Midshipmen meet the Moscovian candidate!

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2016

Moscow back on the Hudson:
On the front pages of major newspapers, this is a startling day.

Among the various remarkable items, the most remarkable might be this statement from the Trump transition team, as cited by the Washington Post:

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”

(Our italics; their statement.)

Absolutely nothing stops the apparent ridiculous lying. We say "apparent" because it isn't clear that people who are mentally ill can commit a lie. Their moral agency may be gone, and with it the logic of lying.

However we want to assess moral agency, absolutely nothing stops the barrage of crazy misstatements from the Trump campaign. On the other hand, we had the pleasure of encountering five midshipmen, as they are called, at a local coffee joint this morning.

The first two midshipmen were impressive young women, with whom we briefly chatted. Yes, they were in town for today's Army-Navy game.

"It's going to be cold," one of these young women said.

Not long after these upbeat young women arrived, three young men appeared on the scene, also in full Annapolis dress. For the record: Under the taxonomies which result from our nation's tragic and deranged history, four of these young people would be listed as "black." One would be listed as "white."

As we chatted with those young women, we marveled at the way the world just keeps producing such cheerful, impressive young people.

We might have compared them, in our minds, to our apparently crazy incoming president—or even to James B. Comey, who's cast in an ironic role in that Washington Post report.

(Even as he kept intruding on the White House campaign, Comey was apparently warning legislators about Moscow's unwanted intrusions. This pattern has obtained in the past.)

We could have made those comparisons. Instead, we couldn't help it! We found ourselves comparing those impressive young women to some of the work which emerged this week from the New York Times.

How does it happen? How does a world which produces such impressive young people end up with its greatest newspaper publishing cult-like accounts of international public school testing programs—even publishing this?

If you click that revealing link, you'll see the famous newspaper's selections for the ten best books of the year. The selections were made by the editors of the Times' weekly Book Review section.

Good lord! Live and direct from the puzzling Times, here's one of their (ten best) picks:
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
By Sarah Bakewell

The author of the Montaigne biography “How to Live” has written another impressively lucid book, one that offers a joint portrait of the giants of existentialism and phenomenology: Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Jaspers, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger and a half-dozen other European writers and philosophers. Around the early 1930s, the story divides between the characters who eventually come out more or less right, like Beauvoir, and the ones who come out wrong, like Heidegger. Some of Bakewell’s most exciting pages present engaged accounts of complex philosophies, even ones that finally repel her. And the biographical nuggets are irresistible; we learn, for example, that for months after trying mescaline, Sartre thought he was being followed by “lobster-like beings.”
Good lord! Even from the foppish Times, that's an amazing selection. Even more amazing is the claim that this book is "impressively lucid."

Impressively lucid? We're not sure we've ever read a book so comically incoherent. We spent perhaps six weeks this summer savoring this book's incoherence on a daily basis, right in that same coffee joint. A person could easily build a college course around its comically failed attempts to elucidate the "complex philosophies" with which it heroically struggles.

Briefly, let's be fair. As we noted in August, major newspapers around the world agreed to praise this book for its great lucidity.

We regard that as a remarkable fact. Presumably, only the Times would take the next step—would judge the lucidity to be so great that it had produced one of the five (5) best non-fiction books of the year.

Those young women today were impressive; the New York Times is not. That said, let's offer some words of praise for an earlier effort by the Times—for Dwight Garner's recent review of a different book.

We loved Garner's review; he had us at paragraph 6. He was reviewing a memoir by Marina Abramovic, who turns out to be one of our greatest performance artists. In paragraphs 6 and 7, this is what Garner said:
GARNER (11/2/16): I knew I was going to dislike Ms. Abramovic's memoir on Page 10. That's where she declares that, as a child growing up in postwar Yugoslavia, she didn't play with dolls or toys. Instead, she writes, in a passage that sets this book's tone of sleek, international, Bono-level pretentiousness, ''I preferred to play with the shadows of passing cars on the wall.''

A tolerance for a certain amount of pomposity is a prerequisite for keeping up with serious art; otherwise, you're always sitting at the short table and using the plastic cutlery. In ''Walk Through Walls,'' Ms. Abramovic pushes this tolerance to its limits.
Garner pens almost a thousand words about the pomposity he says he found in this book. Not having read the book, we can't exactly assess his assessment, despite his potent examples.

We'll suggest that Garner's review is worth reading if only for its entertainment value. Along the way—actually, in paragraph 5—we were struck by these revelations:
GARNER: Her career built to an intensely popular 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. More than 750,000 people stood in line for a chance to perch across from Ms. Abramovic (James Franco came, as did Björk) and silently communicate with her as she sat unmoving for, all told, more than 700 hours. In her memoir, we learn there was a trapdoor into which she could surreptitiously urinate. She says she never used it.
Just this morning, we decided to check the way the New York Times covered that intensely popular 2010 retrospective.

