The New York Times plays the Maus card again!


Some blue year's resolutions: We'd love to see our flailing blue tribe make some new year's resolutions. The gist of these resolutions would be:

Blue tribe, let's try healing ourselves! 

Let's encourage Nicolle Wallace and her favorite reporters and friends to talk about something other than getting Trump locked up in jail. 

Let's improve our use of language, especially involving these two routinely misused words: "lie" and "information."

(Note to Willie Geist: a statement doesn't provide "information" if the statement in question is false. Note to our flailing tribe, desperate for some ardent glory: A misstatement isn't a "lie" if the speaker believes it's true.)

That said, "lie" is a fighting word. As soon as you say that someone has lied, all conversation ends. It makes us feel good to keep using that term, but we're highly promiscuous in its use, and our promiscuous use of the term tends to drive Others away.

Stating the obvious, clarity is strongly tied to precision in the use of language. That said, it's been a long time since our tribal tribunes sought clarity or clarification. For our tribe's tribunes, as for theirs, it very strongly tends to be Storyline all the way down.

While we're at it, we'll recommend a second resolution for the coming year:

Blue tribe, let's try getting over ourselves!

More specifically, let's stop pretending that we in our tribe are stupendously moral in all known ethical realms. As an example of where we tend to fail, consider the New York Times' recent trip back to the realm of Maus.

We refer to this recent report about the passion of Art Spiegelman, a good and decent person. He's been in agony all this year. In Wednesday morning's print editions, this is what the twin headlines said on the front page of Arts:

Cartoonist Pushes On Amid the 'Maus' Chaos
Spiegelman is ready to get back at it after having to defend his prize-winning work.

Just imagine! Imagine the indignity described in that pair of headlines!

According to those headlines, a prize-winning author was asked to "defend his work" in some way or other! In being asked to do such a thing, he was exposed to "chaos!"

What actually happened this year with Maus? Here's what actually happened:

In a giant, sprawling nation on with 13,800 school districts, one (1) school district decided to replace Spiegelman's book as a required text in its middle-school curriculum on the Holocaust! It was this decision by one school board which created the chaos in which Spiegelman was somehow allegedly forced to defend his work.

We blue tribals have a very hard time getting over ourselves. We're also extremely judgmental, and we're very dumb.

We have a very hard time accepting the idea that somewhere in this vast nation, there may be as many as one (1) community whose values or judgments may differ from ours in some minor way or other.

We instantly know what we must do when such chaos occurs. We do what we did in this set of five letters concerning a related topic. (The letters were published by the Times in Tuesday's print editions.)

Here's what we do at such times:

We refer to the Others as "local yahoos." As if by rule of law, we insist that their behaviors and judgments can only stem from "their bigotry." We say that the judgments of the Others are driven by "fear and hate." We are able to imagine no other possibilities.

For the ten millionth time, we even recite the tired old saw in which the Bible itself "is full of incest, infanticide, sodomy, murder and other violence." We rush these letters to the Times, and the Times puts the letters in print!

In the course of this behavior, we convince ourselves, for the ten millionth time, that we alone are decent, moral, intelligent, caring, wise, unbiased, good. It's clear that we don't know how to stop playing this pleasing, unhelpful card.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our profoundly self-impressed tribe is amazingly unimpressive.

We're very, very self-impressed. We love to lump the Others together, at which point the name-calling starts.

We just can't seem to get over ourselves! Based on the claims of disconsolate experts, we know of no obvious reason to think that we ever will. 

Tomorrow: George Santos / mental illness

Counting can be hard: How many school districts exist in the United States? We aren't entirely sure.

Ballotpedia says the number is 13,800. goes quite a bit higher than that!

At any rate, one school district stopped mandating Maus. As you know, chaos ensued!

What were Newton's laws of motion?


Also, return to Maus: What were Newton's three laws of motion? We always thought they were these: 

1) What goes up must come down.

2) What goes around comes around.

3) The shortest distance between two points is almost never available.

On Tuesday night, our great niece said our account is basically correct, or words to that effect. She recently reported on the three laws for her fifth grade class. 

For a background report, click here.

Tomorrow, we return to something resembling normal activity. Topics have been piling up, including a return to Maus.

What actually happened to the late Michael Brown?


Can we trust the things we're told? Once again, our current, award-winning Case Study is being placed on hold. The reason:

Family members have arrived in town, including two delightful great nieces!

This Gang of 5 is safely ensconced in a Little Italy BNB. Over the next few days, we'll be hearing about Newton's laws of motion as described in a recent grade 5 report!

For these reasons, our own case study will be delayed once again. For the record, we still have a fairly long way to go with this award-winning study.

As we've noted, our case study helps us consider a basic question:

Should we trust the various things we're told by our blue tribe tribunes?

Over the years, we've come to see that the answer is a very clear no. Our ongoing report concerning the alleged beliefs of those (very white) medical students provides a strikingly complex case in point.

For today, we'll float another example—an example involving what our tribe has been told, and tends to believe, about the deeply unfortunate shooting death of the late Michael Brown. The example is drawn from comments to this recent post by Kevin Drum.

Drum barely mentions Michael Brown in his actual post. We were somewhat puzzled by Drum's position concerning the concept of "woke," but the now-iconic death of Brown was only mentioned in passing in Drum's post.

As you can see, that topic was raised by the first commenter to Drum's post. That commenter seems to be taking a bit of an adversarial stance from the red tribe's part of town:

COMMENTER: Question regarding Michael Brown. How many people on this blog still believe the "hands up, don't shoot" narrative?

Somewhat snarkily, the commenter seems to be making a fairly obvious suggestion. He seems to be suggesting that our blue tribe was offered, and has accepted, an inaccurate narrative concerning Brown's death.

Eight comments were offered in rebuttal. In our view, those eight comments help establish the original commenter's point.

None of the commenters seemed to know about the Justice Department's conclusions regarding this tragic death. We refer to the Justice Department of Eric Holder, the attorney general who served under Barack Obama.

None of the commenters seemed to know what Holder's Justice Department said in its lengthy, formal report about the shooting death of Brown. Indeed, none of the commenters seemed to know that any such formal report even exists.

 That may be because the DOJ's findings were largely disappeared by our blue tribe's journalistic "elites." Increasingly, this is the way our own blue tribe's journalistic elites seem to function.

Alas! Again and again, then again and again, members of our own blue tribe don't seem to know how much we don't know—don't seem to realize how many things we aren't being told by such corporate careerists. 

We don't seem to know how much we don't know! To us, those deeply clueless eight comments seem to provide the latest example of this general state of affairs.

Increasingly, the people we see on your cable news screens are tribal propagandists. They tell us the things we'll be happy to hear. They disappear the rest.

Over on the Fox News Channel, a gang of propagandists play a similar function for that channel's red tribe consumers. Within our own blue tents, we're happy to say that they're worse, much worse, on the Fox News Channel. 

Without any question, that may be true. But the question we'd ask you is this:

When do we, within our blue tribe, plan to start healing ourselves?

Increasingly, the people we've been trained to trust are tribal propagandists. (They're "some of our favorite reporters and friends!") 

We've been trained to trust these people by profit-seeking corporate elites. Those profit-seeking "journalistic" elites are selling a tribally pleasing product—and our blue tribe keeps gulping it down.

The case study we delay today lets us look at the way one crazily inaccurate claim came to be widely believed by an array of blue tribe tribunes. We still have a long way to go with our study of that inaccurate claim—but the claim is frequently stated by blue tribe pundits, and the claim is crazily wrong.

Increasingly, this is the way our blue tribe functions. The actors on cable (and elsewhere) feed us our porridge. With gratitude, we swallow it down.

Major experts keep telling us that this is the way our flawed human brains are wired. We humans are wired for tribal belief, or so these top experts all tell us.

One authority tries to explain: One leading authority offers the following account of the Justice Department's formal report concerning the death of Michael Brown:

On August 11, 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a civil rights investigation into the incident...Forty FBI agents went door-to-door looking for potential witnesses who may have had information about the shooting. Additionally, attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and from the United States Attorney's Office were participating in the investigation.

On March 4, 2015, the federal investigation cleared Wilson of civil rights violations in the shooting. The investigation concluded there was no evidence upon which prosecutors could rely to disprove Wilson's asserted belief that he feared for his safety, that witnesses who contradicted Wilson were not credible, that forensic evidence and credible witnesses corroborated Wilson's account...Numerous witnesses were found to have given accounts of actions they were unable to see from their vantage points, or to be recounting others' accounts.

