Lustily, the analysts cheered!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2017

At Slate, Peters gets it right:
Lusty cheering by the analysts woke us early this morning.

The youngsters had read the start of this piece by Justin Peters at Slate. Soon, we were lustily cheering too. Peters had introduced an important framework, one which is rarely employed:

"These are remarkably stupid times."

These are remarkably stupid times! Peters was working from an important framework, one which is rarely employed.

Are these remarkably stupid times? Let's take a look at the trigger for Peters' accurate statement:
PETERS (10/16/17): These are remarkably stupid times. For a glimpse of why, consider the daily patter of Fox & Friends—or, rather, consider that I am even asking you to consider Fox & Friends. The show is by now known for being terrible television, something that is neither entertaining nor informative...
Long ago and quite far away, we described Fox & Friends as the dumbest show in the history of TV "news." We're going all the way back to the day when E. D. Hill was the blonde woman on the couch between the two dull-witted boys.

The program is still that stupid today—stupid, and influential.

It's true! We do live in remarkably stupid times, and Fox & Friends is dumbfoundingly stupid. But it's also true that The Stupid is found all over the modern press. For ourselves, we're struck by The Stupid every day when we read the New York Times.

The sheer stupidity of this era is its most striking feature. That said, when we liberals spot and discuss The Stupid at all, we tend to spot and discuss it Over There, among Those People, and pretty much nowhere else.

In the last two mornings, we've spotted The Stupid all over our own tribe's pitiful work, but especially in the New York Times, where The Stupid starts on the reimagined page A3 and then spreads out from there. Our culture is dying from The Stupid, and it isn't all located Over There, within the other tribe's tents.

Sorry. That's not even close.

Our tribe is soaked in The Stupid too. In the next few days, we'll offer examples.

That said, a modern nation can't run on The Stupid. At what point will we liberals be willing to scope our dying culture and admit that this statement is true?

Justin Peters got it right. These are remarkably stupid times. Our tribe's a big part of the problem.

LESSONS CONCERNING THE FALL: Baby-poop-colored lid on her head!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2017

Part 5—"The Rachel figure:"
How many ways does Janet Malcolm love the Maddow show?

It's hard to count the ways. That said, in an endless profile in the October 9 New Yorker, Malcolm mentions only three specific Maddow programs from this calendar year—and in one of those specific programs, Malcolm says a Maddow show "failed to please." That was "the notorious show of March 14th," in which Maddow turned the uninformative contents of Donald J. Trump's 2005 tax returns into an endless tease and a song-of-self.

Malcolm describes only three programs from this calendar year. Somewhat oddly, without real explanation, she also mentions a pair of Maddow shows from October 2014. It seems fairly clear that Malcolm saw something significant in these programs, which aired on October 29 and 30 of that long-lost, long-ago year.

Malcolm seems to see great significance in these programs—but why? Her description of those back-to-back programs begins like this:
MALCOLM (10/9/17): The [October 29, 2014] show began with Maddow placing on her desk, one by one, a graduated set of ceramic kitchen cannisters. “Here in our offices at 30 Rockefeller Center, in our office closet, actually, we have, sort of randomly, a really hideous complete set of kitchen cannisters,” she said, drawing them to her with an impish smile. “A full set of mushroom-ornamented, baby-poop-colored, made-in-China ugly kitchen cannisters. They take up a lot of space, but I can’t get rid of them. We bought these hideous kitchen cannisters when a producer on our staff stumbled upon them while out shopping and realized—photographic memory—that these were an exact match to one of the best campaign-ad props thus far in the twenty-first century. Look.” A picture then appeared onscreen, showing a woman sitting in front of a display of the same mushroom-ornamented cannisters that live in the office closet at MSNBC. The woman was Sharron Angle, a Nevada Republican, who had tried to make a political comeback after an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Harry Reid in his Senate race in 2010.
We'll interrupt Malcolm's essay here. Throughout, we'll use the double-N spelling of "cannister" which The New Yorker seems to prefer.

Let's summarize what we've heard so far about the first of that three-year-old pair of programs. We've heard that Maddow started her program that night with "an impish smile." She then began discussing herself, or at least she began discussing the internal dynamics of her show, which she referred to as "we."

According to Maddow, her show had purchased a set of "hideous kitchen cannisters" at some time in the previous few years. According to Maddow, a producer had "stumbled upon them while out shopping" and had realized that they were "an exact match to one of the best campaign-ad props thus far in the twenty-first century."