Let's just say that the Times showered the retrospective with coverage, up to and including a full-length Home & Garden/On Location tour of the artist's star-shaped New Jersey home. As the retrospective neared its end, art critic Holland Carter looked back in gladness:
COTTER (5/31/10): At 5 p.m. Monday one of the longest pieces of performance art on record, and certainly the one with the largest audience, comes to an end. Since her retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art on March 14, the artist Marina Abramovic has been sitting, six days a week, seven hours a day in a plain chair, under bright klieg lights, in MoMA's towering atrium. When she leaves that chair Monday for the last time, she will have clocked 700 hours of sitting.

During that time her routine seldom varied. Every day she took her place just before the museum doors opened and left it after they closed. Her wardrobe was consistent: a sort of concert gown with a long train, in one of three colors (red, blue and white).

Always her hair, in a braided plait, was pulled forward over her left shoulder. Always her skin was an odd pasty white, as if the blood had drained away. Her pose rarely changed: her body slightly bent forward, she stared silently and intently straight ahead.

There was one variable, a big one: her audience.

Visitors to the museum were invited, first come first served, to sit in a chair facing her and silently return her gaze. The chair has rarely, if ever, been empty. Close to 1,400 people have occupied it, some for only a minute or two, a few for an entire day.

Sitting with Ms. Abramovic has been the hot event of the spring art season. Celebrities—Bjork, Marisa Tomei, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright—did a stint. Young performance artists seized a moment in the limelight. One appeared in his own version of an Abramovic gown to propose marriage. Certain repeat sitters became mini-celebrities, though long-time waiters on line stared daggers at those who sat too long.
Those young performance artists today! Eventually, Cotter mentioned the nudity which had formed a large part of the months-long hubbub. (This included the nudity in Abramovic's restaging of "Imponderabilia," her nudity-driven 1976 hit.)

This time around, the nudity proved exciting. In this piece from April 2010, the Times had reported all the inappropriate touching which marked, or perhaps even marred, this otherwise fine retrospective. This taxonomy included "the gropers" and "the stalkerish types," but also the many felt erections, along with "a leader of a tour group unaffiliated with the museum [who] pointed to a female performer's abdomen and loudly (and incorrectly) identified a scar as 'from a Cesarean.' "

Apparently, high art can be like that. Who let that tour bus in?

When we read Garner's review, we saw it as a window into the foppish world of the New York Times, as a window on the intellectual horizons which helped enable Donald J. Trump. We also saw it as a window into the world of our own easily tea-bagged, ineffectually anti-Trump tribe.

Garner said good-bye to all that high art in his unpleasant review. On the other hand, the Times is now publishing Amanda Ripley's cultish, data-disappearing work—she and the Times now seem to be official Timss deniers—and it's picking Bakewell's "impressively lucid," comical book as one of the year's ten best.

It's a hard thing for us the people to see, but the Times is a very dumb newspaper. Its frameworks are generated within a deeply dumb, foppish subculture.

As recently as July 4, as part of a lengthy front-page report, this ridiculous newspaper couldn't bring itself to ask if Donald J. Trump had simply lied about sending investigators to Hawaii to probe Barack Obama's birth. The wages of this conduct are plain. Even last night, in the face of chastening news, the transition team couldn't be bothered to drop its absurd misstatements.

This morning, we spoke with two upbeat, bright, impressive young women. How do you get from them to the Times, we incomparably asked.

College football update: Inevitably, Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings say that Pacific-12 power and might have prevailed again this year.

Ignore what Tony and Michael say; you can check the numbers yourself. Warning! You'll have to average two pairs of numbers.

To do so, just click here.

Amanda Ripley's believe it by law!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2016

Truly ridiculous work:
As you know, there are two major international testing programs for public school students—the Timss and the Pisa.

The United States participates in both programs. So do the Asian tigers. So does miraculous Finland. So does the vast bulk of the countries in the developed world.

Which program is more valuable—the Pisa or the Timss? We can't tell you that. In our view, the Pisa has developed a slightly cultish feel, but the developed nations seem to see value in both programs. Absent further discussion, we're disinclined to attribute more value to one than to the other.

Check what we just said! If you read the New York Times, it seems the Timss no longer exists. Did we say there are two major testing programs? In the Times, there may now be just one.

Within the past two weeks, each of these testing programs has released its most recent results, from 2015. (The Timss is administered every four years. The Pisa runs on a three-year cycle.)

But in its hard-copy editions, the Times hasn't even mentioned the Timss. Yesterday, it reported the Pisa through a ridiculous, long report by the increasingly cultish Amanda Ripley.

Ripley's 1400-word report is amazingly bad. To show you what cultish behavior looks like, this is the way she began:
RIPLEY (12/8/16): Every three years, half a million 15-year-olds in 69 countries take a two-hour test designed to gauge their ability to think. Unlike other exams, the PISA, as it is known, does not assess what teenagers have memorized. Instead, it asks them to solve problems they haven't seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.
The snark you see represents the Timss being disappeared. Apparently, it "assesses what [students] have memorized."

That makes it unlike the magnificent Pisa, which is "designed to gauge their ability to think."

