that he doesn't criticize journalists from an ideological perspective or content of their work, but instead on the basis of race, age, gender and sexual preference (i.e., bigotry) and where they went to college. So, it isn't such a great thing when he ignores his commenters content, in the same way as he ignores what is going on with Trump these days.

      You are really out of your depth here, and yes, you are trespassing because you come here and say nothing whatsoever about Einstein or relativity or any other relevant topic but just snipe at other commenters, like the tourist you are.

    5. Sorros is spelled Soros btw.

    6. Did he tell you that personally or was it written on his check?

    7. Knowledge is good. -- Motto of Faber College

  7. "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."

    Ball Four is a book about baseball, not politics. Politics, like diplomacy, is the art of resolving conflicts without hitting. When hitting starts, it becomes war.

    Thus it makes no sense to propose an analogy between war and politics when the two are opposites and one is a means for avoiding the other. But this also raises the obvious difference between the use of violence by the right compared to the left. Today our main domestic terror threats comes from the right. We faced a violent insurrection when the Republican President refused to concede a presidential election he lost. Threats of violence are being used to suppress witnesses and obstruct justice, and to coerce those with different political views into not doing their jobs. The right seems preoccupied with using guns and violence in a political context (i.e., bringing a gun to a word fight), but Somerby thinks it is the left who needs to be chastised!

    When Somerby suggests that the left needs to appease the right in order to narrow the gulf between so-called tribes, he is de facto aligning himself with the right and asserting their goals, against those of the left. He cannot call himself liberal while taking such a position. A liberal position asserts non-violent disobedience to enact change, not surrender to political opponents. The right asserts more threats of physical violence. That gives the left a moral high ground that seems to infuriate both Somerby and the right wing.

  8. This focus on Einstein is a deflection from the deepening trouble of Trump and his supporters as justice closes in on them. Somerby, like Trump, has no defense, so he discusses Greene instead.

    Today, the paper is full of accounts of the loss of American spies worldwide, ever since Trump took his classified documents to Mar a Lago. Is that a coincidence? The press wants to know. But Somerby is all of a sudden terribly preoccupied with Greene's description of Einstein's relativity. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but Americans want to know why their spies have been dying since Trump decided to store documents about them in his pool house...

    1. After harshly criticizing the media for not telling us how many top secret documents Trump had, we now know. It just took a little time for the media to find out.

      And now that we know it’s a lot, and that the media did their job, he won’t bring it up again.

    2. anon 11:24, I live in Massachusetts (the the MA part of my monicker) and read the (quite woke) Boston Globe daily and pretty thoroughly, and haven't seen anything about any spies being lost since Trump took these 'secret' documents to his palace like abode at Mar a Lago. I'm curious - which paper is full of these accounts, and what to these accounts say? which spies have been lost, either dead or we just can't locate them)? 'Americans' (at least two or more) want to know this apparently.

    3. It is in today's NYT, late edition.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. From Political Wire:

      “They risk imprisonment or death stealing the secrets of their own governments. Their identities are among the most closely protected information inside American intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Losing even one of them can set back American foreign intelligence operations for years,” the New York Times reports.

      “Clandestine human sources are the lifeblood of any espionage service. This helps explain the grave concern within American agencies that information from undercover sources was included in some of the classified documents recently removed from Mar-a-Lago, the Florida home of former President Donald Trump — raising the prospect that the sources could be identified if the documents got into the wrong hands.”

      See also:

      "Last year, intelligence officials learned something alarming, and alerted their stations globally: Assets, or in this case, foreign nationals recruited globablly to collect intel for the United States, were being pulled off the chess board by being captured or killed at unusual rates.

      As it turns out, and as one might expect, the C.I.A runs a tight ship when it comes to protecting its assets.

      {begin quote} A breach of the classified communications system, or “covcom,” used by the C.I.A. helped to expose the agency’s networks in China and in Iran, according to former officials. In both cases informants were executed. Others had to be extracted and resettled by the agency.