In our view, that's a somewhat limited account of what the DOJ said in its lengthy formal report. But it gives you the general idea.

None of the eight rebuttal commenters mentioned that DOJ study. One possible reason could be this:

Within the tents of our own blue tribe, this DOJ study was largely disappeared. Instead, the children told us about this second, companion report:

On September 5, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police force to examine whether officers routinely engaged in racial profiling or showed a pattern of excessive force. The investigation was separate from the Department's other investigation of the shooting of Brown. The results of the investigation were released in a March 4, 2015, report, which concluded officers in Ferguson routinely violated the constitutional rights of the city's residents, by discriminating against African Americans and applying racial stereotypes, in a "pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violates the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and federal statutory law."

Each of those DOJ reports was very important. Within blue tribe channels, we were told about that second report. The other report was largely disappeared.

By way of contrast, Fox viewers were told about that first report. The snarky first commenter to Drum's post had quite possibly heard all about it.

This is the way our blue tribe currently functions, at least on the profit-seeking end of corporate pseudo-journalism and often within the academy. One final point:

You've heard nothing on blue tribe channels about any follow-up to that second report—to the report about the general conduct of the Ferguson police department. Our multimillionaire cable stars don't care about what happens in Ferguson. Few things are ever more clear.

Your lizard brain will now start insisting that the various things we've just said are terribly wrong, oh so wrong. Disconsolate experts say this reaction is an inevitable part of the package.

To mask or not to mask?


In Gotham, the Times plays Hamlet: In print editions, the New York Times has a hard-hitting report at the top of today's front page.

Headline included, the report starts off like this:

For Holdouts in Masks, Life Turns Lonelier

Bitsy Cherry had been bracing for the question ever since most of the members of a board game group that had started meeting online during the pandemic began attending in-person meetings a few months ago.

Like many of the dwindling group of Americans still taking precautions like masking indoors and limiting face-to-face interactions, Mx. Cherry, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, had been fielding nudges to return to pre-Covid routines from all corners...

The report goes on to detail the stresses being placed on "the dwindling group of Americans" who are still wearing masks—on people like Bitsy Cherry.

That report appears on the paper's front page—but hold on! Inside the paper's (weekly) Science Times section, a separate report says this:

It’s Time to Wear a Mask Again, Health Experts Say

Masks are back, and, this time, they’re not just for Covid-19. A “tripledemic” of the coronavirus, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, known as R.S.V., sweeping through the United States has prompted several cities and counties, including New York City and Los Angeles County, to encourage people to wear a mask in indoor public spaces once again.

Nationwide, Covid-19 case rates have spiked by 58 percent since the end of November...

On page A1, Cherry is under societal stress. But by the time we reach D6, it's Hang on, Bitsy, hang on!

Meanwhile, also this: As we sit here typing at 1:15 P.M., the online Washington Post offers this as the featured news report in its NATIONAL section:

100-year-old woman makes custom jackets by hand and gives them away

At present, that's the featured report in the paper's NATIONAL section. On the online Post's endless front page, it appears below this featured report from the LIFESTYLE section:

Do the dishes better and faster with these easy tweaks

People, we're just sayin'.

CASE STUDY: Only 16 (white) students believed the false claim!


Or quite possibly, none of them did: We'll repeat our earlier confession:

When we read the claim in the Washington Post, we didn't necessarily believe it.

We'd seen too many bogus claims from our own blue tribe in the past! That includes many claims like the claim in question—claims which express our blue tribe's love for "the racialization of everything."

Below, you see the claim in question. When we saw it in real time, we didn't assume it was accurate:

NORRIS (12/9/20): We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.

The statement came from this column by Michele Norris—a good, decent person who has spent several decades at NPR and at the Washington Post.

The statement was made by an upper-end journalist—but was the statement accurate? Was it really true?

Did half of a group of (white) medical students really believe that black patients have a higher tolerance for pain than their white counterparts? According to Norris, a recent study had shown that very thing—but was her statement true?

We did what we've done a million times—we clicked the link provided by Norris and set out in search of the study. You can see the study here—and we weren't wholly surprised when found that Noris's statement was just ginormously wrong

As we noted in the last episode of our own case study, 222 medical students and fourth-year residents took part in the UVa study. The numbers broke down as shown:

Number of participants in the study:
First-year students: 63
Second-year students: 72
Third-year students: 59
(Fourth-year) residents: 28

Total participants: 222

Those 222 medical students (and residents) took part in the now-famous study. Needless to say, all these participants were white white white white white.

According to Norris, half those white participants said they believed the false claim to which she referred. Spoiler alert:

In fact, the study actually claims that only 16 of the 222 white participants said that they believed the claim—although, quite possibly, none of them actually did!

How could an upper-end journalist like Norris have been so grossly mistaken? In part, it seems that a long, sad game of "Telephone" led to her groaning misstatement that day. 

We'll examine the slippery writing involved in that hapless game when we file our next report in this series. For today, we'll merely show you how many participants are reported by the study's authors to have said that they believed the false claim—and we'll explain why it's possible that none of them actually did.

Let's take a look at the numbers! If you examine the study in question, you'll see a breakdown of the participants who (allegedly) said they believed the false claim. 

(Warning! The numbers which appear in the relevant chart represent percentages, not numbers of participants. The study's authors make that fact clear, but their layout could be a bit tricky.)

 Let's start with the fourth-year residents:

Of the 28 fourth-year residents, only one (1) is recorded as having said that he believed the false claim. Only one, out of 28!

The third-year medical students were even more skeptical! As you can see in the study itself, none (0) of those 59 participants are recorded as having said that they believed the false claim.

We've now accounted for 87 of the 222 participants. For the record, these are the 87 participants who were farthest along in their medical studies at the time in question.

Of those 87 participants, only one (1) is recorded as having said he or she believed the claim! And as we'll explain below, it's entirely possible that he or she never said any such thing!

Mathematically, one out of 87 is a great deal less than half! That said, here's the complete breakdown of the number of participants who (allegedly) said that they believed the false claim:

Number of participants who (allegedly) said that they believed the false claim:
First-year students: 5 of 63
Second-year students: 10 of 72
Third-year students: 0 of 59
Fourth-year residents: 1 of 28 
Total: 16 of 222

According to the authors of the actual study, 16 of the 222 participants said they believed the false statement. In a column in the Washington Post which remains uncorrected to this very day, Norris said that half these sketchy (white) medical students made this racist statement.

For the record, 16 out of 222 is 7.2%. Mathematically, that's substantially less than half. 

If we restrict ourselves to the third- and fourth-year participants—the participants who had already had two or three years of medical training—only 1 out of 87 stood charged with believing the false claim. That would be 1.1% of the group, an extremely small percentage.

Let's review:

According to Norris, 222 medical students participated in the study. These students were all white white white—and half of them said that they believed the false claim.

The actual text of the actual study doesn't make that claim. The study says the actual number is 7.2%.

That said, the study almost surely overstates the number of participants who said they believed the false claim. In fact, it's entirely possible that none of the (white) medical students said they believed the false claim. 

As we explained in our last report, here's the reason why we say that:

In the course of this study, the participants were asked to react to fifteen different statements about biological racial differences. Four of the statements were true; eleven of the statements were false.

The procedure employed in the study strikes us as slightly odd. As we explained in our last report, here's the way the process worked:

After being shown a statement, participants were asked to select from six possible reactions. They weren't allowed to say, "I don't know." Their only choices were these:

Possible reactions to each statement:
Definitely untrue 
Probably untrue
Possibly untrue
Possibly true
Probably true
Definitely true

Participants weren't given the option of saying they didn't know. If they didn't have any real idea if a statement was true or false, they had to select one of two (equivalent) reactions: 

They had to say it was "possibly true" or that it was "possibly untrue."

On its face, that strikes us as a slightly odd procedure. As we explained in our last report, a second procedure strikes us as flatly deceptive:

If participants chose "possibly true" as their assessment, they were scored as believing the statement was true—as "endorsing" the statement!

Langston Hughes said he'd seen rivers; to this day, we believe him. For ourselves, we've seen lots of thumbs on lots of scales as tribunes from our own tribe's academic and journalistic elites strain to establish claims reflecting preferred Storyline.

