No one cares about low-income kids!


Except perhaps maybe as click-bait:
What explains our very large "racial"/ethnic achievement gaps? We refer to the types of gaps which obtained on the 2012 PISA, which tested 15-year-old students:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISA
United States, Asian-American students: 550
Japan: 538
South Korea: 536
Finland: 524
Taiwan: 523
United States, white students: 519
United States: 498
United States, Hispanic students: 478
United States, black students: 443
According to PISA-connected Amanda Ripley, 39 points on the PISA scale is considered to be the rough equivalent of one academic year.

Applying that very rough rule of thumb, white kids in the U.S. basically matched miraculous Finland—not that you'd ever learn such a thing in the mainstream press. On average, black kids in the U.S. would have been several years behind. Asian-American kids outscored all the world's public school superpowers.

The gaps seem to be larger on some tests. What explains these gaps? How can we confront them?

During our recent series, Where the Test Scores Are, we said that different people are inclined to answer those questions in different ways. We also mentioned the fact that no one actually cares.

What did we mean by that last award-winning comment? Consider the two paragraphs Slate devoted to public school issues today. The two grafs were written by Marissa Martinelli, who seems to be straight out of college, as is completely appropriate.

This was her entire piece, except for the tape of John Oliver:
MARTINELLI (10/31/16): Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 invalidated laws that kept black and white students in separate schools, racial segregation in America’s school systems is still very much alive and well. John Oliver kicked off his Last Week Tonight segment on the subject with an admonishment for his more liberal white viewers, who might think the issue only applies south of the Mason-Dixon: “If you’re in a city like New York, you’re probably thinking, ‘Oh, splendid, I know where this is going: a story vilifying the backwards and racist American South. Let me just grab a handful of kale chips that I can munch on while feeling superior.’ ”

Not so fast, Oliver warns, because the New York school system is actually by some measures the most segregated in America, especially because of schools in New York City, where discriminatory housing policies and selective admissions processes have kept black and Latino students separate from their white counterparts. And since funding tends to follow white people “the way white people follow the band Phish,” this hurts minority students—just as, Oliver argues, it hurts white students, too.
That was the entire piece, except for the tape of Oliver.

Does John Oliver know what he's talking about? How about Martinelli? Is it possible that Oliver is just munching a handful of chips while possibly feeling superior?

We'll guess that, on balance, the answers are probably no and maybe possibly yes.

It isn't that professors haven't encouraged us to feel superior while repeating talking points about "segregation" in New York City schools. And it isn't that the New York Times hasn't chipped in this year with several heartfelt but puzzling, kale chip-inflected pieces on this topic.

Here's the problem. The iconic study to which these pieces refer comes from UCLA. Are discriminatory housing policies and selective admissions processes keeping black and Latino students separate from their white counterparts in the New York City schools?

We're not even saying the answer is no. But for starters, consider what one of the New York Times reports said about Gotham's student population:
HANNAH-JONES (6/12/16): The New York City public-school system is 41 percent Latino, 27 percent black and 16 percent Asian. Three-quarters of all students are low-income. In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, released a report showing that New York City public schools are among the most segregated in the country. Black and Latino children here have become increasingly isolated, with 85 percent of black students and 75 percent of Latino students attending ''intensely'' segregated schools—schools that are less than 10 percent white.
In New York City, are 85 percent of black students attending schools that are less than 10 percent white? In that sense, are they "increasingly isolated?"

Let's assume they are! That said, the student population in New York City is less than 15 percent white overall!

New York City's public schools don't have a profusion of white kids. Here's part of what that iconic report said about Gotham's schools:
ICONIC UCLA STUDY (2014): Across the 32 Community School Districts (CSDs) in New York City, 19 had 10% or less white students in 2010, which included all districts in the Bronx, two-thirds of the districts in Brooklyn (central to north districts), half of the districts in Manhattan (northern districts), and only two-fifths of the districts in Queens (southeast districts).
All districts in the Bronx had ten percent or fewer white students. If you had distributed all the white kids in those districts (or in that borough) in a perfectly even fashion, all black and Hispanic students would have been attending "intensely segregated schools!"

When we say that nobody cares, we're thinking of peculiar academic reports like this, and of the people who recite their puzzling frameworks and conclusions without so much as blinking an eye. We also think of mags like Slate, which give young people two paragraphs on this topic, but mainly so they can link to John Oliver, who may not know what he's talking about. (We didn't watch his tape.)

People don't care about low-income kids! Editors do care about clicks, and we humans do like to feel superior. In our view, all three facts are made quite clear day after day after day.

Mental acuity at the Times!


Moral acuity too:
Given its very famous brand, it's very hard for people to see the mental/moral dim-wittedness which is such a basic part of New York Times culture and practice.

That said, the politics wing of the New York Times tends to be very dim-witted. Let's consider three recent examples. Prepare to be depressed.

Chozick spots the SAT words: Last Friday. Amy Chozick was trying to discuss the latest bunch of hacked emails. Her piece appeared beneath a headline which was probably meant to be written in English:

Hacked Emails Reveal Image of Chelsea Clinton

We're not entirely sure what that means either. As far as we know, Chozick wouldn't have written the headline for this piece.

At any rate, Chozick was trying to tell us what Chelsea Clinton is like, based on the latest purloined emails. She fumbled around in stolen communications which had no apparent public interest. At one point, pathetically, the star reporter typed this:
CHOZICK (10/28/16): If the emails show Ms. Clinton getting a crash course on the cutthroat world on the periphery of the Clinton family, they also show a young woman deeply devoted to her parents and very much her mother's daughter.

Ms. Clinton often gravitated to weighty policy discussions and interspersed statistics and SAT words into casual conversations.
According to Chozick, Chelsea Clinton often "interspersed SAT words into [the] casual conversations" on which Chozick was eavesdropping. Apparently, this helps show that Chelsea's a lot like her mom.

Let's not ask why this horrible person was discussing casual private communications between these family members. Let's not ask if "interspersed," in this context, might perhaps be an "SAT word."

Let's examine one of Chozick's examples. The observant scribe seemed to offer two examples of this annoying tendency on Chelsea Clinton's part. One example was this:
CHOZICK: In another email addressed to ''Dad, Mom,'' Ms. Clinton seemed apologetic, writing, ''I hope this mini-behemoth is not rife with grammatical errors or inadvertent gaps; I am sorry if either true.''
Don't ask yourself why a slimy person like Chozick is fumbling around, in this manner, in pointless emails between family members. Instead, marvel at the fact that this Classic Times Flyweight thought that email should be singled out as one of (two) examples of the way Chelsea Clinton "often interspersed SAT words" into her casual emails.

Truly, Chozick's a monster. That said, this copy must have passed through the filters created by editors Elisabeth Bumiller and Carolyn Ryan. They're all part of a puzzling New York Times culture which seems to go far out of its way to dumb the discourse way down.

Headline writer identifies threat: Atop the front page of that same day's Times, Ashley Parker and Nick Corasaniti offered the kind of gruesome report which often results when Times reporters attempt to interview voters to spot some sort of a trend.

The day before, Kevin Drum had challenged the way the report was presented on line. According to Drum, it had originally appeared beneath this headline:

Some Trump Voters Call for Revolution if Clinton Wins

In fact, Drum said, none of the voters quoted in the piece had "called for revolution if Clinton wins." Subsequently, the on-line headline was apparently changed. But when the piece appeared the next day on the front page of our hard-copy Times, this banner headline ran across its continuation on page A14:

Trump Voters Threaten Revolution, 'by Any Means Necessary,' if Clinton Wins

We're looking at that frightening banner right now, as we type.

We'd be inclined to disagree, if only a tad, with Drum's assessment. We'd say that one voter quoted in the piece made veiled remarks which were dark enough to sound like a bit of a threat.

That voter had used the term "by any means necessary." But no one else had advanced the threat advertised in that banner headline.

We mention this because Parker and Corsaniti reported that they had interviewed "more than 50 Trump supporters at campaign events" for their front-page report. Out of more than 50 people, they seemed to have found exactly one, or possibly none, who issued the threat the Times was still announcing in banner form in Friday's hard-copy edition.

Presumably, Parker and Corsaniti didn't write the headlines. Presumably, one of the Times three million flyweights did. That said, the report's basic thrust was so imprecise that you could almost excuse the headline writer for what he or she may have thought he or she read.

The report itself was D-plus work. The headlines deserved a failing grade—and an explanation.

Chozick just couldn't help it: Yesterday, in a front-page report, Chozick couldn't help it.

James B. Comey's latest attack had given her a delicious excuse to write about Huma Abedin—and Chozick couldn't help herself. At one point, her piece became truly delish:
CHOZICK (10/30/16): Mrs. Clinton’s loyalty to Ms. Abedin (and vice versa) stems from the decades they have spent working closely together, beginning when Ms. Abedin was a 19-year-old intern to the first lady in the 1990s.

