Begotten of Ignorance

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
[Darwin’s 213th birthday was Saturday]

This week’s featured post is “Who Should You Back in the Midterm Elections?

This week everybody was talking about the Canadian truckers’ “Freedom Convoy”

Police finally began arresting the protesters who for six days had shut down the bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario with Detroit. To me, this whole episode is an example of how the legal system treats conservative protesters with kid gloves and liberal protesters more harshly. Does anyone believe that Black Lives Matter protesters would have been allowed to shut down international trade for nearly a week? What do you think the death toll would have been if BLM had stormed the Capitol to protest a Trump victory? How long would an armed liberal group have been allowed to occupy a federal wildlife sanctuary? Would a jury have let them go scot free?

Amarnath Amarasingam doesn’t describe the convoy as fascism, but his version of what’s going on has a lot in common with my definition of the word. He uses populism to denote an ideologically vacuous movement that revolves around the conflict between “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite”. This particular brand of populism is flavored by the “far-right extremism of the organizers”, and an element of racism.

When people keep shouting “true Canadian”, to people like me – a refugee to this country – it feels like they just mean white Canadian, and a very specific kind of white Canadian at that. …

It is in this hatred of the elite that there is often an opening for conspiracy theories, as you can imagine. It is a very short Uber ride from “elite” discourse to “tiny cabal of evil doers”, usually Jews, New World Order, and so on. …

Finally, the people rhetoric is also characterized by (d) a threatened nationalism – that something at the core what makes our country great is being eroded by elites: think MAGA, but also the upside down Canadian flags, etc.

Rupa Subramanya wrote a piece “What the Truckers Want” for Bari Weiss’ “Common Sense” substack. She opens by emphasizing the universality of the backgrounds in the truckers occupying Ottawa: “Vaxxed, unvaxxed, white, black, Chinese, Sikh, Indian, alone or with their wives and kids.” The piece’s subhead says “What’s happening is far bigger than the vaccine mandates.” But when you get down to the actual quotes, it all seems to be about less than vaccine mandates. It’s not even the mandates they’re against, it’s Covid vaccines.

Kamal Pannu, 33, is a Sikh immigrant and trucker from Montreal. He doesn’t believe in vaccinations; he believes in natural immunity. He had joined the convoy because the Covid restrictions in the surrounding province of Quebec had become too much to bear. …

Peter, 28, a long-haul trucker from Ontario … refused to get vaccinated, he said, because the whole thing had been so politicized, and you couldn’t be sure who to trust. …

Theo, 24, felt the same way. He wasn’t a trucker—he used to work at a major accounting firm and now works another big company—but he was angry, like the truckers were. “They treated me like a second-class citizen,” he said, referring to his old firm. He explained that he’d refused to get vaccinated. …

Theo’s brother, Lucas, who’s 21, is also unvaccinated for similar reasons. He’d planned to go to law school, but, being unvaccinated, he had to take only online courses, but some of the courses he’d need to graduate were only available in person. Now, his future was uncertain.

And so on. Nobody is saying, “I believe the vaccines work and I’m vaccinated myself, but I think it’s wrong to impose that choice on others.”

I’m reminded of the people who claim that the Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery. A state’s right to do what, though? Legalize slavery.

Same thing here: People claim it’s not about vaccines, it’s about freedom. But the only freedom they seem concerned about is the freedom not to get vaccinated. They want to be free to make an anti-social choice without facing social repercussions.

and the pandemic

Omicron continues to fade, and the evidence is finally showing up in death statistics. Covid deaths are averaging 2465 per day, down 3% over two weeks. New cases are averaging 175K per day, down 31%. 93K Americans are hospitalized with Covid and 17K are in ICUs, down 35% and 29%. In the next few weeks, I expect the decline in deaths to steepen to match the other stats.

If you find yourself discussing the effectiveness of vaccines with someone, be sure to reference these stats from the CDC:

During October–November, unvaccinated persons had 13.9 and 53.2 times the risks for infection and COVID-19–associated death, respectively, compared with fully vaccinated persons who received booster doses, and 4.0 and 12.7 times the risks compared with fully vaccinated persons without booster doses.

