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.

THE SILOS: First the trenches, then the camps!


This war is fought from the silos: As we recollected on Monday, the so-called Great War was fought from the trenches. 

The war which followed was marked by the existence of the camps. 

We refer to the extermination camps maintained by the madness of the Third Reich. They coexisted with the vicious forced labor camps which, when they're discussed at all, are known by the common term Gulag.

Along the way, a well-known writer issued a well-known phrase—"the banality of evil." 

We wouldn't recommend the use of the more loaded term to describe the great civil war in which we're now engaged, but the era's banality is defined by the widely-ignored existence of the silos.

Our current war, the war of the silos, was well underway as of 6:06 this morning. At that time, on Fox & Friends, the highly telegenic Ainsley Earhardt recited, for the ten millionth time, her channel's BizzaroWorld account of the way "the president" went to Ukraine in 2016 and fired Viktor Shokin.

In this account, Shokin is described as an idealistic prosecutor, one who was threatening the corrupt arrangements of the Biden Crime Family. Earhardt failed to explain how Joe Biden, who was actually vice president at the time, could have arranged to force such a firing when he still held that junior position.

Earhardt told the preferred story for perhaps the ten millionth time. In this morning's New York Times, David French quickly tells the story as it's told from within the blue silo:

FRENCH (9/14/23): Some Republicans are pointing all the way back to the long-debunked claim that Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire the Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in part because the Ukrainian energy company Burisma was paying Hunter a lavish monthly consulting fee. (In reality, firing Shokin was a priority for both the Obama administration and its Western allies, and they wanted him terminated because he was ineffective at combating corruption, not because he was diligently pursuing Burisma.)

As far as we know, that actually is "the reality" of this particular incident. But people who live within the red silo have never heard the story told that way.

They've heard the story as Earhardt told it, and they've heard it ten million times. They don't know that basic facts are being omitted. Because Earhardt is one of their cable news "friends," they assume that her story is accurate.

(Anthropologically, our deeply flawed species is like that.)

At any rate, so goes in the ongoing war conducted from within dueling silos. Our own blue tribe hears from our own friends. The red tribe hears from theirs. 

For people living within the red silo, that includes the ranting Mark Levin, a.k.a. "The Great One." It includes the four members of The Five who recently took turns talking over their program's lone liberal, Jessica Tarlov, as she attempted to tell the fuller story about the firing of Shokin.

This is the way a war is waged when it's waged from within dueling silos. Until recently, the rules of engagement were different.

In Monday's report, we recalled the shape of the prior regime. In the years before Jon Stewart struck, the red tribe's friends and the blue tribe's friends were forced to confront each other every single weekday night on the cable show Crossfire.

Viewers heard from the red tribe, then heard from the blue. There were no silos then.

Now, denizens of the dueling tribes hear from their own friends, and they hear from no one else. Here are the wages of this sick arrangement:

The people who watched Ainsley Earhardt this morning didn't know that they were hearing a highly selective tale.

Just last week, TV's Bill Maher authored a rather strange claim. He seemed to say that a certain amount of crazy was coming at denizens of the blue silo, from our own blue tribe's friends.

In fairness to Bill, he rejected the claim of equivalence all through his interview with TV's Ari Melber. But he said there's a fair amount of "crazy" over here in the blue silo too!

Is there any way that could be accurate? We'd have to say that the answer is yes—and that we're sometimes drawn to that conclusion by watching reports on Fox & Friends. 

We know of no reason to go any further with this. In our view, the die has been cast.

The tribes have agreed that there must be a war. Under current arrangements, our political wars are now conducted within two dueling silos.

We don't know who will win next year's election, but it's harder and harder for us to believe that President Biden can win. Abnormal psychology being quite normal, there's no point in attempting to argue any particular part of this case. The hounds of hell within our blue silo will rise up to shout and yell.

In this morning's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof takes us all the way back to 1965, to the time when these tribal divisions began to take form. As he starts, he offers "a shower of caveats" concerning an issue he thinks we should discuss. 

"Yet this is still so wrenching to discuss," he correctly says. "[E]ven today there is a deep discomfort in liberal circles about acknowledging these realities"—about acknowledging the alleged realities he says we need to discuss.

In our view, our own blue tribe is deeply involved in such flights from reality. Beyond that, we have little idea how we look to other people when we let our Storylines be created by the people who now commandeer our "liberal circles."

We've moved from the trenches and the camps over to the silos. Organs like the New York Times largely ignore this change in the rules of the game. 

Red silo denizens have their treasured friends. Are our own blue tribe's friends actually that much better?