At the State Department, Ms. Abedin served as deputy chief of staff to Mrs. Clinton. Emails released by the State Department captured the closeness of their relationship. A jet-lagged Mrs. Clinton once emailed Ms. Abedin at 12:21 a.m. to take her up on an offer to come over to Mrs. Clinton’s house for a chat. “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed,” she wrote.
Dearest darlings, it had everything! Even that "intern" cite!

Innuendo is always denied. In this case, the innuendo was fairly straightforward, especially in a fly-infested world where right-wingers and crackpots have spent thirty years swearing that Candidate Clinton is the world's most gigantic and wholly appalling lesbo.

(Amy Chozick knows all about that. So do the people she writes for.)

Innuendo is always denied. In the pages of this pseudo-journalistic toxic waste site, it can also get pretty thick.

Times culture is built around slimy and dumb. It's hard for people to grasp this strange fact, but it's a fact nonetheless.

Milbank agonistes: Chozick's complaint about SAT words recalled Dana Milbank's agonies. In 2007, he had attended a speech by Al Gore, where he'd been subjected to this:
MILBANK (5/30/07): He spoke of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill, only briefly mixing up his patriots: "James Madison wrote—no, Thomas Paine, I'm sorry." He gave a brief history of the printing press's spread through Northern Europe. He used social science phrases such as "the collective process" and the "marketplace of ideas" and the "exchange of goods and services" and "guided by the role of reason."
Gore had referred to "the marketplace of ideas" and to "the exchange of goods and services!" To Dana Milbank, Yale Skull and Bones, those were SAT words too.

It was part of Milbank's larger complaint: Al Gore thinks he's smarter than us! Citizens, with examples like this, who the John Stuart Mill wouldn't?

You wonder why we ask if they're human. We've long wondered why you don't!

BOMBSHELLS INC.: Bombshells R them!


Part 1—A real bombshell, CNN said:
Last Friday afternoon, the moving finger of James B. Comey—"Comey the God"—wrote a few mysterious words on the latest stone tablet.

His latest pronouncement was remarkably brief. It was also quite vague. As any journalist would have known, the very fact of the pronouncement seemed to fly in the face of certain well-known, established procedures.

Especially when the corps is pretending to conduct campaign discussions, vague pronouncements of this type can produce much more heat than light. A serious journalist would approach such pronouncements with that problem in mind.

On CNN, a "cable news" channel, something quite different occurred. Last Friday, during the 2 PM hour, Brooke Baldwin, a CNN "anchor," had managed to get a leading authority on the phone.

This particular leading authority had written the definitive book! Asked about Comey's pronouncement, he revealed what he had heard:
BALDWIN (10/28/16): On Hillary Clinton, you're looking at live pictures. She is speaking at her rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We have a lot of ears listening in. As soon as she mentions or addresses this breaking news that we've been discussing from the FBI, we will take it live.

Carl Bernstein—Carl Bernstein is on the phone with me.

Carl, we have been talking for months and months and months about the election. You wrote the definitive book on the Clintons, on Hillary Clinton.
You've been saying that this is drip, drip, drip that could ultimately haunt her.

BERNSTEIN: Well, there's no question that the emails have always been the greatest threat to her candidacy for president, that her conduct in regard to the emails is really indefensible. And if there was going to be more information that came out, it was the one thing, as I said on the air last night, actually, that could really perhaps affect this election.

We don't know what this means yet except that it's a real bombshell. And it is unthinkable that the director of the FBI would take would action lightly, that he would put this letter forth to the Congress of the United States saying there is more information out there about classified e-mails and call it to the attention of Congress unless it was something requiring serious investigation. So that's where we are.

Is it a certainty that we won't learn before the election? I'm not sure it's a certainty we won't learn before the election. One is it's possible that Hillary Clinton might want to, on her own initiative, talk to the FBI and find out what she can, and, if she chooses to, let the American people know what she thinks or knows is going on. Because obviously, people need to hear from her.
Both parts of that exchange help define our floundering journalistic/political culture. Let's start with what the person cast as the anchor said.

The anchor told her viewers that we had some "breaking news." More precisely, we had "breaking news that we've been discussing from the FBI."

Among those who people our "cable news" channels, "breaking news" qualifies as one of the greatest gods. In response to this breaking news, the anchor had contacted a leading authority.

According to the person cast as the anchor, Carl Bernstein had written "the definitive book on the Clintons, on Hillary Clinton." As such, he was now cast as the voice of authority concerning these words from the god.

What did Bernstein, the voice of authority, say about the breaking news from the FBI?

Bernstein had several things to say. He instantly condemned the candidate's past behavior. But more than anything else, he said the new words from James B. Comey constituted a "bombshell."

Indeed, it was even more exciting than that! James B. Comey's latest words were "a real bombshell," he said.

Already, we'd seen a basic component of the industry which markets itself as "cable news." Excitement is their product—arguably their only product.

Quite routinely, the excitement arrives in the form of "breaking news"—"breaking news" which may, in certain cases, qualify as a "bombshell."

In these ways, the purveyors tell us that something exciting has occurred. That tell us that something exciting has happened, and that it's very important.

Please keep watching, these pronouncements say. Help us maintain the ratings from which our undisclosed, huge salaries flow.

Excitedly, the man who wrote the definitive book had announced a real bombshell. Now, he enacted another part of the culture of "cable news."

He bowed to one of the industry's gods. Crazily, here's what he said:

"It is unthinkable that the director of the FBI would take would action lightly, that he would put this letter forth to the Congress of the United States saying there is more information out there about classified emails and call it to the attention of Congress unless it was something requiring serious investigation. So that's where we are."

It's "unthinkable" that Comey isn't a god. So the leading authority said. He proceeded to offer ridiculous thoughts about what Candidate Clinton might do.

"Obviously, people need to hear from her," he excitedly said.

Let's state the obvious. This latest pronouncement by Comey the God may tip the presidential election.

Inevitably, some votes will change. There's no way to know how many.

At this late date, there's little way to affect that. That said, this latest pronouncement helps us see the way our establishment "press corps" works, especially in its cable and broadcast divisions. It helps us see the essence of modern press corps culture.

For starters, it lets us see how non-journalistic our press corps' instincts are. It lets us see their reliable instinct to seek the heat, not the light.

It lets us see their instinct for the illusion of excitement. You might even say it lets us see their secret corporate identity.

Truly, cable news is Bombshells Inc.! They're a group of silly purveyors who like to sell us breaking news—"explosive" news which sometimes reaches the level of being a "bombshell."

Not everything will qualify as a "bombshell," of course. As the week continues, we'll examine that point, and other parts of press corps culture which emerged from Friday's pronouncement.

We'll see that they're also Scandals Inc.; we'll see what counts as "scandal." We'll see they're Straight-Shooters Inc. We'll see who gets cast as the straight-shooters in the exciting stories they tell.

(Hint: Comey has long been cast in that manner. It's this casting which made him a god.)

Sadly but unmistakably, we'll see that one branch of the industry is Pseudo-liberals Inc. We'll review the ways our favorite liberals have hid in the woods, for twenty-fives years, in the face of this growing press culture. We'll remember the roads they didn't take, the truths they agreed not to tell.

(We'll recall what happened when You-Know-Who got to interview Colin Powell. We'll recall what our favorites did when Benghazi was being invented.

(We'll recall the way You-Know-Who mugged and clowned after Trump's formal announcement. We'll revisit the word The Puppy used when the New York Times published its ludicrous, 4400-word report about the scary uranium deal.

(Gack! It was a "bombshell," he said.)

We'll review these topics this week. For today, let's start with a basic point:

Especially on "cable news," our modern "press corps" is Bombshells Inc. The product they sell is excitement, though a great deal of sifting goes on.

Friday, as the excitement grew, an array of purveyors on CNN pimped the latest example. As of the 5 PM hour, Wolf was calling it an "October bombshell," fashioning an instant hybrid with the exciting "October surprise."

Comey's words had been extremely vague. As all these purveyors knew, the fact that he had spoken at all seemed to diverge from well-known, long-standing procedures.

A journalist would have gone in search of the light, cautioning viewers about all the heat. Excitedly, Bernstein took a different approach. He announced "a real bombshell."

There's no way Comey wasn't sincere, the strange alleged journalist said.

Tomorrow: Two essential products

Teasing the excitement: The anchor has Bernstein on the phone! Before taking a commercial break, she teased the upcoming interview thusly:
BALDWIN: Coming up next, we're staying on the breaking story, the news from the FBI. We'll talk live with Carl Bernstein. This man literally wrote the biography on Hillary Clinton. We've been talking to him for months. He's been predicting this trouble all along.
The excitement was running high. Carl Bernstein, who literally wrote the biography, had been predicting this trouble all along!

