World

AP Had Advance Notice of Israeli Air Strike on Gaza Building, Was Able to Safely Evacuate All Journalists

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Archive Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Pool via Reuters)

On Saturday, Israel struck a building in Gaza housing Hamas assets that also happened to have offices for the Associated Press. Why the AP was sharing an office building with a U.S. State Department designated terrorist group that is known to use civilians and journalists as human shields is a subject worth exploring. But here is the full statement by the AP, which includes two important details (which I’ve highlighted in bold):

We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza. They have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there. We received a warning that the building would be hit.

We are seeking information from the Israeli government and are engaged with the U.S. State Department to try to learn more.

This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time.

The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.

So to be clear, Israel warned the journalists, who had sufficient time to get out safely, and then proceeded to liquidate a legitimate enemy target.

Politics & Policy

What’s the Point of This ‘Training?’

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Widener Library on the campus of Harvard University (jorgeantonio/Getty Images)

Up until the last ten years or so, most colleges and universities left their faculty members alone, provided that they did the work expected of them. Until suddenly, that wasn’t enough –administrators began to insist that they go through various “training” sessions to help guard against bad thoughts and conduct.

What does it entail? In this post by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, we learn a little about it.

Volokh is writing about an email exchange with another professor, about the latter’s experience with mandatory “training.” One question asked how often people make false accusations of sexual misconduct and when the professor answered “sometimes,” he was informed that his answer was wrong and he would have to try again. The right answer, it turns out, is “rarely.”

Volokh comments:

Now universities, like other employers, are entitled to require their employees to go through training on various procedures, whether having to do with safety, financial transactions, legal compliance, or managerial obligations. And they are entitled to test the employees to make sure that they are aware of the rules.

But especially in a university, which rightly protects—and indeed demands—intellectual independence and honesty in its faculty, such questions shouldn’t require faculty members to give answers that they credibly think are wrong; nor should they turn on vague terms such as “sometimes” or “rarely.” (Indeed, the question would be a bad multiple choice question in virtually any context, precisely because “sometimes” and “rarely” are undefined, even in an approximate sense.)

Quite right. And after the professor complained about this to his university, it seems to have asked the provider of this “training” to modify it.

Okay, but why not do away with this nonsense entirely? It wastes the time of faculty members and wastes money in paying the company that provides the training modules  All we have here is make-work to appease the burgeoning ranks of diversity administrators. Those hangers-on need to look busy and important, so they drum up useless training and a host of other pointless events and programs.

Pull the plug.

(Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

Sports

Hockey Hero

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(Fydorov/Getty Images)

Every time I see NHLers such as Alex Ovechkin become Vladimir Putin sycophants, or former players participate in these propagandistic hockey exhibitions Russia likes to put on — a preening Vlad netting eight goals the other day though he can barely skate — I think of Jaroslav Jiřík. For a few years during the 1990s, I had the pleasure of knowing the first hockey player from the Eastern Block to officially be allowed to play in the NHL. Jiřík, who spent the majority of his time in North America in the minors, was called up by the St. Louis Blues for three games in the 1969–1970 season, before going back to his hometown of Brno.

When I met Jiřík, he was working as a scout for an NHL player agent in the Czech Republic. His real passion, though, was flying and building planes. And when I say “planes,” I mean homemade flying contraptions. At least, that’s what they sounded like when he described them to me. Over the years, Jiřík would have numerous close calls, as his rickety inventions fell from the sky, making emergency landings on highways and farms. So, when I saw a headline about his passing in 2011, I immediately assumed — it turns out, correctly — that it was a crash that had killed him.

Jiřík, though, was best known in his home country for playing in one of the greatest series in hockey history: the Czechoslovakian national team’s victory over the Soviet Union at the World Championship in Stockholm in March 1969. The games, only seven months after the end of the Prague Spring, were nasty, physical affairs imbued with all kinds of symbolism. After beating the Soviets in the first game without Jiřík, the Czechoslovakians refused to shake hands with their opponents (a longtime hockey tradition.) This small, but courageous, post-game act of protest — Soviet Block players weren’t going to get $30-million deals from Nike, though their careers might be over — was censored on Czechoslovakian television and radio, so fans didn’t know it happened. In the next game, however, Jiřík, back in the lineup, would be one of five players — and according to some sources, the first (though he brushed me off when I asked him about this) — to cover the red star on the communist Czechoslovakia’s emblem with black tape during the game. Jiřík’s team went on to beat the Soviets again, 4–3. Prague exploded in celebration and protest with chants of “Russians go home!” and “No tanks were there so they lost.” They’d have to wait another 20 years for the Velvet Revolution.

