WEAKER APART: Professors and journalists, weaker together!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2017

Part 3—The Washington Post relents:
Inevitably, your DAILY HOWLER keeps cranking out those results.

We refer to the Washington Post's decision to change the headline we cited in yesterday's report. Below, you see the way the headline was, as compared to the way it is now:
The way it was:

White millennials are just as racist as their grandparents

The way it is today:

Trump’s lasting legacy is to embolden an entirely new generation of racists
Will that be Donald J. Trump's lasting legacy? As opposed, let us say, to the role he may yet play in producing the end of the world?

We don't know how to answer your question! But that eye-catching, original headline was ushered to the memory hole just as soon as your DAILY HOWLER noted how gongy it was.

Briefly, let's be fair. From the standpoint of the catching of eyes, that headline had it all!

It not only dropped an R-bomb, which is sure to get juices flowing. It also tossed a generational claim around!

A fiery R-bomb, linked to a G-bomb! Presumably, nothing grabs eyeballs so well!

Don't misunderstand! Imaginably, there would imaginably be a way to determine if, on average, tens of millions of people in one generation might be "just as racist" as the tens of millions of people who are, on average, their grandparents.

Imaginably, our professors and journalists could imaginably make such a finding. But that didn't happen in the column written by Catherine Rampell.

Sad! For starters, that exciting, eye-catching headline was an embellishment of what Rampell had actualy said in the column so bannered.

In our view, Rampell's actual claim was unwise and dumb on its own. But that headline ratcheted what she said, presumably yielding more clicks.

Here's what Rampell actually said. This came near the end of her column:
RAMPELL (8/15/17): More significantly, the presumption that millennials are uniformly more progressive than earlier generations is false.

Millennials overall are more racially tolerant than earlier generations—but that’s because young people today are less likely to be white. White millennials exhibit about as much racial prejudice, as measured by explicit bias, as white Gen Xers and boomers.
These white millennials today! Rampell nuancedly said that they "exhibit about as much racial prejudice, as measured by explicit bias, as white Gen Xers and boomers." The reader was left to imagine what "racial prejudice, as measured by explicit bias," might actually mean or be.

As written, Rampell's claim was rather murky. That said, the headline writer dropped all the qualifiers—and he or she turned "racial prejudice, as measured by explicit bias," into "racis[m]," the bomb that has launched a million clicks.

Yesterday, someone at the Washington Post decided to change that headline. For ourselves, we spent some time examining the data to which Rampell had semi-referred.

When we did, sad! Rampell's link took us tothis April 2015 report by the Post's Scott Clement. Just seven years out of Vanderbilt at the time, he was identified as "the polling manager at The Washington Post, specializing in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy."

Appendix aside, Clement's actual piece had been fairly short. Especially in its appendix ("General Social Survey methodology and question wording"), it was at various times strikingly incoherent.

That said, Clement's piece from April 2015 still bears an eye-catching headline. Here's what that headline says:
Millennials are just about as racist as their parents
Seven years out of Vanderbilt, the Washington Post's polling director, not unlike Santa of old, knew who was naughty and who was nice in at least two generations.

"Surely not all millennials are racist," Clement magnanimously said near the start of his piece. He went on to offer evidence in support of the implied claim which was fairly accurately captured in the headline atop his report.

As has been clear for a good long time, R-bombs are very good for our liberal world's tribal soul. Presumably, they're also good for clicks at newspapers like the Post.

That said, alas! Again and again, R-bombs turn out to be good for something else. They're often help us see how weak one modern alliance is.

We refer to the often unholy alliance between These College Professors Today and These High-End Journalists. We might all be better off if these two groups were kept apart!

Due to events in Charlottesvile, we may terminate the report we planned for this week—at least, we may terminate it for now.

Those events from Virginia are much more pressing this week. That said, the Washington Post's bomb-laden headlines almost surely play a part in that larger story.

What made the Washington Post feel it could offer the eye-catching headline which topped that 2015 report? The eye-catching headline in which, like a god, some editor brandished a favorite bomb, spread across two generations?

In large part, the Post's polling director had been working from a particular question on "the General Social Survey conducted by NORC's 2010, 2012 and 2014 waves." He didn't bother explaining what that acronym meant, so we won't bother either.

For today, we'll only say this:

We think the use to which that question was put helps display the remarkable lack of skill which is often put on display by our professors and journalists, who often seem to be weaker together. Therein lies a ancillary tale:

We liberals! We tend to find it hard to believe that our professors are perhaps a bit weak in the head, especially when their deathless surveys lead to headlines which tickle our tribal scripts. Sadly, our willingness to bow to authority in this way makes us resemble, in ever so tiny a way. the long-derided ditto-headedness long declared Over There.

We've long ridiculed that trait when displayed by Those People. Over There, they've swallowed all manner of cant from Rush. We tend to get ours from our professors, especially as their work is channeled through columnists and "polling directors."

Had that youngish polling director really found a way to measure the "racism" of two generations? Yesterday, in an easy link, Rampell seemed to say that he had.

An exciting headline followed. Later, it was withdrawn.

We liberals have been highly skilled for many years at seeing how dumb The Others are. In truth, the pronouncements of Rush and Sean have routinely, though not always, been tremendously dumb.

But good God and holy smokes! The major pathetic unhelpful Big Dumb can also be found Over Here!

Today, the headline which sat atop Rampell's column is gone. Incomparably, your DAILY HOWLER keeps pounding out those results.

Elsewhere in today's Washington Post,
superb reporting describes the complaints of some of the nation's least discerning young men—young men who are found Over There.

We'll stick to that work for the rest of the week. But the dumbness is also quite thick Over Here, and the stories are not unrelated.

Charlottesville: There but for fortune, continued!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2017

Two ways of seeing a life:
In this morning's Washington Post, the portrait of a life continues.

The life is that of James Fields, the 20-year-old man who seems to have committed a lunatic murder this weekend.

He seems to have done a crazy thing. According to the Post's front-page report, it didn't come out of the blue:
HERNANDEZ (8/15/17): Years before a 20-year-old Ohio man allegedly rammed his car into a panicked crowd of activists in Charlottesville, it was his disabled mother who was terrified.

James Alex Fields Jr. was barely a teenager in 2010 when his mother—who uses a wheelchair—locked herself in a bathroom, called 911 and said her son had struck her head and put his hands over her mouth when she told him to stop playing a video game, according to police records. On another occasion, records show, he brandished a 12-inch knife. Once, he spit in her face.

“Mom is scared he is going to become violent here,” a dispatcher wrote in a log of the November 2011 call
in which Fields’s mother, Samantha Bloom, requested police help in getting her son to a hospital for assessment.

The portrait of a violent teen emerged as Fields was denied bail Monday during his first court appearance in connection with the Charlottesville attack that killed one and injured 19 others...
In 2010, Fields was 13. It sounds like something was already terribly, horribly wrong:
HERNANDEZ: The 911 records indicating Fields’s teenage outbursts, first reported by the website TMZ, cover police calls made while Fields and his mother lived in Florence, Ky., about 20 minutes southwest of Cincinnati. In the past year, they moved near Toledo. The records seem to indicate that he was arrested and held in juvenile detention after the November 2011 call.

In the 2010 call, Bloom reported that her son had struck her in the head and threatened to beat her after she told him to stop playing video games. Bloom said her son was taking medication to control his temper and told authorities that she was locked in the bathroom.

In October of the following year, Bloom called 911 to say that her son was “being very threatening toward her” and that she didn’t feel “in control of the situation,”
according to a dispatcher’s notes.

And in November 2011, police were asked to come to the house because Bloom was said to want her son to be assessed at a hospital, according to the records. He had spat in her face, said the caller, whose connection to the family is not clear in the records.

The previous night, Fields had stood behind his mother with a 12-inch knife, the caller reported.

“Scared mom to death not knowing if he was going to do something,” the dispatcher’s report continued.
In 2011, Field was 14. It sounds like something was terribly wrong at that point.

There seem to be at least two ways you can respond to reporting like this. Over here, we tend to start by saying, "There but for fortune." (For background, see yesterday's post.) Whatever explains such disturbed behavior at such a young age, we ourselves were never so afflicted.

Perhaps we got better help at home. Perhaps this young person had organic medical problems of a type we never had.

If a young person if your own family started behaving this way, you'd probably want to try to get him help. In the case of this young person, such efforts—it sounds like he was on medication—don't seem to have worked in the end.

We'll be honest! When we read about young people like this, we tend to take the "bleeding-heart liberal" approach. We feel sorry for his lost life. We tend to say, "There but for fortune."

We'll make Josh the bad guy again. Yesterday afternoon, in this post, he linked to a report about this early disturbed behavior.

To our ear, his headline—"Fits The Pattern"—seems to signal or suggest our own tribe's tribal greatness. The "pattern" would seem to be that of Those People. We don't sense the presence of a heart mourning a second lost life.