Tomorrow: Norman O. Brown meets Mitt Romney

The Washington Post visits Mississippi!


Errors wherever you look: Finally, the Washington Post editorial board has weighed in on the Mississippi miracle.

Our own semi-apology follows. First, this is the way yesterday's featured editorial began:

Holding kids back can’t explain Mississippi’s education ‘miracle’

The so-called Mississippi miracle in education really isn’t one. The state’s surge in student achievement results not from divine intervention but from careful policy applied by committed human beings. One of these policies has received extra attention: the decision to hold back third-graders who don’t meet state reading standards. But by focusing too much on this rule alone, reformers risk missing what makes the broader program successful.

Local officials all over the country are attempting to unspool the story of Mississippi’s journey from worst in the nation in test scores to the middle of the pack. Schools everywhere are struggling to catch up students after learning loss from the pandemic. Most states have been unable to match pre-2020 levels of achievement. Mississippi, however, set a personal record in reading this year, and its gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exceed every one of its peers’. 

Does anyone actually care about this general topic? Those first two paragraphs feature factual bungles as far as the eye can see. 

How many errors have the editors made? Let us count the ways:

For starters, no one did anything on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Naep)  "this year." 

The Naep was last administered in 2022. That would actually be last year.

That can be viewed as a minor error. A larger misstatement is this:

The state of Mississippi did not "set a personal record in reading" on the 2022 Naep. Also, the state didn't "match [its] pre-2020 level of achievement" on those first post-pandemic tests.

In fact, Mississippi "set a personal record in reading" on the 2019 Naep. As in almost every state, its statewide reading scores dropped in 2022.

Adding to the factual chaos, the editors link to this report as they say that Mississippi "set a personal record in reading this year, and its gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exceed every one of its peers’." 

So the editors said, and so the editors linked! But as you can see by clicking that link, the report to which they link is a report from 2019 about Mississippi's gains on the Naep as of that earlier year.

Everyone can and does make mistakes. That said, the editors seem to have no idea what they're talking about as this editorial begins. 

We've told you for years that no one in the mainstream press corps actually cares about any of this. In our view, the gong-show performance in this editorial tends to support that claim, which is built from long experience.

Now for our own apology:

A few weeks back, we (unwisely) set out to finish our earlier discussion of these Mississippi test scores. We haven't continued with that (extremely complex) task.

There are several reasons for that. In part, it involves the complexity of Kevin Drum's two posts on this topic, in the second of which he reversed himself on what he had said in the first.

In this July 3 essay for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik referred to the first of those two posts, and to our own work on this topic. (We underwent surgery on July 5 and didn't see Hiltzik's piece.)

For ourselves, we've never understood either of Kevin's posts on this topic. That includes his initial post, the post to which Hiltzik referred, in which Kevin declared that we had been right about this topic all along.

For the record, we still don't know what we think about Mississippi's improved scores. We do think this delicate thought should probably be floated:

It's routinely said—correctly, as far as we know—that teachers and principals have no reason or incentive to cheat on the Naep. As far as we know, teachers and principals wouldn't even have a way to cheat on the Naep if they wanted to do so.

An additional impression would be this:

It's our impression that state superintendents could conceivably put their thumbs on the scale when it comes to the administration of the Naep within their individual states. 

We aren't sure if that is true, and you can be sure that no American newspaper will ever bother to report it out. But we suspect that it may be the case.

In this brave new era, state superintendents do have an incentive to drive up statewide Naep scores—and, for better or worse, there is a direct tie between Mississippi's statewide administration in the past decade and the gruesome test score cheating debacle which occurred in the D.C. Public Schools during the tenure of Chancellor Michelle Rhee. 

(For the record, Rhee had achieved that lofty position on the basis of long-standing test score claims which were transparently, clownishly phony.)

We've often said that no one ever went broke doubting miraculous test scores in the public schools. Nor is there any reason to think that our journalistic or academic elites would ever go to the trouble of conducting a full exploration of surprising test scores of this type, or of the pleasing Storylines which emanate from such scores.

Are Mississippi's kids really outperforming their peers across the nation by the substantial margins we've described in the past? In our view, it's a possibility, but we'd be inclined to recommend a good healthy dosage of doubt.

Meanwhile, there's the embarrassing, error-riddled presentation by the editorial board of the Washington Post. Recommended translation:

No one actually cares about any of this, and no one ever has. 

An anthropology lesson is lurking here. It remains forever unlearned.

THE SILOS: Aymann Ismail scans banned book!


Is surprised by his own reaction: Long ago and far away, we ourselves were able to witness a public school "book ban."

