BRING US TOGETHER: The semantic mess we rode in on is back!


Also, the state of New York's misconduct: According to major anthropologists, it's very, very, very hard to "bring us [the people] together."

According to those same top experts, we humans are strongly inclined to divide into groups at times like these, then to start dreaming of war.

Experts say that we the humans are then inclined to start attacking the Others. Beyond that, we the humans just aren't super-sharp! 

According to these disconsolate experts, we the humans never were, at least on balance, "the rational animal" at all! 

As a species, our rational capacity is limited! You can come to appreciate this finding by listening to C-Span callers, who get on the phone to Washington Journal and state their views each morning.

Then too, consider what we found on the front page of this morning's New York Times.

For starters, we found this headline atop the featured report in today's National section. There it is, all over again—the semantic mess we rode in on:

Don’t Call It a ‘Cut’: G.O.P. Tries to Rebrand Its Plan to Reduce Spending

Good lord! There's that demand all over again: Do not call it a "cut!"

Back in the day, this semantic dispute lay at the heart of an endless fight over Newt Gingrich's Medicare proposal. 

Out of nowhere, Gingrich had become Speaker of the House is January 1995. He proposed a plan for Medicare that either did, or perhaps did not, involve any actual "cuts."

For perhaps a year, the mainstream press corps tried to struggle it out. Lucky for us, neither MSNBC, nor the Fox News Channel, were in existence when this folderol got its start. 

(MSNBC went on the air in July 2016. Fox News launched three months later.)

That said, the battle went on and on and on, night after night on Crossfire. Here's the way the imponderable dispute was relentlessly ed:

Was Gingrich proposing cuts to the Medicare program? Or was he simply reducing the rate at which the program would grow?

This was a sematic fight, pure, plain and simple. The two sides agreed on every factual point. They disagreed only on the way those facts should be described.

That said, solving this riddle was well beyond the skill level of the mainstream American press corps. After this site came into being, we untangled this non-dispute dispute in posts of three different lengths, with Paul Krugman linking to our explanation of this folderol at one point.

That said, matters like these take us beyond the basic skill levels of the mainstream press. Unfortunately, virtually every other type of political dispute exists in that neverland too.

As a species, we simply aren't sharp enough to untangle our basic disputes, or at least so the experts insist. Just consider the second headline which appears in today's National section:

The College Board Will Change Its A.P. African American Studies Course

In this morning's New York Times, those two reports share page A11, the first page in the National section.

At any rate, the College Board is going to change its new course again! Here's the way the New York Times report starts:

GOLDSTEIN AND SAUL (4/26/23): The College Board said on Monday that it would revise its Advanced Placement African American studies course, less than three months after releasing it to a barrage of criticism from scholars, who accused the board of omitting key concepts and bending to political pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had said he would not approve the curriculum for use in Florida.

While written in couched terms, the College Board’s statement appeared to acknowledge that in its quest to offer the course to as many students as possible—including those in conservative states—it watered down key concepts. 


The College Board, which relies on state participation to administer its courses and tests, had denied that politics had anything to do with its changes to the curriculum. But over the course of last year, the board repeatedly discussed the content of the class with Florida officials, who objected to specific ideas that were later removed or de-emphasized.

The Board is going to change its course again. Having bowed to demands from Ron DeSantis, they're now responding to the views of scholars!

The Board will be changing its changes! For the record, we're not saying that they should or they shouldn't do that. As with almost everything else, there's no perfect, ultimate way to teach this (very important) material.

There's no such thing as a perfect curriculum! That said, we were intrigued by highlighted statement shown below, and so we clicked a link:

GOLDSTEIN AND SAUL: Some experts are wary. Cheryl Harris, a legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a leading thinker in the field of critical race theory, has helped organize the May 3 protest. In an interview on Monday, she said she hoped the College Board had learned that it could not appease a political movement that, in her words, was seeking to “censor and suppress” ideas.

An analysis last year by the education publication Chalkbeat found that 36 states had moved toward restricting education on race.

Professor Harris argued that scholars whose ideas had been removed from the Advanced Placement course should be included in the process to revise the curriculum, to re-establish trust within the discipline and “bring some degree of transparency” to the development process.

At long last, the College Board will be listening to experts, scholars and leading thinkers! That said, we were intrigued by the claim about those 36 states:

Is it true? As of last year, had 36 states "moved toward restricting education on race?"

The language there was perhaps a bit fuzzy. As scholars of conceptual chaos, it's the kind of language we like!

Skillfully, we clicked the link to last year's Chalkbeat analysis. It seemed to us that Chalkbeat didn't quite exactly say what the Times report said it said. 