When we saw that post by Josh, we thought of the speech from On the Waterfront, the speech by the Eva Marie Saint character. As she speaks with the Brando character, she affirms the values of bleeding heart liberals. In our view, the reaction of the Brando character forms the heart of the film.

Before the week is done, we'll post the text of that brief speech. Sixty-three years later, we'll recommend the worldview it espouses.

One final point. Last night, speaking with Anderson Cooper, Susan Bro continued to express her moral greatness.

Her 32-year-old daughter, Heather Heyer, was the person who was killed. But she said she had two feeling about the young man who killed her:
BRO (8/14/17): I have two feelings about this young man.

One is, he was extremely young, in my opinion. He's not a child. He's an adult. He made his decisions, and I believe that he thought hate was going to be the answer, and that hate is going to fix things.

But he was wrong, and he will some day come to see that, I hope. And I'm sorry for the pain he will go through when he sees that. I'm sorry for the pain he's putting his mother through right now.

I'm also extremely sorry that he chose to kill my child and to injure a bunch of other people. He didn't have the right to do that. And if you watch the tapes, you can tell he had that exactly in mind.
In our view, Bro just keeps expressing remarkable moral greatness. In our view, we could use a bit more of that within our liberal and corporate liberal tents, where the unwise, self-impressed virtue signalling is running quite high this week.

WEAKER APART: These (white) millennials today!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2017

Part 2—Carol Leifer's joke:
In the past few days, we've found ourselves thinking about Carol Leifer's joke.

In our view, it wasn't one of her better jokes, but it did score with audiences. We're going back to the 1980s, when Carol—according to the leading authority on her life—was well on her way to her total of 25 Letterman spots.

Carol was a very nice person and a very successful comedian. We refer to her joke about throwing the ball for the dog—rather, about pretending to do so.

The protagonist of Carol's joke would pretend to throw the ball, then skillfully hide it. He or she would howl with laughter when the dog raced off, in complete confusion. We've been thinking about the punchline, which went something like this:

How far down the evolutionary scale do we have to go to find someone we can feel superior to?

We'll guess that Carol's wording was tighter. But we've been thinking of that joke—and of Tim Russert's interview.

The interview to which we refer took place in 1999. Four years later, writing for Slate, Jack Shafer said Russert got beaten:
SHAFER (7/2/03): One-time grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and permanent white-supremacist nut job David Duke beat Russert badly in March 1999, when he appeared on Meet the Press during his Louisiana campaign for a seat in the House of Representatives. Unable to stick it to Duke with his time-proven techniques, Russert sputtered, steamed, and almost boiled over.
In real time, other pundits didn't think that Russert had been beaten that day. In his selection of a guest, he'd gone all the way down the scale to Duke, who he proceeded to savage, pound, assail and slam for his abhorrent views.

When we think of that interview, we think of Leifer's joke. If we recall correctly, Russert was widely praised by other pundits for the way he'd defeated Duke. But then, Russert was always widely praised, no matter what he did.

(Not necessarily his fault! Based on our own few interactions with Russert, he too was a very nice person.)

It isn't hard to pretend to throw a ball and get your dog confused. Similarly, it isn't hard to find the shortcomings in the worldview of someone like Duke, former top dog of the Klan.

Within the American context, it's amazingly easy to spot the flaws in his histories of 1) the Ku Klux Klan and 2) the German Third Reich. It's so easy to spot these flaws that even our pundits can do it.

This has led to several days of active "virtue signalling" on the part of this hardy band. As they take turns assuring us that they disapprove of Klansmen and Nazis, they also take turns assailing Donald J. Trump for the fact that he maybe, possibly, pretty much just perhaps doesn't feel the same way.

Our many pundits have stood in line to engage in this "virtue signalling." We aren't real impressed by their noble displays.
Here's why:

How far down the scale do you have to go to get to Donald J. Trump? It isn't hard to find the tiny small imperceptible flaws within the conduct of his life. But then, something else isn't hard to find:

It isn't hard to find the disgrace in the way our reporters and pundits, and their corporate owners, agreed to go easy on Trump, and make money off Trump, pretty much every step of the way.

The people who signal their virtue today rolled over and died in real time. There was lots of money to make from interviewing Candidate Trump—and from failing to make him angry, guaranteeing that he would come back for many future guest spots.

For these reasons, the reporters, pundits and TV stars largely rolled over and died. Why had this peculiar fellow made himself king of the birthers starting in 2011? Despite their signals of virtue today, these hustlers agreed not to ask.

In this and a hundred other ways, they helped smooth Trump's way to the Oval.

(Other ways? When Comey launched his first attack in July 2016, he was praised for two nights on the Maddow Show, then never mentioned again. When Trump's main birther enabler, Greta Van Susteren, got hired at MSNBC, a certain major cable star told her fans that they should watch Greta's new show because of her journalist greatness. She even said that she and Greta were regular drinking pals! Meanwhile, Susan Rice is still under the bus from 2012, when Benghazi scripts were being created, in part thanks to the total silence from These Corporate Liberals Today. The people who played the game this way are signalling virtue today.)

Today, these people are signalling virtue. They've found a message so simple and pleasing that even they can repeat it.

That said, we think you should be very unhappy with all this easy group virtue. You don't have to be very high on the scale to see that Nazis and Klansmen are perhaps a bit less than ideal. When our "thought leaders" signal their virtue this way, we're all very low on the scale.

In this, our main report for the week, we'd planned to engage in a largely technical venture. Tomorrow, we'll start to follow through with some of what we'd planned, but events in Charlottesville have taken a bit of precedence.

That said, the virtue signaling has been general in our press corps this week. And uh-oh! Aside from the Nazis and the Klansmen, no one is taking it on the chin quite like these (white) millennials today.

These millennials today! Last week, an analysis piece for the Washington Post appeared beneath this eye-catching headline:
Think millennials are woke? A new poll suggests some are still sleeping on racism.
Just this once, we'll be honest. As we reviewed the results of the survey in question, we didn't see any way to determine whether some, many, all or even a few millennials are still sleeping on racism, whatever that might turn out to mean.

That headline grabbed eyeballs, but it didn't seem smart. Then this morning, Bam! Here, readers—have another:
White millennials are just as racist as their grandparents
That headline appears above a new column by Catherine Rampell in that same Washington Post. These millennials today! They got hammered again!

We can't say that today's headline captures the overall gist of Rampell's column. That said, she does cite a survey, late in her piece, which is alleged to say something like that. Tomorrow, we'll examine what "survey says."

For today, we'll only say this: someone at the Washington Post seems to like eye-catching headlines. Those headlines excite our tired blood, and they may seem to signal virtue.

Those headlines may suggest moral greatness. But again and again in the past few days, we've had the feeling that we are observing a great deal more signal than virtue.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the survey Rampell cites. Thursday, we'll plan to return to the starting point we defined in yesterday's award-winning post.

Tomorrow: The professors posed a question. Did their question make sense?

North Korea hasn't ceased to exist!

MONDAY, AUGUST 14, 2017

Mike Mullen, asked and answered:
Events in Charlottesville have largely pushed North Korea off the center of the cable and broadcast news maps.

That said, North Korea hasn't ceased to exist. With that in mind, we call your attention to Mike Mullen's assesment on yesterday's Meet the Press.

From 2007 through 2011, Mullen was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Yesterday, he voiced concern about the rhetoric used by Donald J. Trump in the past week or so.

This led to a question about rationality. Presumably, Todd was discussing the rationality of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, though he didn't explicitly say who he was asking about.

Our own supreme leader has been engaging in "fire and brimstone" rhetoric which "looks like brinksmanship," Mullen said. Here's what he went on to say about their supreme leader:
TODD (8/13/17): Jim Clapper, former director of national intelligence, he says essentially the notion of North Koreans denuclearizing is just—I think he called it a non-starter. And he essentially says it's time to accept the notion that they're going to be a nuclear regime, and we kind of have to move on from that. Do you accept that?

MULLEN: I don't accept that yet. I recognize that as an option or an outcome, and certainly there is a, there is a—one option is to accept that, and then contain him.

Obviously, the concern you would have with that is somehow, he has this weapon. And he is still somewhat of an unknown to us, and unpredictable, and someone that we can't in any way, shape or form predict.

TODD: Do you think he is rational? Do you think he's a rational actor?

MULLEN: No, I don't think he is rational.

TODD: You don't think he's rational.

MULLEN: No, he's got a— I don't think he's a rational actor. He's got a rich history in his family, the legacy to uphold. He is on a race to gain this capability. Much different from his father or his grandfather in terms of developing capability. He is on a flat-out sprint to develop this capability and then see what happens.
We're assuming that the highlighted exchange was about Kim Jong-un.

We don't know if Mullen is right in his assessment of Kim. But in Mullen's apparent view, our supreme leader has been engaged in "almost a fire and brimstone" type of "brinksmanship" in the rhetorical realm, while their supreme leader "may not be a rational actor."

This topic moved off center-stage this weekend. Perhaps our leader will get distracted. But the basic situation is still very much there.

