Sheryl Sandberg's superb op-ed!

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

That was their father:
Have we ever read a better op-ed column than Sheryl Sandberg's transplendent essay in today's New York Times?

With co-author Adam Grant, Sandebrg has written a book about resilience. In hard copy, her column appears beneath these headlines:
How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss
I needed to find ways to help my children after their father's death
We think it's a stunning column.

Two years go, Sandberg's husband unexpectedly died. Their children were seven and ten.

In her column, Sandberg describes the things she did, after seeking advice from Grant and others, to help her children cope. We were struck by this all the way down:
SANDBERG (4/24/17): One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day—with the rules written by my kids in colored markers—still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.

Dave and I had a tradition at the dinner table with our kids in which each of us would share the best and worst moments of our day. Giving children undivided attention—something we all know is important but often fail to do—is another of the key steps toward building their resilience. My children and I have continued this tradition, and now we also share something that makes us feel grateful to remind ourselves that even after loss, there is still so much to appreciate in life.

[...]

Since my children were so young when they lost their father, I am afraid that their memories of him will fade, and this breaks my heart all over again. Adam and I also learned that talking about the past can build resilience. When children grow up with a strong understanding of their family’s history—where their grandparents grew up, what their parents’ childhoods were like—they have better coping skills and a stronger sense of mattering and belonging. Jamie Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, has found that expressing painful memories can be uncomfortable in the moment, but improves mental and even physical health over time.

To keep Dave’s memory alive, I asked dozens of his closest family members, friends and colleagues to capture their stories about him on video. I also taped my children sharing their own memories, so that as they grow up, they will know which are truly theirs. This past Thanksgiving my daughter was distraught, and when I got her to open up, she told me, “I’m forgetting Daddy because I haven’t seen him for so long.” We watched the video of her talking about him, and it gave her some comfort.

Talking openly about memories—not just positive ones, but difficult ones, too—can help kids make sense of their past and rise to future challenges.
Whenever we read an essay like this, we think of the millions of kids who don't get this kind of parenting. Sandberg reminds us of those kids too, early in her column.

Just yesterday, we were thinking about the way children (and adults) want to know the history of their family members, especially their parents. We were thinking about the emotional power of Big Fish, the Tim Burton film in which a young man tries to find his way through the persistent tall tales of his evasive father, who is dying.

Our own sainted mother was extremely reticent about discussing her personal history. On the rare occasion, she would let a random anecdote fly:

The time she skated so far up the Merrimack that she couldn't get home till long after dark. The time she was halfway down the ski jump and spotted her mother off to the right, glaring angrily at her.

The time she thought the ballplayer had stood her up on a date, until it turned out that he had just played in the longest game in major-league history! (We assumed this referred to the Red Sox.)

The time Casey Stengel told her he liked her because his wife was named Edna too! (We assumed this would have been in the 1950s, when Stengel was with the mighty Yanks, after our mother had married our father.)

How did our mother and father meet? We'd never heard the story until our older half-brother, now deceased, told us maybe fifteen years ago. The story he told us was very familiar to us and very believable. Almost surely, our mother would have been someone a gent would have noticed.

Children want to know about their family histories. About a year ago, we were lucky enough to be sitting at a dinner table when a relative of ours (by marriage) suddenly told everyone, including his then 9-year-old daughter, about the first time he saw her mother.

(It happened in the D.R. The 9-year-old's father was coaching the Dominican national track team, on loan from God in the form of Fidel. The 9-year-old's mother was in the D.R. working for UNICEF.)

His daughter, our great niece, is easily one of our all-time most favoritest people. We thought her eyes grew extremely wide as she listened, with great interest, to this sudden story about her mother and father in the years before she was here.

"That was your mother," Paul Simon said. In the case of Sandberg's column, that was their father. We don't know when we've encountered so much decency and so much wisdom on an op-ed page.

Two long stories short: A few years ago, we decided to fact-check our mother's story about that "longest game." Had there actually been an extremely long MLB game in Boston during the relevant years?

Sure enough! On June 27, 1939, the Boston Braves (then called the Boston Bees) and the Brooklyn Dodgers battled to a 23-inning tie at Braves Field. We'd always assumed that she meant the Red Sox. But if we might borrow from Don Corleone, it was the Braves all the time!