More strikingly, we were surprised to see that the state of New York was listed as one of the states which had (according to the Times language) "moved toward restricting education on race." Given that the state of New York is deep blue, we were surprised to see that.

Clicking two more times, we were taken to the place where the rubber met the road. In what way had the state of New York moved toward restricting education on race?

Tomorrow, we'll show you what we found through our additional clicks away from the Chalkbeat site. But at times like these, we humans may tend to split into tribes, and we may start putting our thumbs on the scales as we make our declarations.

Just last week, Bill Clinton said we should still try to talk to the Others across the great divide. Because we still believe in a place called Hope, we continue to agree with that admittedly weird idea.

Meanwhile, is Kevin McCarthy proposing "cuts?" Dear readers, listen up:

Almost thirty years later, that's a form of the semantic mess this particular site rode in on!

Tomorrow: "And the trees grow high in New York State / They shine like gold in autumn..."


  1. It is one thing if Somerby wants to criticize semantic nitpicks in the press, but he has no basis for generalizing occasional quibbles to either the red tribe or the blue tribe, much less all of humanity. We are far from all stupid, hopeless, irrational, the despair of disconsolate experts.

    Perhaps it makes Somerby feel superior to everyone else, to be the one identifying the mistakes of others, but no one thinks Newt Gingrich mischaracterized his cuts to medicare out of stupidity, any more than the Republicans have this time around. This is politically motivated language intended to fool voters, not a mistake and not an irrational bumble.

    And this political language has nothing to do with whether or not the AP decided to go back to presenting content recommended by scholars instead of trying to please conservative politicians with its African American Studies course. They should have stuck to their plan in the first place and not allowed themselves to be swayed by conservative complaints, but even Fox News caved to the ideologues.

    A rational person would say that it is a good thing that the AP has returned to having experts design its courses, not know-nothing political operatives masquerading as parents. Not Somerby.

    Because Somerby has not presented a full argument here today, but has teased the part about NY restricting educational content, we cannot really address any of Somerby's argument, because it is incomplete. He seems to want to equate Gingrich with the AP with 39 states, but we don't know what NY did, except that Somerby thinks it is being presented inaccurately. So who knows what Somerby is going on about today?

    1. This response is not a fair or accurate evaluation of Somerby's argument. It contains several logical and reasoning errors, and fails to engage with the substance of his critique.

      We would be glad to furnish you with a detailed synopsis of your errors.

    2. I disagree. I also doubt you personally are capable of pulling quotes from Somerby's essay to support your statement, without misreading what I have written. This is tiresome and unless you have some opinion of your own to state in a comment, you are just taking up space and annoying other people (not just me).

    3. 10:59 makes no convincing counter the arguments of 10:25. but he is probably the same guy hawking this prissy nonsense in the comment section every day.
      Bob certainly, in broad terms, points out a legitimate problem in our news reporting: the lack of clarity with which we have issues provided before us. Doing this effectively, however, in a complicated world is almost certainly not as easy as Bob suggests, and pointing way back to an example from decades ago (as if he needed to go so far back) probably only confuses things further.
      Adults of good intention can understand that, say, claiming the Christmas Holiday is being outlawed in the US is absurd nonsense, clearly not true no matter how stupidly Republicans push this absurdity. Other issues are more complicated. Bob insists confusion in these areas means people are just to dumb to hack it (unlike him, of course.).

    4. Puny Human:

      You seem to be disregarding the author's argument by stating that he has no basis for generalizing occasional quibbles to either the red tribe or the blue tribe. Your statement does not address the author's actual argument.

      You then argue that the political language used to mischaracterize cuts to Medicare is not a mistake, but rather politically motivated language intended to fool voters. However, the author is not disputing the motivation behind the language, but rather the fact that it is inaccurate and misleading. Your argument misses the point entirely.

      You state that the AP's decision to have experts design its courses is a good thing and criticize the author for not acknowledging this. However, the author does not dispute this fact and, in fact, supports it. Your argument is therefore irrelevant to the author's point.

      You criticize the author for not presenting a full argument regarding New York's restriction on educational content, but fail to acknowledge that this is not the main point of the article. The author is discussing broader issues related to accuracy in news reporting and education. Your criticism is therefore not relevant to the author's argument.

      I urge you to consider carefully the author's arguments and address them directly, rather than making irrelevant or dismissive points.

    5. 11:44

      Your response contains some personal attacks and language that is not conducive to a productive discussion. Additionally, the response contains several assumptions and accusations about the commenter’s intentions without clear evidence to support them. It could be improved by focusing on the evidence and avoiding personal attacks or assumptions about the commenter’s intentions.

