The Yearly Sift: 2012

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.

— T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

review all the Sift quotes of 2012

This week everybody was talking about …

The last two weeks will get a very abbreviated treatment so that I can use the space to review the year. I’m sure the gun debate will still be going on next Monday — probably the stand-offs on the fiscal cliff and the debt limit too — so I’ll catch up then. But I wanted to share this Clay Bennett cartoon.

There were also countless end-of-the-year top ten lists. The most ambitious is Time’s Top Ten Everything of 2012. Time’s #8 Viral Video of the Year was the best marriage proposal ever:

But let’s get on with reviewing the year.

This year, everybody was talking about the election

Like my imaginary typical reader, I struggled not to obsess and not to let my fears get ahead of the facts. But just about every week, something election-related was a major focus.

Looking back, I feel like the Sift mostly got the election right. True, the weakness of the Republican field surprised me. (So much for my April, 2011 prediction that Romney wouldn’t be nominated.) And I also failed to predict Obama’s sleep-walk through the first debate, which let Romney get back into the race. But I decided early to trust Nate Silver’s poll-consolidation model, which turned out to be right. All in all, I think a regular Sift reader went through the campaign focused on the right things: the right issues, the right narratives, the right swing states.

The election also turned out more-or-less the way I wanted, which has left me feeling more relieved than triumphant. Watching congressional Republicans run scared from the most extreme part of their base, I can only imagine what we’d be looking at if President Romney and a Republican Senate were about to take office. So I’m not seeing the dawn of a new era, but we did dodge a bullet.

A more detailed look at the Sift’s election coverage is in Looking Back at the 2012 Election: Relief, not Triumph.

… and I kept writing about privilege

The Theme of the Year always sneaks up on me; I never start out with one in mind. But all year, the news kept pushing me to write about various sorts of discrimination and/or prejudice: against blacks, Hispanics, women, Muslims, gays, students, retireesthe working class … almost everybody, when you total it up.

In each of those apparently separate stories, I kept finding the same thing: a privileged group so oblivious to its privileges and so clueless about what life is like for everyone else that it imagines itself as the true victim. So the rich feel “punished” by the prospect of paying Clinton-era tax rates or admitting that their businesses are built on the foundation of a healthy public sector. Christians feel “persecuted” when they aren’t allowed to control the public square or dictate how their employees use health insurance. The Trayvon Martin case caused whites to obsess about violence by blacks. And countless Americans believe that we are the great unappreciated benefactors of the countries we invade or bomb or exploit for cheap labor. (Why aren’t the Iraqis grateful for all we’ve done?)

Like most liberals, my first impulse was to write this off as posturing — meaningless noise meant to drown out any discussion of genuine unfairness. But the deeper I looked, the more sincere these voices sounded. And if you listen to them, you’ll hear reasons: examples where change has robbed them of privileges they had come to expect, or inflicted inconveniences on them that (in their minds) loom as large as Jim Crow or the Trail of Tears.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that you can’t just ignore their distress, because it feels so real to them. If you do, they conclude that “empathy” is some kind of pan-handler’s con — because here they are, suffering, and you don’t care. So my new strategy is to acknowledge their distress, and then put it in context. As in: “I’ll bet that sunburn really hurts. Hey, look — that guy over there is bleeding out. You think maybe the doctor should see him first?”

In September all that came together for me in a post that has become the most popular Weekly Sift article of all time: The Distress of the Privileged. (172,000 page views and still going.)

… and some other stuff

The Sift reviewed, recommended, or based an article on 21 different books this year. I’ve collected the links. (In general, if you’re ever looking for a Sift book review and can’t remember where it is, check the Yearly Sifts at the end of each December.)

Religion is one of the lesser themes just about every year. I’ve always paid attention to the bad public policy pushed by the Religious Right, but this year I started taking the battle to them rather than just responding to their latest outrage: The Religious Right isn’t just bad policy, it’s bad religion. They do a bad job following their own holy book.

So, for example, if they’re going to take Leviticus seriously on social issues, why don’t they also promote The Economics of Leviticus, which is decided liberal? How about a Jubilee Year, where we cancel all the debts?

In a related post, I pointed out how incompatible certain conservative philosophies are with the message of Jesus in Jesus Shrugged: Why Christianity and Ayn Rand Don’t Mix.