Charlottesville: "Hate only engenders more hate!"

MONDAY, AUGUST 14, 2017

The mother and the thought leader:
Susan Bro's daughter was killed this weekend.

Her daughter's name was Heather Heyer. At the age of 32, she was killed in Charlottesville, apparently due to a lunatic act by James Fields, age 20.

In this morning's Washington Post, two reporters describe an interview with Bro about her daughter's killing. At one point, Bro joins the forces of moral greatness when she discusses Fields:
SILVERMAN AND LARIS (8/14/17): Every time Bro closed her eyes Saturday night, the tears would come. When she couldn't sleep, she tried busying herself doing laundry. "Who does laundry when their child's died? That's all I could do," she said.

Despite her pain, Bro said she doesn't want people to hate Fields. It isn't what her daughter would have wanted, she said.

"Our daughter did not live a life of hate, and hating this young man is not going to solve anything. . . . It's not that I think he should go unpunished for his crime. But hate only engenders more hate, and there's no purpose in hate," Bro said. "Heather's life was about—passionately about—fairness and equality and caring, and that's what we want people to take away from this."
"Heather's life was passionately about caring. That was the mother's reaction. It recalls the reactions of some of the Charleston families in the wake of the murders in 2015 by Dylann Roof, who had just turned 21.

The astounding reactions of those families produced amazement and admiration all over the world. In yesterday's interview, Heather Heyer's mother joined their number.

A major journalist reacted in a quite different way this weekend. He recommended this unwise twitter thread, in which a group of youngish people seemed to be applauding the possibility of violent revenge.

Before we link you to that thread, let's think about Fields for a minute. This front-page profile in today's Post describes his own family background.

His father was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1997, five months before he was born. On his mother's side of the family, his grandfather murdered his grandmother, than committed suicide, in 1984. This murder-suicide occurred when Field's mother was 16 years old.

An uncle offers more information, and speculates a bit:
SHAPIRO (8/14/17): Fields, he said, grew up mostly in Northern Kentucky, where he had been raised by a single mother, Samantha Bloom, who is a paraplegic. The uncle, who saw Fields mostly at family gatherings, described his nephew as “not really friendly, more subdued.”

Fields joined the Army in late in the summer of 2015 but was on active duty for less than four months, according to online records from the Defense Department. It was unclear why he served so briefly.

“The what-ifs,” the uncle said. “What could’ve been—you can’t answer questions like that. There’s no way of knowing if his life would have been different if his father had been around.”
When we read about such matters, we tend to think of a song which was popular in certain circles when we ourselves were 20.

The song is There but for Fortune. It was written by Phil Ochs, most famously sung by Joan Baez.

When we read about stories like that, we often think of the fact that our grandparents didn't die in a murder/suicide when our mother was 16. Our father wasn't killed by a hit and run driver before we were born.

We don't know what might have made Fields commit the act of which he's accused. But we tend toward the old ways in such matters, toward the worldview called "bleeding-heart liberalism."

Heyer's mother tends toward the world of moral greatness. To borrow a phrase from Eugene Genovese, it's largely, within the American context, an artifact of "the world the [enslaved people] made."

Globally, it's largely an artifact of Mandela and Dr. King, by way of Ghandi—and by way of what the young Dr. King repeatedly referred to as "the love ethic of Jesus."

That love ethic was revolutionary because we humans don't instinctively function in the ways it recommended. This fact is being played out in various ways at this time.

Yesterday, we clicked a link in this post by Josh Marshall and perused that twitter thread. The twitter thread concerned a different 20-year-old who was present in Charlottesville this weekend.

We thought Josh showed very poor judgment in recommending its tweets, which he seemed to find heroic, fitting and just.

When we read that twitter thread, we thought of The Mortal Storm, the fascinating 1940 (fictional) film about the rise of Hitler youth. We thought about what happened to China when a large cadre of its younger, unwise people helped stage The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

We thought about Lord of the Flies. We thought about the most remarkable passages in Dr. King's first book, Stride Toward Freedom.

We also thought about one of our favorite speeches from film—the speech in On the Waterfront in which the character played by Eva Marie Saint speaks to the Marlon Brando character on behalf of the basic tenets of bleeding-heart liberalism.

We'll review that speech, and that twitter thread, in the next few days. We thought the instincts on display in that thread were thoroughly "human, all too human" and also deeply unwise.

For today, we'll recommend Susan Bro to the world. We think Marshall gave his readers some amazingly poor advice. So it goes as the world continues to turn and we work, inevitably, to become more like the people we like to say we despise.

WEAKER APART: Seeing the glass a tiny bit empty!

MONDAY, AUGUST 14, 2017

Part 1—These alleged millennials today:
"Stronger together," Candidate Clinton repeatedly said.

In our view, it was a pretty good slogan. In some ways, it was a version of her husband's earlier campaign watchword:

"We don't have a person to waste."

One candidate won, one candidate lost. Each time, we agreed with the outlook.

That said, to what extent are we the people "together" at this juncture? More specifically, to what extent do we tend to share views on the most sensitive "social issues," on matters of gender and race?

Asking the question a gloomier way, to what extent have we been torn asunder on such issues? More specifically, to what extent do Those People hold retrograde views Over There, as opposed to the principled outlooks found in our own liberal tents?

In recent years, we liberals have tended to develop a gloomy, and perhaps misleading, reflexive approach in these areas. We're strongly inclined to see the glass a few percentage points empty, even when the glass in question seems to be largely full.

Did Clinton say we're "stronger together?" Again and again, it seems we liberals may be inclined to prefer "weaker apart." We seem inclined to stress relatively small amounts of difference, as opposed to larger degrees of agreement. We especially tend to adopt this stance when it lets us denigrate The Others, the lesser folk found Over There.

Alas! Even when The Others largely agree with our own spectacular views, we're inclined to focus on much smaller degrees of difference. In our view, this impulse was played out last week in a pair of intriguing pieces, one at the New York Times, one at the Washington Post.

To what analysis pieces do we refer? One was written by Nicole Lewis, a member of the Washington Post's Intern Class of 2017. The other was written by Professor Vavreck, a contributor at the New York Times' brainiac Upshot blog.

In our view, a familiar type of alarmism seemed to guide each effort. We think our tribe could improve its game by reviewing the preconceptions which seemed to be in play at each piece.

For today, let's start at the Washington Post, where Nicole Lewis, the intern in question, discussed These Millennials Today. We thought our tribe's instinct toward gloom was on display right in the eye-catching headline, which Lewis orobably didn't write:
Think millennials are woke? A new poll suggests some are still sleeping on racism.
Are some millennials "still sleeping on racism?" Depending on how you make your assessment, "some" almost certainly are! Presumably, some always will be!

Presumably, there will never be a time when someone fails to be completely "woke" in such complex and difficult areas. An analysis of such matters becomes helpful only when it tells us how many such people we're talking about, and when it tells us to what degree such people remain un-woke.

No doubt, that headline was meant to grab the eyeballs of Post readers. We're assuming the headline was written by a Post editor, not by the intern who wrote the actual piece.

That headline was meant to startle us with a suggestion about These Racist Millennials Today! It did so in the reflexively gloomy way our tribe prefers in these areas.

That said, to what extent are different groups of millennials fully "woke" on race? As we'll note tomorrow, we thought Lewis betrayed a strong instinct to see the glass a tiny bit empty, rather than largely full.

Specifically, she seemed to say that different groups of millennials differed substantially on matters of race. As she engaged in this familiar reflex, we thought she skipped past the most intriguing data in the survey she reviewed.

Meanwhile, we saw no evidence that any group was less than substantially "woke." We saw nothing which would explain that eye-catching, pleasing headline.

Over at the New York Times, Professor Vavreck was exploring a slightly different question. In these highly partisan times, she wanted to know if we the people even agree on what it means to be an American!

"[T]he 2016 election made clear that there isn’t universal agreement on what it means to be an American," she somewhat vaguely, and rather gloomily, said. (Her piece appeared in Saturday's hard-copy Times.) She went on to frisk the views expressed by members of various groups concerning the importance of immigration status, knowledge of English, ancestry and religion.

In our view, the professor's analysis seemed a bit gloomy—and she seemed inclined to place her thumbs on familiar scales. Almost as if by rule of law, she found that Those People, the ones who voted for Donald J. Trump, hold "exclusionary conceptions of American identity" on the basis of their answers to a set of survey questions.

She focused on the (relatively minor) degree to which responses by Trump voters differed from responses by other groups. She referred to the "stark differences" between Trump voters and these various groups, downplaying the fact that their answers agreed with those of the other groups in much larger measure.

Lewis is a Washington Post intern; Vavreck is a professor at UCLA. Despite their differences, we were struck by the degree to which each seemed inclined to overlook substantial points of agreement between different groups among us, the people.

The instinctive creation of Us and Them! It has always been one of our strongest human inclinations. Again and again, we liberals tend to picture the world in this gloomy manner.

We liberals! Are we disinclined, at this point in time, to take yes for an answer? Are we inclined to shun stronger together in favor of weaker apart?