That wasn't true, of course. But cable news is all about excitement. It's also Predictions Inc.

Cable news buys latest burger!


Big fun with boners and weiners:
When he first entered the White House, Bill Clinton put on a pair of shorts and jogged to a local McDonald's.

The press corps mocked him for his shorts and for his embarrassing palate. That said, no one has ever been more "Clintonesque" than the mainstream press corps itself.

This extends to their taste in fast food. Every day, especially on cable, they stop whatever it was they were doing and purchase that day's nothingburger.

Yesterday's burger came from the potent but changeable Comey the God. In July, he'd been a highly voluble god as he expressed unsolicited negative views about a political target.

Yesterday, a remarkably terse Comey the God laid out cable's banquet. The burger he tossed for them to enjoy carried few adornments.

Greedily, though, they fell on the fare, treating it as the latest bombshell. As usual, one cable star who will go unnamed enjoyed a unique brand of fun.

First, though, let's consider one part of the context which may help explain cable's incessant desire for these nothingburgers.

In this morning's Washington Post, Paul Farhi describes the windfall cable news has scored from the current presidential campaign. At all three of the major "news" nets, the suits have been raking the dough:
FARHI (10/29/16): Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been very, very good for the cable news networks.

Thanks to an audience surge driven by nearly round-the-clock campaign coverage, the leading news networks will reap unprecedented profits this year.

According to people intimately familiar with CNN’s finances, the network and its related media businesses will approach $1 billion in gross profit in 2016, a milestone unseen in its 36-year history...

Fox News, the longtime ratings leader among cable-news outlets, was already in the billion-dollar profit club before 2016. Despite a tempestuous patch this summer, when its parent company ousted Fox’s chairman and co-founder, Roger Ailes, Fox News is projected to have its most financially lucrative year: Its gross profit will top $1.67 billion, according to SNL Kagan, a media research company.

Third-ranked MSNBC, which falls under the larger NBC News umbrella, will have projected earnings of $279.6 million this year, according to Kagan. MSNBC is growing faster in percentage terms than its two much-larger competitors: Its projected profits reflect a 19 percent growth rate over 2015, compared with 14 percent for CNN and 11.3 percent for Fox, according to Kagan.

The common thread for all three organizations has been improved ratings because of the presidential campaign, said Scott Robson, a research analyst at Kagan.
They've raked in the dough "because of the presidential campaign." Also, because of the way they've pretended to cover it, including the constant, braindead horserace coverage and the constant silly pseudo-debates broadcast by CNN.

Also, because of the exciting way they fall on each day's nothingburger.

As the money comes rolling in, it gets dispersed to the stars. Farhi provides an example:
FARHI: The brimming profits at all three networks validate their strategy of concentrating on political coverage nearly to the exclusion of other stories, starting in 2015. Many news organizations began expanding their political-reporting staffs last year, even as they were laying off journalists who cover other subjects.

The financial bonanza also puts Fox News’s current negotiations with prime-time star Megyn Kelly into some perspective. The Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday that Kelly—whose profile was raised by her clash with Trump at the first Republican candidates’ debate and his subsequent criticism of her—is seeking more than $20 million a year in salary in contract-renewal talks, a raise of more than $5 million. CNN is among the networks that reportedly would like to lure Kelly, whose contract at Fox expires next summer.
Thanks to their "exclusion of other stories"—we prefer the more grown-up word "topics"—the big money flows to the stars.

Last night, we were struck by the performance of one major cable news star. She opened with several minutes of fun concerning the way John Boehner's last name looks like it ought to be "Boner."

There was C-Span tape from 1991, with Boehner's name being mispronounced in the hilarious way. This was her way of noting the fact that Anthony Weiner's last name is amazingly funny too.

Her first four minutes were burned this way. (To enjoy all the fun, click here.) When the big stars behave this way, they're letting us know how monumentally dumb they think their viewers are.

Concerning the exclusion of other topics, this particular cable star has ducked the emails all year. In fairness, the topic has been a bit scary. It's much better to reminisce about Al Capone's vault, or to feed us the porridge we love about poor abused Bridget Kelly, who was sobbing and fearful of you-know-who and who wasn't even on trial.

This cable star has failed to explain the long journalistic history behind the past twenty-four years of "Clinton scandal" nothingburgers. Dearest darlings! In the business, that's simply never done.

Also this:

Back in July, Fred Kaplan explained why the original claims of Comey the God were vastly overblown. This unnamed cable star skipped that topic too.

We know it sounds like this can't be right. But according to the Nexis archives, last night was the first time since January that the cable star has so much as mentioned the name of plupotent Comey the God.

(In early July, she was taking a well-deserved vacation when the strangely voluble god went after his target in a strange and irregular way. Upon her return to her program, Comey's behavior was never mentioned! Elites give wide berth to this god.)

Other "stories" have gone unmentioned on her cable news program. In late July, six government workers were charged with crimes in connection with their conduct in the Flint, Michigan water disaster; she never mentioned that either!

One guess? The arrests tended to support the claims which had been made by Governor Snyder, and her treatment of Flint had mainly involved her desire to throw Snyder in jail.

At any rate, her web site still features a big bold link: "How to help Flint, Michigan." Cynics will say that's basic brand management. But those criminal charges in late July were never mentioned at all.

Last night, this cable star served us our boners and weiners. Every night, we get our requisites doses of entertainment, inanity, tribal true belief, fun.

Long ago, we stated a common-sense principle: you can't run a middle-class democracy with a multimillionaire "press corps." For reasons involving human nature, it simply can't be done.

Last night, we got to enjoy some peculiar fruits. Along the way, Fred Kaplan's analysis disappeared without ever being mentioned.

Al Capone's vault got roughly ten minutes. The criminal charges in Flint went down the memory hole.

Fred Kaplan's analysis never got mentioned? The cable nets have been hauling it in because they've avoided such topics. You won't learn about Obamacare there! As Cable News Barbie used to say, "Obamacare is hard."

Our question:

If Kelly is being paid $15 million, how much is this unnamed star being paid to service us?

(Last published estimate, years ago: $7 million per year)

Was Bridget Kelly telling the truth?


Some journalists seem self-convinced:
Did Bridget Kelly tell the truth during her "Bridgegate" trial?

We don't know if she did! But at New York Magazine, Andrew Rice says her story "had a convincing ring."

That's a rather fuzzy affirmation. At any rate, this is Rice's summary, in which he affirms "the petite mother of four" and seeks to hang vile Christie:
RICE (10/27/16): The consensus among courtroom observers seems to be that Kelly, the petite mother of four who allegedly ordered the closures, came off sympathetically, while Baroni, the square-jawed politico who was reputedly nicknamed “Phony Baroni” by colleagues when he served in the State Senate, didn’t appear as credible. No one needed to argue, though, about who came off looking the worst. “Mr. Christie remained the offstage villain, the Mephistopheles of Trenton,” the Times wrote in a sulfurous editorial this morning, “but it was impossible for even casual trial observers not to discern, from witness after witness, the evident viciousness and grubbiness of the governor and his administration.”

Three years ago, when the bridge-closing conspiracy first came to light, investigators asked the time-honored question: What did Governor Christie know, and when did he know it? More than a month of testimony in the case has offered ample evidence that the most plausible answers to those questions are: everything and early. Under oath, some of Christie’s closest advisers were forced to admit that the governor lied about what he knew—baldly, and repeatedly. But it was Kelly, the defendant, who offered perhaps the most damning account. Over several days of sometimes teary testimony, she claimed that the governor—a boss she said “petrified” her and even once hurled a water bottle at her in fury—was fully aware of Wildstein’s activities, until he had what Kelly delicately called a “memory issue.” While Christie has denied the allegations, and Kelly is trying to save herself from prison, her story had a convincing ring.
Does Kelly's story "have a convincing ring?" Her story could even be true, but it certainly doesn't seem "convincing." Except, perhaps, to the type of observer who is self-convinced.

Kelly's story could always be true, but on its face, it certainly isn't "convincing." For starters, Kelly claims she had no idea that there was a political motive behind the lane closings.

She says she believed that David Wildstein was proposing a legitimate traffic study. That claim could always be true, of course. But given the tone of the various emails she proceeded to send, it certainly isn't convincing.

Kelly's story should seem especially shaky to Rice, who wants to hang Christie high. This is why we say that:

According to Kelly, she didn't even know that anyone in Christie's orbit was angry at Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich. Indeed, according to Kelly's story, even vile Governor Christie himself didn't seem to know that!

According to Kelly's story, Kelly told Christie that Wildstein wanted to run a traffic study, but that it would cause congestion in Fort Lee. According to Kelly, Christie only asked her how relations were with the mayor; she had to admit she didn't know. According to Kelly's convincing story, even Christie himself didn't seem to know that people were angry with Sokolich!

