The Yearly Sift: 2015

The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.

— Harold Pinter
review all the Sift quotes of 2015

look at “The Yearly Sift: 2014

Ordinarily, The Weekly Sift lives in the moment and comes together week by week. But at the end of every year, I look back to see if there’s any pattern in what I’ve been doing.

The themes

Looking back at the 48 Sifts between this one and the last Yearly Sift, several themes stand out. I’ve pulled three out into their own articles: the presidential race; the religion/morality/law complex that resulted from the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision and continued in the “religious freedom” debate that followed; and the year-long debate over Black Lives Matter.

The books

Over the last few years, the number of book reviews has gone down, in favor of longer posts that pull together a larger reading program (“Not a Tea Party” is the model there.), or short recommendations that don’t stretch into a full article.

The full-fledged reviews this year were Islam Without Extremes by Mustafa Akyol, Creditocracy by Andrew Ross, The Half has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist, and How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World in Me got reviewed in a segment of a weekly summary; I’m not sure why I didn’t break that out into its own article.

Posts that leaned heavily on particular books include “Small-government Freedom vs. Big-government Rights“, which leaned on After Appomattox by Gregory Downs. “What Just Happened?“, my discussion of Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel, leaned on two books: My Promised Land by Ari Shavit and Goliath by Max Blumenthal. “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” leaned on Almighty God Created the Races by Fay Botham

My analysis of Hillary Clinton’s campaign speeches was actually a report on a much larger reading project: Hillary’s It Takes a Village, Living History, and Hard Choices, as well as David Brock’s The Seduction of Hillary Rodham and Blinded By the Right.

Well-worth-reading books that I mentioned in weekly summaries but never worked into a larger article include: The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi, Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutablio and Steven Davis, Why I am a Salafi by Michael Muhammad Knight 12-14, and What is Islam? by Shahab Ahmed 12-14

The mosts

Most popular posts. By far the most popular post, for the second year in a row, was “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“. It had settled down from its original run last year, but then the Charleston shooting and the subsequent controversy over the Confederate flag set it off on an even bigger run. It got 300K hits this year, building its total to 485K. Whenever “Not a Tea Party” goes on a run, it carries along two posts it links to: “A Short History of White Racism in the Two Party System” (17K new hits/ 32K total) and “Slavery Lasted Until Pearl Harbor” (6K/11K). Each is worthwhile on its own.

The most popular new post (second overall) was another deep dive into American history: “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” got 101K hits. All-time, it moved into third place behind “Not a Tea Party” and “The Distress of the Privileged” (52K new hits/ 394K total). “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody” looks at how religion has been used to justify discrimination all through American history; the “religious freedom” argument currently being used to justify discrimination against gays and same-sex couples is virtually identical to religious arguments that justified discrimination against blacks and against interracial couples; there are also parallels with the religious justifications for slavery.

Two other popular posts this year were “Slurs: Who can say them, when, and why” about the proper usage (and non-usage) of words like nigger and bitch; (13K hits); and “The Political F-word” (10K hits), which compared Donald Trump’s campaign and following to various models of fascism.

Most prescient comments. The most prescient comment actually is from July of 2014, when I predicted not only the result of this year’s ObamaCare decision, but the 6-3 split:

I don’t think they’ll overturn the subsidies. … I can imagine Thomas, Alito, and Scalia going that way, but Roberts and Kennedy will be reluctant.

When Charleston-church-shooter Dylann Roof was characterized as a “lone wolf” despite his online contacts with white supremacist groups and his manifesto being full of standard white-supremacist rhetoric, I speculated:

Make the parallel to Muslim terrorists and ISIS. If a Muslim shooter had been browsing ISIS web sites and wrote a manifesto full of ISIS rhetoric, would we see him as a loner, or think of him as part of ISIS?

Well, we found out the answer to that after the San Bernardino shooting.

I also feel good about refusing to jump on the Jeb-Bush-inevitability bandwagon. I won’t claim to have seen Donald Trump coming, but back in June (when Jeb announced) I was skeptical:

What issues will he run on? His positions on immigration and education are unpopular with the Republican base. I have heard no specific suggestions for how he would fight ISIS or terrorism in general differently than President Obama. I really don’t think his blaming Obama for “the biggest debt ever” will stick, given that Obama has drastically reduced the deficit he inherited from Jeb’s brother.