Tomorrow: The data on these sleeping and woke millennials today!

ENDLESS SUMMER: Inconvenient history lesson!

SATURDAY, AUGUST 12, 2017

Kakutani at war:
Even as we summered in chic southern Maine last week, we continued to behave like award-winning citizens.

In that role, we watched the bulk of CNN's hour-long "Town Hall on Climate Change," which aired last Tuesday night.

Anderson Cooper's guest for the hour was Al Gore. We were impressed by what we saw, and also somewhat saddened.

We were very much impressed by the continuing depth of Gore's knowledge. It seemed to equip him to discuss every topic which arose.

Within our impoverished pseudo-discourse, you rarely see a politician, or anyone else, display so much knowledge of any subject. We were very much impressed by the way the much-maligned Gore has kept up.

We were saddened when we compared the remarkable state of Gore's knowledge to the array of ludicrous claims which have steadily emerged from the current occupant of the Oval Office, a fellow named Donald J. Trump.

Gore didn't get there, but Donald Trump did! How in the world did that happen?

Long ago and far away, Candidate Gore didn't get there. Last Tuesday night, he displayed an endless array of knowledge about the onrushing endless summer he first discussed in detail in his widely-praised 1992 book, Earth in the Balance.

As someone who knew Gore when he was a teen, we were impressed by the depth of his knowledge. But alas! As we start measuring icebergs in terms of which state they most resemble, we also felt fairly certain that this knowledge will be of little use, that it's too late to avoid the summer which will drown significant parts of the world.

Upon our return to our sprawling campus this week, we've tried to clean our desk of certain topics we hadn't quite gotten around to discussing.

Today, that takes us to this recent piece in Slate, in which one of the youngsters cheekily explored the possibility that Michiko Kakutani, the long-time New York Times book critic, is “the stupidest person in New York City.”

For background, see Thursday's report.


News flash: rather plainly, Kakutani isn't that "stupidist" person, or anything dimly like it. The youngster at Slate was just having some fun with the silliness and snark which now helps define the silly worldview of the new, younger end of the guild.

In the course of enjoying her snark, the youngster listed six reviews for which Kakutani has been name-called down through the years. We were struck by the dog of war which didn't bark—by the absence of the worst review Kakutani ever wrote, a review the snarky youngster at Slate has almost surely never heard of.

Kakutani has been a Times book critic for 34 years. What was her worst review?

It's a piece she wrote at a time of war. It's this lengthy front-page piece from November 1999, in which Kakutani reviewed the books of five White House hopefuls. That included the aforementioned book by the aforementioned Gore.

Briefly, let's be specific. In the strictest sense, this wasn't exactly a review of Earth in the Balance, which had received a rave review in the New York Times when it actually appeared, seven years earlier.

Kakutani's front-page piece was a retrospective on several candidates' books. In the course of the lengthy piece, she devoted about 800 words to Gore's now-ludicrous tome.

Why was Gore's widely-praised book now so silly and stupid? Because, dearest darlings, a war was now on! We refer to the war against Candidate Gore which that well-intentioned youngster at Slate has quite likely never heard mentioned.

In the main, this war was being conducted by the upper-end mainstream press—by the Washington Post and the New York Times—not by the "right-wing noise machine." It was, for example, being conducted by the hiss-spitting columns of Maureen Dowd, who had just been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her work on Miss Lewinsky.

Kakutani has been described as "one of Dowd’s circle of extremely close female friends at the New York Times." There's nothing wrong with that, of course—until you read the 800 words in question.

When Gore's book appeared in 1992, it had been hailed as a masterful, highly knowledgable work. We'll offer you links below.

That was then—but this was now. Now, it was 1999, and Candidate Gore was being chased all around by the mainstream press corps. Rather plainly, this was happening because he was seen as the press corps' last shot at the reviled Bill Clinton, who had escaped impeachment in February of that very year.

The following month, Gore had announced that he was running for president; a poisonous war had started up within days. By late November, the war would be expressed in the first paragraph Kakutani composed about Gore's now-ludicrous book.

It had been a critically-praised best-seller. Now it was peddled like this:
KAKUTANI (11/22/99): Vice President Al Gore emerges from ''Earth in the Balance'' (Plume), his 1992 book about the environment, as the quintessential A-student who has belatedly discovered New Age psychobabble. Like his speeches, his book veers between detailed policy assessments (predictably illustrated with lots of charts and graphs) and high-decibel outbursts of passion, between energetically researched historical disquisitions and loony asides about ''inner ecology'' and ''spiritual triangulation''—asides that may help explain his curious affinity with his feminist consultant, Naomi Wolf.
Gore's book was now marked by its "loony asides," loony asides which may help explain "his curious affinity" with his feminist consultant, who was being trashed all over the press corps that month in a savage, misogynistic orgy which every good liberal chose to permit and many good liberals helped author.

Gore's book was now marked by its loony asides—and, of course, by its "psychobabble," along with its "high-decibel outbursts of passion." You may as well know that, at this point, the upper-end press corps was building themes which questioned the mental health of Gore, so strange were the many misstatements they were pretending he had made, so suspicious were they of his "affinity" for that good-looking feminist consultant.

In 1992, Earth in the Balance had been described as a work of erudition. Now, it was a compendium of looniness and outbursts of passion, some of which may have involved his curious affinity for "that woman, Ms. Wolf."

Astonishingly, Brian Williams was asking, night after night, why Gore was wearing those polo shorts, which seemed to be some sort of troubling sexual signal to female voters. The lunatic Matthews was asking lunatic questions about Gore's extremely troubling three-button suits, and about his troubling status as "today's man-woman."

Meanwhile, Wolf was being slimed within an inch of her life. How could you tell the conservative press from the mainstream press at this point? In the conservative press, you were allowed to say that Gore might be having an affair. In the mainstream press, you were only allowed to suggest it, as Kakutani kinda sorta maybe possibly did.

Ten days after Kakutani's worst review graced the Times' front page. the newspaper's Gore reporter, Katharine "Kit" Seelye, joined forces with the Post's Ceci Connolly to invent the latest troubling misstatement by Gore—a savagely ballyhooed alleged misstatement which was, in point of fact, a flat-out misquotation of what Gore had actually said.

Some high school students proved that fact. Our star reporters quickly got busy, finding a way to ignore them.

This is the war which was underway when Kakutani's worst review appeared. The slightly snarky youngster at Slate has likely never heard this.

Why has that youngster never heard? Because of the code of silence! Because of the agreement by the Dionnes, the Alters, the Chaits and the Marshalls that the history-changing events of this war must never be discussed.

This war was staged by the upper-end press, not by the right-wing machine. People like the ones we've named earn their glorious lucre within that guild, whose conduct must not be discussed.

We discussed Kakutani's worst review in real time (links below). In 2007, we discussed it in more detail. For today, we'll only say this:

In the course of her 800 words, Kakutani managed to mention Naomi Wolf on three (3) separate occasions! Wolf had nothing to do with Gore's book, and she wasn't an environmental adviser. But Wolf was the focus of the War Against Gore during that astonishing month. Kakutani, on page one, chose to take part in that death-dealing war, which was breathtakingly stupid.

People are dead all over the world because the Dowds, the Riches, the Kakutanis behaved in this prehuman fashion. Between their work and the code of silence, the dumbing-down of the American discourse picked up a great deal of steam.

This was Trumpism long before Trump. It was Matthews who was name-calling Hillary Clinton at this juncture, not the talented builder. This early Trumpism played a vital role in creating the world we now inhabit—a world in which Gore was too "loony" to go to the White House, but Candidate Trump was thoroughly enabled, by your favorite corporate liberal stars, until it was much too late.

That kid at Slate has never heard this. The generation preceding her has kept her barefoot and clueless.

The endless summer Gore discussed is now bearing down upon us. On the brighter side, Trump is about to start a war as a way of changing a hundred such subjects.

Last night, a certain major cable news was busily selling the car. She told us to pop some popcorn so we could watch "the great Joy Reid" filling in for Lawrence, followed by "the great Brian Williams."

We're quoting what she actually said. And yes, it's the very same Brian Williams, the one who obsessed about Gore's deeply troubling shirts. Meanwhile, on The McLaughlin Group, Lawrence was still pimping Gore as a liar in October 2000! People are dead all over the world because these idiots did this.

We thought Gore was impressively knowledgeable last Tuesday night. But hustlers like that unnamed star don't notice such things, and that well-intentioned youngster at Slate has never been told how we got here.

Kakutani's worst review appeared on page one of the Times. People are dead all over the world, with millions more to follow.

Their deaths will come in Donald Trump's war, which may help him rid himself of that meddlesome special counsel. After that, their deaths will come in the endless summer your cable stars largely ignore. It's not entertaining enough!

Make no mistake. In large part, this is an artifact of our corporate liberal world. As part of the cultural dumbing-down which let Donald J. Trump ascend to office, that youngster at Slate has never been told these things.