So do three shots guarantee you won’t get sick or die? No. But your risk of getting sick is 14 times lower than an unvaccinated person’s, and your risk of death is 53 times lower.

In his recent piece “Open Everything“, The Atlantic’s Yascha Mounk spoke for a lot of the people who are sick of the pandemic and just want to put it out of their minds. He starts out by establishing his lockdown bona fides — he was for closing everything before you were — and then takes on the objection that most things are already open: You can go to sports events, movies, restaurants, and whatever. But, he notes “An Axios/Ipsos poll found that only 18 percent of Americans say their lives have returned to normal.”

To fix the situation he wants this:

[W]e should lift all remaining restrictions on everyday activities (which were, in any case, unable to prevent the rapid circulation of Omicron cases this winter). Children should be allowed to take off their mask in school. We should get rid of measures such as deep cleaning that are purely performative. Politicians and public-health officials should send the message that Americans should no longer limit their social activities, encouraging them to resume playdates and dinner parties without guilt.

Sure it’s risky, but Mounk recalls our courageous ancestors.

The risk posed by bacteria and viruses remains much lower today than it was for the majority of human history. In the America of 1900, for example, nearly 1 percent of people died from infectious diseases every year, about an order of magnitude higher than today. And yet Americans exposed to such dangers chose to engage in a full social life, judging that the risk of pestilence—however serious—did not justify forgoing human connection.

And that’s where I lose it: Don’t make me list all the ways that life was valued more cheaply in past eras.

I don’t remember 1900, but I do remember the 1960s. The cars were death traps. Practically nothing had a railing on it. People insulated their homes with asbestos and painted their walls with lead. So don’t try to make me nostalgic for the health-and-safety standards of the Good Old Days.

I (along with Mike the Mad Biologist) am one of the people whose lives have not returned to “normal” yet, and it’s got nothing to do with public-health officials making me feel guilty. I just don’t want to get sick. I understand that deaths among the triple-vaccinated are rare now (see above), and if Mounk weighs risks differently and wants to “resume playdates and dinner parties”, I’m not stopping him. Nobody is.

But it sure sounds like he wants my permission, or Tony Fauci’s, or somebody’s. Generate your own permission, Yascha. Stop looking at the rest of us. We’re not the problem.

and fake controversies

This week in the conservative alternative universe:

  1. At an awards show, Adele said something that shouldn’t have offended anybody. She “loves being a woman”. Good for her. It’s great when people love being what they are.
  2. Conservative media freaked out about the “woke Left” taking offense at what Adele said and threatening to “cancel” her.

Notice a step missing? As best I or anybody else can detect, the Left did not interpret Adele’s statement as a slam against the trans community, because there’s no reason to think it was. Nobody is trying to cancel Adele. Ari Drennen from Media Matters tweeted:

As a trans person, I also very much love being a woman, and I’m glad that Adele feels the same. Whether you’re a man, a woman, or nonbinary, it’s good to love yourself and the life you’ve made!

Instead, the Crazy Right imagined what their caricature of a “woke” person would do, and reacted against that. Then they all quoted each other about the (non-existent) insane left-wing freakout, until Fox devoted a segment of Outnumbered to the manufactured controversy, and Joe Rogan monologued on how “intolerant” the “they/them people” are. The Daily Beast has the full story.

Oh, and the widely reported (on the Right) story that the Biden administration was spending millions distributing crack pipes? Not true. But you probably guessed that already.

and Trump

Every week, the picture of Trump’s general lawlessness gains more detail.

While President Trump was in office, staff in the White House residence periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet — and believed the president had flushed pieces of paper, Maggie Haberman scoops in her forthcoming book, “Confidence Man.”

Meanwhile, the National Archives has retrieved 15 boxes of presidential documents, some highly classified, from Mar-a-Lago. By law, those documents belong to the American people, not Trump. Transporting classified documents is a highly regulated process, but nobody seems to know who moved the 15 boxes to Florida.

“He would roll his eyes at the rules, so we did, too,” said Stephanie Grisham, the former Trump White House press secretary who has become an outspoken Trump critic since the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. “We weren’t going to get in trouble because he’s the president of the United States.”

Is it worth pointing out that people with nothing to hide don’t act this way?