At issue was the Hemingway short story, Up in Michigan. Experts who have read the story summarize its content as shown:

Jim Gilmore, a blacksmith, comes to Hortons Bay and buys the blacksmith shop. Liz Coates, who has a crush on Jim, is a young woman who works as a waitress for the Smiths. Jim, D. J. Smith, and Charley Wyman go on a deer-hunting trip. When the hunters return, they have a few drinks to celebrate their kill. After supper and a few more drinks, Jim goes into the kitchen and fondles Liz, and says, "Come on for a walk." They go to the end of the dock where Jim's hands explore Liz's body. She is frightened and begs him to stop. He forces himself upon her and passes out on top of her. She gets out from under him and tries to awaken him, and covers him with her coat.

Due to its undisguised content, this early Hemingway story was always controversial. Decades later, in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recalled the way he'd been reproached by Gertrude Stein for writing material that no one would be willing to publish.

Around that same time, we high school students at Aragon High were handed copies of a collection of Hemingway stories. Up in Michigan had been razorcut out of each copy.

Even then, in a liberal-leaning suburban San Francisco high school, someone had decided that this one particular story was inappropriate for us high school kids. Our teacher, the late Jim Price, called our attention to this action—and, if memory serves, he strongly disapproved of this particular "ban."

Longer story shorter: 

Rightly or wrongly, people have always felt that certain types of material would be inappropriate for distribution in public schools. Almost surely, there are books that most modern liberals would be disinclined to present to public school students, even today.

What sorts of material are age- or grade-appropriate for use in public schools? Inevitably, such questions will involve matters of judgment. That said, two victims of modern "book bans" are apparently ready to go to the mattresses over the ongoing bans.

We refer to the authors of And Tango Makes Three, a book we've never read. Their letter appears in today's New York Times. We include its text in full:

Civil Disobedience Against Book Bans?

To the Editor:

Re “This Summer, I Became the Book-Banning Monster of Iowa,” by Bridgette Exman (Opinion guest essay, Sept. 3):

The writer is clearly no monster, and we appreciate how hurtful it must have been for her to be harshly criticized for removing books from school libraries. But as banned authors, we sympathize more deeply with Iowa’s children, who deserve better from school officials than their dutiful execution (however reluctant) of laws that violate fundamental human rights.

Those rights, including freedom of speech, depend on the actions of courageous citizens willing to take risks to defend them. Countless Americans—teachers, librarians and superintendents among them—are working bravely and creatively to resist the regressive tide of book banning today, and we owe them our deepest thanks.

Sharing in The Times that her actions pained her does little for Ms. Exman’s students or the authors whose books she removed, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker among them. Of course, it is human to protect one’s livelihood by following orders even when they violate one’s principles and the rights of others.

But it is not good enough. Children and authors, and the freedoms they rely on, need heroes.

Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson
New York
The writers are the authors of “And Tango Makes Three” and recently filed suit in Florida over the banning and restriction of their book in school libraries.

You're right! These authors haven't exactly advocated "civil disobedience" in reaction to these Florida "book bans." The headline seems to refer to a recommendation found in the third letter published by the Times on this topic today.

Is there anything about And Tango Makes Three which makes it inappropriate for use in a public school? More broadly, is any book ever inappropriate for such placement?

Needless to say, those are matters of judgment. Today, we call your attention to Aymann Ismail's account of what happened when he decided to peruse one of today's "banned books."

Ismail is a staff writer at Slate, a site which has increasingly moved toward sex-based "advice columns" pretty much all the time. The dumbing down of this particular site may serve as a warning to us within our blue silo, where we're strongly inclined to overstate how brilliant we actually are.

Ismail is a 34-year-old father of two. He graduated from Rutgers in 2011. You can read his new essay here. As of yesterday, it was summarized on Slate's front page in the manner shown:

I documenteded “book bans.” I thought they were hysteria. Then I opened one of the most controversial books.

Uh-oh! Long story short, Ismail had been in line with the tribal claim that modern-day "book bans" were just the latest form of hysteria on the part of those in the red tribe silo.

Then he persued one of the books which has most commonly been "banned." In this passage, he starts to describe his reaction to the book. Below, we'll call attention to one amusing point:

ISMAIL (9/11/23): There is no shortage of books being used to panic parents into protesting their local schools or libraries. Concerns over books like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson are easy to shrug off, given how challengers contort themselves to argue that scenes involving sex are simultaneously promoting promiscuity. And it’s hard to believe that a child would accidentally stumble on certain hand-picked selections from novels that are hundreds of pages long.

