Shared Understanding

He leaves behind a society in which the bonds of trust are degraded, in which his example licenses everyone to cheat on taxes and mock affliction. Many of his policies can be reversed or mitigated. It will be much harder to clear our minds of his lies and restore the shared understanding of reality—the agreement, however inconvenient, that A is A and not B—on which a democracy depends.

– George Packer “A Political Obituary for Donald Trump

This week’s featured posts are “Opening Thoughts About the Trump Voter” and “This Week in the Trump Coup“.

This week everybody was talking about the virus and the vaccines

The Pfizer vaccine got approval and is being administered starting today.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing the predicted effects of the traveling and gathering Americans did over Thanksgiving. Friday, we set a record with 237,000 new cases. More than 17,000 Americans died in the last week. That’s like a Vietnam War every month.

The new worry is that people won’t take the vaccine. It isn’t just the usual anti-vax folks, it’s also a Catholic thing and anti-abortion Protestant thing, because the vaccines were developed using stem cells retrieved from aborted fetuses in the 1960s. The Pope doesn’t seem to have this scruple, but he’s not Catholic enough for some folks.

And then there are the wackos, like this Florida megachurch pastor, who

has advised his congregants not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, urging them to “believe in divine immunity” instead.

After all, divine immunity worked so well during the Black Death.

and the GOP becoming the Autocratic Party

This got covered in one of the featured posts. One thing I left out of that post: the racist nature of much of this weekend’s violence. Black churches were targets, including a historic D.C. church whose Black Lives Matter banner was torn down and burned.

and you also might be interested in …

One thing Trump’s effort to overturn the election he lost (by over seven million votes) has pointed out is how the minority-rule bugs in our democracy can cascade.

  • The Electoral College allows a candidate to lose by millions of votes and still become president, as Trump did in 2016. If Biden’s win in 2020 had been only 1% narrower across the board — if he’d won by 5.5 million votes rather than 7 million — the Electoral College would have flipped the victory to Trump.
  • Gerrymandering allows a party to control the state legislature even if a majority of the voters supports the other party. This is the case in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
  • If the state legislature can ignore the vote totals and choose electors on its own — as Trump is trying to get them to do — then a candidate can lose the popular vote not just nationally, but also in states that represent a majority of electors, and still become president.
  • If no candidate gets a majority of electoral votes, the election is decided by the House, with each state delegation getting one vote. If the minority-rule party controls — or manages to gerrymander majorities in — 26 state delegations, its candidate wins.

Currently, all these factors favor Republicans. So if they are put together, Republicans could hold the presidency with considerably less than the 46% of the vote Trump got in 2016. A Democrat could win a resounding landslide of votes, but lose the presidency.

John Le Carré, the author who rescued the spy genre from James Bond, died this weekend at 89. Critics are arguing over his greatest novel, and I admit to never having read A Perfect Spy, which tops many lists. But The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a novel writers (of fiction and nonfiction alike) should study as they learn their craft, because it is so perfectly tight. You couldn’t edit out a single sentence without losing something.

Le Carré’s most influential insight was that intelligence work requires intelligence more than derring-do, and is more about organizations than lone-wolf operatives. First and foremost, George Smiley was a guy who read the files better than you would.

The opening chapters of The Honorable Schoolboy are about picking up the pieces after catching the mole in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The process involves finding patterns in what the mole had prevented British intelligence from doing or discovering — assembling the gaps in the Circus’ knowledge into a story of its own. James Bond would have been useless.

and let’s close with something awesome

Prize-winning photos of the aurora.

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  • wcroth55  On December 14, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    To be precise, the Vatican approves the use of these vaccines if there are no other alternatives available. Which is currently the state of things, although that may change.

    There’s a vaguely similar paradigm at work with the data collected by Nazi “scientists” (I use the word loosely) in WWII. The data can be used, but only in the context of a required ethical/context training.

    (Note that I am not agreeing with the formal Catholic point of view, just explaining it. It’s a far cry from some of the real wackos!)

  • wcroth55  On December 14, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    (Oops, sorry, reference here:

  •  On December 15, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    I strongly suggest you promote this option to essentially eliminate the Electoral College:

  • Bert  On December 15, 2020 at 8:49 pm

    There is a way to negate the Electoral College without a Constitutional amendment! If enough additional states decide to put all their electoral votes to the Presidential candidate winning the U.S. popular vote so the total equals 270 or more, this nonsense is over. Only 74 more electoral votes are needed:

    • weeklysift  On December 21, 2020 at 4:56 am

      National Popular Vote is worth a try, but having watched the Trump Coup, I wonder if Republicans wouldn’t find some way to wriggle out of it. If declaring one law unconstitutional would make a Republican president, I suspect this Supreme Court would do it.

      • Bert  On December 21, 2020 at 8:15 pm

        I don’t see an alternative to the convoluted, unfair, confusing, time-consuming system we have now – with 50 different state processes that can be manipulated. The Presidency is the only election anywhere where the candidate winning the most votes can lose – which of course has happened several times. Now, only a handful of swing states are paid attention to by campaigns. I suggest getting on the emailing list for more information.

  • ccyager  On December 20, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    I was so saddened about John le Carre’s passing. What an incredible mind and writer he was. I think “The Constant Gardener” is an amazing novel and have read it twice, with it out on my coffee table for another reading in the next month or so. I have read the Karla trilogy and even though Smiley prevails, it’s not a triumph, which I think is pure le Carre. There’s nothing glamorous about espionage; in fact, it can be downright dirty, confusing, dangerous, and gray, gray, gray. Thank you for mentioning his passing.

    • weeklysift  On December 21, 2020 at 4:58 am

      I saw and liked the movie they made of “The Constant Gardener”, but I haven’t read the book.

      • ccyager  On December 25, 2020 at 5:24 pm

        I highly recommend the book, especially after seeing the movie.

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