Film & TV

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV Series Should Be Expensive, but Shouldn’t Compromise Tolkien’s Vision

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Elijah Wood stars in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. (New Line Productions, Inc./IMDb)

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke was asked about the enormous price tag of the Lord of the Rings TV series Amazon has in the works:

Jen, there were reports about Lord of the Rings, which put the first-season budget at $465 million — making it the most expensive series ever. What does that price tag say about the market today, and how well will it need to do to justify that price tag?

SALKE The market is crazy, as you saw with the Knives Out deal. [Netflix paid $469 million for two sequels.] This is a full season of a huge world-building show. The number is a sexy headline or a crazy headline that’s fun to click on, but that is really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series. But it is a crazy world and various people on this Zoom, mostly Bela and me, have been in bidding situations where it starts to go incredibly high. There’s a lot of wooing and we have to make decisions on where we want to stretch and where we want to draw the line. As for how many people need to watch Lord of the Rings? A lot. (Laughs.) A giant, global audience needs to show up to it as appointment television, and we are pretty confident that that will happen.

I have two thoughts on this. One: Of course $465 million is a justifiable sum to spend on a Lord of the Rings TV series. Realizing J. R. R. Tolkien’s incredible vision can, theoretically, be done on the cheap — just ask the Soviets! — but I am perfectly content with Amazon shoveling millions into this show, which I will definitely watch. If Amazon founder Jeff Bezos can blow $500 million of his billions on a boat, certainly this TV show is worth roughly the same sum. Money is not a guarantee of quality, though: The Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy cost less, on the whole, than his Hobbit trilogy, which was much worse.

Which brings us to my second thought: There is a lot in the phrase “giant, global audience.” If Salke just means she wants a lot of people to watch, great. Peter Jackson’s film trilogy from two decades back was, rightly, a global phenomenon as well. But if she’s saying that the material needs to be somehow substantively altered specifically for global appeal, I have concerns. Oftentimes these days, that means changing or outright excising elements so as to better appease the censors of the Chinese Communist Party. Given that this series will take place in a fictional universe, that will be a lot a harder to do. Likelier is that the series might compromise on the fundamental morality and decency of Tolkien’s work in an effort to broaden its appeal. There have already been worrying indications in that direction. But Lord of the Rings isn’t Game of Thrones, and it never should be; its “appeal” on its own terms is unquestionable. If it is Amazon’s intention to make it otherwise, well . . . it should expect shaken spears and splintered shields, at the very least.

About That Chinese Bioweapon Theory . . .

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A security guard stands outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The terrific Zeynep Tufekci takes to Twitter to emphasize the importance of the letter in Science magazine declaring “both zoonotic origin and lab accident are ‘viable’” as origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (For more on that letter, read Jimmy Quinn here and here.)

But I have one small quibble with Tufekci’s assessment: “Note that there are many possibilities that combine some of these theories (zoonotic origin *and* lab screw-up, for example). Personally, besides ‘I don’t know,’ the only one I can discount is the bioweapon research: that makes no sense. Rest: needs a genuine investigation.”

I would agree that

Religion

Paul Kingsnorth Meets Jesus Christ

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Believers attend the Orthodox Christmas Eve service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Russia, January 6, 2020. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

If you’re going to read only one piece of writing this weekend, it should be this autobiographical essay by Paul Kingsnorth about his conversion to Orthodox Christianity, which is published in the June 2021 issue of First Things. Kingsnorth is one of England’s greatest living novelists, a fact which, if you didn’t already know, you’d be able to adduce from the quality of the prose on display in the aforementioned essay. His path to faith has been that of a restless seeker who has tried nearly every other way of relating to reality out for size. “This was how I ended up a priest of the witch gods,” he informs the reader at one point, after explaining why Zen Buddhism just wasn’t quite cutting it for him. 