Kelly's story could always be true, but on its face, it doesn't seem super-convincing. Much later in his piece, Rice acknowledges this fact.

"Now, there are some less-than-believable elements to this account, chief among them Kelly’s contention that she didn’t know the true motives behind the 'traffic study,' ” Rice eventually writes. We agree—but, for better or worse, that claim lies at the heart of Kelly's "convincing" story!

Can we talk? Andrew Rice doesn't seem to believe that Kelly was telling the truth at her trial. Most of all, though, he deeply wants to disbelieve Christie. For that reason, he thrashes about, pretending that Kelly's story is "convincing."

Sorry—that it "had a convincing ring." Within the mainstream press, there was a time when feathered distinctions like that would be scorned as "Clintonesque."

For ourselves, we've always found it hard to believe that Christie would be dumb enough to affirm a plan which seemed to carry so much obvious risk. Clearly, Wildstein was dumb (and crazy) enough. Was Christie that stupid too?

Of one thing you can be certain. Absent external evidence, there's zero reason to believe anything these people say. And by the way, the prosecutors don't believe Kelly's convincing story. The prosecutors don't believe "it had a convincing ring."

In Wednesday's New York Times, Kate Zernike described the way the prosecutors pounded Kelly when they got to question her on the stand. They could be wrong in what they think, of course. But plainly, the prosecutors think Kelly is lying about key parts of her tale.

We thought of Rachel Maddow when we read that news report. Last Friday, she handed viewers a gong-show account of what Kelly had said on the stand that day. She didn't even tell her viewers that Kelly was the defendant in the trial, was charged with a serious crime. Maddow was trying to hang Christie too, perhaps like Andrew Rice.

When prosecutors pounded Kelly this week, Rachel didn't discuss it. A certain cable star understands what we the viewers want.

Krugman and Brooks stage a powerful day!


Rachel meets Crazy Eddie:
In this morning's New York Times, Paul Krugman has an instructive column about the current Obamacare problem.

We're assuming his column is accurate. But this is what we had in mind when we said that Rachel Maddow should stop entertaining us with the latest profusion of polls and should start informing us about important matters instead.

We were also struck by David Brooks' new column. Sitting across the page from Krugman, he caught our eye with this account of the lunacy of modern pseudo-conservatism:
BROOKS (10/28/16): The conservative intellectual landscape has changed in three important ways since [the 1980s], paving the way for the ruination of the Republican Party.

First, talk radio, cable TV and the internet have turned conservative opinion into a mass-market enterprise. Small magazines have been overwhelmed by Rush, O’Reilly and Breitbart.

Today’s dominant conservative voices try to appeal to people by the millions. You win attention in the mass media through perpetual hysteria and simple-minded polemics and by exploiting social resentment.
In search of that mass right-wing audience that, say, Coulter enjoys, conservatism has done its best to make itself offensive to people who value education and disdain made-for-TV rage.

It’s ironic that an intellectual tendency that champions free markets was ruined by the forces of commercialism, but that is the essential truth. Conservatism went down-market in search of revenue. It got swallowed by its own anti-intellectual media-politico complex—from Beck to Palin to Trump.
Later, Brooks delivers another blow. "As conservatism has become a propagandistic, partisan movement it has become less vibrant, less creative and less effective."

For ourselves, we were never fans of the conservative movement to start with. That said, Brooks clearly describes the crackpot mercantile forces which have turned the conservative movement into the lunatic enterprise it is today.

He's even willing to name the names of the media figures—Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter, Breitbart, Beck. At this point, the downward spiral is even leading to the utter craziness of the utterly crazy, or deeply mercantile, Alex Jones, whose lunacy is going unexplored within our major news orgs.

Brooks describes the way the crackpots have crazified the right. We couldn't help thinking of Maddow as we read this.

We single her out because her success at selling herself has made her the face of the mercantile, corporate pseudo-left. The relentless dumbing-down of her TV show matches a process which has occurred all over the web and the cable left.

All over the money-making web and cable left, we meant to say.

Maddow's program has been hugely dumbed down. In the process, it has been turned into an entertainment vehicle. It has also become the Vatican City of The Cult of Maddow.

On October 13, she opened her show with maybe ten minutes of pointless recollection about the dimwitted old TV show in which Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's vault. As usual, we the viewers got hear her talking about herself.

("It was a two-hour special that aired April 21st, 1986. I had just turned 13 and I remember watching it. And honestly, it's not that weird that I watched it, because statistically speaking, basically everybody watched it....I read one report, they also found a stop sign down there? Maybe, but I don't remember that from when I watched it from when I was 13...It was, in its own way, it was totally, nihilistically awesome.")

"I I I I I I I," our analysts cry at such points.

That was the evening of the Geraldo/Al Capone reverie. This Monday, she opened with maybe five irrelevant minutes about the old Crazy Eddie TV ads.

("Starting in 1975 and running through the end of the 1980s, there were more than 7,000 of these various, deliberately manic, low-fi, screaming Crazy Eddie ads. They all end with that tag line, 'His prices are insane!'")

In fairness, this topic had special appeal for Maddow, since the story ended with Crazy Eddie going to prison.

We thought of this relentless dumbing-down when we read Brooks' column. He describes the way grifters of the corporate right have, in the fullness of time, turned conservatives into lunatics.

You may think it couldn't happen Over Here. For what it's worth, Brooks almost seems to be saying that it already has:
BROOKS: This is a sad story. But I confess I’m insanely optimistic about a conservative rebound. That’s because of an observation the writer Yuval Levin once made: That while most of the crazy progressives are young, most of the crazy conservatives are old. Conservatism is now being led astray by its seniors, but its young people are pretty great. It’s hard to find a young evangelical who likes Donald Trump. Most young conservatives are comfortable with ethnic diversity and are weary of the Fox News media-politico complex.
Could we in our own brilliant tribe possibly get our brains turned to mush by the efforts of people like Maddow? In our view, it's already happening, to a deeply unfortunate extent.

We're getting sold a lot of crap by people making a lot of money. Maddow has been lunified by the process right before our eyes. In fairness, many people lose their way when they're saddled with giant barrels of money and with cult-level fame.

How far could this dumbing-down process extend? We have no idea. But we thought of Maddow once again when we read this post at New York Magazine.

As they say on cable: "And that's next."

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: Disaggregating Massachusetts!


Epilogue—Bay State confidential:
When American journalists report domestic test scores, they typically "disaggregate."

They compare white kids' scores to the scores of black and Hispanic kids. They announce that the "achievement gaps" remain large.

They fail to report that all three groups have recorded large score gains. Gloomily, they announce that nothing has worked.

That's what happens when our journalists report domestic test scores. But when they report international scores, they almost never "disaggregate." (We're not sure we've ever seen an American journalist do that.)

They present the American aggregate score, then fashion gloomy thoughts about the way our students, teachers and schools compare to those in admirable countries like Finland.

They fashion sweeping gloomy thoughts. All our students, teachers and school get thrown under the bus.

In the past two weeks, we've shown you how it looks when you disaggregate American scores on international tests. In one way, the results are horrific and painful. In another way, American public schools, full stop, don't look quite so bad.

Our white students stack up pretty well as compared to the rest of the world. Our Asian-American students stack up substantially better. That said, gigantic achievement gaps appear between those two groups of kids and our black and Hispanic kids. In our view, those painful data help us see where our educational challenges are.

What explains those large gaps? What could we do to erase them? Different people will have different ideas. In the weeks and months ahead, we will try to sift through them, although the dirty secret is this:

(There's no sign that anyone cares.)

In our view, disaggregated international scores show where our challenges are. They also tend to undercut the sweeping denigration of our teachers and schools which comes from the types of propagandists who have tended to write the scripts for our contemporary journalism.

According to those propagandists, we're supposed to look at international scores and declare how awful our public schools are, full stop. For ourselves, we often reach a different conclusion. After we disaggregate international scores, we're often struck by how mediocre the outcomes are in a middle-class, unicultural nation like Finland.

Today, let's extend a comparison we started yesterday. Let's extend our battle of the small, unrepresentative corners. Let's compare Finland, a small corner of Europe, to Massachusetts, a small corner of our own more complex land.

By all accounts, Finland is a wonderful place to live. That said, how do its public schools perform on international tests as compared to the public schools of Massachusetts? Today, we'll disaggregate Bay State scores to let you consider that question more fully.

Once again, we think you'll see where our nation's educational challenges are. But we think you'll also see the problem with those sweeping denigrations of American teachers and schools, full stop. In our view, those sweeping denigrations almost resemble a form of propaganda.

Let's start with results on the PISA, the international test on which Americans kids have performed less well.