    6. Puny Human:

      My comment does not contain personal attacks. It is offering a critical evaluation of the arguments presented by the person being addressed, and while the tone may be critical or dismissive, the language used is not directed towards the person but rather towards their arguments. The writer is urging the person to engage more directly with the author's arguments, rather than making points that are either irrelevant or miss the author's actual argument.

    7. @11:44 continues to mistake the purpose of comments, which is to address points of agreement and disagreement with the original essay and to express the commenter's own opinions. The @11:44 analysis expects counter-arguments as if a formal debate were in progress, when commenters frequently only address things that strike their fancy, evoke memories or are consistent or inconsistent with their own experience, lead to new ideas or interesting exploration, contradict known facts or seem discrepant with earlier stated opinions of the author, etc. In that sense, comments are more like a conversation between two interested people without the structure @11:44 keeps seeking to impose with its list of fallacies. Introducing logical reasoning and referring to fallacies is inappropriate in casual conversation and would violate many of the principles of linguistic pragmatics (based on the study of how people actually communicate).

      See The Handbook of Pragmatics, Horn & Ward (2006).

    8. "Puny Human:

      My comment does not contain personal attacks."

    9. 12:43 It is true that you do have the right to make illogical and inaccurate statements.

    10. 12:27

      “Puny Human” is a personal attack, so far you have already used it two times today alone. Psychologists say the kind of personal attacks you are engaging in indicates a personality disorder in part borne from insecurity and a feeling of inferiority. You may indeed be inferior, thus justifying the insecurity, we simply do not know for sure, but your comments do tend to demonstrate that it might be a legitimate issue, according to experts. According to Somerby, anything is possible, so this must be considered.

      Somerby commits a generalization fallacy while also committing a unique appeal to authority fallacy: he falsely attributes these generalizations to anthropologists (anthropologists say the opposite) and then applies specific traits to all humans, such as an inability to compromise, an inclination to divide and start wars, an inability to be rational. These no doubt apply to some humans, but not all humans, and anthropologists suggests most humans naturally behave contrary to this. The commenter directly and accurately criticizes Somerby, your claim to otherwise is false and misses the point.

      Somerby proudly proclaims his involvement in solving a riddle of whether it was a Medicare cut or not; however, Somerby fails to mention that Al Franken had already solved the riddle in his best selling book, which Somerby merely copied. In copying Franken, Somerby failed to note the most pertinent aspect of the issue, being that Republicans were falsely claiming they weren’t proposing a cut in order to mislead the public, this is something both Franken and the commenter addressed, but is pointedly ignored by Somerby. You fail to understand the point being made, therefore your argument is irrelevant.

      You claim that Somerby is not disputing that it is a good thing that AP have experts design their courses; however, a careful reading shows that Somerby repeated uses exclamatory grammar and punctuation that indicate an exasperation with the AP course of action, using exclamation marks, italics, repeating the word “change”, repeating the word “again”. Furthermore after Somerby indicates a partisan stance, he then risibly claims that he neither supports it nor does not support it. Your criticisms of the commenter are inaccurate and irrelevant.

      You criticize the commenter for not acknowledging Somerby’s broader point, however, this fails to acknowledge that the commenter is addressing the broader point by criticizing the individual points. This is the very same method you use to attack the commenter, so your complaint is not valid nor relevant.

      I urge you to consider that your attacks on commenters are specious and serve only to stifle productive discourse.

    11. 1:16

      Your response contains several glaring logical and reasoning errors.

      We would be glad to furnish you with a detailed, point by point synopsis if you would like.

    12. In the Picard series finale, even Data becomes fully human. So there is hope for obnoxious bots, but they have to want to change.

    13. Star Trek is silly.

  2. Is it fair to expect consistency between the way the NY Times reported Gingrich's cuts a long time ago, and the way the NY Times is presented today's proposed budget cuts? Is the Times supposed to look back and make sure it is doing things the same way over time, not just getting the facts straight on today's cuts?

    Is it really the NY Times distorting anything when it is the politicians themselves who are misrepresenting the nature of cuts? If the NY Times accurately represents what a politician said about his own proposal, is the NY Times supposed to critique that wording itself, as part of a news report? Or have they done their job accurately repeating what the politician said, so that readers can judge for themselves (something Somerby doesn't do here)?