One of the most interesting and original aspects of Kingsnorth’s conversion story is the outsized role that environmentalism and economic history seem to have played in his becoming a Christian. These are not stepping stones to faith that one often hears referenced when reading or listening to the reasons that human beings habitually give for believing that Jesus of Nazareth is divine. But the theological analysis that Kingsnorth provides of our relationship with wealth, the natural world, and the divine is utterly compelling.   

Here is how he describes the way in which the natural world captured his imagination as a 16-year-old atheist wandering through the English countryside:

Trudging across moors, camping by mountain lakes as the June sun set, I could feel some deep, old power rolling through it all, welding it together, flowing from the land into me and back again. With Wordsworth, I was dragged under by “A motion and a spirit, that impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought / And rolls through all things.” Nothing humans could build could come close to the intense wonder and mystery of the natural world; I still believe that to be self-evidently true. This was my religion. Animism, pantheism, call it what you will: This was my pagan grace. 

As Kingsnorth continues, “years of environmental activism followed,” spurred on by the observation that “the rebellion against God manifested itself in a rebellion against creation, against all nature, human and wild. We would remake Earth, down to the last nanoparticle, to suit our desires, which we now called ‘needs.’ Our new world would be globalized, uniform, interconnected, digitized, hyper-real, monitored, always-on. We were building a machine to replace God.” What Kingsnorth is getting at is the replacement of nature with technology, the basic project of modernity. As I wrote here in January: 

Technology allows human beings to shape reality in such a way that it conforms to their own needs and desires. This is probably the most basic and generally applicable definition of the word that has held true over the centuries. Our primal ancestors were confronted everywhere and at all times by the basic indifference of the world to their own existence. Hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain, and disease all taught them that nature doesn’t often conform itself to the needs and desires of Homo sapiens. Starting with the spear and the shelter, technology emerged as a method of taming, cajoling, and coercing nature to bend to the will of mankind, and so our task continued for millennia.

During the agricultural revolution, we discovered techniques that allowed us to make the earth’s yield serve our needs, and something like civilization was born. But from that time until the 18th century, progress was slow and uneven. Every man, woman, and child ran into the brutal indifference of reality to their own appetites and aspirations at almost every moment of the day.

The industrial revolution changed all that. A combination of free markets, cheap energy, and a population boom led to a quantum leap in technological advance. We seemed to accomplish more — shaping the world to suit us — with each passing decade than we had in the previous 10,000 years.

The long-term social effects of the industrial revolution, and the civilization it brought forth, were investigated by one of the most important 20th-century thinkers, Jacques Ellul, in his book The Technological Society (published in French in 1954). Ellul believed that technology (which he included under the broader term technique) was the dominant ideology of the modern age, encompassing both capitalism and communism. The project of this ideology is essentially to replace nature with technology, so that human beings no longer have to bump up against any intractably resistant reality that might hamper the fulfillment of their desires.

The logical endpoint of technological development, as I pointed out later on in this piece “is virtual reality: a technological end-state in which no individual has to confront anything contrary to his own desires.” I further predicted that “the emergence of this kind of technology, and religious opposition to it, is likely to be the defining culture war of this century,” a claim I still stand by. 

This modern project’s ultimate enemy is limitation. In fact it’s the lack of any limitations placed by humans upon their own desires that is the chief cause of Earth’s ecological woes and of our own mass unhappiness as a society. As Kingsnorth notes,

Early Green thinkers, people like Leopold Kohr or E. F. Schumacher, who were themselves inspired by the likes of Gandhi and Tolstoy, had taught us that the ecological crisis was above all a crisis of limits, or lack of them. Modern economies thrive by encouraging ever-increasing consumption of harmful junk, and our hyper-liberal culture encourages us to satiate any and all of our appetites in our pursuit of happiness. If that pursuit turns out to make us unhappy instead — well, that’s probably just because some limits remain un-busted.

Following the rabbit hole down, I realized that a crisis of limits is a crisis of culture, and a crisis of culture is a crisis of spirit. Every living culture in history, from the smallest tribe to the largest civilization, has been built around a spiritual core: a central claim about the relationship between human culture, nonhuman nature, and divinity. Every culture that lasts, I suspect, understands that living within limits — limits set by natural law, by cultural tradition, by ecological boundaries — is a cultural necessity and a spiritual imperative. There seems to be only one culture in history that has held none of this to be true, and it happens to be the one we’re living in.