Because of her elders' code of silence, she likely hasn't heard the first word. Because she's a good person who's still rather young, she's likely to see endless summer.

Visit our incomparable archives: In real time, we discussed Kakutani's worst review in a four-part series.

To state the obvious, we were talking to the hand! At any rate, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/1/99. After that, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/2/99.

Early in 2007, Gore's documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, was about to win an Oscar. We revisited Kakutani's review, offering examples of the way Gore's book had been reviewed when it appeared in 1992.

We were talking to the hand! At any rate, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/07. Scroll down to "Special report: Global dumbing!"

That kid at Slate has never heard this. What happened in the msm has stayed in that guild's gruesome heads.

The basic skills of our upper-end press!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 11, 2017

Do such skills exist:
We feel completely sure that Nicole Lewis is a good decent person.

She's also part of the "Intern Class of 2017" at the Washington Post. On that basis, we wouldn't necessarily expect as much of her as we would of an experienced upper-end journalist.

Lewis written an interesting analysis piece for the Post. It appears beneath this provocative headline:

"Think millennials are woke? A new poll suggests some are still sleeping on racism."

We think the piece is larded with interesting analytical shortcomings. That said, we'd say the shortcomings land on the head of Lewis' editor more than on Lewis herself.

We expect to review that piece next week. That said, how weak are the analytical skills of our upper-end journalists?

Those skills often seem remarkably weak. Consider today's Here to Help feature, on the reimagined page A3 of the New York Times.

We found the piece quite puzzling. It appears beneath this headline:
Here to Help
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT WHEN FLYING
Reducing your carbon footprint when flying? That sounds like a good thing to do! That said, for better or worse, here's how the text begins:
Here to Help
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT WHEN FLYING

Take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you've generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.
If you're flying, you're adding a significant amount of planet-warming gases to the atmosphere—there's no way around it. But there are some way as to make your airplane travel a bit greener:
Does that opening passage make sense? The problems seem to start rather quickly. Let's commence with this:

If you take a commercial flight from New York to California today, will you be adding a lot of planet-warming gases to the atmosphere? Assuming the plane was going to go whether you were on it or not, it seems to us that you aren't exactly adding any gases to the atmosphere at all.

Eventually, the feature seems to come to terms with this apparent fact, at least in a tiny way. In terms of carbon emissions, "it's certainly better to fly cross-country than to drive solo," the feature helpfully says.

Before long, though, we'll have to admit, Here to Help had us baffled. We found ourselves puzzled by this:
Fly coach
According to a study from the World Bank, the emissions associated with flying in business class are about three times as great as flying in coach, and a first-class seat could have a carbon footprint up to nine times as big as [sic] economy one.
Say what? "A first-class seat could have a carbon footprint up to nine times as big as [an] economy one?"

We have no idea what they're talking about. Nor did they bother explaining.

Of course, we could always fire the Google machine and peruse that World Bank study, which seems to be located here. But it seems to us that isn't the way a Here to Help feature should work.

That piece by Lewis is fascinating, in large part for what it doesn't notice about the data it reviews. More on that piece next week. But unless it's familiar script you seek, we're going to say that Lewis' editor did a very poor job.

For the record, Here to Help features exist in the hard-copy Times alone. This morning's carbon footprint confusion recommends no specific link in the on-line paper if you feel you need extra help.

We felt we needed a lot more help. But as with the prophets of old in the desert, no one was there to help us out, to hear our pitiful cries!

SUMMER ASSIGNMENT: The basic logic of information!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 11, 2017

Part 5—Trump Junior's famous meeting:
What role does information play in our national discourse? Consider the chatter on cable news, just last night.

Again and again and again and again, we saw Donald J. Trump pounded for his allegedly stupid remark about the way Putin helped the federal government by barring 755 employees from American embassies in Russia.

Allegedly, Trump had made a stupid remark. Perhaps sardonically, he'd said the firings will help the federal government save some money on payroll.

Everyone saw how stupid that was, since the employees who came home would stay on the federal payroll.

It's a minor point, but the jibe against Donald J. Trump was repeated all over MSNBC and CNN. Since transcripts haven't yet appeared from last night, we'll offer an early version of the critique from yesterday afternoon's MTP Daily.

Chuck Todd spoke with Daniella Gibbs Leger of American Progress:
TODD (8/10/17): Here's the president's response to the decision by Russia to expel U.S. diplomats. Here's the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any response to the Russian president expelling 755 workers from our embassy?

TRUMP: No, I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll. And as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll.
(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Well, that was obviously a little tongue in cheek statement, because last time I checked, I don't think these diplomats are actually, were going to stop getting paid. But Daniella—

GIBBS LEGER: Was it "tongue in cheek?"

TODD: I don't know. OK, you`re right! Literally or seriously!

GIBBS LEGER: Yes, I mean, who knows? Maybe he actually thinks that once Putin expelled these people, who apparently worked for Putin, in the way that he phrased that, they don't get paid anymore. You just don't know with this president.
Last night, all over cable, Trump was trashed for stupidly thinking that the people Putin expelled would no longer be getting paid. It made a wonderful talking point on MSNBC and CNN.

That said, does information matter? In this morning's New York Times, Peter Baker, an experienced Russia hand, reported this set of facts:
BAKER (8/11/17): As of 2013, the latest year that numbers are publicly available, 1,279 people worked at the United States Embassy in Moscow and at American consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. The vast majority of those who will lose their jobs are Russian nationals, not American diplomats, who will be brought home. Assuming the current force is about the same, Mr. Putin’s order will require a nearly 60 percent reduction.
"The vast majority of those who will lose their jobs are Russian nationals?"

Presumably, that means the U. S. government actually will be saving payroll, just as our perspicacious president said. Apparently, most of the expelled employees aren't actual "diplomats," or so Baker seems to have said.

This is a minor point. Within the current "fire and fury" context, it's completely trivial. That said, this topic was discussed all over cable last night, with Trump being trashed for his remarkable dumbness.

We have no idea if Trump understood the basic facts of the case. We certainly wouldn't assume that he did. But if Baker's apparent statements are accurate, it's fairly clear that our legion of cable pundits didn't understand the basic facts here either, almost two weeks after the expulsion order occurred.

What's the role of facts and information in our national discourse? For many years, we've told you that information plays a remarkably limited role—that our national discourse is, increasingly, narrative all the way down.

Routinely, our pundits tell us pre-approved stories in which the facts have been massaged. Given the spread of partisan news orgs, they tend to embellish, invent and disappear facts to tell us the stories we like.

Is that the role of information in our national discourse? As a summer logic assignment before the start of classes this fall, let's return to the recent discussion of that now-famous meeting at Trump Tower, the meeting Trump Junior agreed to hold with the now-famous Russian lawyer.

Let's use that event to think about the logic of information.

Civilized people have all agreed—Trump Junior shouldn't have agreed to hold that now-famous meeting. Yesterday, we cited a column by Ruth Marcus in which she expressed this view quite strongly, partly because Marcus herself is perfectly sane and bright.

Should Trump Junior have held that meeting? As she opened her column, Marcus offered an unqualified answer: No!

For our summer logic assignment, we want you to ponder Marcus' reason for reaching tht judgment. Assertive hard-copy headline included, this is the way she began:
MARCUS (7/16/17): The. Meeting. Was. Not. Okay.

Every week—nearly every day—brings fresh, stomach-churning evidence of President Trump's unfitness for office. The latest may be the most revolting.

Confronted with incontrovertible proof that his son leapt at the prospect of meeting with a "Russian government attorney" offering to dish dirt on Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support" for his candidacy, the president took the position that this was political business as usual.

His first public reaction, in an interview with Reuters, was that "many people would have held that meeting." The next day, Trump ratcheted up that astonishing assertion, from "many" to "most," asserting, "I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. . . . Politics isn't the nicest business in the world, but it's very standard."

No. It. Isn't.
Marcus employed a wealth of periods to assert that the famous meeting just. wasn't. okay. For your summer logic assignment, we want you to ponder the theoretical role of information, then tell us if Marcus was right.

Please note! Marcus quickly put her thumb on the scale as she tried to stampede her readers. She said that Trump Junior was promised "dirt" if he held the meeting in question.

In fact, the email, from a music publicist, had promised him "information." Therein lies the logical rub.

Donald Trump Junior was told, by a publicist, that he could receive "information" from a "Russian government lawyer." As it turned out, the lawyer may not, strictly speaking, have been a government lawyer. Beyond that, we have no way of knowing if Trump Junior assumed she actually was.

But for the sake of our rumination, let's assume the worst! Let's assume that a Russian government lawyer told Trump Junior, through an intermediary, that she had information to share.

We're told that Junior should have said no to the information. For ourselves, we're not sure why.

Please note! Marcus made little attempt to justify or explain her judgment, which she seemed to hold quite strongly. How strongly did she hold this view? Soon, she was saying this:
MARCUS: [T]his meeting was unacceptable. It was not even in the exurbs of appropriate. Hard to believe this really requires spelling out, but apparently it does, so here goes: A candidate for president of the United States and his campaign have no business, none, trucking with an emissary of a foreign government peddling incriminating information about their opponent.

