Hope and dreams

Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope. The death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.

– J. Michael Straczynski

This week’s featured posts are “Is an Intelligent Discussion of Cancel Culture Possible?” and “What Makes a Good Conspiracy Theory?

This week everybody was talking about the American Rescue Act

Thursday, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act. The day before, the House had passed the Senate’s version of the bill, which had passed the Senate by one vote the previous Saturday. No Republican in either house voted for the bill.


Biden has not tried to hide the fact that this bill is big: A lot of Americans need help to get through this crisis, and the government is going to give it to them. He’s not pretending that this isn’t the “big government” that Bill Clinton said was over.

The political result of all this will test whether the Reagan Era is finally over.

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz: “Rand Paul Saddened to See Government Flagrantly Helping People”.

In closing, Paul castigated his Senate colleagues who voted for the bill, accusing them of “ushering in a dangerous new era of Washington politicians intrusively abetting people’s efforts to survive.”

“You have broken your most solemn oath, which is, ‘First, do no good,’ ” he said.

More seriously, Fox News published an op-ed by Paul, who has said the spending puts the US on the path to becoming the next Venezuela. Paul has his own theory on how to fix the economy: Stop fighting the virus.

Instead of printing more money and making believe that this money will retain its value as it is sprinkled across the land, we could remove the government shackles that have caused a depression in the restaurant, retail, and entertainment sectors of our economy.

His op-ed closes with a misappropriation of a famous John Maynard Keynes quote:

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said that stimulus works in the short run and he didn’t much care about the future because we’d all be dead. I will vote against any more ‘free’ money because I care about my kid’s future and the future of our great country.

Misquotes are often more revealing than quotes. This reading of Keynes has little to do with Keynes, but is the way Keynes is presented in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. (Rand apparently got that interpretation from Hayek.) What Keynes actually meant was that it’s hard to get people to sacrifice for policies that economists think are best “in the long run”, when the imagined benefits are so far in the future that those making the sacrifices won’t live to see them. (“It is not wise to look too far ahead; our powers of prediction are slight, our command over results infinitesimal.”)

A good example of what Keynes was talking about is Paul himself, who can’t be convinced to care about climate change, no matter what it will do to his kids’ future.

and Biden’s speech

Thursday night, which marked both the signing of the bill and the one-year anniversary of WHO declaring a global pandemic, Biden gave a televised address (transcript, video). Maybe the last four years have lowered my standards, but I thought it was masterful.

The speech wove a complex emotional tapestry. It mourned the losses we have all suffered this past year (lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost experiences, lost opportunities), regretted the ways we had been turned against each other (battles over masks, racist reprisals against Asian Americans), pointed to the progress being made (every adult will be vaccine-eligible by the beginning of May, enough vaccine will be available to cover all of us by the end of May, schools will soon be ready to reopen safely), asked for the public’s help (keep wearing your mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, get vaccinated when you have the chance), envisioned a realistic goal (safe July 4 cook-outs with friends and family), and expressed a high hope (“My fervent prayer for our country is that, after all we have been through, we’ll come together as one people, one nation, one America.”).

Biden lacks the soaring rhetorical ability of Barack Obama, but he has a different set of strengths: He embodies sincerity. He is the guy who will level with you, the guy who has taken on a difficult job and is working hard to do it well. He has suffered with you, and has not lost hope.

Jonathan Chait is onto something here:

Joe Biden has reaped the normal rewards that come from behaving like a normal president — perhaps benefitting more than most due to the contrast with his unhinged predecessor. This has naturally infuriated Republicans, who see Biden’s strategy of reaping positive coverage by acting normal as a form of cheating.

On the other hand, Biden suffers from fact-checkers needing to fill space. Fairly small exaggerations get flagged, while a comparable Trump speech would include so many whopping lies that they couldn’t all be covered.


At this point, a novelist or movie director would make the previous president pop up and say something that underlined the contrast. And so it came to pass. Wednesday, Trump issued a statement emphasizing what is most important to him: getting credit whether he deserves it or not. No one should forget the (completely ridiculous and untrue) fact that without him, vaccines wouldn’t exist for another five years, if ever.

One attempt to manufacture an issue against Biden is his lack of press conferences. David Frum argues that this is good strategy: In the current environment, presidents are polarizing. The more Biden can project the idea that action is being taken by the government rather than the President, the better.

Another advantage is that Biden is not being pressured to take positions on things that are none of his business: Should Andrew Cuomo resign? Is the British royal family racist? And so on. Unlike Trump, Biden doesn’t want to opine on everything under the sun.

and fighting the virus

This week marked a lot of different Covid-19 anniversaries. A year ago, many things started happening quickly: The WHO declared a global pandemic. One of the nation’s top sports events (the “March Madness” NCAA basketball tournament) got cancelled. Schools started going virtual. I remember picking up a friend’s son at a public-transit station. He thought he was coming home for spring break, but he actually wouldn’t return to college until January.

The thing that strikes me looking back at the pandemic restrictions is how few of us knew what we were facing. The initial school closure in my town was for two weeks. Only serious pessimists were saying that we wouldn’t have this figured out by fall.