We checked to see who was on the Braves' roster. Manager of the 1939 Bees?

Who else? Casey Stengel!

(You can see him colorized here.)

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Assigned to interview the savant!

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

Part 1—The semi-comical functioning of our rather fraudulent world:
A funny thing happened, five years ago, in the suites at Vanity Fair.

Jim Holt, whose name won't ring a bell, had written a recognizable type of book. For unknown reasons, Vanity Fair assigned Lauren Christensen to interview him about it.

The fruit of that session can be squeezed here. Before the Qs-and-As began, readers were handed this overview:
CHRISTENSEN (7/16/12): New Yorker Jim Holt has established himself as an invaluable fixture in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today, as an author and essayist for The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. With his latest book, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, out today from Liveright, Holt allowed VF Daily to pick his brain...
Was it true? Had Holt "established himself as an invaluable fixture in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today?"

That is a matter of judgment. The humor of the situation involves the person Vanity Fair picked to deliver this judgment.

At the time her judgment was rendered, Lauren Christensen was one year out of Princeton, where she had majored in English. Starting in June 2011, she had worked at Vanity Fair. According to she best positioned to know, she had worked in some or all of these capacities:
Assistant Editor to Aimée Bell, Deputy Editor
• Edited features, columns, and Spotlights across politics, culture, and Hollywood sections
• Coordinated an integrated monthly development process across all departments for incoming stories
• Directly aided contributing editors with story ideas, research, and editing
• Compiled the Vanity Fair books list for first serial and Hot Type considerations
• Pitched, researched, and wrote independent book reviews for both the print magazine and vanityfair.com
By this time, Christensen may have edited features, columns, and "Spotlights" across politics, culture, and Hollywood sections. She may have compiled the Vanity Fair books list for "Hot Type" considerations.

Now, through zero fault of her own, she was handed a new assignment. She was assigned to name the people who are invaluable fixtures in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today!

Question: in what world would an editor assign such a task to such a young, unqualified person?

Answer: in the world of our modern journalistic elite, after the curtain's drawn back! In the world of the music men who have helped create the world in which we all cringe today.

Nothing that happened in this comical instance was Laura Christensen's fault. Had deputy editor Aimee Bell made this rather unlikely assignment? We have no idea.

(In 1992, Bell, then 26, was reportedly "an editor of the Vanities section of Vanity Fair magazine in New York and is the books editor there." You can confirm those facts here.)

Whatever! Someone asked an English major one year out of college to engage in the act of judgment to which we have alluded. Understandably, when the Qs and As began, the Qs and As started like this:
CHRISTENSEN (continuing directly from above): Holt allowed VF Daily to pick his brain—highlights from our chat:

CHRISTENSEN: Mr. Holt—I have to confess: a lot of this book was over my head.

HOLT: Oh no! That’s terrible. I’ve failed.
In truth, that was an excellent way for this young journalist to start. In his utterly bogus response, it was Holt who cast himself in the role of cosmic pretender.

At the time this piece appeared, the alleged success of Holt's new book hadn't yet been established. Holt is an elusive figure whose background is surprisingly hard to pin down. Even today, the leading authority offers only the short bio shown below, but the bio does start to establish the worldly success of his book:
Jim Holt is an American philosopher, author and essayist. He has contributed to The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The American Scholar, and Slate. His book Why Does the World Exist? was a NYTimes bestseller for 2013.

He hosted a weekly radio spot on BBC Wales called "Living in America, with Jim Holt" for ten years. He has appeared on William F. Buckley's Firing Line, NBC News with Tom Brokaw, and CNN. In 1997, he was editor of The New Leader, a political magazine. Holt lives in Greenwich Village, NY.
Is Holt "an American philosopher?" Only the recent college grads know for sure!

This bio does make the somewhat muddled claim that Holt's book "was a NYTimes bestseller for 2013." Under "Awards and Honors," it further notes that Holt's book was a 2012 finalist for a National Book Award.