Let's think what that last procedure means, returning to the data concerning the third- and fourth-year participants.

According to the study, 87 such people—all of them white!—took part in the study. 

According to the study, only one of the 87 said he believed the false statement to which Norris referred. In fact, that one white person may have said that the statement was "possibly true."  

In the real world, that doesn't mean that he believed the statement in question. In a world where scholars put fists on scales, it's taken to mean that he did!

Your lizard brain will get busy now, insisting that we're somehow being unfair to someone. Like Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show, we've been putting up with your lizard's trashy behavior all through our long life!

Bottom line for today:

Norris said, in the Washington Post, that half the medical students said they believed the false statement. (All the students were white!) In fact, only 16 out of 222 may have said that they believed the false statement—and it's entirely possible that none of the students did.

Norris' error remains uncorrected. Within our hapless, self-impressed blue tribe, blacks and whites join hands together to tell us the stories we'll like!

Coming next: Irate, slippery constructions—and a game of Telephone tag

BREAKING: Important case study resumes tomorrow!


Bocellis let Yuletide linger: As you may recall, we're roughly halfway through a very important case study.

At issue is an important question: 

What do These (White) Medical Students Today believe about (biological) racial differences?

We're examining the accuracy of a talking point which has become fairly common within our own blue tribe. In the first year of the pandemic, Michele Norris stated the point the following way in the Washington Post:

NORRIS (12/9/20): We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.

These White Medical Students Today! Just look at the sh*t they believe!

As we noted last week, versions of this talking point are common with blue tribe journalism. That said, we also noted this:

Norris' statement is grossly, flagrantly wrong about the study to which she refers! So it sometimes goes as our tribe pursues our pleasing but sometimes counterproductive "racialization of everything."

Tomorrow, we'll return to our case study. We'll start with a quick review of the points we've already established. Also, we'll look at the actual numbers from the study to which Noris refers—the actual numbers concerning how many of the 222 white medical students may really believe the inaccurate statement at issue.

Warning! Nothing close to half the white medical students said they believe the offensive false statement in question. Indeed, given the way that recent study was conducted, it isn't entirely clear that any of the offensive white medical students believe the erroneous claim!

We'll return to that matter tomorrow. For today, you may want to let the Bocellis extend the Yuletide one additional day.

We stumbled across their performance of O Holy Night on PBS over the weekend. It occurred during a rebroadcast of last year's holiday program, "Spirit of the Season / IN PERFORMANCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE."

Long lay the world in sin and error pining? 

At this site, we began to detail this unfortunate fact, on a daily basis, all the way back in 1998—though we'll recommend that you focus on error, letting suggestions of sin drift away.

On the brighter side, the Bocellis can really bring it! We suggest that you click this link, move ahead to the 18-minute mark, and give the Bocellis, father and son, four minutes of your time.

We can't truly confess to "a thrill of hope" at this particular time. But if you listen all the way to the end, Andrea Bocelli, joined by his son Matteo Bocelli, may extend your Yuletide revery for at least one additional day.

Additional reading: As happenstance will sometimes have it, the Washington Post profiled the Bocelli family on Friday of last week. 

Virginia Bocelli is only ten! You can just click here.

The Gang That Couldn't Overturn Straight!


Be careful about the things you're told: Especially at times like these, the world of us the human beings is quite frequently Narrative All the Way Down.

Or at least, so the anthropologists tell us! With those words of caution in mind, we'll suggest you exhibit caution concerning the various things you're being told about the January 6 report.

Some thumbs may be on some scales as the report is described! Consider one basic question which has often been asked: 

Did Donald J. Trump know and believe that he actually lost the election?

Did Donald J. Trump know he had lost? Blue tribe tribunes will stress the (accurate) fact that he was repeatedly told that he had lost. 

Perhaps a bit childishly, our tribunes treat the fact that he had been told as proof that he actually knew. In so doing, they blow past an obvious fact:

People don't always believe the things they're told! That may be especially true of disordered people like Trump.

That said, how about it? Did Trump know and believe that he had actually lost? Yesterday, a news report in the New York Times addressed that question as shown:

BROADWATER AND FEUER (12/23/22): [Cassidy] Hutchinson told the committee that she had been told by several allies of Mr. Trump that he knew he had lost the election two weeks after Election Day but continued to push for any way he could try to overturn the results, first through lawsuits but then through increasingly extreme plans.

Ms. Hutchinson testified that Mark Meadows, her boss and the White House chief of staff, spoke with her on Jan. 2, 2021, after Mr. Trump had sought to persuade Georgia election officials to swing the election in his favor.

“He said something to the effect of: ‘He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we are going to keep trying,’ ” Ms. Hutchinson recalled Mr. Meadows saying, referring to Mr. Trump.

So pleasing! In that passage, Broadwater and Feuer quote Hutchinson describing something Meadows reportedly said on January 2.

Or do they? We'd already read the fuller transcript of Hutchinson's testimony. As you can see on page 129 of the relevant testimony, her fuller statement was this:

HUTCHINSON (9/14/22): He said something to the effect of: "He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we are going to keep trying. There's a chance he didn't lose. I want to pull this off for him."

"There's a chance he didn't lose?" At the New York Times, the murky, unexplained statement didn't make the cut. The preferred storyline is much better without it.

(Also, of course, the obvious: This is Hutchinson's recollection of something Meadows said. She isn't saying that she heard Trump himself say that he knew he had lost.)

That said, how about it? Did Trump know and believe that he had actually lost? 

We aren't sure we know how to answer that question. Rational people knew he had lost—but "rational" isn't the first word which comes to mind when we think about Donald J. Trump.

We can't say that we admire the way the New York Times clipped that quote. That said, at times like these, Storyline tends to prevail.

For another quick example, consider the way our blue tribe's tribunes are handling the story of Trump's angry, possibly violent reaction when he was told that he couldn't go to the Capitol Building himself. We offer these two thoughts:

What this supposedly says about Trump: Within our blue tribe enclaves, we're encouraged to think that this shows that Trump was somehow complicit in the violent behavior which took place at the Capitol. 

But does it really show that? It seems to us that, if Trump knew there would be a series of vicious attacks on police officers, he wouldn't want to be physically present while such behavior occurred. 

For that reason, Trump's desire to go to the Capitol might suggest that he didn't know that violence would be occurring. In fairness, that's the way a rational actor would likely behave. This may not hold for a disordered figure like Trump.

What this may say about the Secret Service: Our tribe also loves the idea that some members of the Secret Service were simply handmaidens to Trump. 

Doesn't this incident tend to show something different? It was his Secret Service detail, presumably including Ornato and Engel, which decided that he couldn't go to the Capitol, in spite of his strong desire to do so. Whatever Trump may (or may not) have been planning that day, it seems they weren't involved.

Many questions remain unresolved about the events of January 6. Among those questions are these:

Did Donald J. Trump know he had lost? Is it possible that he really believed the idiotic "conspiracy theories" about election fraud propounded by such crackpot associates as Giuliani and Powell?

Did he know there would be violence at the Capitol Building? Why did he want to go to to the Capitol? What did he think he was going to do if he was taken there?

Even now, we still don't know how to answer those questions. Absent the pleasures of Storyline, we're not sure that anyone does.

Overwhelmingly, we view this astounding episode as a story of monumental mental disorder, not just on the part of Donald J. Trump but among his crackpot associates.

In the January 6 report, the committee repeatedly refers to "fake electors." In the New York Times, the term "false electors" is being used.

We would be inclined to use the term "clownishly invalid electors." Across the landscape of Trump World, this is, among other things, a tale of astounding intellectual disorder. Such disorder is overpowering within the inner regions of Trump World, but it extends into our own blue world too.

In closing, let's return to that one clipped quote. Below, you see what Cassidy Hutchinson said, and what the Times reported:

What Hutchinson said:

He said something to the effect of: "He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we are going to keep trying. There's a chance he didn't lose. I want to pull this off for him."

What the Times reported:

He said something to the effect of: "He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we are going to keep trying."

Why do you think they clipped Hutchinson's statement that way? Over and over, again and again, we see such edits being made, accompanied by major or minor leaps of logic, even Over Here within our own infallible tribe.

Anthropologists say that we humans are wired this way. We've begun to think that these top experts could possibly be right!