On the most recent PISA, here's the way Massachusetts kids performed, as compared to their peers in the world's public school super-powers. As we disaggregate Massachusetts scores, we create a Bay State confidential:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISA
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 584
Massachusetts, white students: 540
Japan: 538
South Korea: 536
Massachusetts: 527
Finland: 524

Taiwan: 523
Massachusetts, black students: 476
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 475

Average scores, Math Literacy, 2012 PISA
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 569
Taiwan: 560
South Korea: 554
Japan: 536
Massachusetts, white students: 530
Finland: 519
Massachusetts: 514

Massachusetts, black students: 458
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 446
Even in the aggregate, our own small corner matched their small corner on these international tests. (On the PISA scale, 39 points is considered the rough equivalent of one academic year.)

Even in the aggregate, Bay State kids matched miraculous Finland! But when we disaggregate Bay State scores, the story becomes more complex.

On the one hand, you see the giant achievement gaps which show us where our challenges are. On the other hand, you may gain a new perspective on miraculous Finland, even on the three Asian tigers.

White kids in Massachusetts outscored Finland on both these measures. Asian-American Bay State kids outscored Finland by a lot; they even outscored all three Asian public school super-powers. Somehow, these results emerged from our ratty public schools with their lazy, unionized staffs.

Let's be fair! Massachusetts is a small, unrepresentative corner of the United States. But Finland is an even smaller, unrepresentative corner of Europe.

As a unicultural nation with very little immigration, Finland's students are almost all "majority culture." In our own small corner of the U.S., our own "majority culture" kids outscored Finland, even on the tests which made Finland famous.

On the TIMSS, the Bay State does even better. But the challenges remain.

Within the Bay State's disaggregated scores, the large achievement gaps are there for all to see. On the other hand, you might start to see how silly it is to denigrate American schools, full stop, while praising the wonders of Finland:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS
South Korea: 613
Taiwan: 609
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 599
Massachusetts, white students: 572
Japan: 570
Massachusetts: 561
Massachusetts, black students: 516
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 514
Finland: 514

Average scores, Grade 8 science, 2011 TIMSS
Massachusetts, white students: 587
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 576
Massachusetts: 567
Taiwan: 564
South Korea: 560
Japan: 558
Finland: 552
Massachusetts, black students: 514
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 494
We can't give you a rule of thumb to apply to those score differentials. But especially in math, Bay State kids, even in the aggregate, outscored miraculous Finland by a lot.

On both these tests, our small corner, in the aggregate, beat Europe's small corner straight-up. In science, Massachusetts, in the aggregate, even outscored all three Asian public school powers. The Bay State outscored them straight up!

That said, we still confront those very large internal achievement gaps. In our view, we face two major challenges:

On the one hand, we face an educational challenge. It's defined by the large achievement gaps which appear whenever we disaggregate American scores.

That said, we also face a journalistic challenge. Our journalism has been driven by simple-minded, propagandistic story-lines about our hapless public school teachers and our embarrassing schools. In sweeping fashion, these story-lines denigrate all our teachers, students and schools. Full freaking stop!

Those propagandistic story-lines are poorly aligned with reality. They're neatly aligned with certain corporate and pseudo-conservative perspectives, interests and themes. But they fail to capture the complex, appalling lay of the land within our public schools.

For whatever reason, our journalists have rushed to endorse those simple-minded tales. Perhaps in perfect good faith, the billionaires have been aggressively pushing those tales. Our press corps has rushed to recite them.

In our view, the truth is much more difficult, vastly more daunting. It's also much more complex.

Our small corner beats their small corner! Isn't it time for the press to expand its small, silly story-lines?

To access all data: To access all data, you'll have to click here. From that point, you're on your own.

Expert advice on profusion of polls!


Rhodes scholarship at its finest:
She could have been explaining the latest news about the Obamacare premium increases.

She could have been explaining the contents, or the lack of same, of the latest WikiLeaks dump.

That said, it's as we told you yesterday. The cable news of today is all about the blizzard of polls which swoops down out of the north each day. So Rachel Maddow, Our Own Rhodes Scholar, decided to tackle that problem.

She teased the segment not once, but twice. This was her first preview:
MADDOW (10/26/16): You know, they say, thanks to cable news, that the news cycle is now 24 hours long, which is ridiculously short. You're welcome.

Today, I would say though, is a little different. Today, we got the news cycle so tight and so fast it was more like whiplash than it was an actual cycle, particularly on the issue of polling and who is now winning the presidential race.

We're going to need some expert help to figure out some of what happened today.
What of it makes sense, what of it's important, and what of it you can disregard.

We've got that expert's decoding help coming up tonight. Stay with us.
The analysts were thrilled.

Finally! the youngsters happily cried. Finally, we'll get some help—decoding help, from an expert, no less!—concerning the profusion of polls!

When she returned from commercial break, Maddow killed a segment with pointless piddle about Candidates Perot and Dole in 1996.

After another commercial break, she burned another short segment with piddle—this time, she worked Walter Mondale in—then teased her expert again:
MADDOW: ...But one poll is just one poll. And just as we were digesting that mammoth new lead in that AP poll with Trump down by 14 points, just as we were digesting that, we got another poll from Fox News.

And Fox News, of course, editorially, is conservative, but their polling is for real.
And tonight, the new Fox News poll says, yes, Hillary Clinton is leading nationally by only by 3 points. And that's in a poll with a 2 1/2-point margin of error. So she's winning nationwide by 14 points, she's winning nationwide by 3 points.

I mean, obviously, there isn't a nationwide election. It all comes down to individual states. But still I'm popping numbers from the AP and Fox today and ones that don't make much sense together.

How should we make sense of these numbers? Where exactly are we at right now? We've got expert help on that, next.
We don't know why Maddow felt sure that the new Fox poll was on the level. But by now, she'd burned two segments saying that we'd get "expert help" so we could sift through all these polls.

The analysts were genuinely excited. Finally, they would get some help; Our Own Rhodes Scholar was coming through!

But then, after another commercial break, Maddow introduce her expert. When she did, the analysts' faces fell:
MADDOW: Joining us now is Harry Enten. He's senior political writer for He's a young man we've been increasingly turning to for poll interpretation help.

Harry, thanks for being here.

ENTEN: Pleasure.
"Oh no," several analysts cried. "Not the underwhelming Enten!"

Harry Enten is a young man, just as Rachel said. We're not real sure he's an expert. How much help did he offer last night? This was his first expert tip:
MADDOW (continuing directly): What do you make of the AP national poll coming out tonight showing Clinton with a 14-point lead, right before Fox comes out with a national poll showing her with a 3-point lead? How do we absorb that information responsibly as humans?

ENTEN: Well, I would say what I always say, and that's average them, right? We're going to always average the polls....
Enten went on and on from there. But in his first bit of expert advice, he said what he always says, that we should average the polls.

Maddow wasn't finished with her quest for complete understanding. If you're lucky enough to have an expert on hand, you want to ask as many questions as he'll let you cram in:
MADDOW: Based on the way you look at the polls and the data that you look at and your systems for absorbing it responsibly, do you feel like it's fair to say that the race is tightening a bit right now?

ENTEN: If it's tightening, it's barely tightening. The last model had Hillary Clinton with, say, a 7-point lead and now, maybe, it's like 6.3. That's tightening. But if Donald Trump continues to tighten the rice by that much, with, you know, a little less than two weeks remaining, he's just never going to be able to catch Hillary Clinton.

MADDOW: Unless he tightens the race at a faster pace, there isn't enough time left.

ENTEN: That's exactly right.
Is the Clinton-Trump race tightening? Based on the way he looks at the polls and his systems for absorbing the data he looks at responsibly, Enten cited the basic data which anyone, Maddow included, could have accessed at

Meanwhile, if we understood the rest of that exchange, Maddow said Trump couldn't catch up unless the race tightens more rapidly.

"That's exactly right," the expert Enten replied.

The expertise continued from there, pushed along by Maddow's unrelenting scholarship. Eventually, Enten advised us to keep an eye on Pennsylvania and Florida.

We're not sure we've ever seen anyone dumb herself down more than Maddow has. On the brighter side, her ratings are up. It's what her owners want.

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: Where the (unrepresentative) test scores are!


Part 3 in this series

Part 4—Massachusetts v. Finland: Certain types of magical quests never seem to end. So it was that these headlines appeared, last June, in the august Atlantic:
Is Estonia the New Finland?
With a focus on equity, the northern European country has quietly joined the ranks of the global education elite.
In one way, tiny Estonia could become the new Finland. It could become the latest small corner of Europe to which American journalists are sent in search of the public school holy grail.

Finland has been cast in that role ever since its students attained high scores on the inaugural PISA, back in the year 2000. Now, the Atlantic had gone to an even smaller corner of Europe, ostensibly seeking the source of its public school success.

In this case, the Atlantic had gone to a tiny corner of Europe. Estonia's population is 1.3 million. By contrast, Finland—population, 5.5 million—qualifies as a behemoth.