That this meeting was explicitly described as an element of a Russian plot to influence the U.S. election is icing on an already repulsive cake. That the target of this feeler—the candidate's son—embraced such meddling rather than recoiling from it only adds to the sordidness of the episode.

And that the intended beneficiary, now the sitting president of the United States, is unable and unwilling to accept that fact should be chilling to every patriotic American.
According to Marcus, the meeting was unacceptable, astonishing, not even dimly appropriate. It was sordid, chilling, repulsive and revolting.

Needless to say, it's possible that Marcus could be shown to be right. But as she "spells it out" in this passage, the only thing she really does is heighten her invective.

That said, she did use the word "information." Therein lies the rub!

If this Russian lawyer actually had some information, what exactly would have been wrong with receiving it? Why should Trump Junior, or anyone else, refuse to receive this product?

Should Junior have refused the chance to receive alleged information? As part of our summer rumination, let's imagine scenarios which may have played out had Junior failed to read his email that day from that music publicist:
Other scenarios involving information:
The Russian lawyer comes to D.C. and rents the National Press Club. She makes a speech revealing the information in question. C-Span tapes the whole thing!

The Russian lawyer writes a column in The Hill revealing the information.

The Russian lawyer appears on Morning Joe, where she shares the information with Willie.

Vladimir Putin gives a bare-chested U.N. speech. He reveals the information.
In those four ways, the information, if it existed, could have been made public. Let's assume that one of those scenarios had occurred:

Should the Trump campaign, and American newspapers, have ignored the information because it came from a Russkie? Because that certainly isn't the way our big newspapers actually act!

Last summer, Marcus' own Washington Post bathed itself in stolen information (stolen emails), even when the stolen emails contained no worthwhile information at all.

(That wasn't Marcus' fault. For the most egregious example, click here. Don't let your children watch.)

If that's the way the Post itself acts, why should Trump Junior have refused possible information from the Russian lawyer? Why should he, or anyone else, refuse information at all?

In her column, Marcus made little attempt to answer this question. Others have imagined undesirable scenarios which might imaginably have followed the meeting in question, but we're asking a simple theoretical question:

Assuming we know what information is, why should anyone ever refuse to receive it? If the same information had been offered by a Canadian lawyer, would it have been okay to accept it then?

(Obviously, any such alleged "information" could turn out to be trivial or bogus. Our question is: why should someone refuse the chance to find out? Why should they refuse to use information if it turns out to be accurate and relevant?)

Please understand: for ourselves, we've long complained about the way our politics is increasingly driven by "incriminating information." We'd much prefer that the national discourse focus on policy questions, not on assessments of character. (In our view, the mainstream press has shown little skill at making such assessments.)

That said, our upper-end press corps, and our politicians, largely traffic in such approaches. If a campaign is offered some such information, why should they refuse to accept it, when newspapers love it so much?

Last night, our cable corps trafficked in a story line in which they seem to have bungled their facts. No one is going to care about that, one way or the other. Why should Trump Junior, or anyone else, refuse the possibility of acquiring actual facts?

We've often said that facts and information play little role in our national discourse, or in the world of our mainstream press. In this instance, they screeched and howled about the very idea of seeking information.

If that Russkie lawyer actually had some real information, what would have been wrong with Trump Junior receiving it? We sometimes wonder if our major journos, who may be bots, understand the very concept of "information."

Our summer logic assignment involves that rather basic concept. Before returning to school in the fall, we'd like you to ponder this, in small groups:

Someone offers you information. Before you know what it may be, why would you want to refuse it?

When is information forbidden? When are you supposed to take a hike on receiving facts?

Tomorrow: Endless summer/Kakutani's review

More about those expelled employees: In the past two weeks, we'd been wondering why our Russians embassies have so many employees in the first place.

We never saw anyone explain it on cable. Baker explains today.

Our chance to call a lie a lie!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2017

When schoolchildren still liked Ike:
Within the political realm, when can a journalist safely "call a lie a lie?"

In Tuesday's New York Times,
Sheryl Gay Stolberg recalled one fairly clearcut situation. We were twelve when this lie was revealed. We recall being puzzled, surprised, disappointed:
STOLBERG (8/8/17): One of the first modern presidents to wrestle publicly with a lie was Dwight D. Eisenhower in May 1960, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down while in Soviet airspace.

The Eisenhower administration lied to the public about the plane and its mission, claiming it was a weather aircraft. But when the Soviets announced that the pilot had been captured alive, Eisenhower reluctantly acknowledged that the plane had been on an intelligence mission—an admission that shook him badly, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said.

“He just felt that his credibility was such an important part of his person and character, and to have that undermined by having to tell a lie was one of the deepest regrets of his presidency,” Ms. Goodwin said.

In the short run, Eisenhower was hurt; a summit meeting with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev collapsed in acrimony. But the public eventually forgave him, Ms. Goodwin said, because he owned up to his mistake.
Had Eisenhower made a "mistake?" More specifically, had he made a moral mistake? Was that the way the public came to view his behavior?

We don't know. For various geopolitical reasons, it made sense to issue a "cover story," until it turned out that the pilot had survived and was in Soviet custody.

At that point, the "cover story" fell apart, in a badly embarrassing way. But it seemed pretty clear that Ike had told, or commissioned, a lie.

We recall being surprised by the fact that an American president had lied. But it was pretty clear that he'd actually done so. No one believed that Eisenhower had been ignorant of the U-2 flights. No one thought that he really believed the initial "cover story," in which the United States denied conducting surveillance flights over the Soviet Union.

This was a fairly clearcut lie. No one thinks that Eisenhower was weirdly ignorant, out to lunch, out of his mind or delusional.

Our day-to-day situations today are much less clearcut. Presumably, some, many or all of Donald J. Trump's many misstatements are lies. But we're not sure why any reporter would think he can tell in any particular instance.

Eisenhower wasn't nuts, disordered or delusional; he didn't seem to be struggling with some form of early onset dementia. Such facts aren't clear about Donald J. Trump.

(Luckily, he had no chance to win last fall, barring a weather event!)

Such facts aren't clear about Donald J. Trump. That's why it's hard to score his endless list of weird misstatements. Kevin Drum asks a good question, and conducts an interesting analysis, in this new post, right here.

As we stated yesterday: Later, Stolberg wrote this:
STOLBERG: Many of Mr. Trump’s lies—like the time he boasted that he had made the “all-time record in the history of Time Magazine” for being on its cover so often—are somewhat trivial, and “basically about him polishing his ego,” said John Weaver, a prominent Republican strategist.
Trump's statement about the Time covers was wrong. But what made Stolberg, or perhaps some meddling editor, think this erroneous statement could be scored as a "lie?"

We don't have the slightest idea. Meanwhile, the concepts involved in this are about as complex as 2 + 2. When our reporters "reason" this way, we wonder about their origins, and about their ability to get anything right.

This is highly remedial work. But our press corps has shown, for many long years, that they tend to have an amazing lack of elementary, basic skills.

What explains their many misstatements? To this day, after nineteen years, we have no clear idea.

SUMMER BOOKS AND A BIT OF SPRING CLEANING: Marcotte and Marcus, here at long last!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2017

Part 4—Kakutani's review awaits:
Is Michio Kakutani "the stupidest person in New York City?"

We're totally sure that she isn't. Among other things, she proved herself to us last fall with this comment on Hitchcock's best film, part of her review of a new book about Hitch:
KAKUTANI (10/25/16): As with other serious books on Hitchcock, this volume will be judged, partly, by how closely the author’s take on various films accords with the reader’s own. In this case, “Notorious”—Hitchcock’s darkly brilliant masterpiece, in this viewer’s opinion—is hastily dismissed in a couple of pages, while the self-important “Vertigo” (which seems to be enjoying a surge in popularity these days) is minutely analyzed and dissected.
We agree with that assessment of Notorious, a spectacularly well-crafted thriller and a "darkly brilliant" exploration of men's occasional loathing of women, including the women they think they love.

That loathing was frequently studied by Hitchcock, from (let's say) A Shadow of a Doubt (1943), in which visiting, much-loved Uncle Charlie turns out to be the Merry Widow Murderer, on to the lunacies of Psycho (1960), in which Norman Bates loves Mommy so much that he has to kill everyone else, with a psychiatric explanation tossed in at the end.

Kakutani's take on Notorious v. Vertigo largely accords with our own. On that basis alone, we feel quite certain that she isn't the person described in the headline of a recent piece at Slate.

In that recent piece at Slate, one of the youngsters noted the fact that Kakutani "has decided to step down as chief book critic" at the New York Times. (We're citing language from the New York Times' official announcement.)

From that darkly Stalinist language on the part of the Times, we aren't sure if Kakutani is leaving the Times altogether. That said, she's been at the Times for 38 years, including 34 years as a book critic.