      Top American counterintelligence officials warned every C.I.A. station and base around the world last week about troubling numbers of informants recruited from other countries to spy for the United States being captured or killed, people familiar with the matter said.

      The message, in an unusual top secret cable, said that the C.I.A.’s counterintelligence mission center had looked at dozens of cases in the last several years involving foreign informants who had been killed, arrested or most likely compromised. Although brief, the cable laid out the specific number of agents executed by rival intelligence agencies — a closely held detail that counterintelligence officials typically do not share in such cables. {end quote}

      That article is from October 7th, 2021 and outlines a disturbing trend that began only after one Donald Trump became President. In fact, it had been known for some time that there was a problem. It also was not unknown across the pond. There, a reporter is a bit more direct in their angle, questioning is a “super-mole” was betraying our spies."

    6. From Digby's blog (discussing the NY Times article):

      Tom Sullivan says:

      "It is premature to connect official documents Trump took to Florida in January 2021 to the C.I.A. memo from the end of September that year. But one of the reasons federal authorities are so eager to get back the stolen documents is to assess “what might have been compromised,” Glenn S. Gerstell, the former general counsel of the National Security Agency, told the Times.

      Until more about the nature of the documents is publicly known it is impossible to tell what, if any damage was done. But former officials stressed that counterintelligence experts often will take measures to protect sources or change collection methods if they believe a classified document could have been viewed by people not authorized to see it.

      “It is a principle of counterintelligence that when you believe a code or classified material has been possibly compromised you have to assume the worst,” Mr. Gerstell said. “It is a powerful reason to know what is in the documents and who had access.”

      Everything Trump touches dies, says Never Trumper Rick Wilson. Authorities worry that might apply literally to people Trump never met."

    7. It’s astonishing to me that Republicans are acting as though Trump has every right to possess highly sensitive, classified information and that the FBI are a bunch of jack-booted thugs for taking them (despite Trump being given an inordinate amount of time to return the docs voluntarily).

      One can only imagine the screams of rage if Obama had kept top secret documents in his closet. Republicans certainly cared (or pretended to care) when they thought Hillary had compromised national security.

      And why Trump has the docs? The fact that we don’t (yet) know should be worrying. Should we trust a man described as mentally ill (by Somerby) with the nation’s most sensitive secrets? And given the way Trump grifts and fleeces his rubes and obsesses over money and getting revenge on his enemies, it is clearly worrisome.

      But apparently, Republicans do not believe in the principle that sensitive national secrets should be protected.

    8. Reasonable points MH about if the shoe was on the other foot. But I suppose if while Trump was president, the FBI raided the Clintons, presumably we liberals would be pretty upset about it. Meanwhile, there's way more we don't know than we do. We are blessed or cursed with massive secret organizations like the CIA and NSA, billions spent, without a clear idea of whether they do more good than harm. It used to be that liberals were hostile to these organizations. Now they seem to embrace them. It seems extremely speculative what any of the 'top secret" documents have to do with anything that actually matters - maybe they do, but who knows.

    9. It was nuclear secrets. Now it’s human assets that Trump is outing.

      What’s next? The recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken?

    10. Cecelia, do you think people are making up what was in the affidavit?

      Your not-very-clever remark about KFC suggests you think that murdered US intelligence assets is all a big joke to you? Do you think what Trump did was funny? More serious people are suggesting it was treason.

    11. “Cecelia, do you beat your pets on Wednesdays or Thursdays?”

    12. Given that you are a Republican, I would assume you do it on both days. N'est pas?

      In my experience, Republicans only have pets (often pitbulls) to guard their guns and they chain them in the yard. That kind of thing is illegal in the blue states.

    13. Actually, Anonymous 4:41pm, Republicans only have kids for those jobs.

    14. I wouldn't brag about it.

    15. "What’s next? The recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken?"

      Yeah. Hopefully the F.B.I. will manage to safely disarm the ballistic nuclear missile they fished out of The Commander's toilet.