Does the Pisa somehow "gauge students' ability to think?" We don't know, and such high-blown claims tend to make us suspicious.

That said, the world's developed nations all find value in the Pisa. Of course, the same is true of the Timss, despite the shade Ripley instantly threw at the Timss without even stating its name.

Ripley played this same strange game in her widely-praised, largely ridiculous book, The Smartest Kids in the World. In its several hundred pages, she never mentioned the Timss by name, though she referred to it as "a major international math test" when she wanted to cherry-pick some Timss results to establish a favored point about the reason for alleged improvement in Minnesota's schools.

It's astounding that Ripley would write an entire book about the world's public schools without mentioning one of the two international testing programs in which the world's nations take part. Before telling us which nations had the best schools, she discarded exactly half the data, without explaining why she did so or acknowledging the fact that she had!

That was a strange way to write a book. Now, the New York Times seems to have adopted this same approach. They're even running Ripley's cultish report under their Upshot brand! That's their most brainiac work!

Ripley's report is horrible in many ways. For today, we'll suggest that you observe its wonderfully cultish shadings. In particular, note the fawning treatment extended to The Founder, Andreas Schleicher, in paragraphs 4-15, which constitutes almost half of Ripley's report.

In that lengthy chunk of her report, Ripley praises the ability of the Pisa staff to predict which countries will show improved test scores, based simply on the extent to which they've adopted certain favored policies. In this passage, Ripley steps aside and lets The Founder heap praise on himself:
RIPLEY: In the end, the PISA team had called virtually every country correctly. Colombia and Singapore had indeed improved. And France had done a bit worse in science and math while improving ever so slightly in reading. ''It's hard to surprise us when it comes to these things,'' Mr. Schleicher said.
That's wonderful clownistry all by itself. Here's the problem:

Based on Ripley's reporting, it doesn't sound like the Pisa team called any country correctly, except to the extent that their predictions were clownishly broad.

Ripley puts her thumb on the scale to pretend that they called the U.S. correctly. Did they somehow call France correctly? According to Ripley, this was the ridiculous "prediction" the Pisa team had made:

"Nobody predicted France would be a star performer." Thus spake Schleicherthustra!

Ripley started out as a standard Time magazine blitherball type. Somehow, she transformed herself into an international "education expert." In the course of executing this move, she signed on to the almost unbearable greatness of the Pisa.

That said, her widely praised book seemed to be baldly dishonest is several remarkable ways. Yesterday's report in the Times was a peculiar gong show.

We'll offer more examples next week. Having said that, let us also say this: Bless their hearts, but the New York Times is just extremely strange.

According to Kevin Drum, lead exposure was very high in the not too distant past. We often think of this notable fact when we read the glorious Times, our nation's greatest newspaper.

COMEY'S GIRL: Starr and Freeh and Conrad too!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2016

Part 4—Politely accepting the pattern:
Back in September, we fell in love with Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Never mind how it happened! We were there to participate in a two-week set of workshops for a group of federal managers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Our workshop concerned the way the press corps covers elections.

We discussed the growing tendency to cover nothing but insults and polls. At one point, we cited our curiosity about what Candidate Clinton had said.

She'd made her remarks in early September. This is what she'd said:
CLINTON (9/7/16): You know and I know classified material is designated. It is marked...

What we have here is the use of an unclassified system by hundreds of people in our government to send information that was not marked, there were no headers, there was no statement, top secret, secret, or confidential.

I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously. When I traveled, I went into one of those little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing that was designated, marked, and headed as classified.

So I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.
Say what? In effect, Clinton had rejected the repeated claim that she dealt with classified material on her personal email.

At NBC's high-profile Commander in Chief Forum, she had said she dealt with such material "on a wholly separate system." She described the precautions she took when she traveled the world.

"I did exactly what I should have done," the candidate eventually said.

In those statements, Candidate Clinton seemed to reject the aggressive, highly irregular claims of James B. Comey, who's commonly known as Comey the God. She seemed to do so quite explicitly.

But how odd! In the three weeks which had passed, we'd seen no one repeat, cite or evaluate these things which Clinton had said. Her statements had simply disappeared, like Fred Kaplan's July 6 report at Slate, a report which had challenged the infallible judgments of Comey.

We mention Aberdeen for a reason. One participant, now a lawyer, had served in the military way back when. He said he'd once supervised Vice President Quayle when, on a foreign trip, Quayle made use of those same "little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing."

This participant wasn't vouching for Clinton; we weren't vouching for her either. He was saying that he had seen those same precautions in action. We were saying this:

In the weeks which had passed since Clinton's statement in that high-profile forum, no one had made the slightest attempt to evaluate what she had said. Indeed, no one had even noted what Candidate Clinton had said.

The press, if that's what we still want to call them, had returned to their focus on insults and polls. Clinton's claim that she "did exactly what [she] should have done" with respect to classified material had disappeared into thin air, just like Kaplan's July 6 report.