Back to Slate! One of the kids, enjoying some snark, authored a piece which ran beneath an unflattering pair of headlines. It drew on an assessment of Kakutani once thoughtfully voiced by Jonathan Franzen. Slate's headlines went exactly like this:
“The Stupidest Person in New York City”:
How Authors Responded to Michiko Kakutani’s Harshest Reviews
The youngster recalled a half dozen of Kakutani's "harshest reviews," quoting the unpleasant reactions of the authors in question. In the case of a few reviews, Kakutani's assessments are cherry-picked, making it seem that she had lustily slammed a book which, in fact, she'd reviewed rather un-harshly.

Whatever! Rather plainly, Kakutani isn't the person Franzen described in the headlined quote. That said, we were struck by the piece in Slate because of the pit bull that didn't bark—because of the very peculiar, extremely harsh Kakutani review which goes completely unmentioned.

Now that our land is the land of Donald J. Trump, that harsh review, from 1999, throbs especially darkly. Trust us! Slate's youngster has never heard of that highly peculiar review. Neither has anyone else, though it ran on the Times' front page as a stampede was occurring.

Our ignorance of that peculiar review bespeaks the liberal world's lazy failure to function over the past twenty-five years. How did we achieve our current state? That peculiar review helps describe our path to the eve of destruction.

We'll turn to that peculiar review before the week is over. Today, we'll start to perform a type of spring cleaning on our midsummer desks.

We'll touch on one piece we've frequently cited, and on another we've never mentioned. We think the first piece is darkly revealing. We think the second piece raises a fascinating question about the way our discourse works.

The first piece, by Amanda Marcotte, ran at Salon in June. We've often made it a coming attraction, but we've never made good on our pledge to review it.

Even today, we're going to skim past Marcotte's lengthy essay, in which she tore her hair, keened and wailed about the fact that, even in June, Trump voters weren't willing to call their liberal friends and admit that they had been wrong, oh so wrong.

Poor Marcotte! Her lengthy, 31-paragraph piece ended with this lament:
MARCOTTE (6/21/17): There will be no catharsis, no outpouring of regretful Trump voters begging for forgiveness, no moment of reckoning where we liberals get to hear them say, “You were right and we were wrong.” The best you can hope for is getting a picture of them in their Make America Great Again hats now, so you can watch them squirm and make excuses in 10 years. Actual remorse, unfortunately, is never coming.
"We liberals!" That's greatly like Us! According to Marcotte, We'll never get to hear Them beg for forgiveness! Those People will never call us up to say that we were so right all along!

Our view? We think Marcotte's piece is darkly foolish, but it's very much just like Us. It never seems to cross her mind that Trump voters may imaginably have some legitimate complaints or viewpoints of some sort, or that We ourselves, Over Here in our own liberal tents, may perhaps, on the rare occasion, be dumb, close-minded and tribal too, not unlike The Others.

Marcotte speaks to various experts to help us see how amazingly irrational Those People actually are. That said, for one brief shining moment, she's willing to throw this in:
MARCOTTE: To be clear, this mentality is hardly unique to Trump voters. As the psychologists and researchers I spoke with explained, nearly all people have this sense of in-group loyalty and unwillingness to take a critical eye toward their chosen politicians and parties. Barack Obama, for instance, spoke directly to a lot of liberals who saw themselves in his urbane erudition and modern sensibility, and felt their vote for him was as much a vote for membership in the liberal tribe.
Say what? Nearly all people, including us liberals, have the sub-rational tribal instincts her experts told her about? Can that possibly be right?

For the record, that's Marcotte's 14th paragraph, of 31 grafs in all. For a good time, see Marcotte tell you this in that one paragraph, then completely ignore the point in her other 31.

It's darkly humorous to see this alluring point expressed, and then completely ignored. That said, it's very much the way Our Tribe does politics.

Over There, in the tents of The Others, (many of) Those People are, in fact, displaying loyalty to their leader, Donald J. Trump. But uh-oh! Over Here, in our own liberal tents, we've displayed unbending loyalty over the years to an array of tribal leaders, not excluding Kakutani herself.

This helps explain why the well-intentioned kid at Slate has never heard of that deeply peculiar 1999 review. It helps explain why our kids continue to traffic in useless snark on this, the eve of destruction.

Our liberal team tends to very harsh, and we tend to be very dumb. We've displayed these traits for the past thirty years, but due to the traits those experts described, we're completely unable to see this.

For ourselves, we aren't going to spend more time picking through Marcotte's lament. But that essay struck us as a road map to the liberal world's role in the ascension of Donald J. Trump, king of a very dumb world.

In the case of Ruth Marcus, we refer to this op-ed column in the Washington Post. In the piece, Marcus expressed a universally held view:

Donald Trump Junior shouldn't have held that meeting with that now-famous Russian lawyer.

Marcus expresses the point quite strongly. In hard-copy, her headline said this:

"The. Meeting. Was. Not. Okay."

As a columnist, Marcus is perfectly sensible, perfectly serious and perfectly bright. In part for those reasons, we were struck by this aspect of her column:

She railed, quite hard, about the claim that Junior should never have gone to that meeting. But we couldn't really find the place where she told us why.

He had been offered "information." Should he have refused to hear it?

Let's start with that question tomorrow. Kakutani's peculiar but non-notorious review will of course still await.

Tomorrow: Musings on information

What Hayden said about use of nukes!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2017

Donald J. Trump's decision:
Long ago and far away, Joe Scarborough interviewed General Michael Hayden about the use of nukes.

Hayden is former Director of the National Security Agency, former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. As such, he knows even more than Mika or Willie.

It was August 3, 2016. Four weeks earlier, on July 5, James B. Comey—Comey the God—had launched the first of his irregular attacks on Candidate Clinton.

Your favorite major cable news stars don't criticize top insiders like Comey. The god's attack was explicitly endorsed on the Maddow Show, then allowed to stand undiscussed for the rest of the summer and deep into the fall.

Four weeks after that first attack, Scarborough spoke with Hayden. He started by making an unsettling claim about Candidate Donald J. Trump, who he'd aggressively fluffed and plumped until earlier that same year:
SCARBOROUGH (8/3/16): I’ll have to be very careful here.

Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked—at one point, "If we have them, why can't we use them?"

BARNICLE: Oh wow.

SCARBOROUGH: That’s one of the reasons he has, he just doesn’t have foreign policy experts around him.

BARNICLE: Trump— Trump asked three times—

SCARBOROUGH: Three times, in an hour briefing, why we cant use nuclear weapons.
This morning, Scarborough re-aired the videotape of the interview. When he spoke with Hayden, he asked, in effect, about the possibility of fail-safe procedures should a President Trump decide to use a nuke, whether on a store which won't stock Ivanka's full line or on a foreign nation.

If Trump decides, what happens next? This was the key exchange:
SCARBOROUGH: So General Hayden, I want to ask one more time, and it may be classified, but the steps. Donald Trump decides to use a nuclear weapon. What is the time frame between his decision and when the nuclear weapons are launched?

HAYDEN: Joe, it's scenario dependent, but the system is designed for speed and decisiveness. It's not designed to debate the decision.
This morning, Scarborough replayed the tape of this conversation. Morning Joe doesn't seem to have posted that part of this morning's program. You can see most of the tape from last August here.

That warning from Hayden occurred last August. Luckily, we liberals believed it when we were told that Candidate Clinton couldn't lose, so we sat around, mugging and clowning and enjoying ourselves, as we awaited Comey's final pair of attacks.

Donald J. Trump ended up in the White House. Since that time, we've continued to dither and diddle, bravely declaring him a liar.

Is Donald J. Trump a liar? The problem with Trump is vastly more serious. It goes to his mental health.

For twenty-five years, our liberal team has twiddled its thumbs, and slept in the woods, as the groundwork for our current situation was relentlessly laid.

We just haven't been a serious group, though we've been quite self-impressed.

SUMMER STORMS AND BASICS: It was Barzini all along!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2017

Part 3—The possible rise of the bots:
Midway through The Godfather, Don Corleone thoughtfully tells Tom Hagen.

Somehow, he's managed to puzzle things out. This is what he says:

"Tattaglia is a pimp. He never could have outfought Santino. But I didn't know, until this day, that it was Barzini all along."

It was Barzini all along! For ourselves, we've never understood how the Don reached that conclusion. But the trail of cinematic mayhew proceeds directly from there.

Yesterday morning, sitting in Starbucks, we had a similar epiphanic experience. We think it happened when we were reading this lengthy piece in the New York Times, an analysis by Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

That said, we'd already read this report by Peter Baker. The brainstorm may have blown up then.

It had never occurred to us, till that very day, that our journalists may be bots! Rather, that the work which appears beneath their names may sometimes be the work of such entities.

(Full disclosure: after reading Stolberg's piece, we proceeded to this piece by Professor Vavreck, which tended to confirm our suspicion.)