      ...we're still worried, but cautiously optimistic...

    16. Yes, the deaths of intelligence agents is all a big joke, especially to Mao and Cecelia.

    17. Try using that on Carter Page or James Rosen.

    18. Can you not tell the difference between alive and dead? You’re a real piece of work.

    19. And you’re merely a ninny.

    20. Cecelia always wants the last word, even with nothing to say. How like a narcissistic Republican troll!

    21. Always remember, Ivan: Mao is a Russian troll.

    22. So is Cecelia, paid in rubles or just working for free

    23. I’m paid in schadenfreude.

    24. I haven't seen Republicans this worked up since they pretended to have a problem with Hunter Biden.

    25. The Right doesn't care about any of this. They care about bigotry and white supremacy. Everything else is a red herring.

  9. It is very kind of Somerby to explain so cogently why he chose not to major in physics at Harvard but chose philosophy instead.

    If Somerby were slightly younger, he would have become a computer science major -- a field that deals in precise definitions and attention to detail, in which no linguistic understanding is needed because machines are always concrete and literal and not context-dependent.

    People have different strengths and weaknesses. Somerby's weakness appears to be self-knowledge. He keeps trying to tell the rest of humanity that it should be thinking like he does, or else it is deficient. Unfortunately, the majority defines normality, and Somerby's approach is statistically less frequent and thus abnormal, no matter how well he functions as a stand-up comedian. There are some good books on neurodiversity.

  10. Bob in philosopher king mode tells us he can’t even begin to defend Trump on the document thing at this point. Good sign.

  11. Would Somerby mock the statement “The sun appears to move through the sky to an observer on the earth?”

    It’s a perfectly reasonable assumption that humans made for much of their existence.

    Greene says the trees “appear” to be moving. Somerby disagrees. If a simulation were constructed, whereby the car is stationary but the trees were wheeled by on a conveyor belt and the driver had no knowledge of this arrangement, then the “driver” would be mistaken in saying he was moving, not the trees.

    I don’t find Greene’s statement to be incoherent or even inaccurate as a possible description of the event he is describing. After all, he doesn’t say the trees are moving, just that they appear to be.

    And that hitchhiker, the one who isn’t moving? To an observer in space the hitchhiker is rotating around an axis and moving through an orbit around the sun.

  12. Somerby posted the exact same musing about this passage from Greene just last year:

    It’s unclear what new thoughts he will have on it, especially since he’s already declared it incoherent.

    1. It's called cutting & pasting, aka Lazy Blogger Syndrome.

  13. "They're known to be brilliant mathematicians, so reviewers follow along!"

    Reviewers are not known to be brilliant mathematicians, so they ask other mathematicians to write blurbs for such books. Those are the opinions Somerby is grousing about, because reviewers quote them in their reviews. No reviewer asserts his own mathematical brilliance when reviewing a semi-mathematical book.

    But how foolish must one be to not follow along when a brilliant mathematician says something about math? Are we all supposed to withhold judgment until we finish our own mathematical doctorate program? This is idiotic.

    In Somerby's world, no one is permitted to respect another person's area of expertise, if they cannot validate that competence personally. This is ridiculous!

  14. TDH apparently has this obsession - he is attracted to books by science popularizers who claim to explain advanced physics in a manner that the lay public will be able to understand - yet, after reading said books, THD is left in the dark about this advanced physics stuff. He's been defrauded. He doesn't seem to realize that no one really gives a shit about this phenomenon. And it could be that others might actually glean some new understanding from these books. He analogizes what he sees as this glaring lapse in reasoning to the way the media, and myriad pundits and the common citizens also, don't, in large measure, apply reason in reaching their opinions. While the latter may be true, it's been long known; and there is only a minuscule relationship between failures of science popularizers to explain advanced physics to the great unwashed, and the widespread absurdity of much of what passes for political discourse.