Technological capitalism is extremely proficient at producing all kinds of goods for human beings, but it is most proficient at producing desires. The manufacture of new desires is the real business of much of our modern economy. Advertising, for instance, exists, as an industry, to create in customers want and discontent where there might have been satisfaction and contentment with what one already has. This proliferation of desires is what makes us treat the planet as nothing but a standing reserve of natural resources ripe for exploitation — the raw material of an ever-receding goal of final satiation.

A spiritually centered society would be able to tame the free economy by way of virtue so that it becomes the servant, rather than the master, of man. The promise made by our credit cards that ringing them through the till once more time will bring us beatification is false, and a culture that unmasked this lie would perhaps be one finally capable of living within its financial means, avoiding economic, as well as ecological, devastation all the while. 

But in the meantime, it is no surprise that secularization, crazy levels of debt (both private and public), and ecological devastation are all proceeding apace hand-in-hand in the modern world. We are all of us chasing desires that are multiplying and reproducing at a faster rate than we can attain them, and than our wallets — and planet Earth — can sustain them.

God, as it so happens, is the final and ultimate enemy of this proliferation of desires. At least as the Christian tradition understands Him, He informs all of us that He Himself is the source and end of every desire, and that every commodity promising satisfaction apart from Him is nothing but a tiresome ruse. Moreover, He asks every human being to take up His cross, which is hardly an appealing marketing pitch to prospective consumers. In fact, the story of the Incarnation is the story of a person descending from a world of perfect and impregnable love and voluntarily experiencing the most painful, bloody, and impersonal aspects of reality, purely for the sake of others. As an image of the good life, this is an exact photo-negative of the person who seeks to escape from the harsh realities of the real world into a virtual paradise of pleasure purely for the sake of his own enjoyment, which is what our technological economy — and in extremis virtual reality — aspires to provide us with. In this way, the road that our present economic development is taking us down — toward a world of unfettered and instant access to every conceivable desire — is, in a very technical and specific sense, anti-Christ. 

Nor would a turn toward statism help the situation. The state merely seeks the same replacement of nature with technology through different and more-violent means. As Kingsnorth writes, 

Out in the world, the rebellion against God has become a rebellion against everything: roots, culture, community, families, biology itself. Machine progress — the triumph of the Nietzschean will — ­dissolves the glue that once held us. Fires are set around the supporting pillars of the culture by those charged with guarding it, urged on by an ascendant faction determined to erase the past, abuse their ancestors, and dynamite their cultural ­inheritance, the better to build their earthly paradise on terra ­nullius. Massing against them are the new ­Defenders of the West, some calling for a return to the atomized liberalism that got us here in the first place, others defending a remnant Christendom that seems to have precious little to do with Christ and forgets Christopher Lasch’s warning that “God, not culture, is the only appropriate object of unconditional reverence and wonder.” Two profane visions going head-to-head, when what we are surely crying out for is the only thing that can heal us: a return to the sacred center around which any real culture is built.

The upshot of Kingsnorth’s conversion story is simply this: that in the end, our civilization’s religious destiny, its economic destiny, and the fate of the planet might all hang together in ways we haven’t even begun to come to terms with. It’s a possibility worth pondering.  

Music

David Byrne

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Twitter informs me that the recording artist David Byrne turns 69 today. Most people discover Byrne as the front man for the new-wave band Talking Heads. I knew those tunes in my childhood from the ambient sonic environment. But, I got into his solo work when he released the album Feelings. I went backwards and forwards from there. I’ve practically worn out my DVDs of Jonathan Demme’s concert film Stop Making Sense, which found Talking Heads at a time when they had radically expanded their live-performance band. Similarly, another concert 2004 DVD featuring David Byrne at the Union Chapel.

I have sometimes worried that Byrne’s experiments with what was then called “world music” are going to come under criticism for cultural appropriation — when in fact they were joyful attempts in personally exploring championing the music of other cultures and nations in front of a huge American audience. I used to inflict his music on my friends. And I do remember a delightful CNBC segment where he appeared to talk about his somewhat parodic Powerpoint Art project right after Richard Perle talked about invading several Middle Eastern nations.