In fairness, we've long suggested that our upper-end scribes might be aliens from other worlds, or possibly misfiring androids. But we hadn't thought, till we read the passages shown below, that it might have been bots all along.

Baker was writing about Donald J. Trump's tweets from the previous day. Thump had tweeted about Senator Richard Blumenthal, making an array of false statements as he did.

Ostensibly, Baker was trying to straighten things out. That said, why would he offer the peculiar description we highlight below?
BAKER (8/8/17): Mr. Blumenthal received at least five deferments from military service during the Vietnam War era and then went into the Marine Reserve, where he served in a unit in Washington. But as a politician, he referred to himself as having “served in Vietnam” or “served during the Vietnam era.” The New York Times article exposing these false statements in 2010 did not, however, report that he had told stories about Vietnam battles or conquests, nor that he had cried when exposed. Mr. Trump received five deferments from the draft: four for college and one for bad feet.
That's the way the graf appeared in our hard-copy Times. Obviously, we were puzzled.

In fact, Blumenthal did "serve during the Vietnam era," in the Marine reserves. Given the paragraph as written, it was hard to see why a major reporter would list that clipped quote, all by itself, as a "false statement."

This morning, we see that Baker's text has been revised on line. The text now says that the New York Times exposed "these false or misleading statements" in 2010.

(Was that statement by Blumenthal misleading? It all depends on the unreported context! It's possible that Baker's revised statement is right, though it could still be wrong.)

Still and all, we were puzzled by what we read in our hard-copy Times, in real time. In real time, we puzzled hard: why would a person as bright at Baker make such a puzzling error?

From there, we turned to Stolberg's report, which ran more than 1600 words. As she started out, she was rather skillfully using her words as she discussed the many false statements of President Donald J. Trump.

Stolberg was lustily using her words as he report began. Eventually, though, the programming failed, and she—or conceivably "it"—was saying this:
STOLBERG (8/8/17): Many of Mr. Trump's lies—like the time he boasted that he had made the ''all-time record in the history of Time Magazine'' for being on its cover so often—are somewhat trivial, and ''basically about him polishing his ego,'' said John Weaver, a prominent Republican strategist.

That mystifies Bob Ney, a Republican former congressman who spent time in prison for accepting illegal gifts from a lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and lying to federal investigators about it. ''It really baffles me why he has to feel compelled to exaggerate to exonerate himself,'' Mr. Ney said.

But other presidential lies, like Mr. Trump's false claim that millions of undocumented immigrants had cast ballots for his opponent in the 2016 election, are far more substantive, and pose a threat, scholars say, that his administration will build policies around them.
Stolberg had battled, throughout her long piece, to avoid conflating misstatements with lies. But now, near the end of her piece, her performance broke down:

Why would she assume that Trump's misstatement about those magazine covers had been a "lie?" How dis she know that Donald J. Trump didn't believe what he said?

Why would she quote Ney seeming to say that Trump's misstatement was an attempt to "exonerate himself?" On its face, that didn't seem to make sense.

Wildly mistaken as Trump's statement about illegal ballots seems to be, why would Stolberg feel that she could report that this misstatement had been a "lie?" Given Trump's delusional tendencies, we aren't sure we'd make that assumption.

Given Trump's delusional tendencies, we weren't sure we'd go there. And the analysts were still writhing from having been forced to read this:
STOLBERG: President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction in trying to cover up his affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, during legal proceedings. Chris Lehane, a former Clinton adviser, said Mr. Clinton's second-term agenda suffered during his impeachment, yet paradoxically his favorability ratings remained high—in part, Mr. Lehane said, because ''the public distinguished between Clinton the private person and the public person.''
Did President Clinton have an affair "with an intern?"

Let's give credit where due! Many years later, major journalists have stopped saying that he had an affair with "a 21-year-old intern," a plainly false claim they insisted on making for a great many years. (Why did they keep making this misstatement? We can't tell you, but it made their pleasing story much better.)

That said, did the gentleman have an affair "with an intern" at all? We'll grant you, it's a treasured claim, but to what extent is it accurate?

Did President Clinton have an affair "with an intern?" Nineteen years later, for reasons which have been explained many times, the statement remains a bit "Clintonesque"—though we'd say the unflattering term may describe the work of the mainstream press corps more than the work of Bill Clinton!

At any rate, at some point in the course of reading Stolberg's piece, an epiphanic moment occurred. For the very first time, we began to wonder if we were reading the programmed work of a bot.

Make no mistake—Baker and Stolberg seem to be actual people. In recent months, Baker has been an increasingly reassuring presence on cable, where his calm clear presentations tend to contrast with the more excited work of the rampaging cable news herd.

That said, the Stolberg piece shook us to the core. (On the very next page, Professor Vavreck's "Upshot" piece seemed to reinforce our new suspicion.) For the first time, a thought had entered our heads:

At least upon the printed page, it may have been bots all along!

Briefly, we offer these words of justification:

What difference does it make, you ask, if those inaccurate statements by Donald J. Trump are identified as lies?

Given the perilous state we're all in, it makes no difference at all! Fire and fury are going to come, just as we've been suggesting.

That said, our upper-end journalists make their living using words and drawing distinctions. And the distinctions involved in these ruminations are unbelievably basic.

When is a misstatement a lie? The question is about as complex as the sum of 2 plus 2. And yet, our highest-ranking scribes struggle beneath its weight.

When scribes can't handle such basic tasks, we're unlikely to be well-served by the rest of their work. Inevitably, one wonders if their published work come from real people at all—or if it could come from bots!

When is a misstatement a lie? When is a federal employee an intern? When is 22 to 24 years old really just 21?

Our highest-ranking professional journalists routinely fall beneath the weight of such conundrums. Any person with any good sense would ask the question we now ask:

Was it the bots all along? Did the bots outfight the Clintons, enabling Donald J. Trump?

Tomorrow: We've cited this piece many times

Tomasky says something that isn't quite right!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 8, 2017

The history of our tribe:
If memory serves, we met Michael Tomasky just once, years ago.

We're strongly inclined to like Tomasky. For reasons we can't quite define, Tomasky's our kind of guy.

In a new piece at the Daily Beast, Tomasky argues against a certain type of liberal purity as Democrats start casting about for their next White House contender. On balance, we agree with the views he expresses, though it's hardly bearable to see this topic being raised at this early point.

We will complain about one minor point. Along the way, Tomasky says what's shown below.

As he does, he "bring[s] the eternal note of sadness in," if we might borrow from Arnold. We refer to the consummate, world-class cluelessness of our own self-impressed liberal tribe over the past many years:
TOMASKY (8/8/17): Someone, probably David Sirota, will respond to this column by saying we don’t need any lectures on electability from Tomasky, who assured us Hillary would win. And it would be a fair point. I was sure she would win. I and everybody else in America except Allan Lichtman, but still; I was wrong.

So I’m going to try to refrain, for the next three years and three months (!), from giving electability lectures...
Was everyone but Lichtman sure that Candidate Clinton would win?

Actually, no, they weren't! To cite one example, we weren't sure that Candidate Clinton would win, a point we made again and again at this award-winning site.

Indeed, it seemed fairly obvious that Candidate Clinton could lose. If memory serves, we made this point in an award-winning radio chat with our old friend, KGO's award-winning Chip Franklin, in the week before the election.

Was everyone sure that Clinton would win? Over Here, in our tribe's liberal tents, pretty much everyone was! After all, Professor Wang had given his assurance! What more could you ask?

In this way, we liberals showcased the stunning passivity and world-class dumbness which have been our calling cards for the past thirty years. Our history during that time is one of total haplessness:

We sat out the various wars against President Clinton, then sat out the twenty-month War Against Candidate Gore.

We sat around and stared into air as twenty-five years of gong-show attacks were directed at Hillary Clinton:

Remember when Gennifer Flowers told Rachel's favorite pundit, Chris Matthews, about Evita's many murders? (That's the sort of name Chris called her year after year after year.)

Remember how Rachel ran and hid as the myths about Benghazi were being invented? When James B. Comey—Comey the God—launched his first attack? When the New York Times ran its giant, gong-show pseudo-report about the scary uranium deal?

We remember all those tribal silences. They explain how You Know Who won.

Presumably, much of this can be explained by the desire of our leading liberal "journalists" to maintain faith with the increasingly conservative corporate owners who increasingly ruled their careers. But our spectacular tribal dumbness, and our steadfast refusal to fight, have been our defining tribal traits for a good many years.

We carried our insouciance and cluelessness into the last election. This morning, up jumps Tomasky, saying it wasn't just him!

In truth, it wasn't just him, but some others could see. One of the things a few people could see was the manifest intellectual helplessness of us Over Here in our tribe.

We're very, very, very slow and we're preternaturally dumb. Unless you hear the story from Us, in which case the dumbness can only be found among the vile folk Over There!

We're very dumb, and we're quite self-impressed. How do you think Trump got there?

For extra credit only: How horrible would the discourse be if Candidate Clinton had actually won?

Discuss for ten seconds, then nap. It's part of tribal culture!