    1. Psychologists have long made a distinction between reasoning and crystallized knowledge (acquired information). It goes back to Locke and J.S. Mill. Somerby doesn't appear to have ever taken a psychology class, because he makes these sorts of mistakes all the time.

      I think a lot of people confuse mistakes in logic or reasoning with the different conclusions reached by starting with different premises while using impeccable logic.

      While I disagree with a lot said on the right, I don't consider it absurd, especially not when you consider their motives, tactics and goals and the different set of facts they start with. The problem, in my opinion, is not that right wingers don't think well, it is that they are not nice people, lacking in empathy, prioritizing self-interest, admiring lack of restraint, obsessed with guns, and so on.

      There was a woman in my bridge club who was a Trump supporter, big time. She got elected club president and all of a sudden she was demanding priority table assignments because of her status, never mind that certain tables were reserved for those with physical disabilities. She moved a bulletin board with club notices so that her own needlework could be displayed more prominently. Self-centered to the core. She freely broke the club rule against discussing politics at the playing table. Why wouldn't Trump appeal to her? And this is what I find when I scratch the surface of most Trump supporters. It has very little to do with logic or absurdity, but a great deal to do with personality.

    2. "...and there is only a minuscule relationship..."


      Science popularizers are probably mostly failed researchers trying to sell books ("those who can't do, teach").

      Media dembots, on the other hand, do their job well. It's just that their job is to dumb down the population.

    3. This is actually not true these days. At Harvard University, faculty are encouraged to write popular books because it enhances and popularizes the name of the university, which results in more people donating money and building the endowment of the university. It contributes to the reputation of the university as a thought leader with well known faculty, celebrity academics, so faculty and not only encouraged to write such popular books but to go on book tours promoting them and make public appearances discussing their books on TV and in public lectures. Sharing knowledge with the community is an important mission of most universities with researchers engaging in serious research. So these are not has-beens and never-wills who are writing such books. They are now top guys in their fields.

      But it is understandable that Mao wouldn't know this, coming from Russia as he does.

    4. “There was a woman in my bridge club who was a Trump supporter, big time. She got elected club president and all of a sudden she was demanding priority table assignments because of her status, never mind that certain tables were reserved for those with physical disabilities. She moved a bulletin board with club notices so that her own needlework could be displayed more prominently. Self-centered to the core. She freely broke the club rule against discussing politics at the playing table. Why wouldn't Trump appeal to her? And this is what I find when I scratch the surface of most Trump supporters. It has very little to do with logic or absurdity, but a great deal to do with personality.”

      It’s always such a learning experience to sit at the feet of Somerby critics who offer up deeply profound and compelling psychological profiles as the one we see here.

      This is the sort of wisdom, insight, and learned analysis of human behavior that can only be acquired by reading Rolling Stone or the tweets of Alyssa Milano.

      Scholarly and brilliant. Just ask them.

    5. Stereotypes don’t merit contradiction. Only laughter.

    6. If you find treason funny, no reason you wouldn’t laugh at how closely you fit the conservative stereotypes.

    7. Stereotype, huh? I thought it was a pattern grounded in childhood trauma and/or a rigorously scientific conclusion based upon the personalities of all and every bridge devotee.

    8. don’t try to sound smart when you don’t know what you’re talking about

    9. I’m sounding ironic. You make that easy.

    10. The readers of TDH are attempting to follow Somerby’s teaching- that right-wingers are victims, and that we superior liberals must have pity and sympathy on poor souls such as Cecelia, Mao, and David in Cal. Their illustration of the conservative victim mindset stereotype is quite strong, so perhaps Somerby is right. They make it tough to be sympathetic, but we soldier on.

    11. Meh. In dear Bob's mind you brain-dead liberals are both superior and victims.

      Innocent buttons on Demigod Algore's suit were brutally assaulted. As were Demigod Bubba and his psycho-wife, for getting a bribe of mere 500 big ones in 2010 in Moscow.

      And these savage attacks never end.

