Pressley insists that the border's secure!


Ways to lose next year's election: Yesterday, we said we'd show you something that was said on that day's Morning Joe.

In our view, the remarks in question demonstrate something about the cluelessness of our blue tribe's high-end thought leaders. As of now, we'll plan to post those remarks next week. 

For today, we'll show you a different set of blue tribe remarks.

Full disclosure! We learned about these puzzling remarks by watching Fox & Friends! We refer to Rep. Ayanna Pressley's peculiar remarks in an interview on CNN. 

Rep. Pressley (D-Mass.) spoke with Jake Tapper this past Wednesday. Midway through the interview, a lengthy exchange started like this:

TAPPER (9/27/23): So Republicans' biggest criticism of the bipartisan Senate spending bill, this compromise that's being worked over on the other side of Capitol Hill, is that it does not contain additional funding for border security. Right now, the U.S. is facing a crisis at the border and this historic wave of Venezuelans migrants crossing into the U.S.

The U.S. cannot deport most of them, or any of them, because of the frosty diplomatic relations with Venezuela. More than 7.7 million people have fled, Venezuela. There's no sign this is slowing down. 

Do you agree that something needs to be done about our border, that it's just not sustainable?  

I mean, we see, you know, these governors—and I'm sure you disapprove the tactic. But they're sending migrants into places like Massachusetts, like New York, like California, and these cities are having trouble keeping up. The Republican governors say things like, "We're just giving you a taste of what we have to deal with."

So queried CNN's Tapper. He wanted to know if "something needs to be done about our border"—if the current state of affairs "is just not sustainable." 

That was a perfectly sensible question. Perhaps understandably, Tapper seemed to be puzzled by one part of Pressley's reply:

PRESSLEY (continuing directly): Well, I certainly disagree with any people, and certainly our most vulnerable, who are fleeing a great destabilization and violence and corruption, from being used as political pawns. No doubt about it, our border is secure. And we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, and we have to fix a broken system and we ought to—

At that point, Tapper interrupted. Watching the CNN videotape, we get the impression that he thought he may have misunderstood, or perhaps had misheard, what Pressley had said.

What did Tapper think he may have misheard? He now asked Pressley this:

TAPPER (continuing directly): You think it is secure? You think the border is secure? Or it is not secure?

Had she said that the border is secure? Explicitly, Tapper asked. Pressley's non-answer went like this:

PRESSLEY (continuing directly): I believe that we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and that there needs to be federal investment to support those migrant families, and I work with a number of the community-based organizations on the ground, and they need more support, they need more federal support. 

This is a humanitarian crisis, and it's the consequence of a number of long-standing broken policies that, you know, are very consequential for asylum seekers, TPS holders and DACA recipients writ large. But that is a conversation for another day.

As you can see, Rep. Pressley hadn't answered Tapper's question. So Tapper asked his question again, producing this exchange:

TAPPER (continuing directly): I don't disagree with this being a humanitarian crisis at all. But just to get some clarity on this—and sure, it's a conversation for another day. But do you think that the border is secure? I just—is that what you said?

PRESSLEY: Yes. The border is secure. And we're in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that has been created by a broken system. In the meantime, we need federal investment to support my constituents and those who call the MA-7 home writ large, which is why we need to prevent a government shutdown.

I want to center the humanity, the dignity, the safety and the needs of everyone, which is why we should not have a government shutdown. It will be deeply consequential. It will create a dire situation for families, many that are already struggling.

"Yes. The border is secure," Rep. Pressley now said. She had made her position clear, but Tapper still seemed to be puzzled:

TAPPER (continuing directly): But if you have millions of undocumented migrants coming into the country, how is the border secure?

PRESSLEY: Jake, this is not a new crisis. It does require more political will and commitment. It is a humanitarian crisis. We should treat it as such.

And, again, representing one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, and in fact, I chair the House Haiti Caucus. I represent the third largest Haitian diaspora in the country, and what I see on the ground is community-based organizations and municipalities who need federal support.

Once again, a non-answer. As the interview continued, Tapper kept asking Pressley to explain the basis on which she says that the southern border actually is secure.

Tapper kept asking his question; Pressley kept failing to give a clear answer. As you can see from the CNN transcript or from the tape, the lengthy exchange ended like this:

TAPPER: Okay. It sounds like in there you acknowledge that there are millions of people crossing the border illegally, which would mean that the border is not secure. But I mean, I don't disagree with any of the points that you made about these people are trying to seek better lives and they're escaping all sort of horrible things. But would you grant me the point that the border is not secure?

PRESSLEY: Jake, that is a conversation for another day. Right now, I'm squarely focused on preventing a government shutdown and (AUDIO GAP).

TAPPER: All right. Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, thanks so much.

As Homer reports at the end of The Iliad, "Such was the burial of Hector, breaker of horses."

We return to our earlier full disclosure:

We learned about this interview when we saw it excerpted on the gruesome "cable news" TV show, Fox & Friends. As we've noted in the past, Fox & Friends tends to be a braindead propaganda mill. But in the larger sweep of things, we'll suggest you consider this:

Fox viewers were shown what Pressley said. On our own blue tribe channel, the southern border barely exists.

For the most part, only two things exist on our (corporate, profit-seeking) blue tribe channel: Donald J. Trump and jail. Problematic topics like the border are made to disappear, even as they're aggressively stressed on Fox.

Our tribe keeps pretending that it doesn't exist! In our view, this seems like a good way to lose next year's election. 

We close with an anthropological question:

Are we blue folk really as sharp as we typically say we are?

Who the Joe Hill is Cornel West?


Unpaid campaign worker for Trump: On the Democratic Party side, something very unusual happened in Campaign 2000.

Only two candidates sought the party's nomination for president—and each was a major figure! When the Democratic debates began in October 1999, there were no vanity candidates cluttering the stage with their desperate need for attention and their need to waste lots of time.

By then, this was already an unusual state of affairs. By now, our campaigns are full of people who are running to get more famous.

Unfortunately, these vainglorious pieces of patter keep sending Republicans to the White House. Last night, on CNN, Phillippe Reines told Abby Phillip about it.

Cornel West's name was mentioned. Phillip has just interviewed this latest attention-starved hopeful, who's pretending to run for president on the Green Party line. In part, her subsequent conversation with Reines went like this:

PHILLIP (9/28/23): And Philippe Reines is back with me to respond. 

So Philippe, I want to start with the comments that [Professor West] made about President Biden and his union record. He said his heart is not in it. What do you say to that?

PHILLIPPE REINES, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It looked like his heart was in it, but I think you made the point that this is a step in a long series of things that Joe Biden has done over his career. 

I would understand what Dr. West was saying if Joe Biden parachuted in at a nowhere, had never done anything for American workers or for labor or for average Americans, or whatever you want to call it. But he's showing up after decades of doing that, and he will do it for the rest of his life. 


But more importantly, you know, Dr. West will not be president of the United States. He might prevent Joe Biden from being president of the United States, the same way that Ralph Nader prevented Al Gore, and the same way Jill Stein prevented Hillary Clinton, and no coincidence, Joe Biden did not face any kind of meaningful third-party challenge in 2020.

PHILLIP: I assume you think he needs to drop out. How soon do you think that would need to happen?

REINES: What he's doing is pointless. I mean, but you asked him ten different ways. He's not answering. It doesn't make a difference what I think. He's not going to drop out. And he's also whipping people up. They're not going to work for Biden. They're not going to donate to Biden. They're not going to get out the vote.

Now, if it's just people in Massachusetts, okay, that's not so bad. I feel pretty good about it. But tamping down enthusiasm or by attacking the nominee of our own party, no good comes from that. And I just can't believe that he would want Donald Trump to emerge from that, but he has to realize, as a student of history and for bearing witness, as he said, all these years to what happens, he has to know that he's walking a very dangerous path.

PHILLIP: We'll see if he does. Philippe, thank you for staying around.

REINES: No, thank you for having me.

We don't know Cornel West. Over the years, there have been things we've very much liked about him—but then, along comes this.

Stating the obvious, West is an attention-starved pseudo-academic who can't get a lot of attention based on the strength of his academic or political work. In recent years, a certain kind of attention-starved person has learned that pretending to run for president is one way to acquire a lot of eyeballs and clicks.

As Reines correctly noted, West is working hard to return Donald Trump to the White House. Our blue tribe is so pathetic, so hopelessly dumb, that we will almost surely sit back and politely allow him to do it. 

Where do these needy beings come from? Why do we tolerate this?

THE UNDEFEATED: Fox viewers hear about the trial!


We hear about Stop W.O.K.E.: Yesterday morning, it finally happened, during the 8 o'clock hour!

(All times will be Eastern.)

Dear God, it finally happened! Devoted viewers of Fox & Friends finally heard a fleeting reference to the judge's findings in the Donald J. Trump civil trial!

It's as we noted in yesterday's report. On Tuesday, a New York judge delivered a crushing verdict against Trump in a high-stakes civil trial. The judge's ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Letitia James, the state's Attorney General.