An extremely rare look at moral experience!


Bomb cyclones coincide: With one bomb cyclone rapidly approaching, we've laid in a stockpile of hot chocolate and have otherwise battened appropriate hatches.

That said, a second bomb cyclone has hit with the release of extensive materials from the January 6 committee. At present, we're focusing on Cassidy Hutchinson's account of her search for a lawyer to help her with her testimony.

Also, on her (eventual) decision to tell the full truth to the committee. 

You can read her sworn account in this transcript of her extremely lengthy testimony regarding that matter. In our view, the transcript offers a very rare look at human moral experience. 

Also, major holidays are approaching. We're thereby suspending the case study we've been presenting this week. That case study will resume, though most likely not until the start of next week. 

Should Lawn Boy have been in these public schools?


The Washington Post's vast concern: Should Lawn Boy, a novel by Jonathan Evison, have been available in the libraries of our public schools?

We have no idea. We aren't familiar with the book. Nor are we especially current on matters of this type.

At any rate, it's funny you should ask! Just today, the Washington Post has published a lengthy report about controversies surrounding Lawn Boy, some of which apparently involve a misreading of certain passages in the book.

Early on in the Post's report, education writer Hannah Natnson speaks with Lawn Boy's author. This is what he says:

NATANSON (12/22/22): [W]hat happened to “Lawn Boy” reveals the little room left for nuance or forgiveness in the American political debate. Evison, the author, never meant for his book to be placed in school libraries, he told The Post in an interview. He was surprised when the American Library Association gave “Lawn Boy” an award in 2019 for its appeal to teens. Evison believes some librarians who chose the novel did so because of the award—and he says that, if any recommended it to lower- or middle-schoolers, they probably confused it with the children’s book “Lawn Boy,” by Gary Paulsen. (The Post found no documented cases in which this confusion happened.)


Evison said his novel, an exploration of racial assumptions and the failures of late capitalism, is meant for adults. If schools want to offer the text, he said, they should restrict access to older students.

“Nobody below a teenager is ready for that book,” Evison said. “It’s got a lot of adult stuff.”

We're willing to guess that Evison, not unlike us, isn't an expert about what's considered suitable in These Schools Today. That said, he is the author of the book, and he seems to have told Natanson that, in his judgment, the book he wrote isn't suitable for middle school libraries.

Later, Evison is quoted saying this:

NATANSON: Evison is not sure he disagrees with all the criticisms of his book. “Too profane? I’ll own that, fine, who cares. My mother would heartily agree.”

But he defends the passages showing the sexual encounter between 10-year-olds. That account, he says, marks a pivotal step in the protagonist’s process of coming out to his best friend Nick, who is racist and homophobic. Muñoz is using coarse language to power himself through a moment of extreme vulnerability, Evison said.

“I don’t think the effect was to glorify the experience,” he said of the sex scene.

He also questions the motives of some parents...

We're sorry to see Evison imagining the possible motives of people he hasn't met. He says that, in his opinion, the sex scene between the ten-year-olds doesn't have the effect of glorifying the experience.

Our view? After reading Evison's comments, we aren't surprised to learn that some parents, and some school officials, may have bene concerned about the book's suitability for public school libraries.

We don't know how we would feel about this particular book. That said, we also know that many Others lack the perfect moral and intellectual judgment we would bring to questions of this type.

Concerning Natanson's report, we'd offer several comments:

First, the Post is devoting oodles of space to what may be a rather limited point of concern. Here is Natanson's account of the "tsunami of condemnation" which has afflicted Lawn Boy:

NATANSON: Burkman’s remarks set off a tsunami of condemnation that, a year later, would see the book “Lawn Boy” challenged in at least 35 school districts spanning 20 states and temporarily removed from shelves in almost half those places, according to a Washington Post analysis. Most of those districts—63 percent—later returned the text to shelves after a review, while at least four banned the book for good. The plethora of complaints, 87 percent of which were brought by parents, The Post found, rendered “Lawn Boy” the second-most challenged book of 2021, according to the American Library Association.

The book was challenged in 35 districts? According to Ballotpedia, "there are approximately 13,800 public school districts in the United States."

At least four of those 35 districts removed the book for good? Are people like Natanson willing to allow four school districts, out of nearly 14,000, to maintain cultural views which may disagree with their own?

We now offer a second comment:

At no point does Natanson say if any of the challenges she discusses occurred on the middle-school level. Evison himself has said that he thinks his book would be inappropriate for kids of that age. 

Did any of the challenges occur at that level? Nowhere in this lengthy report were Post readers told.

Our final point would be this:

It's darkly amusing to see the Post shocked by the fact that some parents and parent groups seem to have misunderstood at least one scene in the novel. 

We find that darkly amusing because the Washington Post has itself spread all kinds of misapprehensions over the years, dating back to the endless wars against Clinton, Clinton and Gore.

People are going to make mistakes when they engage in the public square. That will always be part of the business of democracy, and mistakes will come from a wide array of directions.

We wonder if Natanson and the Post have ever thought about healing themselves? Ceci Connolly broke the bank when it came to baldly false reports about a fellow named Candidate Gore. 

People are dead all over the world because of those twenty months of erroneous reporting. Maybe the Post could dismount from its current high horse and do some reporting on that!

Accord to the author of Lawn Boy, the passages showing the sexual encounter between the 10-year-olds don't have the effect of glorifying the experience.  

We haven't read the book in question, but we're willing to live in a world where some parents and school officials might imaginably react in a negative way to a novel with such passages. Four school districts might even end up taking action—out of 14,000 districts in all!

According to Natanson (see above), "[W]hat happened to 'Lawn Boy' reveals the little room left for nuance or forgiveness in the American political debate." To Natanson and the Washington Post, we might offer this: 

When it comes to forgiveness and nuance, we all might try to do a better job of improving or healing ourselves.

Our tribe can be extremely judgmental. So can some Others, of course!

CASE STUDY: What did "white medical students" believe?


A slightly odd research design: Readers, can we believe the things we're told by our most trusted tribunes? By the most trusted tribunes from our own blue tribe?

Sadly, we think the answer is no. In the case study we continue today, we offer one rather strange example. 

At stake is a widely stated claim about the offensive and racist beliefs of "white medical students." In Tuesday's report, we showed you three instances in which some version of this claim has been stated in the Washington Post or in the New York Times. 

In our experience, the claim in question is stated on a fairly regular basis. In Tuesday's report, one example came from the Washington Post's Michele Norris, a well-known former NPR anchor and also a good, decent person:

NORRIS (12/9/20): We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.

Norris is a good, decent person with a long career in high-end mainstream journalism. As vaccine resistance grew within the black community, that was her account of the reason why many black Americans don't trust the medical establishment.

We're willing to admit it! When we read the highlighted claim, we didn't assume it was accurate. We didn't necessarily believe that half of a group of white medical students had said they believed that black patients have a higher tolerance for pain. 

We didn't automatically believe it! We'd encountered too many bogus claims down through the years—bogus claims which pleasingly reinforced our blue tribe's preferred Storylines. 

We decided to take a look at the recent study to which Norris referred. Today, we'll show you some of the things which struck us as strange about that widely cited study, the text of which you can peruse right here.

The 222 participants:

As you can see at that link, 222 medical students participated in the part of the study under review. According to the text of the study, their numbers broke down like this:

"first years, n = 63; second years, n = 72; third years, n = 59; residents, n = 28."

In short, participants included 194 people who were still in medical school, plus 28 (fourth year) residents. 

All the respondents were "white." There was no attempt to evaluate the beliefs of any other group of medical students.

The 15 statements at issue:

In the part of the study under review, the 222 medical students (and residents) were asked to evaluate a set of fifteen statements. According to the authors of the study, eleven of the statements are false. Four of the statements are true.

These are the fifteen statements respondents were asked to assess:

  1) Blacks age more slowly than whites
  2) Blacks’ nerve endings are less sensitive than whites’
  3) Black people's blood coagulates more quickly than whites'
  4) Whites have larger brains than blacks
  5) Whites are less susceptible to heart disease than blacks*
  6) Blacks are less likely to contract spinal cord diseases*
  7) Whites have a better sense of hearing compared with blacks
  8) Blacks’ skin is thicker than whites’
  9) Blacks have denser, stronger bones than whites*
10) Blacks have a more sensitive sense of smell than whites
11) Whites have a more efficient respiratory system than blacks
12) Black couples are significantly more fertile than white couples
13) Whites are less likely to have a stroke than blacks*
14) Blacks are better at detecting movement than whites
15) Blacks have stronger immune systems than whites

In the view of the study's authors, the four statements bearing asterisks are true. The other eleven are false.