The show's producer had a photographic memory, we were inevitably told. For undisclosed reasons, Maddow told us that the hideous, unused cannisters "live in an office closet at MSNBC" but she "can't get rid of them.

This is all part of the Maddow Show style, in which viewers are perhaps made to feel that they're being treated to an insidery view of the workings of a cool club. Along the way, we were treated to the inevitable low-IQ touch. The hideous cannisters are "baby-poop-colored," we were inevitably told.

As it turned out, the hideous, baby-poop-colored cannisters matched a set which had appeared in a campaign ad for Sharron Angle, who lost a high-profile Senate race to Harry Reid in 2010. The hideous cannisters had appeared in a campaign ad in 2011, when Angle launched a run for a seat in the House, a campaign she later abandoned.

As Maddow continued this night, she linked Angle and the hideous cannisters to a campaign which was then underway—to the 2014 Iowa Senate race of Republican Joni Ernst. Maddow offered some critical commentary on Ernst's campaign, which Malcolm briefly summarizes in her New Yorker piece.

This was just the beginning of Malcolm's treatment of those Maddow shows from October 2014. As noted, Malcolm discussed only three shows from this calendar year in her endless profile of Maddow. As such, the cannister shows from 2014 constitute a full forty percent of the Maddow shows she chose to discuss in her recent piece.

It's fairly clear that Janet Malcolm saw some sort of significance in those cannister shows. It must also be said that it's hard to discern what it was, or why the three-year-old shows were ever discussed at all.

Back to Malcolm's profile. According to Malcolm, Maddow closed the opening segment of that first show by making yet another disparaging reference to those "hideous kitchen cannisters." This led to a segment in the next night's show, a segment Malcolm chose to describe, for unknown reasons, at considerable length.

Malcolm devoted a good chunk of time to the events of the following night (October 30, 2014). Here's the way her manifest piddle began:
MALCOLM: The next night, an unsmiling Maddow addressed her audience thus: “O.K., so last night I may have crossed the line. I went a little too far and said something that offended some of our viewers, and rightly so. It was not my intention to offend. So we’ve got a Department of Corrections segment coming up. Anybody who likes to watch this show because you like to yell at me while I’m on the screen, you will like this next thing that I’m going to have to do. Mea culpa on the way.” Sitting in front of a sign that read “DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS,” Maddow recapitulated her narrative of the page Joni Ernst took from Sharron Angle. “Tonight, I have a correction to make about that. I will tell you, though, that this correction has nothing to do with Joni Ernst.” In fact, the “correction” was not a correction at all. Maddow had made no factual errors. She had merely betrayed her youth. She had not lived long enough to know that you do not mock people’s things any more than you mock their weight or accent or sexual orientation. “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” William Morris wrote in his famous dictum. Morris knew very well what was hideous. But he knew enough about human nature to insert that inspired “believe.”
There's so much piddle in that paragraph that an observer barely knows where to begin. Yet this plainly is the way Maddow staged one segment that October night, and this is the sort of brain-damaged dreck which now appears in The New Yorker.

Let's run through what Malcolm has said about that program so far:

For starters, few readers will have any idea who this William Morris is, or why he would have offered his "famous dictum" about what you should have in your house. Let us fill in that blank:

According to the leading authority on his life, Morris was "associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement" of the 19th century. As such, "he was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production."

None of this has much to do with Maddow's presentation that second night, in which she apologized, or pretended to apologize, for the previous night's misconduct. In real time, we commented on the sheer inanity of this ridiculous, time-wasting segment. That said, we assume the segment was at least largely tongue in cheek, a possibility Malcolm doesn't seem to have considered.

In Malcolm's apparent view, Maddow had actually offended some viewers the night before with her comments about the hideous cannisters. In Malcolm' apparent view, Maddow was conducting a serious attempt to apologize for her bad judgment, which Malcolm attributed to Maddow's youth.