In blue tribe America, this ruling was treated as major news. As we noted yesterday, the news report in Wednesday morning's New York Times appeared atop the front page of print editions, beneath this triple headline:

James’s Win in New York May Wrest Control of Key Properties

For readers of the New York Times, this was a major news event. But for viewers of a certain "cable news" show, the event hadn't even happened!

As we noted yesterday, the judge's ruling wasn't mentioned, not even once, on Wednesday morning's Fox & Friends "cable news" program. 

Viewers of the three-hour program heard extensive discussions of Joe Biden's uncontrollable (and uncontrolled) dog. The program had opened with an extensive discussion of yet another alleged "near stumble" as Biden boarded Air Force One.

The friends burned away additional time with a braindead discussion of the big pop star in the luxury box at the NFL game. But for three solid hours on Wednesday morning, red tribe viewers didn't hear a single word about the judge's rulings in the Trump fraud trial.

It topped the front page of the New York Times. For people watching Fox & Friends, the rulings hadn't happened.

Yesterday morning, the dam finally broke! During yesterday's 8 o'clock hour, a fleeting reference was finally made to the judge's rulings.

The fleeting account was provided by Brian Kilmeade, one of the original friends on this long-running program. That said, this is the full extent of what red tribe viewers were told:

KILMEADE (9/28/23): Clearly, Chris Christie will not be [Trump's] running mate. But I'll add this:

When you see what happened with Trump in that civil trial yesterday [sic], when they decide that he wasn't truthful about his wealth, and they're going to go after him, and they try to take now all his buildings away? 

There's no banks that are complaining. There's no insurance companies that are complaining. There's no tenants that are complaining. 

But they're just saying, "Hey! We think you over— We think we overestimated your wealth, and Mar-a-Lago is not worth that much, it's actually worth $18 million." By a political operative who ran unopposed as a judge, and an attorney general who ran on the platform of convicting him? 

That's what gets people more than upset and actually, in my view, Lawrence [Jones], builds up the Trump support. 

They go, "You're not even giving me a chance to vote for my guy. You're trying to take his money now, let alone his freedom."

JONES: Yeah, Brian. You make such a great point...

In six hours of watching Fox & Friends over two successive mornings, that's the full extent of what red tribe viewers were told about Tuesday's judicial rulings.

(If you assume that we're being unfair, you can watch this full exchange by just clicking here.)

At the Times, the ruling generated a lengthy news report at the top of page A1. On Fox & Friends, it generated one resentful, fleeting summary over the course of two days and six broadcast hours.

If viewers blinked, they never heard about the Tuesday rulings at all! For most viewers of this red tribe show, this event has never occurred!

Question! Which news org displayed better news judgment about the judge's rulings? As always, that's a matter of judgment—but this is what we mean when we say that "we the people" now live in (at least) two different worlds.

Kilmeade has been a reliable propagandist for the past 25 years.  He gave a very limited account of what actually happened in that trial, and he plainly suggested that the whole thing was just the latest coup by agents of the Deep State.

That's what red tribe viewers were told about Tuesday's judicial rulings. Then again, we blue tribe viewers also keep getting told various things which may not exactly be accurate.

There are many examples. Returning to where we started this week, we keep getting told this about Florida's Stop WOKE Act: 

Instruction should be tailored so no student would feel guilt or “psychological distress” over past actions by members of the same race.

This past Sunday, we were told that for the ten millionth time. On this occasion, we were told that by a news reporter in the Washington Post. 

Simply put, that isn't what the famously infamous legislation actually says. But when Kevin Drum noted this obvious fact, angry commenters rose to complain about his (accurate) statement—and even about our own!

For background, see Tuesday's report. In this particular instance, the game is played this way:

Our tribe embellishes what the act actually says. We keep repeating our embellished account, over and over again.

In so doing, we take an imperfect situation and we make it much, much worse. When Kevin Drum notes that we're doing this, our angry tribals explode.

Our conduct is very dumb. But as the poet wrote, in a thoroughly different context:

"Yet this is [us]."

For more than a quarter century, Fox & Friends has been a clownish TV show. Quite often, our blue tribe's signature cable news shows are discernibly clownish too.

Especially at times of tribal war, Dumbness is a basic human trait—and it remains undefeated. Down through the annals of time, it has brought all prior civilizations down. 

Will our civilization, such as it is, be the next to fall? Indeed, is it possible that major top experts are actually right—that the fall has already occurred?

Tomorrow: Internet Archive willing, as heard on today's Morning Joe

Homelessness comes to the New York Times!


Blue tribe comes to its senses: Much of what is seen on Fox News is propaganda on the clown-car level.

On the other hand, some of what appears on Fox News deals with actual issues—with actual issues our own blue tribe has been trying to ignore. 

For that reason, we were glad to see this front-page headline in today's New York Times:

In Rare Alliance, Democrats and Republicans Seek Legal Power to Clear Homeless Camps

Gavin Newsom is one of the Democratic office-holders cited in Shawn Hubler's report. He has joined "more than 50 governments and organizations [who] asked the [Supreme Court] this month to overturn" some recent lower-court decisions which have made it impossible for western cities to address their homelessness problems:

HUBLER (9/28/23): “It’s just gone too far,” Mr. Newsom said in a Sacramento forum held by Politico this month, in which he vowed to seek clarity from the Supreme Court and recognized that he was asking for help from the same conservative jurists whom he had sharply rebuked for decisions on abortion and gun regulations.

What should California cities do about their homeless populations? We can't tell you that. We blues almost never see the question addressed on our favorite TV programs.

We can tell you this. On blue tribe cable, our tribunes seem to have only one topic they truly adore:

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

They talk and talk, and talk and talk, about sending Trump to jail. As they do, Fox News is talking about such major problems as homelessness and immigration policy.

Our stars seem to be concerned about little except Trump/Jail. This strikes us as an obvious way to lose next year's election.

On Fox & Friends, the clown show is endless—but the same can almost be said about Deadline: White House, where we talk about nothing but jail.

No Legal Minutia Left Behind! All too often, that's the prevailing rule of thumb for our tribe's highest-paid corporate stars. 

They serve us the comfort food we enjoy. As they do, the other tribe's highest-paid stars are often discussing such high-profile issues as homelessness and the border.

What should be done about such issues? Heads planted firmly in the sand, our top stars don't seem to care!

THE UNDEFEATED: The "friends" forget to mention the fraud!


Life in our two different worlds: Anthropological lessons are everywhere, but we're an impervious species.

This brings us to the deathless pop music hit, the mellifluous Two Different Worlds. We think of it as a Jerry Vale smash, but according to the leading authority on the topic, that impression seems to be wrong:

Two Different Worlds (1956 song)

The biggest U.S. hit version was recorded by Don Rondo. It reached number 19 on the Billboard chart and number 12 on the Cashbox chart [in 1956].


A recording by Jerry Vale in 1963, appeared on the original Columbia album, The Language of Love.

"We live in two different worlds!" So Don Rondo gloomily claimed, late in the summer of '56.

Rondo presented his anthropological finding in the guise of a romantic ballad. Today, we all can see what Rondo was secretly singing about. We can see that by reviewing the three hours of yesterday morning's Fox & Friends.

The friends appeared in impeccable raiment, and they were eager to serve. Atop the front page of the New York Times, this news report had already appeared, triple headline included:

James’s Win in New York May Wrest Control of Key Properties

A New York judge ruled on Tuesday that Donald J. Trump persistently committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets, and stripped the former president of control over some of his signature New York properties.

The surprising decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron is a major victory for Attorney General Letitia James in her lawsuit against Mr. Trump, effectively deciding that no trial was needed to determine that he had fraudulently secured favorable terms on loans and insurance deals.

Ms. James has argued that Mr. Trump inflated the value of his properties by as much as $2.2 billion and is seeking a penalty of about $250 million in a trial scheduled to begin as early as Monday.

Justice Engoron wrote that the annual financial statements that Mr. Trump submitted to banks and insurance companies “clearly contain fraudulent valuations that defendants used in business.”


Mr. Trump, for his part, noted that Justice Engoron was a Democrat and called him “deranged.”

In print editions, this report appeared atop the front page of the blue tribe's paper of record. But because we're living in two different worlds, this news event wasn't mentioned, not even once, during the three hours of the red tribe's Fox & Friends show.

And no, we aren't making that up! You can check this claim for yourself, all thanks to the Internet Archive.

To review the 6 o'clock hour of yesterday's broadcast, you can just click here. (You'll be exposed to transcript of the program's first hour, as well as to videotape.) You can search on such terms as "Trump" and "fraud" in search of some fleeting mention of the previous day's legal finding.

(All times will be Eastern Standard.)

We find no mention of the fraud trial during the 6 o'clock hour. Beyond that, we find no such mention during the program's 7 o'clock hour. To conduct a search of the 8 o'clock hour, you can just click this.

Three hours went by on yesterday's Fox & Friends program. We find no sign that the finding of fraud was ever mentioned, not even once.