It all looks legal, but it’s amazing how efficiently Trump sucks money out of his cultists. Ostensibly he’s seeking contributions for his political movement, but the money has a way of gravitating into his pocket.

The roughly $375,000 [Trump’s political action committee] paid in Trump Tower rent was more than the total of $350,000 that Mr. Trump’s group donated to the scores of federal and state-level political candidates he endorsed in 2021.

Many of those candidates, in turn, redirected funds back to Mr. Trump, holding lavish events at his properties. Herschel Walker, the former football player whom Mr. Trump recruited to run for Senate in Georgia, spent more than $135,000 at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private Florida club. The Republican National Committee forked over $175,000 for a fund-raiser there in the spring.

Mr. Trump’s PAC made two $1 million donations to conservative nonprofits in 2021: the America First Policy Institute and the Conservative Partnership Institute. Both also hosted big events at Mar-a-Lago.

but I have a question …

about Substack and who you subscribe to. But before I ask it, I want to say this: I’m not considering turning the Sift into a subscription service, or even asking for donations. There’s something liberating about the Sift being a hobby rather than a job, and I feel lucky to be able to approach it that way. I don’t want that to change.

But anyway, I notice that I’m starting to subscribe to stuff on Substack. Some people do consider writing internet columns to be their jobs, or at least profitable sidelines, and they’re good enough at it that I don’t mind paying them. At the moment I’m subscribed to Heather Cox Richardson, James Fallows, and David Roberts.

Who do you consider worth paying money for? Who should I be keeping track of?

While I’m mentioning James Fallows, check out “Framing the News, an update“, which I’m pretty sure you can see without subscribing. Framing is a concept he didn’t invent and has explained before:

As a reminder, framing involves the unstated, sometimes unconscious assumptions that reporters and editors bring to a story, and why these can make a bigger difference than more visible expressions of partisan slant.

He then talks about the influence of two particular frames that shape a lot of news coverage:

  • Nothing works in Washington.
  • That’s just Trump.

Under the first bullet, he draws a distinction between situations that are terrible and ones that are hopeless.

The frame of many stories about “the mess in Washington” is that public life is hopeless. Nothing works, and nothing can. Tim Noah’s story argues: many things don’t work, but some things do—and here is what we can learn from them, even as we consider what has failed.

The power of framing is that painting Washington as hopeless doesn’t require justification; it’s a background assumption that need never be examined closely.

“That’s just Trump” is an example of “grading on the curve”, of “not holding Trump to the standards applied to other politicians, because you know he’s not going to meet them.” He demonstrates with recent Trump stories that would have been front-page, banner-headline scandals for any other president or ex-president, but were reported in the NYT well down the front page, or deep in the interior of the paper: looking for ways to seize voting machines, destroying presidential records, taking classified documents to Mar-a-Lago when he left office.

For contrast, he reproduces that NYT’s front page when Hillary Clinton was accused of mishandling records as Secretary of State. His point isn’t that the NYT has a pro-Trump bias, which would be absurd. It’s that Trump benefits from the NYT’s (and most major media’s) low expectations of him. He broke the law again? That’s just Trump. Nothing to get excited about.

and you also might be interested in …

The Ukraine crisis continues. Maybe there will be war. Maybe not. I’d tell you more, but I’ve just exhausted my knowledge.

It’s rare for common-sense reforms to get bipartisan support in Congress these days, but it looks like a couple of things are going to pass: rescuing the Post Office from ridiculous financial restrictions passed during the Bush administration, and banning members of Congress from trading stocks.

The Super Bowl is the year’s most important event not just in football, but in advertising. This year Coinbase’s floating-QR-code ad was too successful: the resulting traffic crashed their app, which couldn’t have been the impression they wanted to make. Polygon lists their top ten SB commericals. My favorite was the robot dog.

Former Obama advisor David Axelrod gives President Biden some good advice about his State of the Union address, which will come a little late this year, on March 1. The problem is that the national mood is more negative that it ought to be. We’re all tired of dealing with Covid and annoyed by rising prices, but Biden isn’t getting the credit he deserves for job growth, for beginning the infrastructure-rebuilding process (that Trump kept promising but never delivered), and for ending America’s wars. (That hit me during the pageantry before the Super Bowl: They showed troops at a base in Kuwait, not in Afghanistan or Iraq or some other war zone, as in previous years.)