The six permitted assessments:

Ther 222 medical students (including residents) were asked to assess each of those fifteen statements. They weren't asked to state their view of the various statements. Instead, they were given a list of six possible responses.

At this point, we begin wonder about the design of this study. The six responses available to the participants are listed here:

Definitely untrue 
Probably untrue
Possibly untrue
Possibly true
Probably true
Definitely true

Participants were asked to assess each of the statements in one of those six ways. Perhaps there's something we don't understand about some aspect of survey design, but we note one point of puzzlement:

There is no apparent difference between two of those permitted responses! If you say that a statement is "possibly true," you're automatically saying that it's also "possibly untrue." It seems odd to us to offer six possible assessments, two of which seem to be essentially equivalent.

Maybe there's something we don't understand about this type of survey design. We'll admit that we wondered how the study would have turned out if respondents had instead been given these five choices:

Definitely untrue 
Probably untrue
I don't know
Probably true
Definitely true

How would the study have turned out then? We have no way of knowing, though we could offer a guess.

The way those responses were scored:

We've shown you the fifteen statements respondents were asked to evaluate. We've shown you the six possible assessments they were allowed to make.

According to Norris, half the respondents (something like 111 out of 222) said they believed the second statement listed above—said they believed, in her paraphrase, that "Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain."

As we'll show you tomorrow, that statement by Norris was blatantly, grossly inaccurate. For today, we'll end by showing you the strangest part of this research design—an apparent part of this study's design which strikes us as truly remarkable.

Respondents were given six different ways to "score" each of the fifteen statements. Did respondents believe the various statements, eleven of which were false?

Astoundingly, this seems to be the way the authors of the research "scored" the respondents' assessments. Once again, we're offering text from the study itself:

We collected data from a total of 418 medical students and residents. Two hundred twenty-two met the same a priori criteria as in study 1 and completed the study (first years, n = 63; second years, n = 72; third years, n = 59; residents, n = 28)...On average, participants endorsed 11.55% (SD = 17.38) of the false beliefs. About 50% reported that at least one of the false belief items was possibly, probably, or definitely true.

Are we reading that correctly? That passage seems to suggest that, if a respondent rated a statement as "possibly true"—which means that it's also possibly false—the respondent was recorded as "believing" the statement. 

That strikes us as a very strange procedure. This further except from the text of the study further suggests that this actually was the procedure:

For ease of interpretation and ease of presentation, we collapsed the scale and coded responses marked as possibly, probably, or definitely untrue as 0 and possibly, probably, or definitely true, as 1, resulting in percentages of individuals who endorsed each item. 

According to that language, if a respondent said that some statement was "possibly true," that was taken to mean that the respondent had "endorsed" the statement in question.

That strikes us as a strange procedure—perhaps as "ease of interpretation" gone wild. Consider:

In the rapidly shrinking real world, if someone says a statement might be true, does that mean the person believes the statement? Does that mean that the person has somehow "endorsed" the statement?

That strikes us as a strange type of scoring on the part of the study's authors. In part, we say that for this reason:

According to the authors of the study, four of the fifteen statements in question actually are true. For example, this statement is said to true:

"Blacks have denser, stronger bones than whites."

Is that statement actually true? For ourselves, we don't have the slightest idea! Neither, we're willing to guess, did quite a few of the medical students and residents who took part in this study.

We'll also guess they had no idea about some of the other statements. That includes some of the eleven statements which are said to be false. 

That said, the design of the study gave them no way to say they simply didn't know if these statements were true. 

If they didn't know if a statement was true, they had to check one of the two (equivalent) assessments saying the statement was "possibly" true or untrue—and if they were unlucky enough to check the box marked "possibly true," they were apparently scored as believing / endorsing the statement in question.

To all appearances, this seems to be the way participants' responses were scored. This seems to mean that we have no real way to know how many of the respondents actually did believe the various untrue statements, including the untrue statement Norris cited in the Washington Post.

That said, we do know this:

We do know that Norris' statement in the Post was grossly, wildly inaccurate. In fact, nothing even dimly resembling half of the study's participants checked a response endorsing that statement in any conceivable way.

Michele Norris is a good, decent person and an experienced, high-ranking journalist. Given prevailing blue tribe Storyline, her claim about those white medical students was vastly pleasing.

Her claim was also grossly inaccurate. As you can see from some of the text we've posted above, it wasn't even an accurate statement of what the study's authors had said.

Norris' claim was grossly inaccurate. It remains uncorrected today.

Tomorrow: A look at the actual numbers

Can you believe the things you're told?


What Mika and Lawrence said: In 2016, when he ran for the White House, was Donald J. Trump being audited by the IRS?

Unless the New York Times was crazily wrong in its ballyhooed reporting, yes—he actually was. 

This morning, we showed you excerpts from the Times' gigantic review of Trump's tax and audit history—an extremely lengthy front-page report which appeared in September 2020. 

The Times reported that Trump had been under audit for years as of 2016. He could have released his tax returns had he wanted to, but he was under a yearslong audit—or so the New York Times said.

(In a brand-new report this morning, the AP cited that Times report.)

That brings us to the way Morning Joe started this morning. The program opened with videotape of Candidate Trump, on four separate occasions in 2016, saying he was being audited. 

Mika then jumped in with this:

BRZEZINSKI (12/21/22): Ahhh, no. He was not under audit. He was lying. That was Donald Trump, lying repeatedly...

"He was not under audit," she said. A bit later, she said what's shown below. We're forced to put you on an irony alert:

BRZEZINSKI: Our other top story this morning shows something that a lot of folks have been waiting for, for a long time.

It proves that Hillary—Hillary Clinton—was right all along. Nancy Pelosi was right all along. Chuck Schumer was right all along. The Democrats were right all along. 

Reporting from the New York Times was right all along. The Washington Post too was 100% correct all along. 

Donald Trump was not under audit. Donald Trump was lying. He was desperate to hide the truth from Americans, that truth that far from being a shrewd businessman, he was in fact the biggest loser out of the 300 million Americans who filed their taxes with the IRS. 

The man lost more money than any other American. At a time he was writing The Art of the Deal, this was happening.

Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can watch the entire show.

In this second iteration, Mika didn't make a careful attempt to define the time frame to which she was referring. She did stumble into one of the absurd contradictions in which people of her ilk are inclined to traffic. 

We refer to the pleasing tale in which scripted blue tribe pundits simultaneously peddle these dueling points:

Point 1: Donald J. Trump lost tons of money almost every year.

Point 2: Donald J. Trump didn't pay any federal income tax in quite a few recent years.

Mika posted data showing that Trump had lost oodles of money in four out of six recent years. She then marveled at the fact that he had paid little or no income tax during those mega-loser years—years in which he seemed to have no reportable income on which to pay income taxes!

Donald J. Trump is massively disordered. That said, it's important that you understand the truth about our "cable news" TV stars too.

Under current arrangements, such people are wed to Storyline. They're rarely familiar with basic facts. They're rarely encumbered by elementary logic.

They simply recite the standard, tribally pleasing points derived from Storyline. So it went at the start of this morning's show, when Mika insisted that Donald J. Trump wasn't under audit back in 2016.

"Reporting from the New York Times was right all along," she haplessly said. Irony alert! It was the New York Times which broke the news that Trump had been under audit!

In fairness to Mika, Lawrence said the same darn thing last night at the start of his show. As we showed you this morning, here's what Lawrence said:

O'DONNELL (12/20/22): You will recall that Donald Trump began telling the lie during his first presidential campaign that he could not release his tax returns because they were being audited. As I said at the time, Donald Trump offered absolutely no proof that his tax returns were being audited...

As of tonight, there is no evidence of Donald Trump's tax returns ever having been audited.

It's true! In 2016, there was no proof that Trump was being audited. 

Four years later, the New York Times reported that he had been under a lengthy, yearslong audit. Even now, two years after that, Lawrence doesn't seem to have heard.