Instead, it was as we told you yesterday. The friends began their show with a lengthy discussion of the claim that President Biden had almost slipped (had "nearly stumbled") as he left Air Force One.

The friends went on, then on and on, about that perceived "near-slip." They began their 7 o'clock hour with a lengthy discussion of the fact that the president's latest German shepherd has now apparently bitten or nipped eleven (11) different people on the White House grounds.

(By the way, who lets their dog do that?)

The friends began their 7 o'clock hour with the eleven documented bites or nips. From there, it was on to Taylor Swift and her newly documented affection for Travis Kelce's mother.

The friends went on and on, then on and on, about these particular topics. As best we can tell, the finding in the New York fraud trial was never mentioned, at any point, during the program's three hours.

Full disclosure! During this morning's 8 o'clock hour, we've now seen one of the friends mention Tuesday's judicial finding. Tomorrow (Internet Archive willing), we'll show you the words with which this latest act of derangement by a New York judge was dismissed on this morning's show.

That said, it's important to call attention to the anthropological finding involved in these basic facts. It's a finding which was first announced by Rondo, way back in 1956:

As Americans, we now live in (at least) two remarkably different worlds! The New York Times and other blue organs do amazingly little reporting on this deeply consequential fact. But a modern nation can't expect to function this way—can't expect to survive this arrangement.

A modern nation can't expect to survive this remarkable "journalistic" arrangement. If you doubt that, we offer our usual heartfelt advice:

Go ahead! Take a good look around!

Tomorrow: President Trump condemns General Milley! Also, our own tribe spins the Stop W.O.K.E Act

Major historian speaks: Good God, what spectacular writing, especially as performed:
In '65 tension was running high
At my high school.
There was a lot of fights
Between black and white
There was nothing you could do.
Two cars at a light on a Saturday night
In the back seat there was a gun.
Words were passed, a shotgun blast
Troubled times they had come
To my hometown...
Tragic mid-century national history. For the full lyrics, click here.

THE UNDEFEATED: At the White House, Commander does it again!


Fox & Friends exults: Dumbness can be bottled up. Dumbness can be held at bay, if only for a time.

That said, the unfortunate trait remains undefeated. Consider the latest "biting incident," as reported by NBC's Kelly O'Donnell:

O'DONNELL (9/26/23): President Joe Biden's dog Commander was involved in another biting incident this week, a Secret Service spokesman said.

Commander, a 2-year-old German shepherd, bit a Secret Service Uniformed Division police officer who was working at the White House on Monday night, the spokesman said, adding that the female officer was treated by the White House Medical Office.

The bite appears to be the 11th reported nipping incident involving Commander since October.


Commander's lengthy biting history was made public in July, when the conservative group Judicial Watch released records obtained through litigation that identified 10 biting incidents of varying severity from October to January.

As a courtesy, we've skipped the semi-embarrassing statement by Elizabeth Alexander, a spokesperson for first lady Jill Biden. 

That statement went like this: "As we’ve noted before, the White House can be a stressful environment for family pets, and the First Family continues to work on ways to help Commander handle the often unpredictable nature of the White House grounds."

We've skipped that embarrassing statement. "The President and First Lady are incredibly grateful to the Secret Service and Executive Residence staff for all they do to keep them, their family, and the country safe," the spokesperson also said.

The Secret Service keeps the country safe, but who guarantees the safety of them? Such philosophical questions have been widespread in the wake of this latest "reported nipping incident." 

Inevitably, we learned about this nipping incident from some of our cable news friends. We refer to the four co-hosts of Fox & Friends, who spent a large chunk of time this morning discussing this latest event.

Friends don't let friends watch Fox & Friends, an ancient proverb teaches. This morning, we learned of this latest dog-bite event as we skated between the offerings on two different "cable news" programs.

At any rate, our various friends on Fox & Friends discussed this event, at substantial length, at the start of the 7 o'clock hour. They then moved on to a brain-damaged discussion of Taylor Swift's latest desperate search for nationwide public attention.

So it went among the friends! Earlier, they'd opened their show with a detailed discussion of the latest event in which President Biden is said to have "nearly stumbled" as he left Air Force One.

So it went on Fox at the start of this morning's show! Over on Morning Joe, a different collection of cable news friends were discussing the fact that "a New York judge ruled on Tuesday that Donald J. Trump persistently committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets, and stripped the former president of control over some of his signature New York properties." 

It was the start of the 6 o'clock hour. While one group of friends was discussing that judicial finding, the other group was discussing the current president's "near-slip," along with a reportedly elaborate new plan to keep him from falling in public again.

More than twenty years ago, we became the first observer to say that Fox & Friends was the dumbest TV news program of all time. 

Little has changed since then. Even so, the dumbness to which we referred back then is widely distributed today—and it's destined to win again.

Our own blue cable is bad enough; red cable goes off the charts. Then too, might the largest question concern the apparent dumbness involved in the handling of Commander? Who in the world sits around and stares into air as their German shepherd behaves in the manner described?

Fox & Friends is astoundingly dumb. In our view, blue cable isn't sufficiently better.

Also, the Bidens can't seem to attend to their dog!  And then, there's the topic we spoke about yesterday—the way we ourselves, in our own blue tribe, misdescribe the actual contents of Florida's Stop W.O.K.E. Act. 

On balance, the Florida law strikes us as possibly somewhat dumb. Our own tribe's conduct concerning that law strikes us as dumber still. 

Dumbness can be held at bay for a time. In the end, though, the widely derided human trait has defeated all previous empires.

The tale of the tape: For the record, there may be a bit of uncertainty concerning Commander's precise nip count. To wit:

When the New York Times reported this latest incident in this morning's print editions, Michael Shear reported the headcount in the following way:

SHEAR: Internal emails obtained by a conservative watchdog group and released to the public this summer documented 10 instances of “aggressive behavior” by the president’s pets.

In one of those episodes, an agent was left “shaken,” according to the emails, when he felt the need to hoist up the chair he was sitting on to use as a shield when Commander began barking at him from the top of a White House staircase.

"By the president's pets!" That suggests the possibility that Commander wasn't responsible for all of those previous ten incidents. Indeed, as Shear begins his report, he charges Commander with only "several" of the known events:

SHEAR (9/27/23): President Biden’s dog Commander bit a member of the Secret Service at the White House on Monday evening, the latest in a series of episodes in which one of the Biden family’s pets has bitten people since the president took office in January 2021.


Commander, a 2-year-old German shepherd, has bitten several members of the Secret Service since arriving at the White House in 2021, including biting one officer on the arm and thigh badly enough that the officer was sent to the hospital.

According to Shear, Commander has sent at least one officer to the hospital. Still, Shear isn't willing to charge all eleven documented incidents to this one particular pet.

The documentation may be hazy. That may explain why O'Donnell employed the term "appears" in her report for NBC News.

Who lets this sort of thing persist? Fox & Friends exulted today, about this and about the "near-slip!" It's getting harder and harder to watch what our defeated nation still refers to as "news."

Should kids feel guilt for past actions of others?


Also, the text of that Florida law: Should kids be told, in public school, that they should feel guilt, or even "psychological distress," about the past misconduct of others?

We'd rapidly sign up for "no!" As to what kids should be taught about their future obligations as citizens, that's a discussion we'd sign up to have with people of varying outlooks.

Such questions aren't as easy as they may have seemed to be when the country was less diverse. Diversity is widely known to be hard. Given the way we humans are built, it's known to create types of stress.

That said:

Back on September 7, Kevin Drum posted the actual text of certain relevant parts of Florida's childishly-named "Stop W.O.K.E. Act." What should kids be taught in school? As you can see in Drum's post, here are some basic parts of what that law actually says:

Instruction and supporting materials on the topics enumerated in this section must be consistent with the following principles of individual freedom:

  • No person is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex.
  • No race is inherently superior to another race.
  • No person should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, or sex.
  • A person, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  • A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.

Public school instruction must be consistent with those principles. On that basis, students shouldn't be taught that they must (must!) feel guilt or other forms of psychological distress concerning actions in the past which they themselves didn't commit. 

Also, students should be taught that no race is inherently superior to another race. They should be taught that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of race.

On the whole, those are very basic principles. In comments to Drum's September 7 post, you'll see several surprised liberals saying that, to their surprise, they agree with these provisions of this infamous legislative act!

That said, how did our failing blue tribe respond to the passage of this law? Simple! We've persistently misstated what the law actually says about whether kids should be taught that they must feel guilt or psychological distress concerning the brutal misconduct of the brutal American past.

We tribals! We misstate and embellish what a law says; we do so again and again. After that, we complain about the way the (misstated) provisions of the law make Florida teachers feel nervous.

Our side is very, very dumb. In that sense, we're a great deal like them.

We get excited at times of war, and then we start to embellish. We only talk for a little while. After that, we start to hit.

The name of this famously infamous law strikes us as childish and dumb. That said, the way our tribe keeps misstating its contents strikes us as very dumb too.