In that same workshop, we mentioned our seat-of-the-pants reaction to Kaplan's report. Our seat-of-the-pants, first-blush reaction was this:

Based on the small number of emails about which Comey had cited; based on Kaplan's rather convincing claim that Comey's assertions were bunk; based on Comey's apparent dissembling about those "marked" emails; we had provisionally changed our minds about the email kerflubble:

We had provisionally come to suspect that Clinton actually hadn't been careless with classified material. That said, our judgment remained provisional, for an unfortunate reason:

In the months since Comey launched his attacks, we'd seen no one make a real attempt to evaluate Kaplan's rebuttal. Kaplan's rebuttal had disappeared; all that was left were the nightly presentations in which respectful pseudo-journalists gave Comey's claims the extremely wide berth his divine status conferred.

After Kaplan's report disappeared, no one challenged or analyzed what Comey the God had said. This brings us back to the gruesome conduct of our own corporate tool, Rachel Maddow. It also raises a basic fact:

Comey's attack didn't come out of the blue. He followed a line of previous Comeys—people who played a role in our modern history you will never hear discussed by corporate-fueled stars like Maddow.

Why did Comey do what he did this summer and fall? His conduct was extremely irregular. Why did he do what he did?

We can't answer that question. We can tell you what Maddow won't—Comey is the latest in a line of morally upright Republican figures who have intruded on the normal course of our governance and our elections.

There was nothing new about Comey the God's intrusion on this campaign. He followed in the wake of the morally upright "Judge Starr," who got appointed by Judge David Sentelle, a Jesse Helms hack, to wage war on the Clintons in 1994.

At the time, Judge Starr was an upright Republican figure, an earlier version of Comey the God. On many scorecards, he was next in line for a Supreme Court seat at the time he was picked to launch these attacks.

As it turned out, Judge Starr managed to bungle badly, as he recently did in the course of getting himself removed as president of Baylor. (He was removed as part of a rape cover-up scandal so serious that it even caused Baylor to fire a winning football coach.) But Starr was an establishment god when he was picked to chase the Clintons. Through his overwrought conduct, he intruded on our normal governance over the next five years.

The morally upright Judge Starr stepped down in 1999. In March 1999, Al Gore made his first campaign-related trip to New Hampshire and the war against Gore was launched.

Sure enough, it happened again! A string of Republican prosecutors kept recommend a federal probe of his alleged misconduct.

At this time, FBI director Louis Freeh was a morally upright Republican figure out of the standard establishment mold. Later, Bill Clinton would call Freeh his worst appointment ever.

But in 1999 and 2000, Freeh helped blow smoke across the countryside about the reprehensible conduct of Gore. The leading authority on this matter summarizes it as shown below. In this passage, we move from Freeh to Robert Conrad:
WIKIPEDIA: President Clinton's FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote in a 22-page memorandum to then Attorney General Janet Reno in November 1997 that "It is difficult to imagine a more compelling situation for appointing an independent counsel."

In July 1998, the Justice Department's campaign finance task force head, Charles La Bella, sent a report to Janet Reno also recommending she seek an independent counsel
to investigate alleged fund-raising abuses by Democratic party officials. The media reported that La Bella believed there was clearly an appearance of a conflict of interest by Reno...

Robert Conrad, Jr., who later became head of the task force, called on Reno in spring 2000 to appoint an independent counsel to look into the fund-raising practices of Vice President Gore.

Janet Reno declined all requests.
In June 2000, by some miracle, Conrad's recommendation to Reno somehow leaked to the press. Reno declined his recommendation, but the caterwauling during this period was endless.

The history of this era has been fairly clear. If your name was Clinton, Clinton or Gore, there were always morally upright Republican figures thrashing about the countryside in search of your misconduct, especially while you were running for office.

The script tended to be the same. Conrad's recommendation, which was mysteriously leaked, occasioned front-page reports like this report from the Christian Science Monitor:
KIEFER (6/26/00): Since 1996, allegations of questionable fundraising have dogged Al Gore. Now they've surfaced once again, weighing down his campaign just as he is trying to revive it.

Whether these renewed charges will harm Mr. Gore's presidential bid will depend in part on the closeness of the race this fall, and more important, if Attorney General Janet Reno appoints a special counsel to investigate him—as a Justice Department prosecutor recently urged.

Still, most analysts agree that the prosecutor's recommendation is one more distraction for the vice president, and once again raises questions about his integrity in a campaign in which character is key.

[...]

"This is bad for the vice president," says Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst here. "Anytime this is in the headlines, it elbows out other stories."

Indeed, the question of Gore's truthfulness was bandied about on television talk shows Sunday,
and may continue to grab headlines when Ms. Reno testifies on Capitol Hill tomorrow.
For what it's worth, "the closeness of the race" turned out to be extreme that fall. Meanwhile, substitute "Clinton" for "Gore," then substitute "emails" for "Buddhist temple." With Comey subbing for Conrad and Freeh, we all got to watch this same film this summer and fall.

(For the record, the disinformation and misinformation about the Buddhist temple was endless. Timorous liberals ran from this, just as corporate liberals on corporate cable took a dive on the basic facts concerning Clinton's emails.)

