Such Stories

It would take many books, my life. And no one wants anyway to hear such stories.

– Holocaust survivor Vladek Spiegelman,
quoted by his son Art in Maus

This week’s featured post is “McMinn County’s Maus Problem“.

This week everybody was talking about Ukraine

Often in this blog, I encourage people to trust the experts. Unless you have some really solid reason not to, listen to the CDC about Covid, and to the climate scientists about global warming. If a bipartisan election commission certifies your state’s results, believe them. And so on.

Defense and foreign policy, though, is one place where I get skeptical. I don’t usually characterize national-security-state insiders as villains, but I also don’t always believe what they say. I remember how they misled us into the Iraq invasion, and how victory in our 20-year Afghan War was always just a few months away. I also remember how easily respected news platforms like The New York Times and The Washington Post let themselves be used to spread Iraq-invasion propaganda.

So now the experts are warning us that Russia might invade Ukraine at any moment, and they could be right. I certainly have no reason to think Putin is on the side of the angels, or that he was satisfied by the chunks of Ukraine he stole away in 2014.

But still. This is one of the hidden costs of the Iraq deception: The Pentagon and the State Department have lost a lot of credibility with Americans like me. It’s going to take a long time to win it back, if in fact they deserve to win it back — which they might not.

So who do we believe in all this?

The most convincing thing I read this week was written by Ukrainians. The gist is that Putin does threaten Ukraine, but not as immediately as Western sources make it sound.

According to our estimates, supported by many of the indicators below, a large-scale general military operation can’t take place for at least the next two or three weeks. As of Jan. 23, we do not observe the required formation of several hundred thousand troops, not only on the border with Ukraine, but also on Russian territory behind the front line.

They’re not seeing behind-the-lines mobilizations necessary for a major invasion, like medical infrastructure for handling mass casualties. Overall troop deployments, they say, haven’t changed since April.

Russia could mobilize for an invasion — that’s where the “two or three weeks” comes from — but the Ukrainian writers don’t think it’s likely.

Overall, a large-scale offensive operation with an attempt to hold large occupied territories is a gamble that has no chance of a positive outcome for Russia. It is impossible to calculate the course of such an operation, and when implemented, it will quickly move to an uncontrollable point. 

When we add non-military components to this formula, such as international isolation and sanctions, then the result of an invasion will be politically suicidal for the Kremlin. We believe that, if Putin and his team have not lost their ability to think rationally, they will not go for such a scenario. 

More likely, they say, is a multi-faceted pressure campaign aimed at “destabilization and demoralization of the population”. The troops on the border are part of that, but so are

cyberattacks, which are already taking place, … psychological operations, such as active disinformation, mass bomb threats at schools, subway systems, administrative offices, and other facilities, along with the spread of disinformation and other methods.

A Putin talking point that I’ve seen repeated on both the Left and the Right is that NATO promised Russia in 1991 that it would stop expanding. This seems not to be true.

One striking thing about the media debate in America is how quickly the MAGA-right repeats Putin’s propaganda. Peter Navarro parrots Putin’s line that “Ukraine is not really a country.” Tucker Carlson on multiple occasions has wondered why the US would side with Ukraine rather than Russia. The distinctions between aggressor and target, or between democracy and authoritarianism, seem to elude him.

Meanwhile, Tucker’s identification with the authoritarian nationalist government of Hungary gets ever more explicit. The new “documentary” Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization that Carlson has made for the subscriber channel Fox Nation supports Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban’s Nazi-themed tropes: Jewish money is behind Hungary’s troubles.

and the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the three liberals remaining, announced his retirement Thursday, kicking off what is sure to be an epic battle over his replacement.

President Biden had promised during the campaign that he would nominate the first Black woman to the Court, and he appears ready to make good on that promise. There are many worthy candidates, as you would suspect from the fact that previous presidents haven’t used up any of the good choices.

Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi characterized Biden’s unnamed nominee as “a beneficiary of affirmative action”, and without knowing any more about her than her race and gender, predicted that “this new justice will probably not get a single Republican vote”.

I will point out that Jackie Robinson was an “affirmative action” pick in exactly the same sense: Branch Rickey went looking for a Black player to sign, because he saw the Negro Leagues as an untapped source of talent for the Dodgers.

and the pandemic

The Omicron wave is now clearly receding in most the country, particularly in the Northeast. But case-numbers are still high: 519K new cases per day in the US, down 35% in two weeks. Hospitalizations seem to have peaked also — 144K, down 8% in two weeks — but have not yet begun to fall sharply. Deaths still haven’t peaked: 2524 per day, up 28%.