(According to Nexis, the book appeared on the Times hard-cover bestseller list for three weeks during 2012, and for one week during 2013, never rising above number 23. During 2013, it appeared on the paperback bestseller list four times.)

In truth, Holt's book wasn't a giant best-seller, whether for 2012 or for 2013. That said, the leading authority doesn't mention another high honor received by Holt's book. Inevitably, in December 2012, the New York Times selected Holt's "existential detective story" as one of the ten best books of the year.

Should the Times have made that selection? That's a matter of judgment. That said, Christensen couldn't know this honor was coming when she received her assignment in the summer of that year.

Presumably, Christensen asked around concerning Holt, then voiced a conventional view. As an author and essayist for The New York Times and The New York Review of Books, Holt had established himself as an invaluable fixture in the most sophisticated conversations about philosophy, physics, mathematics, and theology today. She herself didn't understand Holt's book. But it was what everyone said!

Christensen did something very right when she started her conversation in the way we've cited. She said she had no fucking idea what the fuck the invaluable fixer was talking about in his highly sophisticated book.

Did Holt know what he was talking about? We'll flirt with that question this week. In the process, we'll be starting a highly controversial conversation, one we expect to extend over several weeks.

At present, we're all waiting for Donald J. Trump to start his invaluable war. With our national discourse now a mere memory, we think it's time to take a peek behind the curtain and chuckle about the assortment of journalistic and academic frauds who have brought us to this darkly amusing point.

Who would ask a college kid to make an assessment like the one which landed in Christensen's lap? Music men would take that step—and none of Us would notice.

Tomorrow: Who the Sam Hill is Jim Holt? And what the Sam Hill has he said?

Later today: Drum on Comey

Maddow in the "killing" fields!

SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 2017

We have no fish today:
Initially, we planned to return today to Monday evening's Maddow Show—specifically, to the remarkable way the program doctored a statement by Jeff Sessions.

Last Thursday, April 13, the program had played the same game. We discussed this rather obvious con in last Saturday's post.

This Monday, April 17, the program did it again. We'd have to say that Session's statement was doctored even more aggressively on this second occasion.

We'd even have to say that Monday's program introduced a striking new form of the "Maddow edit!" Also, and alas, the con was delivered this time around by guest host Joy Reid.

Reid is much, much smarter than this. But as we've long suggested, everyone who draws outsized pay from "cable news" ends up playing these cable news games.

Watching Maddow's show last night, we decided to change today's topic. We decided to discuss Maddow's propagandistic, uninformative trip to the "killing" fields.

Sadly, MSNBC hasn't produced a transcript for last night's program. And we don't plan to depress ourselves, at this time, by returning to Monday night's con.

That said, the Maddow Show is an endlessly devolving con which feeds on liberal brain cells. Watching its host perform last night, we thought again of the description she gave, a few years back, of her own emotional problems.

To our eye, Maddow seemed to be struggling last night, in a way you never want a person to struggle. But her work this week has been very poor. Liberal brain cells die each time this car salesman goes on the air.

We promise! We'll take you to the "killing" fields at some future date. We'll show you what this program's writers made Reid say Monday night.

We just don't want to do those things today. Our culture is in a downward spiral, and it seems to us that Maddow is central to this dangerous state of affairs.

On Monday, we plan to start an award-winning series, "The Music Men." Maddow is part of this upscale assemblage, but we plan to start somewhere else.

Finally, a chance for a last bit of fun as we all await you-know-who's war!

To us, these critiques seem fair: This morning, we stumbled across this Heat Street report, and on this Hot Air comment about it.

It seem to us that these critiques are probably on-target. Maddow strikes us as a struggling soul. Her program strikes us as a highly unhelpful, uninformative pseudo-progressive mess.

EMBRACE OF HATE: Loss of empathy for Those People!

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2017

Part 5—Loss of our brains and our souls:
In her column in last Friday's New York Times, Professor Fels described the varied effects of political hate.

What are the motives of "people who hate?" How are such people affected by their loathing of The Others? Today, we'll think about one possible motive, and about one effect:
FELS (4/14/17): The point is to hurt and humiliate. Those who hate want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have. It is this that makes the attacks so personal and lends them their crude, violent and often sexual nature. The intent is not to challenge opposing beliefs but to destroy those who hold them.