Back to that earlier episode in this episodic drama: Is it fair to attribute political motives to figures like Freeh, LaBella and Conrad? Except in the beloved realms of story and narrative, it's always hard to establish people's motives.

That said, Judge Sentelle was a Jesse Helms hack. Judge Starr, his appointee, was an insider Republican god in line for future greatness.

You can explain Louis Freeh for yourselves. As for Conrad, his views about Sister Helen Prejean surfaced just once in American newspapers at that juncture, according to the Nexis archive. Deep in a Washington Post profile, David Vise mentioned this:
VISE (6/30/00): Conrad's only reported political contribution is to the [Jesse] Helms campaign, and Mullen—an appointee of President Bush who said he also contributed to Helms before becoming a judge—said Conrad is not politically active.

Conrad, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is a death penalty advocate who sent a letter to Catholic Dossier magazine last year after reading the book and seeing the movie "Dead Man Walking."

"As a Catholic and a federal prosecutor who has successfully argued for the imposition of the death penalty, I was searching for a cogent treatment of the issue," Conrad wrote. "I found only liberal drivel. . . . This surprisingly shallow book wallows in worn-out liberal shibboleths and dated anecdotes."
That doesn't mean that Conrad had political motives. It does mean that he expressed himself in the most hackish possible ways when he discussed political matters.

Comey the God behaved in an irregular manner this year, but he had predecessors. That said, expecting Maddow to enter such waters is like expecting the sun to rise in the west.

Figures on Fox would never duck the appearance of anti-GOP bias. By way of contrast, Maddow constantly plays it safe.

She hands us worthless drivel each night—drivel which makes us liberals feel good. She tells us how laughable Rick Lazio was when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2000. (Rick Lazio!) She stays away from the more dangerous themes and events from those earlier Clinton/Gore years.

For twenty-five years, liberal voters have suffered under the reign of "liberal" figures like this. Lack of fight is their calling card, self-dealing their closest friend.

Maddow mocks figures like Lazio, runs in fear from establishment power. As liberals, we can't see her do this. She is a skillful seller of cars. We liberals think Rachel's our friend.

All through the summer, then into the fall, Rachel Maddow ran and hid from the claims and conduct of Comey the God. Comey is a potent establishment figure; Maddow is an inveterate seller of self, an inveterate self-dealer.

She drums on her desk; she mugs and she clowns. She pursues figures like Christie and Snyder, clowning with facts as she does.

She commands an endless string of entertainments and distractions. And she never mentioned Comey's name until October 28, when she lightened things up with more of her wonderfully amusing "Boner" (Boehner) jokes.

All year long, Maddow avoided the complexity and the danger of Clinton's emails, just as she once ran and hid as the upright McCain, who she loves to praise, invented the phantasmagoric kill shot called Benghazi. In the fall of 2012, she sat in silence for two solid months as Susan Rice was thrown under the bus. Four years later, she played the same game with respect to Candidate Clinton.

We got to hear that Lazio got clobbered. She pleased us with pointless videotape of Nixon going out the door.

We got our Weiner and Boner jokes. Also our President Trump.

In late September, there we were, in a meeting room in South Dakota. Kaplan's analysis had disappeared without further review, we accurately said.

Clinton's statements at that forum had also been ignored. People like Maddow were handing us the latest polls and pleasing us with pointless tribal porridge.

The score of this TV show seemed fairly clear. "I want to be Comey's girl," we kept hearing one major star sing.

The people, yes: The first thing we noticed in Aberdeen was the massive silence. As a result, that passage from Lincoln: The Prairie Years just wouldn't exit our heads.

When we got home, we looked it up. Sure enough, there it was, though the allusion was more specific than we would have thought.

As she said goodbye to him for the last time, Lincoln's beloved stepmother, Sally Bush Lincoln, knew "his heart would go roaming back often," that even as he rode in parades, with thousands cheering, he "might just as like be thinking of her in the old log farmhouse out in Coles County, Illinois." Or so Sandburg said.

Among other manifestations around her, "there would be the silence after snowstorms with white drifts piled against the fences, barns and trees." To our ear, Sandburg was picturing Lincoln's greatness emerging from the massive silence which had caused him to live within himself during his formative years.

How strange! We instantly thought we heard that silence when we left the airport in Aberdeen, a place we instantly loved. We tried to walk to our hotel, but sure enough! The first car which came along stopped!

Normalizing the "nearly demented!"

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2016

McCaffrey changes his mind:
We were watching, and we were surprised, when General Barry McCaffrey vouched for General Michael Flynn a few weeks ago.

We thought it was already clear that something was wrong with Flynn. Watching cable, we saw McCaffrey vouch for Flynn in very strong terms.

McCaffrey seems to have changed his mind. Matt Shuman reports at TPM:
SHUMAN (12/8/16): Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey has changed his opinion on the incoming national security adviser, retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, after reading his tweets.