It’s Perfectly Normal is harder to shrug away. It’s not difficult to see why this book has been an effective cudgel, both in recent years and practically since it was published: Its images are particularly blunt and graphic. That articles and social media posts about parents’ concerns over those cartoons have often blurred them out serves to prove their point. Earlier this year, a pastor in Asheville, North Carolina, made headlines after his mic was cut off during a school board meeting. “If you don’t want to hear it in a school board meeting, why should children be able to check it out of the school system?” he reportedly shouted...

I felt sure that as a 34-year-old father of two there would be nothing in there that would offend my sensibilities. I’d heard nothing but glowing reviews from sex-ed pros about the child-friendly language in the book. But flipping through the book’s pages finally, I was a little shocked...

Ismail goes on to describe his reactions to this frequently "banned" book. Along the way, he touches on an amusing point:

Often, newspapers which defend such books against blue tribe "bans" refuse to publish the parts of the books which have produced the complaints. This may "serve to prove [the book-banners'] point," Ismail wryly muses.

Summarizing, Ismail was surprised by his own reactions to It's Perfectly Normal, given his general prior stance concerning the "banning" of books. His sensibilities rose up to offend him in a way he hadn't expected.

A shocking possibility may lurk in this essay by Ismail. As we noted yesterday, that shocking possibility was recently voiced by Bill Maher, in the following way:

 [Trump supporters] see him as the one thing that is standing between them and something even crazier. And there is a lot of Crazy on the left.

Those of us within our blue silo have railed at the Others with their incessant "book bans." But when Ismail perused this particular book, he found that he himself wasn't sure how he felt about its graphic contents.

Should this book be on the shelves of libraries in our public schools? We have no idea how to answer that question, but we'll make this suggestion:

In an age of cultural segregation—in an age when we the people frequently live in separate silos—it's easy denounce the Others for their racist / homophobic / transphobic ways.

(Or for being "Marxists," an assessment commonly tossed around on the comically awful Fox & Friends.)

Our blue tribe does that sort of thing all the time. Whatever we may end up deciding about some particular policy or book, it may be harder to consider the possibility that the Others may not be quite as crazy or evil or subhuman as we have instinctively claimed.

Bill Maher told Ari Melber that there's even a lot of crazy over here on the left! When people have started living in silos, that can sounds like a crazy idea in itself.

That said, we've seen a lot of backsliding by blue tribe members in recent days. Have some of the notions we have framed as we live in our own blue silo possibly been a bit overwrought? Is it possible that Maher was a tiny bit right?

Long ago and far way, someone razorcut Up in Michigan out of our public school textbook. 

On balance, that decision may have been unwise. 

That said, is it possible that residents of our own blue silo can overreact to such behaviors? Is it possible that we ourselves can end up being unhelpful, self-defeating? Can we end up being unwise in spite of our ballyhooed brilliance?

Tomorrow: Some liberals say they (almost) agree with DeSantis!

We humans believe the darnedest things!


An anthropology lesson: Reading between the lines, we sense Kevin Drum's frustration:

What Republicans believe, 2023 edition

What false things do Republicans routinely believe these days? I'm not talking about wild-ass conspiracy theories like QAnon, or matters of opinion, like whether tax cuts produce higher revenue or CRT is wrecking our schools. No, I'm talking about simple, factual matters that are 100% contrary to expert opinion but are accepted routinely by most Republicans. Here are a few:

  • Trump won the election.
  • COVID came from a lab leak.
  • Climate change is a hoax.
  • Joe Biden took bribes from Hunter's clients.
  • Masks don't affect COVID transmission.
  • The FBI is engaged in a partisan war against Republicans.

Anything else?

It's true! Many Republican voters do believe those things. Anthropologically, one reason is this:

Such voters have heard those claims again and again—then again and again and again and again—from the "news sources" they've come to trust. Because they trust the sources in question, they assume that their statements are accurate.

Also, given the way our "news" is now delivered, many of those Republican voters have never heard a serious attempt to challenge such factual claims. 

They only hear the claims which come from within the silo of the red tribe. The old Crossfire model, in which factual claims were delivered in pairs, is long since dead and gone.

For the record, widespread belief in unlikely claims predated the age of the silo. Back in the 1980s, many people believed an array of highly improbable claims claim about sexual abuse of children in various preschools. 

As of 2002, many people believed the claim that 9/11 was an inside job.

We liberals are inclined to think that only the Others believe bogus claims. Also, why won't the Others listen to us? We're often inclined to voice some basic theories about that basic question. 

We're often inclined to believe that the Others won't listen to us because the Others are racists (sexists / misogynists / homophobes / transphobes). Our question:

Could that be one of the darnedest things we humans are inclined to believe?