This sort of thing goes on and on, then on and on and on. Donald J. Trump is severely disordered, but these corporate-selected stumblebums are a basket of nutcases too.

Such TV stars are paid millions of dollars to feed us the stories we love. This is an imitation of life and an utterly stupid game.

Ignatius and Savage played along too. This is the business they've chosen!

CASE STUDY: Can we believe the things we're told...

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2022 our blue tribe's tribunes? Yesterday,  we began to offer you an award-winning case report.  Our case report is tied to a very basic question.

Our very basic question is directed to members of our own blue tribe. The question goes like this:

Can we believe the things we're told by our blue tribe's tribunes?

Can we believe the things we're told by the people we're told we can trust? At this crazy time of partisan warfare, sadly, the answer is no.

The case report we have started concerns a commonly stated claim about the offensive beliefs of a group of "white medical students." That commonly stated claim derives from a 2016 UVa study. It seems to us that the basic claims of that widely cited study are, in a word, simply false.

Yesterday, we gave you three examples of the commonly stated claim derived from that UVa study. Tomorrow, we'll continue with our case report.

For today, we make a detour, in service to that underlying question:  Can you believe the things you're told? Actually, no—you cannot!

We refer to a thrilling claim we've been seeing all over blue tribe "cable news" programs. Eventually, we'll show you the way Mika Brzezinski stated the claim on today's Morning Joe. But in its essence, the thrilling claim goes like this:

Trump was lying all along when he said he was being audited!

Mika exulted in that claim as Morning Joe started this morning. (Joe himself was absent.)  Unless we're mistaken, even a sane, sober figure like David Ignatius joined her in making that claim.

The claim is thrilling for blue tribe members, but as far as we know, it's just wrong. We're prepared to learn otherwise as the tribal warfare resumes and continues—but in this age of partisan warfare, the facts rarely come into view.

Why do we say that, as far as we know, that thrilling claim is wrong? Didn't we learn, just last night, that the IRS failed to perform its routine, annual audit of Trump during his years in the White House?

We did learn a version of that claim—and you'll be hearing a great deal about it as the warfare rolls on. Here's the way the New York Times reports that fact on today's front page, dual headline included:


The Internal Revenue Service failed to audit former President Donald J. Trump’s tax filings during his first two years in office despite a program that makes the auditing of sitting presidents mandatory, a House committee revealed on Tuesday after an extraordinary vote to make public six years of his tax returns.

Mr. Trump filed returns in 2017 for the two previous tax years, but the I.R.S. began auditing those filings only in 2019—the first on the same day in April the Ways and Means Committee requested access to his taxes and any associated audits, a report by the panel said. The I.R.S. has yet to complete those audits, it said, and the agency started auditing his filings covering his income while president only after he left office.

On its face, that report would seem to suggest inappropriate conduct by the IRS. But that report involves the question of whether Trump's tax returns were audited for the years he was in office. 

It doesn't mean that he wasn't being audited when he first ran for the White House. It doesn't mean that Trump was lying about being audited all along.

Mika was exulting this morning as she made her embellished claim. Warning! In our appraisal, almost everything you currently hear on blue cable is being embellished or manipulated in some tribally pleasing way.

The same is true on Fox, of course—but it's also true Over Here. 

As the week continues, we'll offer you a detailed case report concerning the offensive beliefs of those now famous "white medical students." For today, let's get clear on the basic question concerned Trump's claims about audits.

Was Donald J. Trump under audit when he ran for the White House in 2016? Persistently, he said that he was—but was his statement accurate?

As far as we know, it was! Here's the AP's current report regarding that repeated claim by Trump:

BOAK ET AL (12/21/22): The reports released Tuesday [yesterday] renewed scrutiny on one of the biggest questions that has surrounded Trump since he shifted from a reality television star to an unlikely presidential candidate: Why did he abandon the post-Watergate tradition of White House hopefuls releasing their tax returns? Trump and those around him have consistently said that IRS audits prevented him from doing so.

“I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit,” Trump said on April 10, 2019, before boarding the presidential helicopter.

There are no laws that would have barred Trump from voluntarily releasing his returns even if they were being audited. But when Trump spoke of being audited, it’s unclear whether he was referring to the mandatory process specifically aimed at presidents or prior reviews that are more typical for wealthy individuals.

The New York Times found that before he entered the White House, Trump was facing an IRS audit potentially tied to a $72.9 million tax refund arising from $700 million in losses he claimed in 2009. The documents released Tuesday indicate that Trump continued to collect tax benefits from those losses through 2018.

In that passage, the AP repeats what has long been noted—Candidate Trump could have released his tax returns back in 2016, even if he was under audit. 

That said, the AP report also says this:

It says the New York Times has reported that Trump actually was under audit at that point in time. The Times reported that in the behemoth front-page report it released in September 2020, a report which produced major interest when it appeared.

Was Candidate Trump under audit in 2016? Here's what the New York Times said:

BUETTNER AT AL (9/27/20): As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million. 


In fact, confidential records show that starting in 2010 he claimed, and received, an income tax refund totaling $72.9 million—all the federal income tax he had paid for 2005 through 2008, plus interest.

The legitimacy of that refund is at the center of the audit battle that he has long been waging, out of public view, with the I.R.S.

The records that The Times reviewed square with the way Mr. Trump has repeatedly cited, without explanation, an ongoing audit as grounds for refusing to release his tax returns. He alluded to it as recently as July on Fox News, when he told Sean Hannity, “They treat me horribly, the I.R.S., horribly.”

And while the records do not lay out all the details of the audit, they match his lawyers’ statement during the 2016 campaign that audits of his returns for 2009 and subsequent years remained open, and involved “transactions or activities that were also reported on returns for 2008 and earlier.”


An agreement was reached in late 2014, the documents indicate, but the audit resumed and grew to include Mr. Trump’s returns for 2010 through 2013. In the spring of 2016, with Mr. Trump closing in on the Republican nomination, the case was sent back to the committee. It has remained there, unresolved, with the statute of limitations repeatedly pushed forward.

Precisely why the case has stalled is not clear. But experts say it suggests that the gap between the sides remains wide. If negotiations were to deadlock, the case would move to federal court, where it could become a matter of public record.


The unresolved audit of his $72.9 million tax refund hangs over his head.

According to that high-profile report, Candidate Trump actually was under audit when he first sought the White House. According to that report, that audit was still being conducted—was still "hanging over his head"—when he sought re-election.

According to that Times report, Candidate Trump wasn't lying, in 2016, when he said he was under audit. We mention this because you're going to hear a lot of people—people you think you can trust—triumphantly telling you something pleasingly different.

We can't yet show you what Mika said; we'll be able to do so later. For now, here's what Lawrence said on The Last Word last night:

O'DONNELL (12/20/22): You will recall that Donald Trump began telling the lie during his first presidential campaign that he could not release his tax returns because they were being audited. As I said at the time, Donald Trump offered absolutely no proof that his tax returns were being audited...As of tonight, there is no evidence of Donald Trump's tax returns ever having been audited.

That's what Lawrence said at the start of last night's program. We refer you to the current AP report, and to the gigantic report by the New York Times. 

Did Donald J. Trump cheat on his taxes during all those long years? We have no idea! That said, our report today doesn't concern the conduct of Donald J. Trump, who we regard as a vastly disordered figure.

Our report today concerns the disordered conduct of the multimillionaire corporate stars you've been conditioned to think of as journalists, and as people you can trust. At the unfortunate point we've reached, almost nothing these people say hasn't been embellished or distorted in some way or other, and we think that you and yours are entitled to know that.

Meanwhile, what did those white medical students believe? We hear about their alleged beliefs on a rather frequent basis, but what did they actually believe?

What did those white medical students believe? We'll return to our case report in tomorrow's edition.

Tomorrow: A peculiar research design?

What the heck is time, part 2!


An eternal rumination: Last week, in this brief report, we said we'd offer some detail about a famous statement by Augustine.

The statement is almost two thousand years old. In a conversation with Ezra Klein for the New York Times, Dean Buonomano recalled it thusly:

BUONOMANO (12/13/22): So all animals exist in time, of course. And they have to anticipate and interact with other beings on other—their conspecifics and predators and prey. But humans are unique in our ability to represent time and to have a conceptualization of time, of long, temporal periods, to make cause-and-effect relationships between now and one year from now.