Some of Drum's commenters said they were surprised by his September 7 post. 

They'd believed the things they read in our major newspapers. They'd believed what they heard, from our favorite reporters and friends, on our tribe's favorite "cable news" shows!

THE UNDEFEATED: When Kevin Drum made an accurate statement...


...a favorite Quaker fought back: Down through the annals of time, the forces of which we speak are undefeated.

We speak of tribal True Belief. We speak of the power of Dumb.

Our story starts with an accurate statement made by Kevin Drum. Alas! When Drum made a perfectly accurate statement, our tribal spear-chuckers fought back.

Drum's statement concerned the actual text of Florida's childishly-named Stop W.O.K.E. Act. Writing in yesterday's Washington Post, reporter Brittany Shammas had paraphrased the provision in question in the standard blue tribe way.

According to Shammas, the famous act had decreed "[t]hat instruction should be tailored so no student would feel guilt or 'psychological distress' over past actions by members of the same race."

According to Drum, that formulation is wrong. Specifically, Kevin wrote this:

DRUM (9/25/23): This is a myth that won't die. Florida law only bars teachers from telling students they must feel guilt over historical events...The law says nothing about "tailoring" history instruction to make sure that no one is ever uncomfortable. 
(Drum's italics)

In fact, Drum had made an accurate statement. As has happened down through the annals of time, the boldly anonymous tribal Furies quickly began to fight back.

For starters, let's get clear on the basic facts. Way back on September 7, Drum had actually quoted the relevant part of the law!

He'd produced an actual quotation! (Can you remember behavior like that?) Clear as a warning bell in the night, the proviso in question says this:

A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.

(Emphasis ours) 

That's what the proviso actually says. That said, the paraphrase offered by Shammas is completely standard among forces of our own (failing) blue tribe.

As we began to note during Campaign 2000, paraphrase is hard! That said, it's perfectly clear that the law in question actually says what Drum has now said that it says:

It says that kids shouldn't be taught or told that they must feel guilt about things other people did in the past. 

More specifically, it says they shouldn't be taught that they must feel guilt about such people's horrible conduct just because they're members of the same so-called "race."

That's what the ballyhooed law actually says. In a slightly more rational world, discussion of the law's wisdom, or of the law's alleged effects, would proceed from there.

That is what would happen in theory, in a slightly more rational world. In practice, what has happened in our world is this:

Every Tribal (and his or her crazy aunt or uncle) has paraphrased the relevant provision of the law in the way the Post reporter did. 

In comment threads, our Tribals anonymously stand and shout about how vile their paraphrase of the provision is. We never get around to saying what the provision actually says.

In comments to Kevin's new post, you can see the tribals do this. One of our long-time favorites—a Quaker no less!—even marched off to war saying this:

QUAKERINBASEMENT: Somerby has been grinding this same axe for the last week or two...

Self-identified Quaker, please! Actually, we've been calling attention to this matter for something like the past year. 

We've been "grinding this same axe" for well over two weeks! But as we noted in a reply, "Somerby has been grinding this same axe for the last week or two" actually means this:

Somerby has been grinding this same axe for the last week or two. 
Somerby has been making this same accurate statement for the last week or two.

That's what the Quaker's statement meant. The problem is, at times of war, all accurate statements must die.

Warning! If you read through the angry replies to Drum's heresy, you'll encounter a large amount of Scripted / Dumb / Stupid / Unhelpful.

A lot of people will be saying what the provision actually "means." A lot of people will be explaining how the provision has allegedly affected Florida teachers.

Because the great god Stupid is in charge, the obvious point won't occur to these yokels:

The best way to produce such bad effects is to repeatedly misparaphrase what the provision in question actually says—to keep misstating the basic facts about what the provision forbids.

Alas! All of us are currently living in a time of war. For that reason, our tribals insist on overstating what the Florida law actually says.

In doing so, we insist on drumming a misapprehension into everyone's head. This is very stupid behavior, but as we noted above, the great gods known as Anger, Dumb and Tribal Belief are undefeated down through the annals of time.

The great god Stupid rules our tribals much as he rules theirs. One anonymous Quaker, locked in a basement, is eager to march off to war!

The last century's greatest anthropologist described this syndrome with admirable precision. He came to us in humble garb, proceeded to offer this:

Where I come from, we just talk for a little while. After that, we start to hit.

We start to hit at accurate statements! We don't have time for accurate statements. We want our favorite war cries.

Drum reported what the law in question says. Back on September 7, he actually quoted the relevant provision!

Yesterday, he began to grind the same axe. As always, the undefeated and mighty god Dumb quickly took over from there.

Tomorrow: A different manifestation

This afternoon: More from Drum's September 7 post

"The Great One" authors his latest book!


The mainstream press looks away: Somehow, we're always disappointed by the work of Pete Hegseth.

Hegseth is one of the three official "friends" on the deeply atrocious Fox News show, Fox & Friends Weekend. All in all, he's movie star handsome. Based on some events we've seen him do on C-Span, it always seems to us that he's much smarter, and secretly more sincere, than the other two weekend "friends."

Even at that, we were surprised to learn, just today, about his academic background. The leading authority on his life and times tells us this:

Hegseth is an Army National Guard officer and former executive director of political advocacy groups Vets For Freedom and Concerned Veterans for America. The latter, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, advocates greater privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs...

Hegseth has been active in conservative and Republican politics since his days as an undergraduate at Princeton University. In 2016, he emerged as a strong supporter and ally of Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and served as an occasional advisor to Trump throughout the latter's presidency.


Hegseth was born on June 6, 1980, in Forest Lake, Minnesota. He attended Forest Lake Area High School and received his Bachelor of Arts at Princeton University in 2003. In 2013, he received a Master of Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

We're always surprised, and disappointed, by the way Hegseth goes along with the comically awful agitprop on Fox & Friends Weekend. That said, even we were surprised to see that his path to the big white couch led through both Princeton and Harvard.

Last night, we were disappointed by the way Hegseth interviewed "The Great One," Mark Levin, on Levin's Sunday night Fox News program. 

Levin was discussing his latest book. Clownishly, this is its actual title:

 The Democrat Party Hates America

Yes, that's the actual title! For the record, Levin must have repeated the childish term, "Democrat Party," a hundred thousand times during the hour. 

Despite his obvious smarts, Hegseth played right along.

Who the heck is Mark Levin? Perhaps tendentiously, the leading authority tells us this:

A 2016 study which sought to measure incendiary discourse on talk radio and TV found that Levin scored highest on its measure of "outrage." The study looked at 10 prominent radio and television programs, known for incendiary discourse on political matters, and scored content on the basis of whether it used "emotional display", "misrepresentative exaggeration", "mockery", "conflagration", "slippery slope", "insulting" or "obscene language", and other factors, finding that Levin was the radio host who engaged in the most outrage. 

The study found that he utilized "outrage speech or behavior at a rate of more than one instance per minute." In How Democracies Die, Harvard University political scientists Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky write that Mark Levin was among the popular right-wing talk radio hosts who "helped to legitimate the use of uncivil discourse" in American politics, and contribute to the erosion of democratic norms. According to Politico, Levin has a "penchant for hysteria."

Does Levin have "a penchant for hysteria?" We can't really say that's wrong.

Like so many others, he also has a penchant for refusing to call the Democratic Party by its actual name. But them, the childishness and the stupidity are endless in these arenas. This goes undiscussed in the mainstream press—in the New York Times, for instance.

The dumbness is endless on Fox & Friends Weekend. Hysteria tends to prevail when Levin goes on the air.

It's amazing to see the sorts of things red tribe viewers are persistently told. News orgs like the New York Times have long since agreed that this public insanity should not be reported as news. It's part of the way we all got here! 

It always seems to us that Hegseth surely has to know better. But then, we sometimes get the same sensation when we watch our own tribe's imaginary friends—some of whom are said to be "dear, dear friends"—on our own so-called cable news.

What did Levin say last night? Levin strikes us as a serious nut. Fox News reports his session with Hegseth here, with some videotape provided.

Levin strikes us as a serious nut. As our nation's current "soft" secession proceeds, it seems to us that the things he says should be regarded as news.

Levin strikes us as a serious nut. We've long been puzzled by Hegseth, and strangely disappointed.

ANTHROPOLOGIES: Could our blue tribe lose next year?


We'd say the answer is yes: We humans are good at building things.

Well, we're better at building things than everyone else. Beavers and bees build things too—but the things we humans build are bigger and much more complex.

We build rocket ships that can go to the moon. We build air conditioning units, and we also build cars.

Long ago, we even built the pyramids! But in other fields of endeavor, our skill levels tend to drop off. And so it may go as we the liberals react to the latest polls.

Let's start by acknowledging this. By definition, the latest poll from the Washington Post/ABC News actually is an "outlier," as the Post quickly noted in yesterday's news report.