Weirdly, at this moment when deaths are higher than they’ve been in about a year, we’re seeing a lot of calls to end special Covid precautions entirely and go “back to normal”. You know how when you get an infection, the doctor tells you to finish the antibiotic prescription even if you start feeling better? It’s like that. Historian John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, explains what we can learn from that pandemic.

Nearly all cities in the United States imposed restrictions during the pandemic’s virulent second wave, which peaked in the fall of 1918. That winter, some cities reimposed controls when a third, though less deadly wave struck. But virtually no city responded in 1920. People were weary of influenza, and so were public officials. Newspapers were filled with frightening news about the virus, but no one cared. People at the time ignored this fourth wave; so did historians. The virus mutated into ordinary seasonal influenza in 1921, but the world had moved on well before.

We should not repeat that mistake. …

As in 1920, people are tired of taking precautions.

This is ceding control to the virus. The result has been that even though Omicron appears to be less virulent, the seven-day average for daily Covid-19 deaths in the United States has now surpassed the Delta peak in late September.

Worse, the virus may not be finished with us.

The FDA is withdrawing monoclonal antibody treatments that were based on antibodies to previous versions of the virus and that provably don’t work on Omicron. But Ron DeSantis and other anti-public-health conservatives have embraced monoclonal antibodies as the one Covid-fighting method they can support, and they’re having trouble backing away from it.

Rand Paul has gone so far as to put forward a conspiracy theory: The FDA is taking away an effective treatment in order to “punish” conservative states like Florida.

A new low in Fox News’ deadly Covid-disinformation project: Tucker Carlson listens attentively while his invited guest Alex Berenson says:

The mRNA COVID vaccines need to be withdrawn from the market. No one should get them. No one should get boosted. No one should get double boosted. They are a dangerous and ineffective product at this point.

I don’t usually link to those gloating look-who-died-of-Covid stories, but I’m going to make an exception for Robert LaMay, a former Washington state trooper who in October made a viral video out of his decision to lose his job rather than comply with Governor Inslee’s vaccine mandate for state employees. “Jay Inslee can kiss my ass,” he broadcast from his patrol car. The video was clearly a planned stunt, because the dispatcher was prepared to respond with a list of LaMay’s accomplishments.

LaMay went on talk shows “non-stop” for a day or two afterward, including Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News. “What’s next for you?” Ingraham asked. “Other than being a celebrity.”

I’ll bet that Ingraham won’t do a follow-up, now that her question has an answer: LaMay died of Covid on Friday, about three months after he made his video and appeared on her show. At least he wasn’t able to use his status as a state patrolman to infect members of the general public, who aren’t allowed to socially distance themselves from the police. Thank you, Jay Inslee.

BTW: Fox News itself has a vaccine mandate, which it doesn’t like to talk about. Tucker Carlson, in spite of spreading misinformation about vaccines night after night, always refuses to say whether he has been vaccinated. If he himself were the kind of anti-vax hero he frequently praises, don’t you think he’d say so?

and censorship

The featured post delves into a Tennessee school board’s decision to cancel an 8th-grade reading module based on the Holocaust-survivor graphic novel Maus.

Newly inaugurated Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has set up an email address for concerned parents to report teachers who engage in “divisive practices” like teaching critical race theory. Because that’s what freedom-loving people do: They snitch on each other to the government.

He appears not to have thought this out very well, though, because a very predictable thing happened: The account has been deluged with prank reports like “Albus Dumbeldore was teaching that full blooded wizards discriminated against mudbloods!”

For shame, people! You should definitely NOT send prank emails to

and you also might be interested in …

The most nerve-wracking part of the James Webb telescope mission has passed. The million-and-one things that had to go right for the Webb telescope to wind up fully unfolded and positioned at L2 have gone right. Now comes a few months of aligning and calibrating.

Meanwhile, Fox News has uncovered a major new Biden administration scandal: ice cream. It’s even worse than Obama’s tan suit. Criticizing Biden for doing something frivolous lines up with the effort to gaslight us about how hard Trump worked. “My father sat there 24 hours a day,” Eric lied.

I don’t pretend to know whether Bitcoin and its relatives will rebound from the latest slump. But the recent 50% drop reinforces the reasons I’ve stayed away from it. First, when the market started worrying about inflation, crypto-currencies behaved like speculative investments, not like the inflation hedges they’re supposed to be. And second, because I don’t see what you tell yourself to avoid panicking when it starts to crash. Any investment can fall, but when the value of your house crashes, you can just keep living in it. If the dollar falls, the US government will still let you pay your taxes with dollars. When a blue-chip stock slumps, you keep collecting the dividend. When the market turns against your stock in some speculative company, you can reassure yourself that the long-term trends are in place. (Businesses are still buying robots and moving their IT to the cloud.) But cryptocurrencies have no underlying fundamentals. When they fall, they just fall.