    I think editorials belong on the opinion page. I don't want to see every reporter providing slant in the context of reporting what someone said. I can decide whether a cut is a cut or not, and if it needs further explaining, it is fine for Paul Krugman to do so, on the opinion page. And it doesn't matter to me whether it is 39 or 36 or 25 or 10 or 2 states regulating educational content. None of them should be doing it and I will fight against that in my own state, where I live and have standing to complain about it. But it would be nice if the NY Times reported on who is behind the nationwide attack on our schools, so that red voters can see what they are getting for their votes.

  3. "Meanwhile, is Kevin McCarthy proposing "cuts?" Dear readers, listen up:

    Almost thirty years later, that's a form of the semantic mess this particular site rode in on!"

    It sounds like Somerby is suggesting that the budget proposal does not include cuts, much less unacceptable ones. He seems to be implying that calling his proposal full of cuts is a matter of semantics, that Democrats are trying to pin cuts on McCarthy that he isn't making, using semantic word play. In fact, it sounds like Somerby is carrying water for McCarthy today, trying to argue that Democratic concerns are overblown. There is no doubt at all that McCarthy is proposing deep cuts, not disguised slow downs in growth of programs, as in Gingrich's case.

    Here is a White House OMB analysis of the cuts:

    Notice how Somerby leaves out that many Republicans are concerned about McCarthy's debt ceiling proposal; that he cannot get his own party to go along with his plan. This is partly because McCarthy did not include ancillary demands of extremist and Trump, such as defunding the FBI, decreasing taxes, but it did include eliminating the new IRS agents intended to improve tax collection.

    Here is what the White House says about the proposal:

    "[1] The legislation proposed by Congressional Republicans would set the FY2024 topline at $1.471 trillion, equal to the FY 2022 level. Under the assumption that funding for defense in FY 2024 will at least match the baseline level of $885 billion, non-defense funding would total $586 billion, which is 22 percent lower than the currently enacted level of $756 billion."

    Does Somerby really think this is not a cut? Does he think the defense budget will be cut instead? Or is this perhaps a justification for certain Republicans to cut the defense budget in order to undermine support for Ukraine and help Russia? Or maybe it is just the Republican tradition of cutting programs that help people while disavowing responsibility for doing so, as Gingrich tried to do.

    Somerby doesn't discuss this like a grown up. He hints and evades and pretends to talk about the NY Times while leaving the impression that Republicans aren't really cutting anything, when it is obvious that they are.

    1. FYI: This response contains some personal attacks and language that is not conducive to a productive discussion. Additionally, the response contains several assumptions and accusations about Somerby's intentions without clear evidence to support them. It could be improved by focusing on the evidence and avoiding personal attacks or assumptions about Somerby's intentions.

    2. The evidence of Somerby's intentions is provided by his essay. Behavior reveals intentions.

    3. While behavior can provide some insight into a person's intentions, it should be interpreted cautiously and in conjunction with other sources of information.

  4. You can see for yourself what the passage of the bill would mean:

    Moody Analytics is not a Democratic organization but an investor services business. Here is how it describes itself:

    "Moody's Analytics is a subsidiary of Moody's Corporation established in 2007 to focus on non-rating activities, separate from Moody's Investors Service. It provides economic research regarding risk, performance and financial modeling, as well as consulting, training and software services."

    The proposed bill is nothing like Gingrich's attempt to cut medicaid by limiting its rate of growth. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether the Republicans get their act together and pass it because Biden has said he will veto it.

    Another point that Somerby doesn't mention is that the Republicans are using the possibility of default on our national debt to coerce House members into accepting a bill full of other extreme Republican measures. Biden is holding firm against that, and that is to his credit. These are not semantic games but would have a major impact on the economy, pushing us into the recession we have so far avoided (according to Moody's).

    Somerby's attempts to confuse this issue are noted and unhelpful to those trying to figure out what is going on.

  5. The deficit is only important to people who refuse to look at revenue as part of the equation.

    1. As of April 19, tax revenue is down 35% according to Moody's. The Republicans are eliminating the expansion of the IRS intended to increase revenues. There are no tax increases included in the plan. How do you see revenues reducing the deficit if Republicans will not do anything to increase them?

    2. The Republicans will not do anything to increase revenues, because they don't really care about the deficit. No one does. It's all a cheap ploy to make people suffer for no good reason.
      Let me put it this way, if a nation attacked us tomorrow, would the people have to protect themselves because the government can't afford it?
      The money is always there to spend. It's the political will to do so we lack.

    3. You'd think the "economically anxious" Republican voters, who aren't just a shitpile of bigots (hat tip/ corporate-owned media), would hold McCarthy's feet to the fire for not raising corporate taxes to fight the deficit.