Can we learn from the public schools of Estonia and Finland? Presumably yes, we can. And yet, this era of Finland public school chic has been absurd on its face.

You see, Finland isn't just a small corner of Europe. It's a small, unrepresentative corner of Europe—a pleasant, apparently admirable nation whose public schools face a limited set of educational challenges.

For better or worse, Finland is a small, unicultural, middle-class nation. To its great credit, it never created a despised "racial" minority. It didn't spend centuries attempting to eliminate literacy from any such brutalized group.

For better or worse, it has authorized little immigration as compared to its neighbors in Europe. In large part due to its social systems, very few of its public school students come from impoverished homes.

In August 2010, Newsweek went all in. Based on an exhaustive survey, it officially anointed Finland "the best country in the world."

This accolade was announced as part of "Newsweek's first-ever Best Countries special issue." Switzerland was declared second best. Sweden went home with the bronze.

By many accounts, Finland is a wonderful place to live. It's also an unrepresentative corner of Europe.

As a general matter, its public schools don't face the social, demographic and cultural challenges found in the schools of many other nations. Finland has never solved the attendant educational challenges because it has never encountered them.

For these reasons, it never made a lot of sense to send reporters to Finland seeking answers to our country's many educational challenges. Needless to say, this didn't stop the American press from going all in on this game.

As of June, the Atlantic was threatening to extend this quest to an even tinier corner of Europe. In our view, it's time to address this foolishness by taking a fuller look at where the test scores are.

The trips to Finland have long been used to denigrate American students, teachers and schools. As such, the trips have been part of a larger pattern of denigration—a pattern of denigration quite widespread within our press elites.

This punishing journalistic cult was always founded upon Finland's international test scores. Today, let's see how this glorified small corner of Europe stacks up on international tests as compared to two small corners of our own pitiful land.

You've heard of these corners of the U.S.; they're called Massachusetts and Connecticut. In terms of population, one is larger than Finland, the other turns out to be smaller:
Population of three small corners
Finland: 5.5 million
Massachusetts: 6.8 million
Connecticut: 3.8 million
As with Finland, so too with these small corners; in certain ways, they are unrepesentative corners of the United States. That said, their public schools face many more demographic, social and educational challenges than the public schools of Finland, "where the children are all above average."

(Not long ago, the New York Times described a challenging corner of Connecticut. We refer to Bridgeport, a city with lots of immigrant kids, substantial amounts of poverty, and the inevitable backwash of this country's brutal racial history. You can't learn how to address the resulting educational challenges by flying to Finland. In Finland, such challenges barely exist.)

Massachusetts is a relatively advantaged corner of the United States; Finland is a relatively advantaged corner of Europe. That said, how do the test scores of Bay State students stack up against the scores of their peers in Finland? Luckily, we're able to check.

You see, Massachusetts and Connecticut participated as independent entities in the most recent rounds of international testing—the 2011 TIMSS and the 2012 PISA. This lets us compare the two small corners of the U.S. to the one small corner of Europe.

Given our pitiful public schools, how did our small corners stack up? We'll start with results from the PISA, the international test on which American students have performed less well.

Below, you see some average scores from the PISA's 2012 reading test. The PISA tests 15-year-old students. Among the world's developed nations, we're including the three high-scoring Asian tigers, plus Finland and the U.S.

We're also including Massachusetts and Connecticut; we'll highlight scores from Massachusetts alone. Among American scores, we're performing some disaggregation.

These data plainly show us where our national challenges are. They also place ubiquitous claims about Finland in a bit of a wider perspective:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISA
United States, Asian-American students: 550
Connecticut, white students: 546
Massachusetts, white students: 540
Japan: 538
South Korea: 536
Massachusetts: 527
Finland: 524

Taiwan: 523
Connecticut: 521
United States, white students: 519
United States: 498
United States, Hispanic students: 478
United States, black students: 443
Remember—the PISA is the battery on which American kids do less well. According to a rough rule of thumb, 39 points on the PISA scale is roughly equivalent to one academic year.

On the national level, those data offer a sobering look at where our challenges are. On the other hand, those data seem to belie the ubiquitous claim that something is horribly wrong with our teachers and schools, full stop.

Judging from this international test, our teachers and schools seem to be doing fairly well with our "majority culture" students. White students in the U.S. basically matched their peers in miraculous Finland.

Meanwhile, Asian-American kids outperformed Finland, by a substantial amount. They also outscored the students in all three Asian tigers.

On the national level, different people will see different things when they look at those disaggregated American scores. We see a set of daunting educational challenges. We won't learn how to meet those challenges through sweeping denunciations of our teachers and schools, full stop.

That said, consider the performance of the students in two small corners of our own United States.

For all their relative demographic complexity, students in Massachusetts and Connecticut matched the scores of their peers in Finland on this particular test. White students in those states—students from the "majority culture"—outscored their peers in Finland, a nation where virtually all the kids are "majority culture."

Why are our journalists flying to Finland? Why aren't they taking Amtrak to Boston—or to such demographically different locales as Worcester, Fall River, Amherst, Methuen, Lawrence, perhaps Billerica?

Except in the search for denigration, why are they flying to Finland? That basic question even survives the most recent PISA math test:
Average scores, Math Literacy, 2012 PISA
Taiwan: 560
South Korea: 554
United States, Asian-American students: 549
Japan: 536
Connecticut, white students: 534
Massachusetts, white students: 530
Finland: 519
Massachusetts: 514

United States, white kids: 506
Connecticut: 506
United States: 481
United States, Hispanic students: 455
United States, black students: 421
Remember. Of the eight sub-tests in the most recent international testing, this was the sub-test on which American kids scored least well. But even on this worst sub-test, Bay State students matched their counterparts in Finland.

White kids in Massachusetts and Connecticut—kids from the majority culture—outscored their peers from that miraculous land.

Why do journalists fly to Finland? Why not deplane in Boston? The question becomes especially clear when we look at results from the latest TIMSS.

The TIMSS is the international test on which American students tend to score better. Perhaps for that reason, results from the TIMSS are often disappeared in the American press.

We'll use Grade 8 scores instead of those from Grade 4. We can't give you a rule of thumb for interpreting score differentials here.

That said, Bay State students pounded Finland in both science and math on the TIMSS. In science, white kids in Massachusetts even pounded the Asian tigers:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS
South Korea: 613
Taiwan: 609
Massachusetts, white students: 572
Japan: 570
United States, Asian-American students: 568
Massachusetts: 561
Connecticut, white students: 543
United States, white students: 530
Connecticut: 518
Finland: 514
United States: 509
United States, Hispanic students: 485
United States, black students: 465

Average scores, Grade 8 science, 2011 TIMSS
Massachusetts, white students: 587
United States, Asian-American students: 576
Massachusetts: 567
Taiwan: 564
Connecticut, white students: 562
South Korea: 560
Japan: 558
United States, white students: 553
Finland: 552
Connecticut: 532
United States: 525
United States, Hispanic students: 493
United States, black students: 470
Is something "wrong" with the TIMSS? If so, why do the United States and the Asian tigers participate in the testing? If not, why are journalists flying to Finland in search of a miracle cure?

In the course of this series, we've tried to broaden your understanding of where the test scores are. Test scores are an imperfect way to measure the quality of a nation's schools. But they're widely discussed in the American press, often in ways which serve the goals of a strange, gloomy propaganda.

Certain corporate and political elites have reason to denigrate American students, teachers and schools. Inevitably, American journalists have been prepared to pimp the official elite story-line about our embarrassing schools.

They report the gaps, disappear the gains. They report the PISA, avoid the TIMSS. They disaggregate scores when it advances their themes.

And again and again, they fly to Finland, the miraculous small corner of Europe whose kids get matched and outscored by Massachusetts, a much more complex and challenging corner of the U.S. "Please come to Boston," the folksinger cries. But our journalists hurry on past.

A few years ago, this state of affairs left Bill Keller making an odd pronouncement. Inevitably, he was speaking in favor of one particular type of "reform:"

"[T]he Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable."

Like so many other people, Keller believed that we had experienced "decades of embarrassing decline" in our public schools. He'd seen it said and implied, again and again, in the organs of the national press. Keller, who is decent and bright, seemed to believe that he was stating an obvious fact.

In all honesty, that isn't where the test scores are. Why have Keller and so many others been so thoroughly disinformed?

Also, PISA science: Below, you see results from the PISA science test. This was Finland's best performance as compared to the Asian tigers and even as compared to our own Massachusetts:
Average scores, Science Literacy, 2012 PISA
Japan: 547
Connecticut, white students: 547
United States, Asian-American students: 546
Massachusetts, white students: 545
Finland: 545

South Korea: 538
United States, white students: 528
Massachusetts: 527
Taiwan: 523
Connecticut: 521
United States: 497
United States, Hispanic students: 462
United States, black students: 439
Advice to editors—save a few bucks! Put them on the train to Boston, or perhaps on the bus to New Bedford, a demographically challenging former whaling town.