Despite devoting an indefensible amount of my time to watching sports, I usually don’t discuss sports on this blog. I’ll make an exception for this week’s vote on the Baseball Hall of Fame, in which Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens failed to get in on their final year of eligibility.

Fans have strong opinions both ways about this, and here’s mine: It’s not a Hall of Virtue, it’s a Hall of Fame. The point of going to Cooperstown isn’t to worship role models, but to revisit your memories of being a fan, and to imagine what it was like to be a fan in the distant past.

If you were a baseball fan in the 1990s and early 2000s, most of your memories are of Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and a bunch of other guys who are not in Cooperstown because of suspicion of steroid use. Maybe you loved those players and maybe you hated them, but you can’t remember the era without them. The story of baseball in those years was their story, but the Hall has decided to pretend none of that happened.

I’d extend amnesty to to other eras as well. Joe Jackson should be in the Hall, and Pete Rose. Gaylord Perry threw an illegal spitball most of his career, but he got in, and I’m fine with that. These guys aren’t supposed to be heroes, just baseball players.

Apropos of nothing in particular:

and let’s close with some white-on-white crime

In a move that looks oddly romantic, a white rabbit nibbles a snowman’s carrot nose.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Anonymous  On January 31, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    two more reasons to stay away from Bitcoin: it benefits and enables all manner of criminal enterprise and “mining” is now responsible for huge senseless carbon emissions.

  • David Malcolm  On January 31, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for the Weekly Sift.

    Re bitcoin; I find Stephen Diehl’s writings to be worth reading; see e.g.: (and the rest of his blog).

  • Dale Moses  On January 31, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    Something to consider WRT: Ukraine. While its worthwhile not to always trust the things politicians(and defense experts are politicians) say this is mainly because often times the incentives do not line up with truthfulness, not because they’re foolish. So this applies to the things that Ukrainian politicians say too. They have an incentive to downplay the risk because the higher the perceived risk the more panic/et al that happens in response. The US rhetoric was probably aimed more at Germany to get them to stop waffling on whether or not they would impose Nord Stream 2 sanctions in response to an invasion. (That is, Germany would prefer not to say anything if they think an invasion isn’t likely because this can damage relations with Russia. But a response to an action is only deterrent if you make the threat before the action so they needed to make it at some point)

    If you want to know whether or not the people involved thought an invasion was likely look at what they do, not just what they say. That is. If Ukraine did not think that an invasion was likely they wouldn’t have accepted US/UK arms transfers(at least some of which come with debt obligations). If Germany did not think it was likely they would not have made clear the Nord Stream 2 ramifications.

    • susanmbrewer  On January 31, 2022 at 5:51 pm

      Good points, thanks.

    • janinmi  On February 1, 2022 at 2:07 pm

      Indeed, these are good points, but the referenced Ukrainian piece also pointed out key intel concerning troop concentrations and rear support groups. The former appear to be lacking in sufficient strength for actual incursion across the border and the latter appear nonexistent. As a former intel analyst, I consider this kind of info very useful in determining whether I should get any more concerned than I already am about Putin’s designs on Ukraine. Thanks to our host for the link.

  • alandesmet  On February 1, 2022 at 2:43 pm

    If you have seen Folding Ideas piece in NFTs (and cryptocurrencies in general, and the housing bubble) “Line Goes Up”, you might want to.
    I’m hesitant in general to recommend it because the people who most would benefit aren’t going to watch a two hour, twenty minute video. But it’s exhaustive and damning. If you’re suspicious of cryptocurrencies and NFTs and it might help solidify your views.

    Or you might have better uses for that amount of time. I totally understand!

  • josephmax  On February 3, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    I must report that Franklin Middle School in Fairfax is clearly discriminating against wizard families with house elves! Historically, house elves were basically treated as slaves. They weren’t allowed to wear clothing and had to work for wizards for no pay. But it’s not like that anymore, and it’s hurting the feelings of poor young wizards and witches who never owned a house elf in their lives!

    The worst purveyors of this hurtful attitude is the organization called Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare, also known as SPEW. They are the creators of the 1619BC Project, claiming that ancient Egyptians began the elvish slave trade and all the white wizards and witches are beneficiaries of that privilege.

    I think SPEW should be immediately banned from all Virginia schools.

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