So while humans have the ability to conceptualize time, that’s sort of what gives us the ability to have this discussion of, What is the nature of time? What’s the difference between past, present, and future? So this ability that humans have to conceptualize time, I think, is what makes Homo sapiens sapien. It’s what makes us wise.

But at the same time, we’re not very good at it. We know what we mean by time, but it’s something we’re still struggling to understand. There’s the famous quote by Saint Augustine, which is translated various ways. But the gist of it is, if you don’t ask me what time is, I know what it is. If you ask me what it is, I do not know.

So we struggle to define time. And so that’s what I mean, that the brain didn’t evolve to understand not only time, the nature of time, but a lot of things, including the fundamental nature of the universe.

Buonomano is a professor of neurobiology and psychology at UCLA. Klein is on the very bright end among still youngish American journalists.

That said, their discussion of, let's say, "the nature of time" may seem to make little sense. We're going to blame that on the philosophers—on the academics who walked away from the later Wittgenstein's work.

To be honest, the later Wittgenstein was highly inarticulate. He simply wasn't very good at explaining what he was talking about in his various rambling discussions. 

In part for that reason, the professional philosophical establishment has tended to walk away from his work, even as they sometimes name him the most important philosopher of the 20th century. In this piece for the New York Times, Professor Horwich offered an unflattering portrait of his academic colleagues—an unflattering account of the reason why they decided to ditch the later Wittgenstein's work.

With the holidays drawing on, we'd still like to address the question of Augustine's famous presentation, which we'll paraphrase thusly:

What is time? If no one asks me, I know. If someone asks me, I don't.

People still like to monkey around with that rumination, balking at the chance to answer the eternal question: What the heck is time? 

As happenstance has it, Wikipedia is able to offer an answer to that question. Its answer starts like this, then continues slowly from there:

"Time is the continued sequence of existence and events that occurs in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future."

So Wikipedia somewhat clumsily has it! Possibly by way of contrast, Buonomano may almost seem to be puzzling over these questions:

"What is the nature of time? What’s the difference between past, present, and future?"

What’s the difference between past, present, and future? Like everyone else, we can answer that one:

When we talk about the past, we're talking about events which have already happened. 

When we talk about the present, we're talking about events which are happening now, more or less as we speak. When we talk about the future, we're talking about events which haven't happened yetevents which may yet happen.

In the most obvious sense, that's the difference between the past, the present and the future. On its face, that doesn't seem especially hard. 

In fairness, that may not be what Buonomano means. But it seems to us that what he and Klein mean is never enormously clear, as is routinely the case with these "philosophical" discussions.

Buonomano is a ranking neuroscientist. By any conventional measure, Klein is very smart.

It's also true that the logicians have long since walked off their posts, with discernible results. 

The later Wittgenstein's jumbled work remains well worth discussing. We may return to this task, and to the conversation between Buonomano and Klein, as the days crawl by.

[Offered so we won't have to discuss this morning's Morning Joe.]

CASE STUDY: In one particular blue belief!


For the historical record: Near the end of the first Covid year, a certain demographic problem seemed to be developing.

An elevated degree of "vaccine hesitancy" was being recorded among black Americans. At the Washington Post, Michele Norris offered some data concerning this unfortunate state of affairs.

(Norris: "A Pew study from mid-November found that only 42 percent of Black adults said they would get the vaccine. Other studies put the figure even lower. This is compared with 61 percent of Whites, 63 percent of Hispanics and 83 percent of (English-speaking) Asian Americans who said they would take the vaccine.")

Sensibly, Norris regarded this as a dangerous problem. At the start of her column, she also said, headline included, that this state of affairs made a lamentable type of sense:

Black people are justifiably wary of a vaccine. Their trust must be earned.

Trust is earned. We all know that. But if a national vaccine campaign is to succeed, we must quickly figure out how to earn the confidence and cooperation of African Americans who are justifiably wary of a coronavirus vaccine.

The world is at war with covid-19, but a successful distribution of a vaccine in the United States will be won and lost on a battlefield with a long history of medical racism. Government-approved medical experiments from the past have undermined Black America’s trust in this moment.

“Vaccine hesitancy” from Black Americans is different from an “anti-vaxxer” stance. It’s not that Black Americans don’t believe in vaccines. They don’t trust a public health system that has in too many cases engaged in grievous harm by experimenting on Black bodies without consent or ignoring the specific needs of Black people.

We wouldn't necessarily disagree with any of that. We would say that Norris was possibly being a bit selective, even in her choice of language, as she constructed her portrait of the developing problem.

We won't focus on that possibility today. Today, we're going to focus on a specific factual claim Norris made as she explained why so many black Americans were exhibiting vaccine resistance.

Norris recalled some of the historical medical racism which, she said, explained the justifiable reluctance of black Americans. Nor was this simply a matter of history. At one point, she offered this:

NORRIS (12/9/20): We are not just tussling with historical wrongs. A recent study of White medical students found that half believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain and were more likely to prescribe inadequate medical treatment as a result.

We'll admit it! When we read Norris' column, we wondered if the highlighted statement was, in fact, actually accurate.

Was it true? Was it true that, in a recent study, half of white medical students said they "believed that Black patients had a higher tolerance for pain?"  Was that an accurate statement?

Several questions came to mind as we pondered Norris' statement. We wondered why a study would have surveyed white medical students rather than white physicians. But we also wondered if that statement was factually accurate—was true.

We proceeded to take a look at the study in question. You can review it here.

Citizens, can we talk? Even today, that particular study has the feel of a slight academic scam—or at least, it has that feel to us. 

We'll assume it wasn't a deliberate scam, if it was anything like an actual scam at all. But for today, we'll restrict ourselves to the widespread influence that study has had, at least within our own blue tribe.

Over the course of the past two years, we've seen some version of Norris' claim repeated on several occasions. These White Medical Students Today, our tribunes routinely declare.

Most recently, we saw a version of Norris' claim in a column by Damon Young. Young is one of the roughly three thousand columnists currently employed by the Washington Post. Near the end of last month, he started a column as shown

YOUNG (11/21/22): Race is a social construct with an arbitrary and elastic hierarchy. The only static element is that people deemed “Black” exist at the bottom. American University’s Antiracist Praxis subject guide defines anti-Blackness as “specific forms of racism contingent upon or cast through the denigration, disenfranchisement, and disavowal of people racialized as Black.” And anti-Blackness is atmospheric—felt everywhere, but usually only seen if you know what you’re looking for.

It’s not just a word. Not just another unnecessarily complex form of academese. It’s tangible. Material. Tactile. It’s the belief, for instance, from actual medical professionals today, that Black people have higher tolerances for pain than White people do. Imagine how that fallacy dictates treatment and medication and aftercare and insurance premiums. And then imagine all the societal ripples—the maternal mortality rates, the life expectancy disparities, the mis- and missed diagnoses, the distrust in medicine—stemming from that one misbelief. 

We agree with Young about the widespread, atmospheric existence of "anti-Blackness," and about the vast harm this cultural construct can cause. But there was that familiar statement again, sourced, by virtue of a link, to that same recent study.

In Young's treatment, those "white medical students" were now described as "actual medical professionals." But the basic claim was the same, and Young asked readers to "imagine" how much harm can "stem from that one misbelief."

At that time, we went back and looked at that recent study again. We came away with the same impression of that widely cited research.

Then, as the current year drew to an end, we saw a certain widely praised book on several "Best Books" lists. The book was written by Linda Villarosa, a highly regarded author and journalist. As we noted last Saturday, the book in question is this:

Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation

We couldn't help wondering if a version of the claim in question appears in this highly praised book. Yes, it does, on page 40—and a few years ago, Villarosa had offered this version of the claim in a lengthy report for the New York Times Magazine:

VILLAROSA (4/11/18): In 2016, a study by researchers at the University of Virginia examined why African-American patients receive inadequate treatment for pain not only compared with white patients but also relative to World Health Organization guidelines. The study found that white medical students and residents often believed incorrect and sometimes “fantastical” biological fallacies about racial differences in patients. For example, many thought, falsely, that blacks have less-sensitive nerve endings than whites, that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly and that black skin is thicker than white. For these assumptions, researchers blamed not individual prejudice but deeply ingrained unconscious stereotypes about people of color, as well as physicians’ difficulty in empathizing with patients whose experiences differ from their own. 