It differs from many similar polls. In that sense, it's an outlier. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's "wrong"—and according to ABC News, what it said, in part, is this:

LANGER (9/24/23): Head-to-head in a hypothetical November 2024 matchup, Trump has 51% support while Biden has 42%—numerically up 3 points for Trump and down 2 points for Biden from an ABC/Post poll in February, shifts that are not statistically significant.

There's even less change from the most recent ABC/Post poll in May, which had the race at 49-42% (again with a different, but comparable, question wording). Still, with Trump inching over 50%—and other polls showing a closer contest—a close look is warranted.

There's much more in Gary Langer's report about what the survey said. All in all, survey said that many voters are highly unhappy with President Biden, for whom we'll be voting next year.

That doesn't mean that this latest poll is actually "right," even as a snapshot in time. Also, it doesn't mean that Trump will be elected again.

It does remind us of the fact that Donald J. Trump could win the White House next year. On this campus, it again reminds us of what the Kim Novak character gloomily told Jimmy Stewart in the critically praised Vertigo, and about the way the world's civilizations, such as they were, have all come and gone.

(Carlotta Valdes has been all around! For the gloomy remarks by the Novak character, you can just click here.)

Anthropologically, do we blue tribe members have what it takes to escape defeat next year? More broadly, do we have what it takes to understand our current circumstance?

It seems to us that we may not! Peculiar as it may seem, it seems to us that Donald J. Trump may actually win next year!

There are major limits to our own tribe's comprehension skills. We tend to have a very hard time understanding this fact about ourselves. Also, we tend to have a very hard time understanding what Others think. 

As one part of this anthropological package, we tend to disregard the possibility that such lesser beings as the Others may even have the tiny germ of an occasional strong, valid point.

Before we were struck by a cold last week, we were writing about the way one good and decent person was conducting her high school Advanced Placement English Language and Composition class at Chapin High in Chapin, South Carolina. 

She had planned to spend three to four weeks on Ta-Nehisi Coates' best-selling book, Between the World and Me. The book appeared in 2015 to extensive critical praise.

How was this high school teacher planning to work from the book? Based upon this Washington Post report, we have no real idea. But we'll we guess that she wasn't going to start with the actual start of the actual book, where Coates offers a phantasmagoric account of an appearance he made on Face the Nation in November 2014.

By any normal standards, Coates' account of that appearance is very, very hard to square with what actually happened. That said, his account of the way he was allegedly treated advanced certain narratives sacred to our blue tribe, and his phantasmagoric account was never challenged or questioned.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we blues are just as limited, and just as tribal, as pretty much everyone else. Our brains are built from the tribal mold too, and we're strongly disincline to recognize this fact.

Could our tribe go down next year? Limitations of polling to the side, we'd say the answer is yes.

For extra credit only: Coates appeared as a guest on Face the Nation on November 30, 2014. For the tape and the transcript of that program, you can just click here.

Coates's account of what happened that day is very, very hard to square with what you'll see on that videotape. At one point, his account is flatly wrong. Our tribe tends to run on Storyline too, sometimes with bad results.

(The Atlantic published the start of the book. You can read that excerpt here.)

BREAKING: No fish today!


Vicious seasonal cold: A vicious end-of-the-summer, seasonal head cold attacked our campus yesterday.

Recovery is proceeding apace. But we'll have no fish today.

Jerry Brown and his father Pat!


California then: Jerry Brown has certainly had a long, unusual career. That said, is he a good fit for this particular PBS franchise? 

He seems like a slightly odd choice for the long running "American Masters" series, but a full-length profile appeared this week, thumbnailed in the manner shown:

Jerry Brown: The Disrupter
Experience the political and personal journey of Jerry Brown, the longest serving governor in California history. First elected at 36 years old and again at 72, explore Brown’s 50-year career tackling climate change and inequality.

You can watch the program here. It takes us back to the early days, when the Browns, pere et fils, governed the Golden State.

Jerry Brown was elected governor in 1974, then again in 1978. He followed the two terms of Governor Ronald Reagan—and who had Reagan defeated in 1966?

That's right! Reagan defeated Governor Pat Brown, Jerry Brown's father. He was serving the first of his two terms as governor when our family arrived in California in the summer of 1960.

As it turns out, California was a different place in July 1960. It didn't seem that way at the time, but there were very few people around.

Pat Brown was famously building freeways and schools, but who was he building those freeways for? Compared to modern-day California, the place was practically empty:

Population of California
1960: 15,717,204
2020: 39,538,223

Wow! It didn't seem that way at the time. But like the pioneers of yore, we'd moved to an empty land.

We were headed into Grade 8 at Borel Junior High. John F. Kennedy was running for president. That said, the whole darn country was much smaller then. It was hard to round up any voters:

1960: 179,323,175
2020: 331,449,281

"How did it ever get this far?" as Don Corleone once said.

If history teaches us anything, it possibly teaches us this. It's hard to maintain a giant, sprawling continental nation which contains so many souls.

Increased demographic diversity may make the task even harder. More on that to follow. For today, we'll leave you with this:

When we arrived in California, Governor Brown—Jerry Brown's dad—was building acres of freeways.

The freeways spread in all directions. If you build them, Californians will come!

ANTHROPOLOGIES: She didn't try to push her views...


...except on her classroom's walls: As a matter of personal belief, Mary Wood was a political liberal. Also, she was teaching school in a largely conservative community.

More specifically, she was teaching an Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course at Chapin High School in Chapin, South Carolina. According to Hannah Natanson's lengthy report in the Washington Post, Wood had grown up in a largely conservative world, but she had become "a self-professed liberal" by the end of her college years:

NATANSON (9/18/23): Chapin was [Wood's] hometown. Chapin High School had been her school, the place she began to question the conservative, Christian views espoused by her classmates, friends and family.

No teacher ever assigned her someone like Coates, Wood said, but her father Mike Satterfield, a teacher and later principal at Chapin, encouraged her to pursue whatever outside reading she found interesting. That led her to left-leaning authors. By the time she graduated from University of North Carolina Wilmington, she was a self-professed liberal.


She knew most students leaned right and guessed that many of her colleagues did, too, based on their social media presence and offhand remarks. The popular circles at school are red, current and former students said.

Stating the obvious, there's nothing wrong with being a self-identified liberal. There's nothing wrong with being a person who holds conventional liberal views. 

During the last school year, the problem began when Wood began to teach a three- to four-week unit on a potentially controversial book. After only two days, two of her students complained about the assignment and a great deal of turmoil ensued.

The book in question was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, "a book that dissects what it means to be Black in America" (Natanson's language). When it appeared in 2015, the book was critically praised and became a widely discussed best-seller.

That said, two of Wood's students complained to the local school board, saying that Coates's book "made them ashamed to be White" (Natanson's language). Wood was told she had to stop teaching the book. Also, she received a formal reprimand, apparently because the principal hadn't been informed about the use of Coates's widely praised book.

Was Coates's book a sensible choice for an Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course? Plainly, that's a matter of judgment—and according to Natanson, Wood's department head had "signed off" on the choice of the book. 

Beyond that, it seems clear from Natanson's report that Wood is a good, decent person—a person who's thoroughly sincere about the way she conducts herself in the classroom. 

Natanson never saw Wood's lessons on the Coates book. But in the following passage, she starts describing the way Wood went about such tasks:

NATANSON: Elizabeth Jordan, now 20, was one of [Wood's previous] students. Raised in a conservative, Christian household, Jordan was unhappy to learn Wood would be her AP English teacher back in 2019, Jordan’s junior year.

At first, Jordan found Wood’s lessons unsettling—especially the classes focused on mass shootings or transgender rights, during which Wood held up left-leaning viewpoints for students’ inspection. Jordan could not understand why Wood was asking high-schoolers to discuss controversial current events.

“All I was thinking was, ‘This isn’t allowed, this just isn’t allowed,’” Jordan said. “Just because it was a complete 180 from anything I had known."...

Over the course of the year, though, Jordan’s opinion shifted. She noticed how students seemed to pay more attention in Wood’s class. She noticed that Wood never pushed students to adopt viewpoints but challenged them to account for their convictions. 

According to Jordan, Wood didn't try to persuade students to adopt her liberal views. According to another student, this continued to be Wood's practice right through the past school year:

NATANSON: By 2023, when Wood assigned Coates, her strategy hadn’t changed: She still gave difficult texts about hot-button issues, convinced it was the best way to keep students’ attention—and teach them how to argue, an AP Lang exam requirement. She still demanded students consider novel perspectives, setting the essay question: “Explain Coates’ problem with America’s tradition of retelling history. Explain your support or disagreement with his position.”

For the two days Wood got to teach “Between the World and Me,” classroom discussions were lively and open, said Connor Bryant, 17, one of the students who took AP Lang last year. Bryant, whose father is a Chapin English teacher, said his peers debated systemic racism and what it’s like to be Black in America, agreeing and disagreeing with Coates, without Wood picking a side.

As a teacher, Wood wasn't "picking a side," but she continued to focus on (certain) "hot-button issues." On this occasion, two students and at least two parents complained, with community turmoil to follow.