[...]

People who hate can blame others for their losses, reducing doubts about their own inadequacies.

Hate converts a sense of helplessness into one of action. It can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution, relieving their sense of isolation or powerlessness. As a consequence, though, there’s a loss of empathy, and beliefs become simplified and rigid.
When we liberals swallow the type of stew served by Amanda Marcotte this week, we're being taught to hate. For background, see yesterday's award-winning report.

Let's start with that one possible motive. Does our gulping of this stew allow us to "blame others for [our] losses, reducing doubts about [our] own inadequacies?"

It's hard to know how to answer. On the whole, we'd say that we liberals are too clueless, at this point in time, even to consider the possibility that Candidate Trump's win last year reflects in some way on Us—on "our own [massive] inadequacies."

We're just too dumb to see things that way. But good God! Our tribal inadequacies are comically endless. Consider another recent piece which appeared in the new, improved tribal Salon.

In the piece, David Masciotra reviewed an embarrassing new book. Masciotra's review appeared beneath these thrilling headlines:
Hillary hatred, exposed: What drives America’s never-ending case against Clinton
Susan Bordo's "The Destruction of Hillary Clinton" is a vital but incomplete look at her strange political life
Could the ineptitude of our tribe be put on more vivid display?

Hillary Clinton has been demonized, in ludicrous ways, over the course of the past twenty-five years. Now that it's officially too late, our pitiful tribe has somehow managed to cough up a book which explores, or pretends to explore, these decades of demonization.

Could any political group or tribe be more hapless than this? Our biggest corporate stars—think TV's Rachel Maddow—have repeatedly run and hid in the woods rather than confront this phenomenon. Our biggest stars—think Rachel Maddow—report their admiration for their "dear friend," Chris Matthews, one the greatest and most misogynistic demonizers of Hillary Clinton over those many long years.

We liberals just sit there and take it! And now that it no longer matters, as if to amuse the gods on Olympus, a book has appeared which claims to discuss this phenomenon. In a similar vein, we liberals started our "resistance" against Trump on January 21, 2017—exactly one day too late.

We had twenty-five years to get off our ascots, stand on our hind legs and fight. We rose in opposition, and staged our march, exactly one day after Trump took office! (Because we can't stop praising ourselves, we've dubbed our pushback "the resistance.")

Truly, we must be the least competent bunch that ever drew breath on the earth. Despite this rather obvious fact, our tribal propaganda is replete with the claim—see Marcotte's report—that We are the very smart people, while The Others, the ones Over There, are "low information voters." Has any group, of any type, ever been more obnoxious than We?

On balance, The Others are low-information, of course—but We Over Here are worse. We're stupid and venal and nobody likes Us. We're also too dumb to understand these patterns. For that reason, there's no obvious way in which, in our gulping of hate, we're trying to cover the fact of our own inadequacies.

We liberals are tremendously dumb. But we're too dumb to know it.

On balance, how dumb are We in the end? Let's consider what Fels said about the "loss of empathy" which obtains among "people who hate."

At this point, lack of empathy for The Others is virtually our tribal calling card. We can't "feel the pain" of a 59-year-old woman who can't afford to go to the doctor. (Reason: she's rural, Southern and white.)

In a similar vein, consider a second book review, a piece by Jennifer Senior in yesterday's New York Times.

In our view, Senior has done tremendous work in this new role at the Times. In her review, she praises Amy Goldstein's new book, Janesville: An American Story.

Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Goldstein's book concerns Janesville, Wisconsin, Speaker Ryan's home town. As every good pseudo-liberal will know, this will likely let us smirk and snark about the ways of Those People, whose votes for Candidate Trump last November Marcotte so deftly "explained."

As we noted yesterday, Wisconsin was one of the midwestern states Marcotte sought to explain. Why did voters turn to Trump last fall, flipping these states from blue to red and sending Trump to the White House?

According to Marcotte, it was their "blatant racism" which led them to do it, full freaking tribal stop. When we liberals indulge our hate, this is the only answer we currently know. It's our answer to every question!