So Biden needs to thread a needle: He needs to remind Americans of all that he’s accomplished, and to envision a hopeful road into the future, while not telling us that our negative feelings are wrong. People don’t become happy just because you tell them that they should be.

Yeah, MTG really did accuse Nancy Pelosi of having “Gazpacho police“, which has me thinking of “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown” for some reason. The jokes and memes have been raining down so hard I can’t even keep track of where they come from: Don’t collaborate with the Gazpacho like the Vichyssoise French did. Nobody expects the Spinach Inquisition. During the London Blintz, the Luftwaffles almost toasted me.

People are accusing MTG of being stupid, but she was probably just hungry.

The Sift used to have an “Expand Your Vocabulary” feature, where I’d highlight terms I had just discovered and found useful. Here’s one. Eric Deggans defines bigotry denial syndrome like this:

the belief that, because you personally don’t view yourself as a bigot, you don’t believe that you can say or do something that is seriously bigoted or damaging

He uses Joe Rogan as an example: Sure, he occasionally says or does something that looks racist, but it can’t really be racist, because he knows he’s not a racist at heart.

The opposite view is one I try to implement in my own life: I occasionally catch myself thinking, saying, or doing something that is racist, sexist, or bigoted in some other way. I take that as a sign that I’ve still got stuff to work on. That stuff doesn’t become OK just because I know I’m a good person. Conversely, I don’t have to redefine myself as a monster because I still have some bigotry in me. I’ve just got stuff to work on.

It’s weird how many Evangelicals don’t get this, when they understand the Seven Deadly Sins perfectly: You’re not a monster just because you’re occasionally motivated by Greed or Envy, but you do have something to work on. Just make Bigotry an eighth deadly sin and you’ve got it.

Trevor Noah has an occasional feature on The Daily Show called “If you don’t know, now you know.” This one explains how racism got built into the interstate highway system. One question I’d like to ask Pete Buttigieg, though, is why he thinks the process is reversible. Once a highway displaces people and disrupts a neighborhood for several decades, I don’t see how moving the highway fixes anything.

and let’s close with something cute

I love the way border collies herd various animals by silently staring them down. Here, the technique is applied to ducklings.

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  • pauljbradford  On February 14, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    So far I’m only paying for one Substack, by Michael Cohen (not the former Trump lawyer):

  • Roger  On February 14, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    Speaking of a non-story, this from a Newsweek feed: “[NFL officials] watched all elements of the show during multiple rehearsals this week and were aware that Eminem was going to do that,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said. Perhaps unsurprisingly, reaction has been split across social media, with a lot of support but Donald Trump Jr. using a picture of Ellen DeGeneres to mock Eminem, and Florida Republican candidate Lavern Spicer saying that the rapper was guilty of appropriating hip-hop culture.

  • Barry Mauer  On February 14, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    The summation of Fallows – “His point isn’t that the NYT has a pro-Trump bias, which would be absurd” – needs some elaboration. Specifically, it should say that the NYT’s treatment of Trump is even MORE dangerous than having a pro-Trump bias because that would at least be an open admission. By treating Trump with kid gloves, the NYT produces the EFFECT of a pro-Trump bias while PRETENDING NOT TO HAVE ONE. In other words, it works beautifully to persuade centrists and corporate liberals to be more critical of Hillary Clinton (or any other Democrat) than they are of Trump. The NYT’s behaviors is irresponsible and dangerous in the extreme.

  • Nancy Banks  On February 14, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    I suggest the Weekly Dish by Andrew Sullivan and David French. Both conservative but a thoughtful expressions of another point of view. I also subscribe to Matt Tiabbi and think he has some good insights.

  • Ed Noonen  On February 14, 2022 at 4:24 pm


  • DV Henkel-Wallace  On February 14, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    I pay for Adam Tooze and Matt Stoller. Give them a look, in particular the prolix yet thoughtful Tooze though Stoller is also quite important.

    I also pay for The Diff but it might not be relevant to you.