Steady as she goes: The number of Americans with one vaccine shot (69.8 million) or a complete vaccination (36.2 million) continues to rise. The number of cases (7-day daily average 55K) is still falling, but not very fast. Deaths (1,235) are coming down faster. But we are still at levels that would have been alarming last summer.

Biden’s appointees

Whenever someone gets a raw deal, people hope for them to “get justice” someday. Well, this week Merrick Garland really did get Justice. Three cabinet nominees — Becerra at HHS, Haaland at Interior, Walsh at Labor — still need to be confirmed by the Senate. Neera Tanden’s nomination at OMB was withdrawn; a replacement hasn’t been announced.

and you also might be interested in …

Last week I nudged you to support an Amazon boycott because of the union organization effort in Alabama. Commenters pointed out that the union organizers themselves were not asking for a boycott. Best to let them decide on their own strategy.

So last week, if you didn’t send your money to a rapacious giant that is taking over the world, maybe you should have. Sorry for misleading you.

The immigrant my church has been sheltering from deportation is leaving sanctuary after three years.

“Glorious news!” wrote First Parish minister John Gibbons in an email sent to parishioners and volunteers. “This morning, Maria received official confirmation that she has a one-year stay of deportation.”

For our congregation (and the volunteers from other congregations who pitched in), this is a starfish-on-the-beach story. We all knew that the pointless cruelty Trump’s immigration policy dwarfed any response we could muster. But here was one person who needed help. That was something we could do.

Part of me says I already spent too much time on the Dr. Seuss controversy last week. But there are a couple more things worth mentioning. First, the Seussical poem “The Day Children’s Literature Died” is hilarious. Second, PDFs of all six of the books no longer being published are here — mislabeled as “banned” books, but otherwise open to inspection. (Legally? I have no idea. If the link stops working, you’ll know what happened.) If you want to form your own opinions, it helps to see the work in its full context. My opinion: I’d figure out a way to save On Beyond Zebra, which is a cute concept marred by one illustration that should be easy to fix. The others are no big loss.

Talking about things that get too much attention: I stopped caring about the British royal family in 1776, when I was minus-180 years old.

Hard to know how much attention to give to speculation about Trump’s legal problems. Lots of dark clouds are forming around him, but I don’t want to get too excited before any rain falls.

Ditto for Mike Flynn. The Pentagon was investigating him for emoluments-clause violations when that investigation got subsumed by the Mueller investigation that eventually prosecuted him for lying to the FBI. After Trump pardoned him for that crime, the old investigation reopened.

A nasty story has a happy ending. As I mentioned in one of featured posts, an announcer had an open-mic moment during a girls high-school basketball tournament in Oklahoma, racially insulting girls who knelt during the national anthem. Well, Saturday, that team won the state championship.

George Floyd’s family is getting a $27 million settlement from the City of Minneapolis. Someday cities are going to figure out that good policing is cost effective.

I have not seen HBO’s Allen v Farrow, but it’s been intriguing to watch people react to it, like Ginia Bellafante, who published “Why My Teen-Age Self Gave Woody Allen a Pass” in Thursday’s NYT. The comments on that story are mixed: Some clueless older men think Woody has gotten a raw deal; a larger number of commenters of either gender condemn him in a fairly orthodox way; some women recount personal horror stories of exploitation by older men; and a few women still remember their intergenerational relationships fondly.

To me, the interesting issue isn’t what Woody did or didn’t do, how to reevaluate his movies, or who is telling the truth. It’s watching American culture use this case to think through its changing ideas and values.

My opinion: When we raise girls to have Cinderella-like fantasies, where a powerful man swoops out of nowhere and makes her a queen, we’re grooming them for exploitation. OTOH: Protecting young women can sometimes be an excuse for refusing to let them grow up.

Also, age-of-consent (which comes up often in the pro-Allen Bellafante comments) is a blunt instrument doing delicate work. People mature on different schedules, so any one-size-fits-all age is going to throw some young women to the wolves while unjustly telling others that they aren’t wise enough to make their own decisions.

That’s why this issue needs to have a social component in addition to a legal component. Legally, a middle-aged man may be in the clear if he has sex with a young woman on her 16th or 17th or 18th birthday. But the situation may still be creepy enough that the rest of us want to shun him. (OTOH, I have never understood why the law should get involved if a boy who just turned 16 has sex with his two-weeks-younger girlfriend, and she is not complaining about it.)

and let’s close with something well timed

Somebody hit the button at exactly the right instant to capture this frisbee-catching dog.

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  • Jeanette Wells  On March 17, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    I’m deeply disappointed in your claim that “age of consent” laws are an overly blunt tool and that we should in essence allow very young women to make their own sexual choices.

    We don’t do this with alcohol. We don’t do this with tobacco. Why would we do this for sex, which can also have very serious lifelong results such as pregnancy or permanent STDs? If a five year old thinks he can fly because he’s wearing a cape, we know that he actually can’t, and we don’t let him jump off the roof. If a fourteen year old wears lipstick and heels, that doesn’t mean she’s actually ready for sex.

    • weeklysift  On March 18, 2021 at 3:05 pm

      I’m not sure where you get the idea that I would either eliminate the legal age of consent or set it as low as 14.

    • bongzsm  On March 19, 2021 at 1:47 pm


  • Brian Shanahan  On March 27, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    G’Kar for the win!

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