Massachusetts achieved its scores in the face of those challenges. Why not drop by that small corner to see how they're doing it there?

Milbank speaks on behalf of one of his tribes!


A truly sobering column:
As Election Day draws near, cable pundits continue to burn their days away speculating about what will happen two weeks hence.

Every new poll provides a new way to kill some time while pretending to be performing analytical service.

If we simply wait two weeks, we'll actually know who won each state! But for cable pundits, professional joy seems to consist in the endless killing of time.

As cable stars burn their days away, columnists and other print journalists are offering some interesting thoughts about how to proceed post-election. We're especially interested in emerging attempts to understand Trump voters.

We plan to explore such musings next week. For today, we're chastened by Dana Milbank's column in the Washington Post.

It's always stunning when major pundits buy into the flimsy idea that the "generations" are fundamentally different one from the other. In his new column, Milbank adopts this flimsy theory full-and-complete freakin' bore.

We jotted a note as we read his column. It's "genuinely dumb," we opined.

Milbank seems to be pretty sure that his generation contains the thoughtful good wise intelligent people, some other generations not nearly so much. We've never seen his analytical skills put to so little use.

Milbank is especially peeved with the baby boomers. They "expanded entitlement programs," he scoldingly says, apparently not realizing that many people would regard such expansion as a boon. He says the boomers "are now poised to bankrupt such programs."

Maybe yes, maybe no. In this context, the scary term "bankrupt" has long operated as a form of fuzzy math.

People who believe "generations" are tribes say the darnedest things! (We believe Art Linkletter said that.) Milbank proves this time-honored point in this remarkable passage:
MILBANK (10/26/16): Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding. When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock from both sides. Though Vietnam War-protesting boomers got the attention, their peers on the right were just as ideological, creating the religious right. Boomers are twice as likely to identify as conservative than liberal, a figure that hasn’t changed much in two decades. And Trump captures his generation’s selfishness: his multiple draft deferrals, his claim that he’s “made a lot of sacrifices” by building buildings, his vow not to cut Social Security but to have huge tax cuts and massive military investments.
"Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding?" It's hard to believe that anyone could write such a silly sentence, let alone an upper-end journalist who graduated from Yale. Skull and Bones!

"Trump captures his generation's selfishness?" Not unlike the aforementioned Trump, Milbank seems to be out of mind.

Might we continue? In that passage, Milbank seems to say that boomers who protested the Vietnam war "were just as ideological" as those who created the religious right. In fairness, he has clearly earned the right to snark at Trump's "draft deferrals" [sic] given his own medal-festooned, heroic service in his nation's subsequent wars, where he served under General Mitty.

(Trust us. During Vietnam, no one would have fought for draft deferrals [sic] with any more fervor than Milbank.)

That column is stunningly dumb. It's hard to believe that anyone traffics in such manifest twaddle, but our upper-end mainstream press corps rather transplendently does. This column reminds us of what can happen when they stop frisking their polls.

Full disclosure: We share the old school system tie with William Strauss of "Strauss–Howe generational theory" fame. He attended Burlingame High while we were at Aragon.

Bill Keller was down the Alameda at Serra. As best we can tell, all these fellows found a way out of the draft.

Did Hillary Clinton root for the Yanks?


The World Series made them do it:
The Cubs are in the World Series this year. This made the New York Times do it.

It made them ask the age-old question. When she was growing up in Chicago, did Hillary Clinton really root for both the Cubs and the Yanks?

That said, now that Dylan has won that prize, it seems the Times, it may be a-changin'! Jonathan Mahler's piece got relegated to the sports section in our hard-copy paper today. And he actually seemed to say that yes, she really did root for the Yanks:
MAHLER (10/26/16): Mrs. Clinton has pointed to ample evidence, including interviews from the early 1990s, that as a young girl in Chicago, she followed the Yankees in addition to the Cubs because she “needed an American League team,” and “in our neighborhood, it was nearly sacrilegious to cheer for the rival White Sox,” as she wrote in her 2003 memoir, “Living History.”

As a 7-year-old, Mrs. Clinton recalled in a speech in 2011, she dressed up as Mickey Mantle for Halloween, adding, “I have the picture to show you and to prove it.”

And in a lengthy 2007 profile, “Growing Up Rodham,” the respected Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins had corroborated this claim: “By age 10, Hillary was a tomboy obsessed with baseball, especially the switch-hitting Mickey Mantle.”
"Mrs. Clinton has pointed to ample evidence?" Is Mahler allowed to say that?

Second question: To what extent is New York Times coverage rigged against poor Trump? After all these years, they're even willing to cop to the truth about this!

For years, Clinton was assailed as The World's Biggest Liar (Not Counting Gore) for her disgraceful claim about the Cubs and the Yankees. How stupid and ugly was this endless campaign? Right before the passage we've posted, we'll let Mahler refresh you:
MAHLER: The source of suspicion about Mrs. Clinton’s baseball loyalties is another set of facts: In 1999, only days after announcing that she was forming an exploratory committee to run for the Senate from New York, she and her husband, President Bill Clinton, welcomed the Yankees to the White House for a visit. Mrs. Clinton donned a Yankees cap given to her by the team’s manager, Joe Torre.

The resulting photographs fueled scorching criticism for years.

“She went to the Yankees so that she could run for senator from New York,” Chris Matthews said in 2007
on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “It’s so obvious. Why is she—doesn’t she know she looks like a fraud?”
"It's so obvious," Matthews said, just before calling Clinton "a fraud." He was still saying this eight years later!

Eight years earlier, we'd quoted those profiles from the early 1990s, the yellowing profiles which had described young Clinton's love for the Yanks. But so what? In those days, information never quite reached the horrific Hardball host, whose savaging of Candidates Clinton and Gore had made him a Trump-before-Trump.

Today, Candidate Trump has established himself as reigning king of the stupid and ugly. Back then, Matthews, Jack Welch's overpaid Trump-before-Trump, had been cast in that stupid destructive role.

You'll never hear anyone say that, of course. Dearest darlings, it just isn't done!

How stupid and ugly was it: In July, we revisited this stupid and ugly old game. In real time, a long string of embarrassing, disgraceful pundits took turns at the plate.

For the background to the story, click here. Ro revisit the vile pundit fury, click this.

This is the way the game has been played down through these stupid vile years.

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: Why Bill Keller said what he did!


Part 2 in this series

Part 3—Possible sources of bias: Earlier in this extended series, we noted an interesting pair of remarks—a pair of remarks which appeared in the press at back-to-school time in 2011 and 2013.

One remark was made by Bill Keller, a major figure at the New York Times throughout his journalistic career.

Bill Keller isn't dumb in any way. Bill Keller is perfectly decent. In an op-ed column for the Times, Bill Keller said this in August 2013:

"[T]he Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable."

For whatever reason, Keller believed that this country had just experienced "decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education."

Two years earlier, Richard Rothstein, an education specialist, had written an essay for Slate about certain types of "education reform." Deep in his piece, he wrote this:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): Central to the reformers' argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago. (There has also been progress for middle schoolers, and in reading; and less, but not insubstantial, progress for high schoolers.) The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. The causes of these truly spectacular gains are unknown, but they are probably inconsistent with the idea that typical inner-city teachers are content to watch students wrestle on the classroom floor instead of learning."
Say what? Two years before Keller's gloomy pronouncement, Rothstein had cited actual data from the NAEP, our one reliable domestic testing program. He referred to "truly spectacular gains" on the NAEP during the period in question. This created a strange double vision:

According to the education specialist, "public school performance had skyrocketed" in the previous twenty years. According to the major journalist, those same two decades had been a period of "embarrassing decline in K-12 education."

As we noted earlier in this series, Rothstein was right about those NAEP data. Beyond that, he was right about the one specific advance he cited. As of 2007, black fourth graders were scoring higher in math on the NAEP than white fourth graders had scored in 1990.

On its face, that was a spectacular gain. Two years later, why did Keller, a highly accomplished mainstream journalist, have such a jaundiced view of that same period?

Earlier in this series, we suggested a possible answer. Keller may have had his gloomy perspective because he reads the New York Times! As we noted yesterday, our major news orgs have long betrayed an unrelenting bias as they report on the public schools—a bias which favors the denigration of our students, our teachers, our schools.

Almost surely, Bill Keller had never heard about the score gains Rothstein cited. Within the world of the mainstream press, such data have persistently been disappeared. To this day, have you ever heard, in the mainstream press, about the truly spectacular score gains to which Rothstein referred?

Of course you haven't! Neither has anyone else; it simply isn't done.

Within the realm of the mainstream press, the score gains to which Rothstein referred have persistently been disappeared. Almost surely, Bill Keller's peculiar remark that day represents the poisoned fruit of such journalistic misconduct.