In an interview on NBC posted online Thursday, McCaffrey acknowledged that he had initially been supportive of Flynn after President-elect Trump announced that he would be his national security adviser, a position which does not require confirmation hearings.

“But I must admit,” McCaffrey said, “I’m now extremely uneasy about some of these tweets, which don’t sound so much as if they are political skullduggery, but instead border on being demented. So I think we need to look into this and sort our what’s going on here.”

“I think that we need to aggressively examine what was going on with Gen. Flynn and his son, dealing with these transparent, nearly demented tweets that were going out,” he continued. “I think it needs closer scrutiny.”
We agree—Flynn and Flynn seem to be "nearly demented." That said, and this point is very important:

Thoughts and claims which were "nearly demented" were normalized long ago.

Chris Matthews' thoughts and claims were nearly demented for years. Maureen Dowd wasn't much better. In the darker reaches of The Crazy, major figures ran around for many years listing the Clintons' many murders.

Everyone agreed to pretend that this lunacy made perfect sense.

Donald J. Trump was nearly demented when he claimed, in 2011, that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to probe Obama's place of birth, and that they were blown away by the things they were learning. Five years later, in a front-page report this July, the New York Times was still unwilling to ask if Trump had actually done that, or if he had simply been lying the whole time.

The Times is tremendously strange. That said, demented behavior was normalized long ago, virtually by acclamation The press looked away when others did it, engaged in the practice themselves. We liberals kept our traps shut.

Within our demented national discourse, this has been normal for years. Our normalization of the demented has now produced President Trump, who simply loves General Flynn.

The Times corrects an editing error!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2016

A very peculiar newspaper:
The New York Times is a very peculiar newspaper. A few quick examples:

Yesterday's front-page report about Donald J. Trump struck us as very odd. The report began with Donald J. Trump's peculiar attack against Boeing.

By now, it seems fairly clear that Trump's fact-challenged, jumbled tweet was a flash response to criticism from Boeing's CEO. But if you read the part of the Times report which appeared on the paper's front page, you received no such impression.

Instead, Trump was profiled semi-heroically, By paragraph 3, his tweet was being compared to JFK's stand against the steel bosses way back when. Let's quote Shear and Drew, who posed as Gloss and Spun:

"For perhaps the first time since President John F. Kennedy took on the steel industry in the early 1960s, the heads of big American companies are being confronted by a leader willing to call them out directly and publicly for his policy and political aims."

Inside the paper, the reporters created a jumble all their own as they tried to paraphrase Trump's tweet and sort out the actual facts. This is a very strange newspaper. But then, what else is new?

This morning, the Times has published an astounding report by Amanda Ripley about the new Pisa scores. We'll postpone that journalistic disaster until tomorrow, noting only 1) that Ripley seems to be a virtual cult member at this point, and 2) that the Times has apparently decided to disappear the Timss and discuss the Pisa alone.

The Times is very odd. If we wanted to bait Kevin Drum, we'd blame it on high lead content in the water when the reporters and editors were young.

We could do it, but it would be wrong. (Truthfully, the Times makes us wonder. Drum has noted that lead exposure was much higher when today's adults were kids.)

The Times is a very strange paper. On Saturday, we plan to discuss one of its Book Review's amazing but revealing picks for ten best books of the year. For today, let's puzzle over a minor but fascinating point—the official correction which appeared on yesterday's op-ed page.

Initially,we were struck by the correction because the errors it corrected seemed to be so large. We were also struck by a lack of parallel construction in thecorrection, and by a murky claim we didn't understand.

Here's the correction as it appeared in yesterday morning's paper. Everybody makes mistakes, but the errors being corrected here seem to be very large—and something seems to be missing:
Correction in hard-copy New York Times, 12/7/16: Because of an editing error, an Op-Ed essay on Friday about Donald Trump's efforts to keep jobs in the United States misstated the change in auto sector employment in both the United States and Mexico between 2007 and 2015. In Mexico, jobs grew to 558,000 from 405,000, not to 675,000 from 174,000. In the United States, auto jobs declined to 762,000 from 828,000. The article also misstated the plans by Detroit car companies to invest and hire employees in Mexico. Ford and General Motors plan to invest a combined $9.1 billion and hire 12,200 more workers; Detroit car companies are not planning to invest $30 billion and hire 30,000 more workers.
The correction appears the same way on-line. Below, we'll show you the lengthier version of the correction which appears on Nexis.

Those errors seem very large. We don't know what kind of "editing error" could have produced such howlers, nor does the Times seem inclined to explain.

Beyond that, information has been omitted from the correction concerning auto jobs in the United States. Based upon the original text in last Friday's hard-copy Times, here's how that correction would have appeared had parallel construction prevailed:
Correction as it should have appeared in order to acknowledge the full sweep of the errors: Because of an editing error, an Op-Ed essay on Friday about Donald Trump’s efforts to keep jobs in the United States misstated the change in auto sector employment in both the United States and Mexico between 2007 and 2015. In Mexico, jobs grew to 558,000 from 405,000, not to 675,000 from 174,000. In the United States, auto jobs declined to 762,000 from 828,000; auto jobs did not increase to 900,000 from 828,000. The article also misstated plans by Detroit car companies in Mexico. Ford and General Motors plan to invest a combined $9.1 billion and hire 12,200 more workers; Detroit car companies are not planning to invest $30 billion and hire 30,000 more workers.
Jeez! The original piece was crammed with large mistakes. How did an editor cause that?