    4. They are holding his feet to the fire for not defunding the FBI.

    5. The debt and revenues are just marks on an accounting ledger. Reducing the debt just means there’s less money in the economy, which is fine for the wealthy but devastating for the working class and the poor.

    6. Look. McCarthy and his party control 1/2 of 1/3 of the Federal Government. Why shouldn't he be able to dictate terms of unconditional surrender?

    7. a tenuous control at that.

    8. McCarthy can propose terms, and Biden can reject them.

  6. "According to major anthropologists, it's very, very, very hard to "bring us [the people] together."

    This is not actually what anthropologists say. Further, in times of catastrophe, the tendency is for people to work together to address it.

    Why is that not happening now? We have politicians and Fox News deliberately stoking fear and driving people to hate the opposing party for political gain. We have partisan media deliberately spreading misinformation and disinformation to divide people.

    A small part of this effort is Somerby himself who: (1) tells us everyone is stupid, (2) tells us fake experts think so, (3) tells us nothing can be done about it because we are sliding into the sea, doomed to irrational stupidity, dumb dumb dumb, (4) refuses to talk about positive efforts and hopeful change, (5) lies about what is going on, including his own views, often by omission, (6) attacks sources of valid information, suggestions for improvement, (7) attacks women, black people, gay people, Democrats, liberals, left wing political candidates, left wing pundits, anyone saying anything hopeful, (8) and then he blames us.

    And why are we talking about Gingrich and semantics when there are children dying in Sudan?

  7. “Good lord! There's that demand all over again: Do not call it a "cut!"”

    Except, the current Times article clearly talks about Republican attempts to mislead the public. This was precisely Somerby’s complaint in that series of posts from 1996. But in that same series, he criticizes the press for parroting the Republican spin. Here, the Times isn’t doing that.

  8. Somerby says:

    "More strikingly, we were surprised to see that the state of New York was listed as one of the states which had (according to the Times language) "moved toward restricting education on race." Given that the state of New York is deep blue, we were surprised to see that."

    When you go to the Chalkbeat article, you find this wording:

    "The map you see here depicts the depth and breadth of these ongoing efforts to both restrict and expand how a core aspect of American life is taught in our classrooms. So far, at least 36 states have adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching about race and racism. "

    Both RESTRICT and EXPAND it says. When you look at the maps, you find that NY is shown in both, as attempting to restrict and also attempting to expand teaching about race and racism.

    Readers are invited to click on each state in the map to see what they have done to restrict or expand. Here is what it says about restricting in NY:

    "In August and December 2021, New York Republican lawmakers introduced bills that prevent public schools from providing instruction on structural racism, white guilt, and the elusiveness of meritocracy."

    A8579 and A8253 which prohibit teaching CRT or the 1619 Project were referred to the Education Committee.

    New York is a blue state and neither bill, introduced by Republicans, has emerged from committee or been passed. That doesn't stop Republicans from trying and it is correct to say that there were efforts to restrict teaching about race -- from Republicans.

    Somerby could have checked this himself and then he wouldn't have been so puzzled about it.

    1. Oof this is embarrassing for Somerby, appreciate your efforts.

  9. A song:

    Oh how I wonder, oh how I worry
    And I would dearly like to know
    Of all this wonder, of earthly plunder
    Will it leave us anything to show?

    If we could just, if we could just join hands
    Hey! That's all it takes, that's all it takes

    1. Straightforward, meaningful, and impactful, unlike the nonsense Somerby posts.

  10. The second amendment is evil.

  11. “Written in couched terms.” What are couched terms?

    1. to phrase or express in a specified manner. The comments were couched in strong terms.

      "While written in couched terms, the College Board’s statement appeared to acknowledge that in its quest to offer the course to as many students as possible—including those in conservative states—it watered down key concepts. "

      I would interpret that phrase to mean that the College Board didn't come right out and admit it, but it admitted that it did water down the curriculum to please conservative states boards.

    2. Comments can be couched (in strong terms.) Terms cannot be couched. The author had heard “couched” somewhere, didn’t quite understand it, and misused it.

      your friendly bot

    3. @6:58. gibberish

    4. @8:13 -- That "friendly bot" is right. Its statement is clear and convincing, not gibberish at all. The future of artificial intelligence it bright!

    5. Who said terms could be couched?

    6. Goldstein and Saul referred to “couched terms” in the NY Times report quoted by Somerby.

  12. "(MSNBC went on the air in July 2016. Fox News launched three months later.)"

    Er, you mean 1996. Wrong century even. Talk about a howler! xo