Yesterday, we cited four sleights-of-hand concerning test scores which are routinely observed in the press. These sleights-of-hand—let's not use the unpleasant term, "cons"—constitute a vast offense against public understanding and knowledge.

Below, we'll list a series of sleights from a recent, critically-acclaimed book—a book which lamented the way our pitiful kids stack up against the rest of the world. That book might stand as Exhibit A in the way the establishment press puts its thumbs on the scales in reporting "where the test scores are."

Before we list that book's set of sleights, let's ponder the origins of the press corps' rather obvious preference for denigration of our teachers and schools. Why on earth would the mainstream press hide those spectacular gains?

For starters, let's be fair. Every journalist thinks he or she knows that Bill Keller's statement must have been right. They think this because they constantly read such statements in our major mainstream news organs.

Such statements follow a series of scripts which constitute current conventional wisdom. What forces are driving this powerful narrative? Briefly, we'll consider four:
Standard human foolishness: Innocently but dumbly, we humans may tend toward an innate belief that we were smarter, back in the day, than These Kids Today. We walked ten miles to school every day. It was snowing hard all year. The road was uphill both ways.

Corporate interests: Presumably, corporate interests have played a role in fashioning the gloomy scripts our journalists persistently obey. There's a lot of money to be made from "privatizing" schools in various ways. Presumably, the corporate players involved in this world have worked to promote the gloomy scripts about public school failure which favor certain types of "education reform."

Political interests: Increasingly, the conservative world has adopted the view that government can do nothing right. This has led to poisonous scripts about our "government schools." Presumably, conservative opposition to unions is also a factor here. The denigration of American schools leads to the denigration of teachers. This frequently leads to ardent declarations about the way their infernal unions have ruined those government schools.

The role of the "billionaire boys club:" As has been noted in samizdat, a small group of billionaires have become deeply invested in "education reform." This includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg and the Walton Family, along with several others whose names are less familiar. As has been widely noted, these players have lavishly funded education research on all points of the spectrum, helping produce the type of consensus which is so rare in our politics today. If you want to know why gloomy scripts about public schools get recited so widely, you may want to "follow the money."
One final point must be noted—our journalists' abiding love of robotic recitation.

As is clear in a wide array of areas, the modern journalist is only happy when he or she is repeating What Everyone Else Has Just Said. This preference for copying off neighbors' papers helps explain why so few objections are raised to the standard sleights-of-hand (let's not use the unpleasant term "con games") which drive our education reporting, leading decent people like Keller to think what Keller said.

Here as elsewhere, a fairly small number of billionaires have been driving our discourse. Their motives may be perfectly pure, but they have likely never heard about those "spectacular score gains" either.

They may truly believe that our public schools are a mess, full stop. But as they spread their money around, grateful recipients may feel the need to advance the derogatory scripts and claims which make these funders glad. (This is pure speculation, of course.)

Do these factors explain the ubiquitous denigration of our schools, our students, our teachers? We can't answer that. But when you read mainstream reports which tell you where the test scores are, you're constantly handed highly selective data and information.

They discuss the gaps, disappear the gains. They discuss the PISA, but ditch the TIMSS. They sometimes disaggregate scores, but only in service to gloomy conclusions.

Beyond that, they simply refuse to stop flying to Finland! This leads us to the peculiar place we'll describe as "Rothstein v. Keller."

It also leads us to The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley's ballyhooed 2013 book about the way our pitiful kids stack up against the rest of the world.

The book was highly readable. In certain respects, it was even instructive—for example, when Ripley described what South Korean kids endure on the way to their very high international test scores.

That said, Ripley was quite selective in the data she chose to use, starting with her decision to disappear the TIMSS altogether. Did we say "altogether?" In fact, Ripley did cite a few results from the TIMSS, though only in selective fashion, in service to certain mandated claims about certain types of "reform."

That said, the TIMSS was never cited by name at any point in the book. Readers of Ripley's book were never told that there are two major international tests in which the developed nations take part.

They were told about the PISA, on which American students have scored less well. They were never told about the TIMSS, on which American students have scored better.

In our view, Ripley's highly readable book is strewn with sleights-of-hand. This includes selective information about the way our hapless white kids score in math; about Minnesota's allegedly brilliant success once it instituted certain types of "reform;" most strikingly, about Finland's allegedly brilliant success with its immigrant kids.

In our view, quite a few thumbs were on several scales in the course of Ripley's book. Does this keep the funding flowing? It certainly led to ecstatic reviews within our script-friendly press.

Mostly, though, Ripley's book extended the beloved tale about the wonders of Finland. For roughly the past dozen years, our journalists have been flown to that small corner of Europe to help us see how pitiful our own public schools really are.

They keep reciting a set of scripts. You might say they're pulling a Keller.

Do their familiar scripts make sense? Tomorrow, our series will end in the streets of Methuen, but also in Fall River and Worcester—and in the streets of Bridgeport, a challenging part of one small corner of the United States.

Tomorrow: Two small corners of the U.S. v. one small corner of Europe

The nothing-burgers continue to flow!


The New York Times moves them along:
Even we were surprised by what the New York Times did this morning.

In this report on Donald Trump's day, Nick Corasaniti pushes the latest nothing-burger along. He simply repeats Trump's latest claim, without making the slightest attempt at clarification or challenge:
CORASANITI (10/25/16): [Trump] furthered his attack, citing a report from The Wall Street Journal that found that the political organization attached to Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a key Clinton ally, donated more than $465,000 to the 2015 State Senate campaign of Jill McCabe, the spouse of Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I. The donation was among many made that year by the group in an effort to win back a Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate.

“So the man that was investigating her from the F.B.I., his wife runs for office, and they give her more than $675,000 to run,” Mr. Trump said of Mrs. Clinton, as the crowd began to boo. “And it just came out. They just figured it out.”

It is evidence the whole system is geared against him, Mr. Trump said...
It one sense, this report is accurate. Trump really did say those things yesterday on the trail.

On the other hand, Trump's story was utterly bungled. At the Washington Post, Trump has already received four Pinocchios for this latest nothing-burger. For whatever reason, the Times decided to write it on up, just exactly the way Trump said it to the booing crowd.

Full stop.

As Corasaniti continued, so did his weird stenography. This time, he simply repeated what Trump had said about all those phony polls:
CORASANITI (continuing directly): It is evidence the whole system is geared against him, Mr. Trump said, and any polls showing him behind, he told his supporters, are not to be believed.

“What they do is they show these phony polls where they look at Democrats, and it’s heavily weighted with Democrats,
and then they’ll put on a poll where we’re not winning, and everybody says, ‘Oh, they’re not winning,’” Mr. Trump said at the round-table event Monday morning.

Toward that end, Mr. Trump’s campaign will begin airing its own form of programming on Facebook Live, offering daily reports from campaign officials on what it says is the real state of the race.

His anti-polling and anti-news media message is quickly catching on with his supporters.

“There’s no way any of those polls are real,” said Bill Stelling, 44, a real estate agent from Jacksonville, Fla. “If you’ve gone around throughout the country and seen what’s going on, you go through any neighborhood and see how many Trump signs there are and how many Hillary signs there are, and I guarantee you it’s not even going to be close. It’s not even going to be close.”

It is a message that Mr. Trump has been highlighting at his rallies, repeatedly predicting victory and encouraging his supporters to embrace early voting, which began in some Florida counties on Monday.
In this instance, Corasaniti simply repeated Trump's claims about all those phony polls, the ones which are heavily weighted with Democrats.

Is there any truth to Trump's claims about the phony polls, the claims his supporters find so convincing? Did the Trump campaign offer any evidence that phony polls are being heavily weighted with Democrats, whatever exactly that is supposed to mean?

Corasaniti made no attempt to say. He simply wrote what the candidate said, with no attempt at providing context, evidence, clarification, fact-checking, possible words of caution.

This seemed like one of the laziest news reports we had seen in some time. In fairness, Corasaniti had seemed to start with a slippery shot which cut against Candidate Trump.

This slippery shot concerned what Trump had said about Jessica Drake, the latest woman to accuse him of being perhaps a bit grabby. To our ear, Corasaniti's slippery play had occurred here:
CORASANITI: Ms. Drake, an actress in pornographic films, is one of several women to accuse him of unwanted aggressive sexual advances after the release of a 2005 recording in which Mr. Trump boasted of being able to sexually assault women without consequence.

Mr. Trump has called all of the allegations lies and has said that he does not know the women.

But in a radio interview on WGIR’s “New Hampshire Today,” it was clear that Mr. Trump was aware of Ms. Drake.
"But it was clear that he was aware of Drake?" Was that supposed to suggest a contradiction? That's how it sounded to us.

This was a miserable news report. Our smartest and brightest American newspaper can be extremely lazy.