Before we look at Senior's review, a word about Janesville, Wisconsin. According to the leading authority, Janesville is "the county seat and largest city of Rock County and the principal municipality of the Janesville, Wisconsin Metropolitan Statistical Area."

As of 2010, Janesville's population (63,575) constituted about 40 percent of Rock County's population. And good lord! Rock County supported Clinton over Trump by a significant margin last year:
Rock County, Wisconsin, 2016 election
Clinton: 51.7 percent
Trump: 41.4 percent
By Marcottian analytical standards, this might mean that we can't blame Rock County, or presumably Janesville, for what happened last year. Except uh-oh! Clinton ran five points behind Senate candidate Russ Feingold in Rock County last November—and this is the way the county voted in 2012:
Rock County, Wisconsin, 2012 election
Obama: 61.0 percent
Romney: 37.8 percent
Oof! Clinton ran more than nine points behind Obama. As such, Janesville seems to have been part of the general pattern across Wisconsin in which Clinton significantly underperformed Obama, producing a narrow statewide loss.

According to Marcotte, voters supported the black Democrat in 2012, then dumped the white Democrat in 2016, because of their "blatant racism." As noted above, this has become the only story our own tribe knows how to tell.

This brings us back to Senior's review of Goldstein's new book. Why might people in Janesville have flipped to Trump last year?

In our view, a vote for Trump represented an act of bad political judgment. But why might other people have judged it differently, as they're allowed to do?

Goldstein's book examines what happened in Janesville after General Motors closed a plant in 2008. Massive dislocation ensued. We'll let Senior tell it:
SENIOR (4/20/17): “Janesville” joins a growing family of books about the evisceration of the working class in the United States. What sets it apart is the sophistication of its storytelling and analysis.

The characters are especially memorable. This may be the first time since I began this job that I’ve wanted to send notes of admiration to three people in a work of nonfiction.

[...]

[P]erhaps the most powerful aspect of “Janesville” is its simple chronological structure, which allows Goldstein to show the chain reaction that something so calamitous as a plant closing can effect. Each falling domino becomes a headstone, signifying the death of the next thing.

Because the G.M. plant closes, so does the plant at the Lear Corporation, which supplied it with car seats and interiors. Because so many in Janesville are now out of work, nonprofits lose board members and contributions to local charities shrivel. Because their parents are out of work, students at Parker High start showing up for school both hungry and dirty. A social studies teacher starts the “Parker Closet,” which provides them with food and supplies. (Deri Wahlert: She’s one of the people to whom I’d like to write a fan note.)

The fabric of hundreds of families unravels, as an itinerant class of fathers—“Janesville Gypsies,” they call themselves—start commuting to G.M. factories in Texas, Indiana and Kansas, just so they can maintain their wage of $28 an hour. Those who stay home invariably see their paychecks shrink drastically. One of the men Goldstein follows, Jerad Whiteaker, cycles through a series of unsatisfying, low-paying jobs, finally settling in one that pays less than half his former wage and offers no health insurance. His twin teenage girls—to whom I’d also like to send awed notes—share five jobs between them, earning so much money for their family that they compromise their eligibility for student loans.

You will learn a lot about the arbitrary rules and idiosyncrasies of our government programs from this book. They have as many treacherous cracks and crevices as a glacier—and offer about as much warmth.
As has been widely noted, Candidate Clinton never campaigned in Wisconsin. Candidate Trump kept telling the victims of such dislocations that he was aware of their plight, and that he would be able to help them as president.

In our view, people who believed Trump's representations likely made a bad judgment. That said, they're nowhere near as dumb as we liberals are when we swallow ridiculous hate-driven essays such as Marcotte's latest.

Senior's review lets us examine our values. Are we able to empathize with people affected in the manner described? Are we able to understand that people can make judgments we consider faulty without necessarily being the most evil persons on earth?

Are we able to consider the lives of real people? Are we more than four years old?

We liberals get conned by our own big corporate stars every day. Are we able to live in a world where other people may get fooled by con men in different ways?

More and more, we liberals are unable to so such things. We're stupid and ugly and nobody likes us. But we're so sure of our manifest brilliance that we just keep pouring it on.

Tomorrow: The Maddow Show plays us again!