We were struck by the size of the errors; by the claim that an editor caused them; and by the lack of parallel construction in the correction. (The original erroneous information was included for Mexican jobs but not for jobs in the U.S.)

Then, we saw this same correction as it appears at Nexis. Two extra lines appear at the end, creating a bit of a puzzler:
Correction as it appears beneath the column on Nexis: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the change in auto sector employment in both the United States and Mexico between 2007 and 2015. In Mexico, jobs grew to 558,000 from 405,000, not to 675,000 from 174,000. In the United States, auto jobs declined to 762,000 from 828,000. The article also misstated the plans by Detroit car companies to invest and hire employees in Mexico. Ford and General Motors plan to invest a combined $9.1 billion and hire 12,200 more workers; Detroit car companies are not planning to invest $30 billion and hire 30,000 more workers. The article also misstated the state tax incentives given to Carrier to keep 800 jobs in Indiana. Carrier was given $7 million over 10 years, not $700,000 a year.
We swear that's what it says. "Carrier was given $7 million over 10 years, not $700,000 a year!"

Presumably, the Times supplied that longer correction to Nexis, then thought better of those last two lines. For what it's worth, that final line may give a slightly false impression of what the original column said.

As it turned out, the column in question was written by Steven Rattner. He's one of the bright regular panelists with the puzzling Mika and Joe.

In closing, let's review:

Giant errors appeared in the original piece; this was attributed to "an editing error." Then, the Times began composing corrections. Chaos took over from there.

Tomorrow: The Pisa cult

COMEY'S GIRL: The basic questions Kaplan raised!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2016

Interlude—Rachel's avoidance:
When she was secretary of state, was Hillary Clinton "extremely careless in [her] handling of very sensitive, highly classified information?"

Most strikingly, had she participated in email chains which "contained information that was top secret at the time they were sent?" Emails concerning "matters that were classified at the top secret special access program level at the time they were sent and received?"

Had Clinton exposed this "top secret" material to possible hacking by "sophisticated adversaries?" When she was secretary of state, did Hillary Clinton actually do these things?

On Tuesday morning, July 5, James B. Comey—he's commonly known as Comey the God—said Clinton did do those things. Comey, the FBI director, ran roughshod over Justice Department procedures as he strafed Clinton this day.

Two days later, on July 7, Comey repeated his claims before an august House committee. During that high-profile session, it became clear that he had played fast and loose with the truth concerning his claim that some of the material Clinton emailed had been marked classified at the time it was sent and received.

Might we all be honest for once? Comey's deception about the marked emails came close to being a lie. But so these things have tended to go in the past twenty-five years. (More on that tomorrow.)

That one accusation by Comey the God came close to being a lie. That said, Comey had long since been cast in a familiar role within establishment Washington.

He'd been cast in the role of the straight-shooting, upright Republican figure whose obvious rectitude mustn't be questioned. Reversing the flow of ancient myth, the director assumed that godly form as he trashed Clinton that week.

Perhaps because of his godly designation, Comey felt free to intrude on the White House campaign two more times before it was done. Those intrusions in the campaign's final weeks also flew in the face of established Justice Department policy and procedures.

Comey's intrusions produced a troubling assessment. In this campaign postmortem, Kevin Drum rated Comey's behavior as one of the three top reasons for Candidate Trump's narrow win.

Did James B. Comey's peculiar behavior hand the White House to Trump? Given the narrow way the election was decided, this possibility is blindingly obvious.

This possibility becomes more vexing when we consider a further possibility—the possibility that Comey's accusations were bogus, unfounded, deceptive, wrong. But that's what Slate's Fred Kaplan basically said in a July 6 report which, in a familiar pattern, quickly disappeared.

Kaplan's report disappeared because of people like Rachel Maddow. The silly multimillionaire had been summering, en vacance, when Comey delivered his thunderbolts in July. Her guest host, Steve Kornacki, seemed to be auditioning for a prime time spot at Fox as he thundered against Clinton's behavior on the evenings of July 5, 6 and 7.

Maddow returned and strapped on her orange shoes on Monday, July 11. For the rest of the summer, deep into the fall, she never so much as mentioned Comey's name. She never analyzed or critiqued his kill-shot accusations.

Fred Kaplan didn't appear on her TV show, which is entertainment- and porridge-based. His critiques of Comey's claims were never mentioned. As Candidate Clinton was pounded by Comey's claims, the orange-shoed corporate-owned millionaire ran off and hid in the woods. She'd done the same thing in 2012 when Benghazi kill shot was being invented.