THE SILOS: "A lot of Crazy on the left?"


Is our own blue bayou a swamp? According to experts, life on the cable show Fox & Friends is a daily anthropology lesson.

The propaganda flow is endless. Quite routinely, the deeply dangerous flow of propaganda is just plain comically awful. This teaches an anthropology lesson—a lesson in how far we humans will often be willing to go in support of Storyline, in fealty to Tribe.

The comically awful Fox & Friends is broadcast from within the red tribe's silo. In this morning's New York Times, Bret Stephens offers an instructive remark about the cable news shows which are broadcast from the fetid bayous which constitute our own blue tribe's blue silo.

For the record, Stephens has been aggressively anti-Trump dating to 2016. In this morning's "Conversation" with Gail Collins, he says that he'll probably vote for Joe Biden next year, "barring the miracle of a Nikki Haley or Chris Christie candidacy on the Republican line."

For ourselves, we'll definitely be voting for Biden next year, or for whoever else may appear on the Democratic line. That said, we think Stephens made an important point about life inside our own blue tribe when he cited this possible threat to Biden's re-election:

STEPHENS (9/12 23): Assuming the president wants to get re-elected, while preserving the possibility of immigration reform sometime in the next, oh, 100 years, he has to get control of the border. Right now. ...

[W]e’ve had a 30-month crisis that too many Democrats downplayed until it became a blue-state problem...[I]f Biden doesn’t get control of the border, it will become Donald Trump’s signature—and possibly winning— issue in next year’s campaign.

Could the border become Donald J. Trump's winning issue next year? We'd say that it certainly could!

Increasingly, we have a hard time believing that President Biden can get re-elected at all. For today, we'll only suggest that you take note of Stephens' remark about the way "too many Democrats downplayed [the border issue] until it became a blue-state problem."

Alas! The Crazy emerges from the red tribe's silo all day long. That said, the major stars within our own blue silo have almost wholly avoided discussing the border—until black Democratic mayors recently began to scream and complain about the failures of immigration policy.

The Crazy is endless from within the red silo. But whenever we flip over to reports from within the blue silo, we find a group of screaming Mimis who can only discuss one topic:

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

For members of our own blue tribe, the notion that Trump is going to jail is pleasing comfort food. When our tribunes discuss that topic and virtually nothing else, they almost seem to be engaged in a form of moral and mental illness—and they may be ensuring Biden's defeat, much as Stephens suggests.

Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail! Starting at 4 p.m. each day, our corporate tribunes serve us bowls of that pleasing gruel and they offer us little else.

This strikes us as a form of madness by avoidance. That said, and in total fairness, Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail is a blue silo product which sells.

The friends at Fox broadcast their wares starting at 5 a.m. But under our current form of news by silo, they're never forced to interact with the tribunes of our own blue tribe. 

By the same token, the nattering tribunes of our own tribe are never forced to interact with them! So it goes in a culture of news by silo—in a culture where news and opinion are segregated by viewpoint.

Tales of immigration disaster have been spreading from the blue tribe's silo all along.  Full disclosure:

Some of these broadcasts have even been basically accurate! 

By way of contrast, corporate tribunes within our own tribe have helped us cover our ears and shutter our minds. To our own ear, the refusal to address this problem has been a form of madness by omission. 

That said, Bill Maher made a shocking statement—a statement of a different type—to MSNBC's Ari Melber last week.

In part, Bill's remark was triggered by something Melber said. Tomorrow, we'll show you what Melber said—but for today, this was part of Bill's reply:

MAHER (9/7/23): [Trump supporters] see him as the one thing that is standing between them and something even crazier. And there is a lot of Crazy on the left.

Say what? There's a lot of Crazy on the left? Is Bill allowed to say that?

More to the point, could his statement perhaps be accurate in some tiny way? Is there any chance that what he said bears a germ of truth?

As you may know, we go back with Bill all the way to the Richmond Comedy Club days. Our six appearances on his initial program, Politically Incorrect, are some sort of unassailable industry record.

We don't always agree with Bill's pronouncements. But we thought his statement to Melber had the ring of truth.

To our ear, the love of Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail has become a form of moral and intellectual illness. In fairness, this theme is incessantly broadcast from within our blue silo because it's good for profits.

Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail? We love love love to hear it! 

In our view, it has become a dangerous form of crazy by omission. But is there possibly something more to what Bill said? Is there some sort of "crazy on the left" by commission which could end up defeating Biden next year?

Roy Orbison sang of a certain blue bayou. Awful as The Others may be, is our own blue silo a swamp?

Tomorrow: Like Augustine, we confess