In Villarosa's rendering, "many" of the "white medical students and residents" who took part in that study falsely believed that blacks have less-sensitive nerve endings than whites. Villarosa listed two other false beliefs that "many" of these research subjects held.

"Many" isn't the same as "half." But when we looked again at that UVa study, it didn't seem clear to us that any of the white medical students and residents had actually said that they believed the principal statement in question. 

The vast majority of the students and fourth-year residents had said that they didn't believe the statements in question. It still isn't clear to us that any of them had actually said that they did!

In short, the study still seems shaky to us. But its conclusions, stated in rather fuzzy form, have traveled far and wide.

Villarosa is very highly regarded, and so is her new book. We aren't able to evaluate the vast sweep of her findings—and we agree with Young about the massive harm which is caused by the atmospheric anti-Blackness which lingers on as a malevolent part of the brutal racial history of our nation and our world.

We agree with Young about that. We further assume that there's a great deal of merit to Villarosa's widely praised book.

That said, the statement in question might lend itself to a bit of a tiny case study. If we conducted such a cast study, our question would be this:

During this era of Donald J. Trump, the red tribe has often surrendered itself to manifestly crazy belief. Is it possible that we Over Here in our own blue tribe are inclined to put our thumbs on the scale, even if only a tiny tad, as we give voice, on the rare occasion, to our own tribal beliefs?

We'll conduct that case study this week. We offer this for the sake of the historical record, though several despondent anthropologists have told us that none of us humans actually care about any such construct as that.

It has been our experience that we in our highly self-impressed blue tribe have our thumbs on the scales a great deal of the time. The treatment of this study's claims strikes us as one such example.

We'll conduct a case study of those claims this week. According to anthropological experts, your lizard is going to scream and yell and loudly insist that what we're saying is thoroughly wrong, oh so wrong.

Tomorrow: A slightly odd research design?

So many news topics, so little time!


The (online) Washington Post: So many news topics, so little time! Below, you see the headlines on the four (4) news reports which currently top the endless front page of the (online) Washington Post:

Jan. 6 committee refers Trump to Justice Department for prosecution

How Trump jettisoned restraints at Mar-a-Lago and prompted legal peril

Musk’s Twitter poll results say he should step down as head of social network, a move he pledged to follow

How common is it for dogs to have your name? And how human is your dog’s name? Find out!

At present, those are the top four news reports at the online Washington Post! 

Meanwhile, no! That fourth headline actually isn't a joke! The report it tops comes to us as an "analysis" piece from the paper's "Department of Data." 

Here's the way the report is capsuled at the top of the (online) front page of this sinking (online) ship:

Department of Data / Analysis 
How common is it for dogs to have your name? And how human is your dog’s name? Find out!
Do you have a name that is common for dogs? See what the data says. 
By Alyssa Fowers and Chris Alcantara

To read the report, or to add to the data, you can just click here.

"If you meet a Kevin, he’s probably a human," the two reporters quickly report. Or as the poet once thoughtfully claimed:

"Round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

STARTING TOMORROW: Belief and beliefs!


Belief in our own tribe's assertions: The front page of today's New York Times features two poles of an ongoing cultural dislocation.

Over There, within the red tribe, a newly elected congressman doesn't seem to be the person he says he is. 

Over Here, within our blue tribe, a cultural revolution is being played out, concerning "NASA’s decision to name its deep-space telescope after James E. Webb."

("Say you want a revolution," the Beatles once thoughtfully said.)

Over There, within the red tribe, The Crazy has routinely run wild in this, The Age of Trump. Over Here, within our blue tribe, the New York Times' Michelle Goldberg alleges a different type of problem:

She says that, within our blue tribe, a certain type of "fever" is finally starting to break. She describes it as a "self-sabotaging impulse," an impulse which has sometimes "paralyzed progressive outfits."

In our assessment, Goldberg hails from the slightly more than left-of-center branch of the "center left." Her column was the featured essay in yesterday's Sunday Review—and the headline on it said this: 

The Left’s Fever Is Breaking

Say what? Has there been some sort of a fever somewhere on the left? 

That, of course, is a matter of judgment, but Goldberg thinks the answer is yes. Early on, she introduces her lead witness:

GOLDBERG (12/18/22): That’s why the decision by Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the progressive Working Families Party, to speak out about the left’s self-sabotaging impulse is so significant. Mitchell, who has roots in the Black Lives Matter movement, has a great deal of credibility; he can’t be dismissed as a dinosaur threatened by identity politics. But as the head of an organization with a very practical devotion to building electoral power, he has a sharp critique of the way some on the left deploy identity as a trump card. “Identity and position are misused to create a doom loop that can lead to unnecessary ruptures of our political vehicles and the shuttering of vital movement spaces,” he wrote last month in a 6,000-word examination of the fallacies and rhetorical traps plaguing activist culture.

Maurice Mitchell can't be dismissed as a tired old dinosaur, or as an angry white male. But, at least according to Goldberg, Mitchell believes that some on the left have been in the grip of a "self-sabotaging impulse." 

In Goldberg's rendering, Mitchell ties this impulse to "the way some on the left deploy identity as a trump card" (presumably, no pun intended).

We tend to agree that "some on the left" have been inclined to display an unhelpful impulse of that general type.  

We've tended to describe that tribal impulse as "the demographication of everything." In Goldberg's assessment, this impulse has been a recurrent feature on the left for a very long time:

GOLDBERG: Mitchell’s piece systematically lays out some of the assertions and assumptions that have paralyzed progressive outfits. Among them are maximalism, or “considering anything less than the most idealistic position” a betrayal; a refusal to distinguish between discomfort and oppression; and reflexive hostility to hierarchy. He criticizes the insistence “that change on an interpersonal or organizational level must occur before it is sought or practiced on a larger scale,” an approach that keeps activists turned inward, along with the idea that progressive organizations should be places of therapeutic healing.

All the problems Mitchell elucidates have been endemic to the left for a long time. Destructive left-wing purity spirals are at least as old as the French Revolution. Jo Freeman’s classic essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” about how resistance to formal leadership in second-wave feminism led to passive-aggressive power struggles, has remained relevant since it was published in the early 1970s. It’s not surprising that such counterproductive tendencies became particularly acute during the pandemic, when people were terrified, isolated and, crucially, very online. 

In Goldberg's assessment, "destructive left-wing purity spirals" date back a long, long time.  In Mitchell's assessment, the rise of at least one new medium hasn't exactly helped:

GOLDBERG: “On balance, I think social media has been bad for democracy,” Mitchell told me. It’s a striking statement, given the organizing work he did in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., where social media played a major role in galvanizing protest. But as Mitchell wrote in his essay, social media platforms reward shallow polemics, “self-aggrandizement, competition and conflict.” These platforms can give power to the powerless, but they also bestow it on the most disruptive and self-interested people in any group...The gamification of discourse through likes and retweets, he said, “flies in the face of building solidarity, of being serious about difference, of engaging in meaningful debate and struggle around complex ideas.”

According to Mitchell, the rise of social media hasn't exactly helped. Meanwhile, a certain question popped into our heads as we read that passage:

"Meaningful debate around complex ideas?" Who ever heard of behavior like that, going way, way back?

According to major anthropologists, Goldberg and Mitchell are simply describing one of the sins flesh is heir to—one of the imperfect ways the human brain is wired. We tend to agree that these impulses have been on display in our own blue tribe, even as many people within the red tribe have been voicing belief in The Crazy.

While The Others have fallen in line with The Crazy, what's been happening Over Here? Is it possible that we blue tribe members keep falling in line with false beliefs which emerge from something resembling a "fever dream" within our own imperfect tribe?

As tribal warfare has broken out, our own blue tribe has increasingly organized its tribal identity around issues of gender and race. Given the understandable passions involved in these topics, should we believe the various things we're told by the highest authorities within our own blue tribe?

We'll examine that question all this week. In Saturday's award-winning report, we cited one particular recurrent claim, a claim we'll discuss in detail.

As with a million other such claims, we blue tribe members may be strongly inclined to believe that particular claim. But is that pleasing claim accurate? Should we believe that claim?

Should blue tribe members automatically believe the things we're told by our tribe's highest-ranking academics and journalists? Or is it possible that, even as The Crazy invades The Others, we may perhaps be inclined to tend toward inaccurate "true belief" too?

Tomorrow: What Michele Norris said