Just for the record, Maddow was 42 years old at the time these programs aired. At any rate, as Malcolm continued, she described Maddow's supposed mea culpa:
MALCOLM (continuing directly): Maddow’s disparagement of the mushroom cannisters brought her a torrent of mail. She read aloud from it: “I was insulted that you referred to the cannisters as ugly, as I had bought that set many years ago. I wish I still had my cute, adorable cannisters.” “Hey, Rachel, my mother has a set, too—we could use a matching set.” “If by hideous you mean the most awesome cannisters of all time then you are correct.” More messages appeared on the screen: “hideous??? What ever do you mean?” “Those were my grandmas mushroom canisters! She had matching pots, s&p, spoon rest, napkin holder and a wall clock.”
We'd assume that these complaints were largely tongue in cheek. We'd make the same assumption about Maddow's silly resort to her DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. But as she journeyed back three years in time, Malcolm seemed to read things differently.

She seemed to think that Maddow had really apologized for really offending an actual torrent of viewers. She continued along, describing what happened next:
MALCOLM (continuing directly): “I have been aesthetically swayed,” Maddow said, setting down the sheaf of letters. “Yes, I once believed that those mushroom cannisters were hideous, in the context of threatening armed violence against government officials, à la Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joni Ernst in Iowa. I also do still kind of think they’re hideous here at my office. But in real life, on your shelf, on your kitchen counter, in the recesses of your childhood memories, the Merry Mushroom cannisters your mom bought at Sears in the seventies—which also happened to match your Merry Mushroom curtains—those mushroom cannisters really aren’t hideous. They are lovely. So thank you for fact-checking me on this. I sincerely regret what I now believe is an error. I love your mushroom cannisters and your kitchen—I love all of it.” She had been hugging the biggest cannister. Now she removed its lid and put it on her head. “Sorry.”
Yes, that actually happened. Also, this was the end of Malcolm's treatment of those shows from 2014.

Yes, that actually happened. After Maddow finished her pointless discussion of the aesthetic worth of the cannisters, she removed the lid of the biggest cannister of them all and deposited it on her head.

"Sorry," she said, as she mugged and clowned about this inane, stupid topic. This was part of "cable news" in the last few months before Donald J. Trump launched his drove toward The Oval.

Reading Malcolm's endless profile of Maddow, we can't tell you why Janet Malcolm devoted so much time and so much space to these cannister shows from October 2014. She seemed to think that Maddow was conducting a real apology for a genuine offense—an offense which reflected the 42-year-old TV star's youthful failure of judgment.

In our view, it's important to know how we've reached the point where such inanity can appear in The New Yorker. For today, we'll offer this one suggestion about those Maddow shows, and possibly about Malcolm's reaction to them.

We don't know why Janet Malcolm included those shows in her endless profile of Maddow. Having said that, we'll offer this:

In those two programs, it seems to us that Maddow was engaged in what Malcolm calls "her performance of the Rachel figure." Tomorrow, we'll start to make a pair of suggestions:

This repetitive type of performance art is a major part of Maddow's popular program, which Malcolm approvingly describes as "TV entertainment at its finest" and also as "sleight of hand." It's also part of the way our culture has been dumbed down to the point where Donald J. Trump is now president.

What does Malcolm mean when she refers to Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure?" Your question strikes us as very important. We'll start with that question tomorrow.

Tomorrow: "The Rachel figure?" What's that?

LESSONS CONCERNING THE FALL: Greta walks!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2017

Interlude—Possible hint of a brilliant disguise:
Finally, there's someone to admire in the wide-ranging discussion of Harvey Weinstein's decades of misconduct.

That person is Sarah Polley, the actress and writer/director who wrote an essay about the matter in Sunday's New York Times.

Polley's essay is unusually intelligent throughout. But our respect for Polley turned to admiration fairly late in her piece.

Earlier, Polley had described an unpleasant encounter she had with Weinsten when she was just 19. As she neared the end of her piece, she added a type of confession:
POLLEY (10/15/17): Harvey Weinstein may be the central-casting version of a Hollywood predator, but he was just one festering pustule in a diseased industry. The only thing that shocked most people in the film industry about the Harvey Weinstein story was that suddenly, for some reason, people seemed to care. That knowledge alone allowed a lot of us to breathe for the first time in ages.

Here is an unsettling problem that I am left with now: Like so many, I knew about him. And not just from my comparatively tame meeting with him. For years, I heard the horrible stories that are now chilling so many people to their core. Like so many, I didn’t know what to do with all of it. I’ve grown up in this industry, surrounded by predatory behavior, and the idea of making people care about it seemed as distant an ambition as pulling the sun out of the sky.
To a person, the analysts cheered.

In the previous week, they had seen an array of players finesse the question of whether they had known about Weinstein's decades of misconduct. By way of contrast, Polley said that she had known about Weinstein. And she hadn't just known in some general or anodyne way.