I addressed abortion from a personal point of view in What Abortion Means to Me, and I honored Natural Family Planning Awareness Week by reading the papal encyclical at the root of Catholic condemnation of contraception, Humanae Vitae. I concluded:

So yes, Catholics, use this week to educate yourself about the Church’s teaching on contraception. You will find it based on shoddy thinking. To attribute these ideas to God is blasphemous.

And I responded to Senate-candidate Richard Mourdock’s opinions about rape and God’s will by explaining the vision of the Founders in Government Theology is Un-American.

If Congressman Mourdock wants to interpret the will of God to the People, he should move to a country where government officials do that, and leave my country alone.

Both that post and Five Takeaways from the Komen Fiasco wound up talking about ensoulment, noting that ensoulment-at-conception is not at all Biblical. Sometime in 2013 I plan to focus an article on this point rather than have it in footnotes of other posts: Ensoulment-at-conception has zero Biblical support; it’s a theological interpretation invented purely for political reasons.

Economics is another perennial theme. This year I made the personal political in What Shaving Taught Me About Capitalism, corrected previous mistakes in Peak Oil? Maybe not, made a liberal case for capitalism in Take a Left at the Market, and filled in a piece of the puzzle I had previously been missing in Monopoly’s Role in Inequality.

A new issue I started covering this year is food policy: See Food-eaters are not a special interest group, When the food industry inspects itself, and my review of Bet the Farm.

A few articles didn’t fit into any larger theme, but I want to call them to your attention anyway:

I went out on a limb with a long-range prediction: Everybody Will Support Same-sex Marriage by 2030.

If you came out of Lincoln wondering why the Republicans were the Northern progressive party then, but the Southern conservative party now, it’s all laid in A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System.

And finally, the best post nobody read was The Republic of Babel.

And what do the numbers look like?

Not much different from last year, but the blog weathered a storm to get there. The lack of viral posts (explained below) made for dismal numbers in the spring.

Last year, the Sift received 137K page views in the 6 months after I moved it to This year it got 240K in a complete year. Once again, it was a story of viral posts. Last year, five posts got over 2,500 views each, totaling 107K — everything else split the remaining 30K page views. This year, only one post (The Distress of the Privileged) went over 2,500, but it’s gotten 172K views and counting, with everything else splitting 72K views.

On the other hand, this year 8 posts got 1000-2000 views, compared to none last year. The difference seems to have more to do with changes at Facebook (which I don’t completely understand) than anything I’m doing differently. This year, not everything you “like” is seen by all your friends; last year it was. So it’s now much harder for a post to go viral. Last year, 800 views was a launching point; if a post got there, it stood a good chance of running to 5K or 10K. Not so this year.

Other numbers: The Sift’s Facebook page has 183 Likes and its Twitter feed has 123 followers. The blog has 504 followers via WordPress, and 280 subscribers via Google Reader. I wish I had recorded those numbers last year so I could give some context, but I believe they are all significantly up.

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  • Allan R. Tate  On December 31, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Hey Doug, statistics are great and it looks like your blog is doing well. But, can you add an old fashioned “thank you” to the data? You do a lot of good work and many of us benefit. Your efforts are appreciated — keep it up. Allan

    • Mana  On January 31, 2013 at 6:09 pm

      yako නිකමා avidala bapalan lamissiyak waga ga athulata wala inna nathiwa waththa pathta.umba wathta ipadunata wanna monawada kiyalawath danna nathi dayal 1kakna.thopi waga pi dayal monawada agam wadaya gena danna.nikan nondi nove hitapan

  • Bobby  On January 2, 2013 at 12:43 am

    I concur with Allan R. Tate. I know that writing a blog like this is hard work. I hope that you never get discouraged by the numbers. Your voice of reason is valued. Thank you very much for the many insights you’ve given us over the past year.

  • JP  On January 2, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I wonder how your blog stats are impacted by the “504 followers via WordPress, and 280 subscribers via Google Reader.” Since I subscribe via WordPress, I always read your posts via email, and rarely come onto the actual site. If you wanted a more accurate count of actual readers, maybe you should just include a teaser in the email with a link back to the full article (I’ve seen others do this with a “Continue reading…” link), otherwise you may not be counting 784 readers each week. Very glad to have found your blog – it’s very well done and I look forward to your insights and analyses every week. Best to you in 2013!

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