Just before Hillary’s Benghazi Committee testimony, I predicted:

Republicans will browbeat her in order to look tough for their base, but Clinton will maintain her composure and look like the winner to most of the country.

Least prescient comments. Hands down, the least was my underestimation of the Trump threat. In July I wrote:

He really has no interest in being president, and when the campaign gets serious he won’t be there. So if his candidacy is getting you either excited or riled, don’t waste your energy. … [T]his campaign is a more elaborate bluff than he’s run in previous years, but it’s still a bluff. Look for him to find an exit sometime in December.

In October, I was still waiting for the bluff to unravel. I noted that Bush had started to put major money into New Hampshire, which would force Trump to do the same. “We’ll soon know whether Trump is serious or just running as a publicity stunt.” Well, Trump didn’t put serious money in then and still hasn’t.

Also, I consistently over-estimated how close we’d come to a government shutdown this year. No particular quote stands out, but there’s a general pattern.

I usually pick out a Best Post Nobody Read, but this year the good posts all did pretty well. I may have to change my definition of nobody.

The numbers

Since the last Yearly Sift, I put out 48 weekly sifts (49 if you include this one) and took three weeks off.

2015 continued 2014’s upward trend in the Sift’s readership. The most straightforward measurement of that growth is in the annual page-views:

2013: 215K

2014: 415K

2015: 777K (as of this morning)

As I comment every year, though, page-views is a deceptive measure, because it depends so heavily on the timing of viral posts, which can’t be scheduled or projected into the future. About 300K of 2015’s page-views came from the second run of 2014’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“.

But other statistics support the growth story told by the page-views: The hits on the home page,, come mostly from people who have it bookmarked, and so are at least semi-regular readers. That trend looks like this: 15.5K in 2012; 22.6K in 2013; 44.1K in 2014; and 98.3K in 2015.

WordPress tells me the blog has 3820 followers, up from 2281 last year. The number of comments is also up: 531 in 2013, 879 in 2014, and 1407 in 2015. Qualitatively, I feel like the commenting community is starting to move to another level. In previous years, the comment section was mostly a back-and-forth between me and individual readers. But this year the commenters often had interesting discussions completely on their own, without me needing to say much beyond what was in the original post.

Something really unusual happened in November: The blog got nearly 60K hits, but the home page was the only thing that got 10K or more. Ten different posts got at least a thousand views. That had never happened before.

and let’s close with something amusing

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  • Jeff Rosenberg  On December 28, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Doug, I’d like to congratulate you on the growth of Weekly Sift and thank you for your efforts. You go beneath the manifest content of the news to explore what are its dynamics (be they economic, sociological, psychological). I’d like to think a good chunk of your growth is generated by your regular readers passing on a link by you within their communities. Here’s to passing 1 million, nah 1.5 million page-views in 2016!!

  • dianejyoung  On December 28, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    I had hung my hat on your predictions about Trump–used them to calm worried friends, in fact! They made a lot of sense to me, and I’m deeply sorry that they weren’t correct.

    • weeklysift  On December 31, 2015 at 8:31 am

      Once again, I apologize for the mistake. I’m sorry you had to lose credibility with your friends by quoting me. When I write, I always imagine it working the other way.

  • Rebecca (@Geaux_RC)  On December 28, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    I found my way to this blog through the “Not a Tea Party” post I think, and I’m very glad I did. I now have a reason to look forward to Mondays for the Weekly Sift!

  • ccyager  On December 30, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Congratulations on your growth! I’m so happy to have discovered this blog. It helps me to maintain my sanity, to take a step back and not get caught up in the emotional chaos, and I’ve learned quite a bit as a result. Thank you! And here’s so much success in 2016! Cinda

  • Dangerous Meredith  On January 4, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Happy New Year to you! It’s great to read that The Weekly Sift is growing and thriving. It remains one of my favourite blogs – I look forward to it each week. Thanks for all the great blogs during 2015.

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