  • ecjspokane  On February 14, 2022 at 11:46 pm


    I like Trevor Noah’s take on interstate highway construction. But he
    misses one big, obvious fact: planners plan highways where the cost is
    the least and right-of-way costs are one of the more expensive parts of
    a lot of highway costs. Where’s the cheapest highway land? Through low
    income neighborhoods. Where do most of the non-white people live? Low
    income neighborhoods.

    See the connection? Whether obliteration of black ‘hoods was
    intentional or not probably depends on the state.

    Incidentally, I live just above a low income neighborhood that was
    destroyed by I-90 and was on the neighborhood council for 25 yrs.

    Please keep the great thoughts and info coming.

    Eric C Johnson
    1840 E 9th Ave
    Spokane WA 99202

  • Neal  On February 15, 2022 at 9:00 am

    Regarding Open Everything: Jeepers, Doug. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you quite this grumpy.

    Talking of dogs, years ago a dog ran in front of my car and I hit it. As it suffered a broken leg, someone came over screaming in my window not to drive away. I told her if she didn’t settle down, I would drive away. Animal Control arrived surprisingly fast and said they would take the poor dog in for care.

    These days remind me of that vexing incident. These are days of resentment, and I think your article betrays your own. Mounk wasn’t advocating that we merely pretend we’re in bygone glory days and put the pandemic right out of mind. He was actually calling for more mindfulness … and less emotional resentment all around.

    Yeah, the antivaxx dogs are chasing cars. Sometimes they catch them. Life can be like that. I sincerely hate to see their suffering, but there wasn’t really anything I could’ve done to avoid hitting that dog.

    I think it’s time to go ahead and have those dog-catches-car moments.

    I got from Mounk encouragement to mask up for the next surge and to feel sympathy for the vulnerable among us. I plan to mask up for the grocery clerk in a mask, but not so much for the one who doesn’t seem to care. Likewise for everyone else around me who feels vulnerable enough to continue more careful protection. I’m truly sorry that they can’t participate as much as everyone else, but I think reasonable protection is available. (Mounk enumerated this — he wasn’t trying to take you back to Fantasyland.)

    And certainly I’ll mask up when I feel vulnerable, like future surges.

    I think it’s of paramount importance to decrease the general level of resentment around here. Personal responsibility helps. We can prioritize sympathy for our vulnerable brethren while also letting the dogs be accountable for their own stupidity. I can wear the mask or not without resentment.

    I simply and honestly don’t have the bandwidth to put up with all the bruised feelings about being cancelled and other resentment. This seems to help free me from my own resentments.

  • JJN  On February 15, 2022 at 10:26 am

    Strongly disagree with Amarasingam’s conflation of populism with racism, nationalism and concepts of “pure” people. Failing to recognize that liberalism being co-opted by elite interests is indeed a problem – and without conflating concern about it with conspiracy theories and anti-semitism, etc. – is also a mistake. “Populism” has been demonized and maligned in many ways to serve elite interests. You don’t need to be a right winger to be bothered by that. Strongly recommend Thomas Frank’s books on this topic – particularly The People, No which provides a sort of history of populism in the US that casts the movement in a very different – and very positive light. And which I think Democrats need to reflect on.

  • Nancy Weston  On February 16, 2022 at 9:45 am

    I subscribe to Michael Moore’s substack. Like you, he writes with clarity and is very interesting, as well as shedding light on things of which I might not have a full picture. Like you, I have a hobby: writing a social justice column every week for our UU church eNews. It is a labor of love (about 4hours weekly) and I enjoy it. Thanks for the Weekly Sift. You do a great job. I read WS every week.

  • Rich Rosenberry  On February 16, 2022 at 11:38 am

    Hi Doug

    In response to your substack question, I subscribe to Richardson, McKibben and very recently Ted Gioia who writes about music.

    Rich Rosenberry

    On Mon, Feb 14, 2022 at 12:24 PM The Weekly Sift wrote:

    > weeklysift posted: ” Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does > knowledge. – Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man[Darwin’s 213th birthday was > Saturday] This week’s featured post is “Who Should You Back in the Midterm > Elections?” This week everybody was talk” >

  • Allen  On February 18, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    Besides Heather on Substack, and the Guardian, I also subscribe to Edward Snowden.

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