Was there anything "wrong" with Wood's selection of Coates's book for lengthy review and discussion? Was there anything wrong with the way she conducted her classes?

Those, of course, are matters of judgment. For ourselves, we'll admit that we wondered a bit about her (well-intentioned) judgment when it came to this:

NATANSON: [Wood] knew most students leaned right and guessed that many of her colleagues did, too, based on their social media presence and offhand remarks. The popular circles at school are red, current and former students said.

But amid a red sea, Chapin’s English department was a blue island. And Wood was known as the bluest of the bunch—conspicuous for decorating her classroom with posters of Malcolm X, Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes and LGBTQ pride stickers.

“She had that granola-crunchy vibe,” said a former Chapin teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional and personal retaliation. “It wouldn’t be difficult to guess how she votes walking into her room. I think that’s what made her a sort of lightning rod.”

Aubrey Hume, a recent Chapin graduate, recalls seeing the Malcolm X poster and immediately clocking that Wood thought differently from most people in town. She also taught Black, female and queer voices that most students never heard in other classrooms nor at home—which Hume said she liked. But other students didn’t.

Stating the obvious, there's no reason why Wood shouldn't feel free to "think differently from most people in town." That said, should the classroom of a public school teacher serve as a place in which she broadcasts her personal views?

It seems to us that the answer is a very solid no. It seems to us that imperfect judgment may have been involved in the conspicuous decorations on those classroom walls.

Opinions may differ on that, of course—but, at least as a matter of theory, we liberals can sometimes exhibit imperfect judgment too. According to anthropologists, this will almost never happen—but as a highly unlikely matter of theory, it perhaps maybe possibly could.

Especially at highly fraught times like these, we liberals can display imperfect judgment too! We'll allege a few examples tomorrow, starting with the first few pages of Coates's widely praised book.

Tomorrow: PEN America's thumbs on the scale!

ANTHROPOLOGIES: Who decides which books get taught in school?


The way one book was selected: Who decides what books get read in a high school Advanced Placement class?

In these days of political and cultural division, such questions have become severely fraught. In a lengthy report in the Washington Post, Hannah Natanson has described the way one somewhat controversial book got assigned to a bunch of high school students in one public high school.

The school in question is Chapin High in Chapin, South Carolina.  According to Natanson's report, the school is part of "the Lexington-Richland School District 5, which serves roughly 17,000 students and is about two-thirds White."

The perhaps somewhat controversial book is Between the World and Me,  Ta-Nehisi Coates’s widely discussed 2015 best seller. Right at the start of her lengthy report, Natanson sets the scene for the controversy which unfolded:

NATANSON (9/18/23): As gold sunlight filtered into her kitchen, English teacher Mary Wood shouldered a worn leather bag packed with first-day-of-school items: Three lesson-planning notebooks. Two peanut butter granola bars. An extra pair of socks, just in case.

Everything was ready, but Wood didn’t leave. For the first time since she started teaching 14 years ago, she was scared to go back to school.

Six months earlier, two of Wood’s Advanced Placement English Language and Composition students had reported her to the school board for teaching about race. Wood had assigned her all-White class readings from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me,” a book that dissects what it means to be Black in America.

The students wrote in emails that the book—and accompanying videos that Wood, 47, played about systemic racism—made them ashamed to be White, violating a South Carolina proviso that forbids teachers from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.

As we noted yesterday, Natanson seems to misdescribe the proviso of the South Carolina law she cites in that fourth paragraph. An anthropologist might offer this initial finding about the turmoil involved in this matter:

For members of our human race, paraphrase can be very hard.

At any rate, the basic scene has been set at Natanson starts her report. In Natanson's account, an Advanced Placement teacher, Mary Wood, directed "her all-White class" to read a recent best-selling book "that dissects what it means to be Black in America."

Two of her students complained, as did at least two parents. As Natanson details in her lengthy report, this produced a major controversy within Chapin High, then within the local community:

NATANSON (continuing directly): Reading Coates’s book felt like “reading hate propaganda towards white people,” one student wrote.

At least two parents complained, too. Within days, school administrators ordered Wood to stop teaching the lesson. They placed a formal letter of reprimand in her file. It instructed her to keep teaching “without discussing this issue with your students.”

Wood finished out the spring semester feeling defeated and betrayed—not only by her students, but by the school system that raised her. The high school Wood teaches at is the same one she attended.

So it went at Chapin High when Wood assigned Coates's book. For ourselves, we wondered how this turmoil had ever come to pass.

More specifically, we wondered who decides:

Who decides what particular books should be read as part of this public high school's Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course?

More specifically, do public schools like Chapin High maintain a mandated curriculum for the various courses which get taught in the school? Or does each individual public school teacher simply select the books which he or she wants to assign? 

Let it be said that Coates' book was going to be read and taught at some substantial length in Wood's Advanced Placement class. It's clear from Natanson's report that Wood was going to spend at least three weeks, and possibly four, on this particular text.

Coates' book was critically praised when it appeared in 2015. But on what basis was it selected for such substantial treatment in Wood's class? Natanson offers this account of the selection process when she describes Wood's reaction to the first phone call of complaint:

NATANSON: Wood thought she was on safe ground. She had taught Coates’s book—and accompanying YouTube videos titled “Systemic Racism Explained” and “The Unequal Opportunity Race”—the year prior. No one complained.

She also counted on the fact AP Lang is supposed to be a high-level class. The College Board curriculum says it can address “issues that might, from particular social, historical, or cultural viewpoints, be considered controversial, including references to … races.” Wood’s supervisor, English department chair Tess Pratt, had signed off on Coates’s book. Plus, Wood had required AP Lang students to read a speech from former president Donald Trump, a balancing conservative voice.

Students were going to read Coates' book—but also, a speech by Trump! As to who selected and approved this plan, the chair of the school's English department "had signed off on Coates’s book." 

For better or worse, someone else apparently wasn't aware of this plan. In this passage, Natanson describes a meeting with Chapin High's assistant principal and with a school district official after the two students complained:

NATANSON: A set of administrative talking points prepared ahead of the meeting, obtained through Wood’s records request and given to The Post, show that Magee and Walters were supposed to start by telling Wood her teaching had sparked “concerns.” They were supposed to mention the South Carolina policy against making students uncomfortable because of their race. They were supposed to remind her of school rules stipulating that “teachers will not attempt, directly or indirectly, to limit or control students’ judgment concerning any issue”—and that “the principal must approve supplementary materials” for classes.

Question! Does Natanson have her thumb on the scale when she refers to that "set of administrative talking points?"

Opinions may differ on that.

Beyond that, does South Carolina actually have a "policy against making students uncomfortable because of their race?" 

As we noted yesterday, it seems to us that the state law in question actually says something somewhat different. But as we noted yesterday, paraphrase tends to be hard!

At any rate, other questions arise:

Based on actual policy and practice, should the principal have been consulted about the assignment of Coates' book? We have no idea.

Also, did the principal know that Coates' book had been assigned the previous year? Natanson doesn't address that question.

At any rate, Wood was told that she should stop teaching Coates's book. Eventually, turmoil gripped the wider community. A basic question thereby arises—a question which comes to us, live and direct, from the realm of basic anthropology:

How well do we the humans tend to cope with differences of opinion? What sorts of skills do we typically bring to political / cultural disputes of the general type described in Natanson's report?

At times of substantial partisan division—when we start dividing into tribes—how do we humans tend to react to opposing outlooks and viewpoints? Given the way our brains are wired, how well do we tend to react to the basic fact that there may be others in the world who disagree with our own general views? 

How well do we humans react to Others? As we noted yesterday, one anthropologist has offered this controversial rubric:

We only talk for a little while. After that, we start to hit.

Tomorrow: As seen on one classroom's walls

Diversity tends to be difficult too!


California then: As we noted this morning, clarity tends to be hard. 

Indeed, according to the later Wittgenstein, bungled attempts at clarity have defined high end "philosophy" all through the annals of time. Writing for the New York Times, Professor Horwich put it like this:

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

This attitude is in stark opposition to the traditional view, which continues to prevail. Philosophy is respected, even exalted, for its promise to provide fundamental insights into the human condition and the ultimate character of the universe...

If so, then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking...

There's more to the professor's short exposition, but there you pretty much have it. After a type of clarification is performed, philosophy's problems turn out to be "mere pseudo-problems, the [fruit] of linguistic illusion." 

Putting it a slightly different way:

Even at the (allegedly) loftiest levels, clarity is extremely hard. Indeed, much of our time-honored, allegedly deepest thinking is actually "based on confusion!" 

Or at least, so the later Wittgenstein is said to have said.

That's the way the cookie crumbles within our "deepest" thinking. Within our everyday human discourse, clarity tends to be very hard; "muddled thinking" is everywhere. And it isn't just clarity which is hard. Demographic diversity tends to be rather hard too.

Given the way we humans are built, it's very, very, very hard to run a coherent public discourse. It also tends to be hard to run a diverse democracy. That isn't the doing or the fault of any particular demographic group. It's simply the fruit of the way we humans tend to react to the presence of a wide array of culturally differing groups.