      But no worries, dear mh! Luckily for you brain-dead liberal, you have the shepherd -- in the form of 51 former 'intelligence' officials! -- for separating the grain from the chaff and the sheep from the goats!

    12. word salad, with names like Clinton thrown in so we know who we are supposed to hate

    13. The touchiness of Cecilia never yields more than childish sarcasm. But both She and pig person Mao are on the ropes . Good sign.

  15. Somerby calls something "muddled thinking" whenever he doesn't understand it. That doesn't mean it is actually muddled. When he first started doing this, I used to work through the examples he was complaining about, looking for what was muddled, but discovered there wasn't really anything wrong with the thinking, just Somerby's complaint that he didn't get it.

    I might worry about a book if a mathematician critiqued it and said it was muddled, but I am not going to waste my time looking for the muddle when a stand-up comedian, now retired, says he has a problem with it.

    Somerby may think he is criticizing the basis of expertise, but really he is teaching us that the maxim "consider the source" really does apply when evaluating other people's statements. If Somerby knew enough to call this discussion muddled, he would know enough to explain why it is muddled, and he hasn't done that.

  16. 14/29 FTFY -- not sure a deleted comment should count

    Cecelia will no doubt be back to even things out a bit.

    1. That would have made it 14/28.

  17. "They believe they're engaged in Very Deep Thought as they voice absurdly muddled "ideas."

    Why does Somerby claim that these popularizers believe they have engaged in Very Deep Thought, when they are writing books that have dumbed down a field?

    I think it makes more sense to accuse the readers of such books of dabbling in Very Deep Thoughts without putting the effort into acquiring the background to be competent in such a field, and that includes Somerby who thinks that such a book is suitable vacation reading.

    I've been noticing that when Somerby critiques such a book, he rarely excerpts anything beyond the first chapter. I don't think he reads any further than that. If he did, insights from the subsequent chapters might help him out of his muddle. The light might dawn.

  18. Meanwhile, this is what actual media criticism looks like:

  19. Anybody notice that whenever things get particularly sticky for the republican party, Bobby trots out his Einstein diatribe? Closely followed by supportive downthread commentary by his doppelganger, Cecelia? Who seems to think that the self identifier "Cecelia" makes her uniquely distinguishable and anything other than anonymous. I am betting that the self-satisfied snark is coming from a failed comic. Between Bobby and Cecelia you can book a table for one. It will be happy company.

    1. That has to be one of the most flattering compliments I’ve ever received.

    2. I feel sorry for you.

    3. every dog has its day, they say...

    4. For once you are quite credible.

  20. Somerby will never tell you, but this is an excellent article by Jamelle Bouie:

  21. Somerby takes Brian Greene along on his trip, but Trump took boxes of materials, some classified, on his trips. Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns & Money Blog says:

    "I see no reason whatsoever not to assume the obvious: that Trump took these documents because he was selling them."

    Laurence Tribe says:

    "“Boxes of documents even came with Trump on foreign travel, following him to hotel rooms around the world — including countries considered foreign adversaries of the United States.” Uh-oh. Alarm bells! Shades of his Oval Office mtg w/ Lavrov and Kislyak!

    Political Flare, quoting from today's Washington Post:

    "First, these boxes at issue had been kept in the residence of the White House for some time prior to Trump moving back down to Mar-a-Lago. Indeed, there was enough concern about these very boxes that there were discussions weeks prior to the move with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone about getting these boxes back. Just reading through the lines one can tell that others (Archivists and the intelligence community) were acutely aware of the fact that Trump kept these records in the residence, didn’t like it, and was already worried about his plans for them.

    The Archives battle to secure records from Trump began while he was still president, according to records reviewed by The Post. Gary M. Stern, the agency’s top lawyer, began asking the former president’s attorneys to return two dozen boxes in the residency of the White House before he left. In an email Stern wrote to others, Trump’s counsel, Pat Cipollone, agreed with him. But Trump did not return them.