In fairness, people who watch the Maddow Show face a difficult critical task. The various things she says and does are highly pleasing on a tribal basis. In part for that reason, it's hard to notice the various things she doesn't say and do.

It's hard to notice the dangerous topics this seller of cars avoids.

Let's be fair to Maddow's gullible viewers and fans. It easier to hear what has been said than to notice what has been avoided.

We'll take a guess. Very few viewers of Maddow's TV show noticed the fact that she never mentioned Comey the God or his accusations. They were too busy being distracted by her silly predictions, by her pointless but pleasing historical excursions, and by the pleasing tribal porridge which is constantly served on her show.

Maddow delivered good rating all summer and fall as she delivered this brew. This justified her bloated salary, which was reported to be $7 million per year quite a few years ago.

(We'll assume it's higher now. Megyn is said to be getting $15 million, wants a raise to twenty. When "journalists" are paid such sums, things rarely turn out well.)

All summer long, then into the fall, our own horrible corporate tool simpered and piddled and played. As the network ran ads saying she was the smartest person on TV, she completely ignored the questions which lay at the heart of Comey the God's kill shot:

She ignored Kaplan's claim that the "top secret" material to which Comey referred was a bunch of piddle and junk.

She ignored the obvious suggestion lodged in Comey's rather small numbers—the suggestion that Clinton really wasn't discussing classified material on her private server.

She ignored the basic questions which still had Drum puzzled several months later. You might call them the roads not taken:

Who said that material was "top secret?" What made their judgment better than Clinton's?

Wasn't this just another example of material being "up-classified"—classified after that fact? What the heck had Comey meant when he said, without explanation, that the material in question "was top secret at the time?"

Maddow ducked these questions, just as she'd done in 2012 when Benghazi was being invented. You see, Comey is an establishment god, and, however she may appear to us rubes, Maddow is extremely devoted to playing it corporately safe.

Maddow continues "selling the car" as she ducks such dangerous topics and questions. But as she avoided Comey the God, his kill shots—and the pre-existing Benghazi scripts—sent Donald J. Trump to the White House.

There's a bright side to this, of course. As Maddow has mugged and clowned and ducked and dodged, her fame, and her bank account, have each continued to grow.

In the early days, she sold herself through the silly claim that she didn't, indeed couldn't, own a TV set. (Not that she was smarter than us, as she constantly said!) Today, she owns this lucre-fueled bathhouse where she splashes and coos and admires herself as she watches her giant TV.

(More on that utterly silly serial con in the week of December 19.)

In 2012, Rachel Maddow ran and hid when John McCain, the morally upright Republican god, invented the Benghazi foofaw. As Maddow ran and hid in the woods, Susan Rice disappeared beneath the bus—and a kill shot was invented.

(On his weekend show, Chris Hayes affirmed the Benghazi con! He reversed himself one week later.)

Four years later, Maddow ran and hid when James B. Comey—Comey the God—assembled a second kill shot. The two kill shots from which the clown hid have now sent Trump to the White House.

We liberals continue to watch Maddow's show, generally failing to discern the way she actually rolls. Tomorrow, we'll consider some of the Comeys who came before Comey—others in the long line of upright Republican gods this corporate clown avoids.

Comey's intrusion was nothing new. You'll never hear it on Maddow's show, but this sort of thing has been routine for the past twenty-five years.

Tomorrow: Fondly remembering "Poppy" Bush; forgetting about Robert Conrad

Where in the world was Matt Lauer: Two more examples of the self-dealing and avoidance which helped send Trump to the White House:

On September 7, NBC's own Matt Lauer hosted the network's Commander in Chief Forum. At one point, Candidate Clinton said this, in a reply to her first citizen questioner:
CLINTON (9/7/16): You know and I know classified material is designated. It is marked. There is a header so that there is no dispute at all that what is being communicated to or from someone who has that access is marked classified.

And what we have here is the use of an unclassified system by hundreds of people in our government to send information that was not marked, there were no headers, there was no statement, top secret, secret, or confidential.

I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously. When I traveled, I went into one of those little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing that was designated, marked, and headed as classified.

LAUER: Let us—

CLINTON: So I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.
Say what? "I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system?" "I did exactly what I should have done?"

Those statements begged for clarification, begged for an interview with Kaplan.

That interview never occurred. Maddow made no attempt to explain what Clinton said.

That was one point of avoidance in the wake of this horrible forum. At the same time, consider the way this corporate shill avoided discussion of Lauer.

At this event, the unthinkable happened. A major media figure finally went so far over the top in his pursuit of someone named Clinton or Gore that robust push-back occurred.

Amazingly, Lauer came in for considerable criticism in the next few days. Rather, Lauer came in for considerable criticism—unless you were getting your news and analysis from the Rachel Maddow program.

You see, NBC pays Maddow her swag—and Lauer is a major corporate property. Presumably for those reasons, the criticism of Lauer's performance was never mentioned or critiqued on Maddow's show. Rachel Maddow, a corporate tool, was selling the car again.

She served us tribal porridge instead. "I just want to be Comey's girl," our own liberal singing star said.