This brings us to a rumination about California then. The year in question was 1960. As we'll note again tomorrow, this whole country was quite a bit smaller back then.

Clarity tends to be very hard. Given the way we humans are, diversity tends to be challenging.

How do we react to the presence of Others? Given the way we humans are built, this isn't one of the strongest suits of our war-inclined species.

ANTHROPOLOGIES: Who decides what kids get taught?


Clarity can be hard: Clarity tends to be hard. 

In fact, just as a matter of fact, clarity can be very hard. This lesson is learned from a review of the first four paragraphs of yesterday's lengthy report in the Washington Post.

The report concerns the latest dispute about what should and shouldn't get taught in the nation's public schools. Hannan Natanson wrote the report. Dual headlines included, her report starts like this:

Her students reported her for a lesson on race. Can she trust them again?
Mary Wood’s school reprimanded her for teaching a book by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Now she hopes her bond with students can survive South Carolina’s politics.

CHAPIN, S.C. — As gold sunlight filtered into her kitchen, English teacher Mary Wood shouldered a worn leather bag packed with first-day-of-school items: Three lesson-planning notebooks. Two peanut butter granola bars. An extra pair of socks, just in case.

Everything was ready, but Wood didn’t leave. For the first time since she started teaching 14 years ago, she was scared to go back to school.

Six months earlier, two of Wood’s Advanced Placement English Language and Composition students had reported her to the school board for teaching about race. Wood had assigned her all-White class readings from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me,” a book that dissects what it means to be Black in America.

The students wrote in emails that the book—and accompanying videos that Wood, 47, played about systemic racism—made them ashamed to be White, violating a South Carolina proviso that forbids teachers from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.

Obviously, a whole lot of "human interest" is driving this lengthy report:

Mary Wood's high school students had "reported her to the school board!" Six months later, on the first day of the next school year, Wood "was scared to go back to school!"

As the reader quickly learns, it was only two of Mary Wood's students who bellyached to the board. That said, this complaint led to the latest heated public dispute about what students should, and shouldn't, be taught in the nation's public schools—in this case, in the public schools of Chapin, South Carolina.

Based on Natanson's report, it seems clear that Mary Wood is a good, decent person. Obviously, that doesn't necessarily mean that she has perfect judgment—and by the way, clarity can be extremely hard.

Why do we say that clarity's hard? Consider the claim—the claim by Natanson, a Harvard grad—which we've highlighted above. 

The claim in question goes like this—but is this account really accurate?

A South Carolina [law] forbids teachers from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.

Is that claim accurate? Is there really some such proviso in some South Carolina law? And by the way, can we even clearly say what Natanson is claiming in that somewhat muddy passage?

According to Natanson, it's against the law for a South Carolina teacher to make students feel distress on account of their race. But what exactly does that statement mean? 

Can a teacher ever make her students feel some particular way? How could a teacher make a student do that? What would that even mean?

Clarity can be hard. That said, it seems to us that Natanson, a 2019 Harvard grad, has started her lengthy report on this high-profile topic by misstating what the South Carolina proviso actually says.

The quoted proviso can be found in the Palmetto State's 2022 Academic Integrity Act. For our money, the proviso in question makes fairly good sense. As you can see by clicking this link, the proviso in question says this:

Academic Integrity Act

A student...may not be required to participate in...a course that includes the following concepts...

(7) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.

Even there, we'd complain about a certain lack of clarity—but the key word there seems to be "should."

What is that proviso saying? To our eye and ear, that proviso says that no student should ever be told that he or she should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race. 

To our eye and ear, that's what it seems to say. And we're sorry, but that isn't the way Natanson ended up paraphrasing what the proviso says.

To our eye and ear, it's a case of dueling paraphrase! To our eye and ear, the dueling parties are these:

Dueling examples of paraphrase:

Paraphrase 1: Teachers are forbidden from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.

Paraphrase 2: Teachers are forbidden from telling students that they should “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.

We're sorry, but no—those aren't equivalent accounts of what the proviso says. And at this point, the deathless Gene Brabender instantly comes to mind.

In the summer of 69, Brabender was a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher for the Seattle Pilots, the forerunner to today's Milwaukee Brewers. 

According to the leading authority on Brabender's life and major league baseball career, Brabender "stood 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) tall and weighed 225 pounds (102 kg)." He'd been described by one teammate as "a hard-throwing country boy."

He was also a man with little respect for the finer distinctions of language. During that 1969 season, Brabender was a teammate of pitcher-author Jim Bouton, whose subsequent book, Ball Four, was later chosen as one of the 100 greatest books of the 20th century.

Bouton reported in his book that Brabender had little patience for nuanced discussion in the bullpen during long, boring major league game. He quoted Brabender making the angry statement shown below—a statement which identifies Brabender as one of the greatest students of human nature ever found on the planet:

"Where I come from, we just talk for a little white. After that, we start to hit."

Brabender wasn't in thrall to nuanced distinction. When the distinctions became too nuanced, he instinctively "started to hit."

Hannah  Natanson went to Harvard; Gene Brabender didn't. That said, clarity can be very hard, even for Ivy League graduates.

By our lights, Natanson started her report about Mary Wood with a muddy piece of paraphrase. In the passage posted above, you can see what Natanson wrote. In reply, we would say this:

Under the proviso in question, Mary Wood, a high school teacher in South Carolina, was (inferentially) forbidden from telling her ("white") students that they should feel guilt about what other people had done in the past.

Did Wood ever tell her students any such thing? We'll guess that the answer is possibly no, but Natanson never attempts to figure that out. 

Poor, poor pitiful us! We were only four grafs into this lengthy report, but we already had to stop and do a bit of googling! We googled up the South Carolina law which featured the proviso in question—and when we did, it seemed to us that it didn't say what Natanson said it said.

So it goes, again and again, in the affairs of our own human race! Clarity can be extremely hard—and given our deeply flawed human nature, all of us, red and blue alike, are strongly inclined to hit.

That's our first anthropology for the week. More anthropologies follow.

Tomorrow: The start of Coates' widely-praised book

STARTING TOMORROW: Anthropologies!


Deciding what gets taught: In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak end up, one gloomy day, out at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

They encounter the world's oldest living beings. Gloom-ridden dialogue follows:

Vertigo, screenplay 

Madeleine and Scottie near the massive trunk of a tree. Beyond them, the small stream, bridged by a wide flattened redwood log.


SCOTTIE: Oh—some, two thousand years, or more.

MADELEINE: The oldest living things?

Scottie nods and watches her, wondering, as she looks about thoughtfully.

SCOTTIE: You've never been here before?

She shakes her head, lost in thought as she lets her gaze wander among the trees.

SCOTTIE: What are you thinking?

MADELEINE: Of all the people who have been born—and have died—while the trees went on living.

Madeleine was strongly inclined toward the gloom. Or at least, so it then seemed.

As we noted on Friday, Mitt Romney has been engaged in a somewhat similar rumination—though he's been thinking of all the empires which have died while the redwoods continued to flourish. 

Increasingly, on a daily basis, we wonder if our own American empire will be able to survive.

Is the American project, such as it is, nearing some sort of end? President Biden could get re-elected next year, but we find it increasingly hard to believe that he'll be able to make it.

Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump is full of the "passionate intensity" the poet Yeats made famous. If he ends up going back to the White House, to what extent, and in what form, will the aforementioned project survive?

It seems to us that the die has been cast, that our project may have moved past the point where its fissures can be repaired. We think that when we watch the comically awful Fox & Friends—but we also think that when we review the torrent of framing which emerges from the tribunes of our own flailing  tribe.

"Yet this is you," Ezra Pound wrote, in a totally different context, at the end of the poem, Portrait d'une Femme.

Yet this is us, we constantly find ourselves forced to admit. Our side may be paving the path to empire's end, along of course with theirs.

Are we humans built for the kind of work which lets a large, diverse modern nation survive? The anthropologists keep saying the answer is no—and yes, that does include us.

We stumbled upon these gloomy thoughts at various times this weekend. This morning, we were struck by Hannah Natanson's account of a high school teacher in South Carolina who received serious pushback from people who live in her town.

Writing in the Washington Post, Natanson offers a detailed account of a dispute about the material which was taught in an Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course. The headlines on her lengthy report say this:

Her students reported her for a lesson on race. Can she trust them again?
Mary Wood’s school reprimanded her for teaching a book by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Now she hopes her bond with students can survive South Carolina’s politics.

Actually, it was two of Mary Wood's students, but Natanson's detailed piece offers a great deal of food for thought. So too with a presentation we saw on C-Span's Washington Journal this weekend—a presentation about PEN America's methods for identifying "banned books."

Some of the redwoods have been burning in recent years. Various empires came and went in the millennia before that started.

Fox & Friends is often comically awful. Then too, this can sometimes be us.

Tomorrow: Deciding what gets taught

THE SILOS: The "fairness doctrine" came and went!