    Again, they don’t come right out and say it, but the above paragraph just screams that there were many people aware of the very “odd” fact that Trump liked to keep top secret compartmentalized information in the residence and were acutely aware of the danger that he might take them.

    Then the Washington Post buried the lede a bit. This paragraph is simply shocking in light of all we’ve read to this point:

    "Boxes of documents even came with Trump on foreign travel, following him to hotel rooms around the world — including countries considered foreign adversaries of the United States.

    “There was no rhyme or reason — it was classified documents on top of newspapers on top of papers people printed out of things they wanted him to read. The boxes were never organized,” Grisham said. “He’d want to get work done on long trips so he’d just rummage through the boxes. That was our filing system.”

    Sorry. Presidents who want to get work done on international trips have entire staff bringing the work with them. It is very organized. Everyone knows what is where. Schedules are created in 5-10 minute increments, and the work is done. Boxes don’t get hauled around from hotel to hotel, especially in adversarial countries where the government just assumes that the hotel rooms are not secure.

    How that paragraph can appear halfway down a page… it is because it’s the Washington Post. They won’t speculate or analyze obvious “problems” with the dry news that they’re reporting. We do not know any more than what is printed above but what is printed above just screams that Trump has been selling secrets or sharing things he finds “cool” or something while on the road in “adversarial countries.” Someone has to say it!! That behavior demands an explanation, and just “Because he was the president” isn’t good enough anymore.

    One suspects that if we knew the entire truth, it would open the guts of an otherwise unthinkable security breach."

  22. "Even so, their hair is perfect! "

    This obvious hair envy leads me to suspect that Somerby is balding.

    Come on, is it really anyone's fault if they have perfect hair? Why is this a flaw worth complaining about?

  23. "Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) blasted President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, saying the president is “robbing hard-working Americans to pay for Karen’s daughter’s degree in lesbian dance theory,” Vanity Fair reports."

    One of the conservative memes that Somerby has helped spread here is that academic discourse is effete, has no practical value, contains no knowledge useful to our society, and is detached from real people's lives. Notice how Boebert's snide remark about a student's academic interests similarly ridicules the humanities, liberal arts, arts and social sciences. Yesterday he claimed that philosophy has no value (because Wittgenstein said so), ignoring that it is a major that teaches future lawyers and ethicists how to think clearly about competing values and is the preferred training for such career paths. I doubt he knows it. A major in any kind of dance prepares one to teach dance, to become a dancer, or a dance critic, but also places dance into the context of the larger culture. Does Somerby think there are no dancers any more? He hasn't been watching movies or ads lately, nor has he been to a theater performance -- something that occurs in every medium size city across the country. But think about how dance training might prepare someone to work with children in schools or be a physical therapist or trainer. The lesbian part is not relevant to schools but it is relevant to considering how women have been treated in sports and physical movement arts over time. Are certain dance moves butch and thus out of bounds when choreographing women? How have lesbians been accepted in the culture of ballet? Boebert won't know.

    But I suppose that Boebert and Somerby both think that if a person isn't a welder or a plumber, she isn't productive in our economy. There are a lot of people with a lot of different abilities and skills, doing a wide range of types of jobs. Why should any of them be ridiculed or considered unnecessary? This is a uniquely conservative position -- liberals are not the ones mocking other people's choices of work. And Somerby's repetition of this theme is one of the things that makes him not very liberal, in my opinion, as well as kind of bigoted snob, like Boebert. In Somerby's case, he may reflect the Catholic teaching about women's roles, which are in the home and not on stage and certainly not eschewing procreation by marrying another woman. It still makes Somerby not particularly liberal.

  24. "We’re at a serious moment in our nation’s history. The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security, they’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace — embrace — political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.

    This is why, in this moment, those of you who love this country — Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans — we must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving America than the MAGA Republicans are to destroying America.

    Are you ready to fight for these things now? "

    Joe Biden

    I have never heard Somerby stand up for any of these things that are important to Democrats.