"For years," Polley says she heard the stories about Weinstein. And she hadn't just heard some array of tame, murky stories. She had heard "the horrible stories" concerning which people suddenly, "for some reason," suddenly seem to care.

Like many others, she didn't act on what she knew, in part for perfectly sensible reasons. That said, Polley described her own failure to act as "an unsettling problem." In our view, her admission of knowledge and her statement of regret are the marks of a person with an active conscience. So is an insightful statement which got dropped from her text in the hard-copy Times:

"This [film] industry doesn’t tend to attract the most gentle and principled among us," Polley was willing to say at an early point in her piece. Keep that thought in mind.

Sarah Polley was willing to say that she had heard "the horrible stories." Elsewhere, attempts to sidestep, avoid or finesse this question seemed to come early and often.

For our money, the Morning Joe program was especially shameless in its repeated attempts to reinvent Mika Brzezinski as a courageous culture-war hero with respect to Weinstein's misconduct. As Mika, a star of Weinstein Books, lodged her non-denial denials, the Morning Joe gang seemed to be working from script.

We have no idea of Mika knew, but her program's journalism was utterly bogus, suspect. That said, others sidestepped this question too, and not just with respect to Weinstein's behavior. At yesterday's Washington Post, a code of silence was in effect when Kathleen Parker insulted her readers' intelligence concerning a similar, earlier matter—the behavior of Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly at the Fox News Channel.

According to Parker, Greta Van Susteren certainly didn't know about that conduct when she was earning those millions of dollars over at Fox! According to Parker, this fact qualifies as "obvious." After all, that's what Greta has said!
PARKER (10/15/17): Ailes, of course, left the company he created two weeks after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment. They reached a settlement amount of $20 million, and he died soon thereafter. Justice doesn’t get any plainer than that. O’Reilly left the same company after revelations that he had settled with five women who accused him of sexual harassment, although the dethroned king of cable news has said the claims had no merit.

[...]

Moreover, “everyone” sorta knew about these men, at least by reputation and rumor. Not everyone [knew], obviously. Greta Van Susteren, who left Fox News soon after Ailes, told me again on Thursday that she never had any idea what was going on. But many did, apparently, and they looked away, including some of the alleged victims, who kept silent for fear of retribution or, perhaps, because they were ultimately willing to suffer humiliation in exchange for advancement. This seems an obvious, if painful, truth.
Over at Fox, many people knew about what Ailes and O'Reilly were doing, or at least so Parker suspects. But according to Parker, it's "obvious" that Greta didn't know. To Parker, this fact is "obvious" because Greta has said so again. She said so again just last week!

It's obvious Greta didn't know because Greta has said so? Your intelligence and decency are being insulted when a fully competent journalist hands you such manifest nonsense.

That said, codes of silence—guild protection rackets—are widespread within the upper-end press corps, which, like the film industry, may not, through the size of its rewards, always attract and produce the best people. We think of the time when Rachel Maddow also vouched and covered for Greta, back when Greta split from Fox and took her talents to The One True Liberal Channel.

Did Greta Van Susteren know about Ailes and O'Reilly's conduct? We have no earthly idea.

That said, we do know this: for four long and guesome years, she knew all about Donald J. Trump's birtherism. Indeed, she served as Trump's main enabler, as his caddie, as he became the king of the nation's birthers.

Through 2015, Greta Van Susteren played dumb for Trump concerning his birtherism. But so what? When Greta brought her talents to MSNBC, Rachel vouched for Greta intensely.

We should all watch Greta's program, the cable star told us gullible liberals. Greta wasn't just a fabulous journalist, we were told. She was also Rachel's drinking buddy and her bestest best friend!

Why did Rachel say those things? We can't answer that question. That said, we've long suggested that Rachel's laughing, joking on-air persona may perhaps and possibly be a bit of a brilliant disguise.

In the October 9 New Yorker, Janet Malcolm described that brilliant disguise—but she approves of the on-air practice, which she admiringly describes as Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure."

Is Maddow cloaked in a brilliant disguise when she performs her "sleight of hand" every night—that is to say, in "her performance of the Rachel figure?" Next question:

Is it possible that "cable news," like Hollywood, may not necessarily "attract the most principled among us?"

In our view, our nation's journalistic and political culture have collapsed beneath the weight of these questions, perhaps beyond the point of repair. For that reason, as the world turns, crashes and burns, we'll discuss those questions all week.