Norman O. Brown had a secret: We're so old that we can remember the federal "fairness doctrine!"

The leading authority on the doctrine recalls its operation, and its demise, in the manner shown:

The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that fairly reflected differing viewpoints. In 1987, the FCC abolished the fairness doctrine, prompting some to urge its reintroduction through either Commission policy or congressional legislation. However, later the FCC removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011.

The fairness doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters...The demise of this FCC rule has been cited as a contributing factor in the rising level of party polarization in the United States.

Those were the days! If you held a broadcast license, you were required to present "differing viewpoints" concerning "controversial issues!"

As a matter of federal law, this requirement came to an end in 1987. By then, we were already well along in the Point Counterpoint / Crossfire era.

According to the informal arrangements of that era, broadcasters would routinely present "both sides" of some topical issue. As soon as the viewer heard the programmed recitation of the Democratic Party's viewpoint, that viewer would hear the programmed recitation of the Republican outlook.

As late as 2009, some semblance of this format remained. Over on the Fox News Channel, Sean Hannity was still confronted by the late Alan Colmes every night, though topic selection and selection of guests tilted toward Hannity's side.

Today, factual claims and Storyline largely emerge from an array of silos. 

(In fairness, Fox still allows one liberal to appear each day on The Five. If she tries to explain the firing of Viktor Shokin, the other four shout her down.)

Today, it's all about silos. So it went last evening and this morning as red tribe viewers received their "news," and we blue tribe viewers got ours:

Early this morning, on the clownish Fox & Friends, the three friends rose from their tuffets and walked over to "the wall." This wall was something like thirty feet long and twelve feet high. It carried this stirring title:


So it went on Fox & Friends. On Morning Joe, blue tribe viewers saw excerpts of Donald J. Trump's interview with Megyn Kelly. 

On Morning Joe, the absurdity of Trump's remarks was stressed. On Fox & Friends, red tribe viewers are never going to hear about such problems.

Last night, on The Last Word, the opening 19-minute segment was devoted to the absurdity of Trump's remarks to Kelly. The legal panel swapped jokes, chuckled and chortled, over the absurdity of Trump's various statements and claims.

Lawrence O'Donnell was especially entertained by this, as he has been recently. And then, for one brief shining moment, Neal Katyal could be heard saying this:

KATYAL (9/14/23): I know everyone’s saying, "Well, Trump is reckless in giving this interview."

I have a different view. I actually think that this is not an unwise strategy for him, because he doesn’t have a legal defense. He doesn’t have a factual defense. The only defense he has is to try and poison the jury pool with his cockamamie nonsense.

For one brief, shining moment, our silo got to hear that.

As we've noted in the past, it will take only one juror to insist that Trump's not guilty. If a trial ends with some such hung jury, that will immediately be trumpeted as an acquittal for Trump and as a defeat for the deep state. When a society spits into tribes which are working from silos, that will be all it will take! 

As far as we know, there is no easy way out of our silo culture. News by silo is a very big business. Many people are getting wealthy as its dysfunction spreads.

It's also true that red tribe viewers are sometimes exposed to serious material—material which is being withheld from us in our own blue silo. Watching Fox in recent weeks, we've seen Mayor Breed complaining about the damage done to San Francisco by certain groups of homeless activists. We've seen Mayor Adams saying that immigration policy will destroy New York City.

Last night, we saw tape of President Biden offering his latest embellishment. For the record, it was his very weak voice and his halting manner which worried us, more than the mere fact of this latest overstatement.

Red silo denizens see this sort of thing all the time; we blue silo dwellers do not. Can the president make it through the next year as a candidate? Everything is possible, but we're not real sure he can.

In the larger sense, can a major nation survive the prominence of such silos? At The Atlantic, headline included, McKay Coppin reports Mitt Romney's doubts:



Earlier this year, [Romney] confided to me that he would not seek reelection to the Senate in 2024. He planned to make this announcement in the fall. The decision was part political, part actuarial. The men in his family had a history of sudden heart failure, and none had lived longer than his father, who died at 88. “Do I want to spend eight of the 12 years I have left sitting here and not getting anything done?” he mused. But there was something else. His time in the Senate had left Romney worried—not just about the decomposition of his own political party, but about the fate of the American project itself.

Shortly after moving into his Senate office, Romney had hung a large rectangular map on the wall. First printed in 1931 by Rand McNally, the “histomap” attempted to chart the rise and fall of the world’s most powerful civilizations through 4,000 years of human history. When Romney first acquired the map, he saw it as a curiosity. After January 6, he became obsessed with it. He showed the map to visitors, brought it up in conversations and speeches. More than once, he found himself staring at it alone in his office at night. The Egyptian empire had reigned for some 900 years before it was overtaken by the Assyrians. Then the Persians, the Romans, the Mongolians, the Turks—each civilization had its turn, and eventu­ally collapsed in on itself. Maybe the falls were inevitable. But what struck Romney most about the map was how thoroughly it was dominated by tyrants of some kind—pharaohs, emperors, kaisers, kings. “A man gets some people around him and begins to oppress and dominate others,” he said the first time he showed me the map. “It’s a testosterone-related phenomenon, perhaps. I don’t know. But in the history of the world, that’s what happens.” America’s experiment in self-rule “is fighting against human nature.”

“This is a very fragile thing,” he told me. “Authoritarianism is like a gargoyle lurking over the cathedral, ready to pounce.”

For the first time in his life, he wasn’t sure if the cathedral would hold.

Each civilization had its turn. Eventu­ally, each one collapsed. We thought again of the late Norman O. Brown's Phi Beta Kappa address.

On the perceived strength of this book, Norman O. Brown was very big back in the 1960s. He's never mentioned today.

Even back in 1960, he thought our civilization might be ending "in exhaustion." He thought we needed to discover some new secret, that we had to make things new:

BROWN (5/31/60): I sometimes think I see that societies originate in the discovery of some secret, some mystery; and end in exhaustion when there is no longer any secret, when the mystery has been divulged, that is to say profaned...

And so there comes a time—I believe we are in such a time—when civilization has to be renewed by the discovery of some new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the imagination, by the undemocratic power which makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of all mankind, the power which makes all things new.

Periodically, we've been posting this statement since at least 2009. 

We can't remember why we thought it was relevant to our society's ongoing collapse as far back as that. We don't recall how we knew about this statement in the first place. We don't know why Brown's obscure formulation had stuck in our head ever since college days.

That said, it seems to us that a civilization can't survive the power of the silos. Here's the secret we think we must discover anew:

We blue tribe citizens have to learn to sit there and listen to Others. 

We have to stop believing in the very existence of Others. Also, we have to find a way to persuade the Others to sit there and listen to us.

In his book, My Life, former president Bill Clinton said he admired the Pentecostals. Locked inside our own blue silo, it has become extremely hard for us to make statements like that.

More presidential advice: For whatever reason, we started recalling Brown's Phi Beta Kappa address at least as far back as 2009. 

Our civilization was less crazy then. But, for whatever reason, Brown's statement bubbled back up through our head.

One year earlier, the president of Wesleyan University had cited Brown's speech in his own Phi Beta Kappa address.  We don't understand his statement either, but here's part of what he said:

Norman O. Brown, a great figure in Wesleyan history, gave one of the most startling Phi Beta Kappa speeches imaginable at Columbia in 1960, where he called on the initiates to become mad, to save themselves through madness. He turned to Emerson to make his point, but it was the Emerson who told you to stop reading, the Emerson who warned you about being a bookworm. This is the Emerson of ecstasy—not Enlightenment.

I turn to another Emerson, the Emerson of the essay Experience, and I will read you a quote, and then we'll almost be done.

Emerson said, "We animate what we can and we see only what we animate. Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them. It depends on the mood of the person whether he shall see the sunset or the fine poem. There are always sunsets and there is always genius. But only a few hours so serene that we can relish nature or criticism."

"We animate what we can," Emerson said, "and we see only what we animate," 

You have learned to animate. You have learned to bring things to life. That is an enormous gift. You will do it with your friends, you will do it with your families, you will do it in the places you work. Bringing things to life through your intelligence, I submit to you, is so much more important than being able to show somebody why something they thought was alive is really dead. 

That move will show how smart you are, but it will do no good. When you can use your intelligence to animate, you will harness your education in the service of life, in the service of love, in the service, to call on the spirit of Norman O. Brown, in the service of Eros, and not in the service of being smart.

We have no idea what that means. It may mean that we should "animate" the Others, that we should stop pretending that Others are morally and intellectually dead and that we're just amazingly smart.

In truth, we aren't amazingly smart. Thinking back to what Bill Maher told Ari Melber, are you aware of the various forms of liberal / progressive semi-crazy we aren't encouraged to think about, aren't even permitted to see?

We aren't sure that President Biden will be able to make it. In part, we say that because of the videotape we sometimes see when watching Fox & Friends. 

Lawrence was vastly amused last night. Based on messaging from Cassandra, we aren't sure that was smart.