Janet Malcolm says she's mesmerized by Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure." What in the world is she talking about?

We'll start with the baby poop.

Tomorrow: "Baby-poop-colored cannisters" and "the Rachel figure"

Sources of our language:
For the Springsteen lyrics, just click here.

To hear the song sung, click this.

The state of Indiana is full of great kids!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2017

That was (David's) mother:
The state of Indiana is full of great kids.

For the latest confirmation of this encouraging fact, we refer you to this news report in this morning's Washington Post. We'll also note this important fact:

It seems that the child in question got lucky with her selection of parents.

Reading the Washington Post's report, we thought about our own sainted mother. We also thought about Bernie Sanders. Also, Larry David.

In the past few days, we'd been recovering from a type of sickness induced by the experience of reading last week's New Yorker. As our whole staff struggled to recover from the magazine-inflicted flu, we watched the first two episodes of the current season of Professor Gates' PBS program, Finding Your Roots.

Sanders and David were the subjects of the season's first program. We also watched the season's second program, which featured three more famous subjects.

Our own sainted mother was rather tight-lipped about her personal history. In a recent award-winning report, we described the way her Casey Stengel story and her "longest game in major league history" story seemed to turn out to be one story, not the apparent two.

That said, she told very few such stories. And a few of her stories weren't true!

Watching those PBS programs this week, we were struck by the way the parents of Gates' subjects had also been extremely reluctant to discuss their personal and family histories. In the most striking example of same, Larry David, for the first time, learned his mother's first name!

Joe Otterson explains for Variety:
OTTERSON (10/3/17): Series host Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his researchers were able to determine that David’s mother’s family came from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, with his grandparents having been born in the city of Tarnopol, Poland. In addition to information about David’s grandparents, Gates and his team also uncovered that David’s mother was also born in Poland and that her birth name was Regina, while David had always known her as Rose. “I cannot believe I didn’t know her real name,” he said. “It’s so typical of my mother to withhold something like that.”
Larry David was raised by his mother. He just didn't know her first name!

(Neither he, nor Professor Gates, knows why his mother's name was changed, assuming it actually was.)

For ourselves, we never knew how our parents met until we were told the story by our older half-brother, when we were at least fifty. Our mother never talked about matters like that. We'll guess those parents in Indiana are being a bit more forthcoming.

In the second program of this new PBS season, Carly Simon is told something concerning her alleged "race." We don't mean this as a criticism of Professor Gates. (We're not even sure he used the term.) But might we suggest that Carly Simon, and everyone else, doesn't quite have a "race?"

Does anyone actually have a "race," except to the extent that they may choose to think of themselves that way? Consider three different terms:

Whether we can name the people in question or not, everyone does have an ancestry. Everybody had two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents. Your "ancestry," a simple matter of fact, leads on back from there.

Similarly, everybody has an "ethnicity" to one extent or another. As a general matter, this is a reference to the places where your ancestors lived, and/or to the language and cultural group to which they belonged.

These are simple matters of fact. The notion that we all have a "race," and that it forms our "identity," is rather different.

Within the American context, the idea that we all have a "race" comes from the world the slaveholders made a very long time ago. Those people created a highly disordered world. Part of the disorder they created is the idea, which dominates our thinking even today, that we all have a "race," and that it defines our "identity."

This idea is one part of the wide-reaching poison the slaveholders handed down. Within our current American culture, no one is more devoted to maintaining this idea that we liberals are.

Within our modern American culture, people get told that they have a "race;" we all get pigeonholed hard. But do people actually belong to a race? Everybody has an ancestry. Except within our slaveholder-scripted heads, does anyone have a "race?"

Carly Simon has an ancestry. Societal strictures to the side, does she actually have a "race," unless she wants to picture the world that way? What makes us cling, with such devotion, to the world the slaveholders made? Wouldn't it be a smarter world if we remembered, even once in a while, to let this corrupt idea go?

"That was your mother," Paul Simon once said. His traveling companion was 9 years old. To hear that child told about his mother and father, you can just click here.

For the prologue to that conversation, you can just click this. These are two of our favorite songs. Because everyone wants to know these things, they strike us as deeply humane.

Dancing to the music of Clifton Chenier, the king of the bayou: To our ear, that story is deeply humane. According to our older half-brother, it isn't entirely unlike the way our own parents met.