Anyway, here are two utterly delightful videos from different parts of his career.

“Slippery People” from Stop Making Sense:

And “Nothing But Flowers” from his 2004 released concert in Union Chapel:

White House

The President Doesn’t Make ‘the Rules’

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the state of coronavirus vaccinations from the State Dining Room at the White House, May 4, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Your dad wants to have a word:

No, this is not “the rule.” The president isn’t empowered to make any such rules. It speaks poorly of the nation that he uses this paternalistic tone. You don’t have to wear a mask or get vaccinated if you’re okay with the risk. Or you can get vaccinated and wear a mask, if you’re some kind of sadomasochist. It’s up to you.

Or, if you want, you can listen to Biden. The problem, I’m afraid, is that the president has proven himself an irrational science-denying hysteric on the question. Less than two weeks ago, the man was still fumbling around with masks and social distancing — even when in a room with other immunized people and outside. Biden participated in the international climate summit on Zoom, with a cloth over his face.

When asked why he wore them, Biden claimed that it’s “a patriotic responsibility for God’s sake.” Now, less than two weeks later, his administration says fully vaccinated people “can go without masks or physical distancing in many cases, even when they are indoors or in large groups.” What’s changed? Are the vaccinated now less asymptomatic?

Journalists have spent months asking this scaremongering fanatic, Dr. Fauci — who still wants kids to wear masks — exactly what we can and can’t do, as if he would have any power to dictate such things if individuals, politicians, and companies ignored him. Some people, apparently, still can’t kick the habit.

Why on earth would you put a mask on a small, healthy child, who, even at the nadir of the pandemic, faced an infinitesimal threat from COVID and posed a minuscule one to others?  Temporary safety measures are not religious rites and masks are not patriotic accessories. You can quit now. Who cares what Fauci or Biden say? Stop torturing your children.

Politics & Policy

A Biden Cabinet Secretary Violated Federal Law. So What?

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Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) gavels in the second session at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., July 26, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s HUD Secretary, Marcia Fudge, violated the Hatch Act’s bar on partisan political activity in the federal workplace. That’s not my opinion; it’s the conclusion of the Office of Special Counsel. It is almost certain, however, that nothing of consequence will happen to Fudge. This illustrates a point I made last summer, when Democrats were hyperventilating about a Hatch Act violation in then–secretary of state Mike Pompeo speaking at the Republican convention: Nobody wants to see anyone on their own side punished for violating the law, there is a long record of Democrats getting away with violations (particularly during the Obama years), and we really should just end the pretense that people who have spent a lifetime in partisan politics and are presidential appointees are somehow criminals if they engage in partisan politics.

Fudge’s violation appears to have been less egregious than many prior examples — she was asked at a White House press briefing to comment on the Senate race in Ohio (where Fudge was a mayor for eight years before representing an Ohio district in Congress for 13 years), and after being pestered twice, she answered. Presumably, nobody told the White House press corps that they were soliciting a violation of federal law. Barack Obama’s HUD secretary, Julian Castro, did much the same thing, boosting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in an official interview. There is no good reason for this to be a federal crime, or even a federal regulatory violation. We should stop pretending that it is, before some rogue prosecutor decides to enforce the thing — maybe as payback against a prior administration — and create a major scandal.

Culture

Pokémon Returns

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Performers in Pikachu costumes dance at a Splash show and Pokemon Go Park event in Yokohama, Japan August 9, 2017. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

It has been a while since Pokémon, almost a drug-like vice of my youth, has really been in the news. Probably not since the release of Pokémon Go, the game app that made use of an interface with the real world to collect the strange creatures at the game’s center. (And let us not forget Hillary Clinton’s infamous election exhortation for voters to “Pokémon Go to the polls.”) But apparently, it is back.

So what has gotten the Pokémon theme song playing in the Fox News studios for the first time in probably two decades? This time, it’s the trading cards, which came a few years after the original Gameboy games first became popular. The cards are enjoying a somewhat random upsurge in popularity that has led to confrontations in some stores, including a brawl in the parking lot of a Target store, leading Target to temporarily halt their sale (along with that of various sports trading cards):

Target has decided that it’s had enough: the company has officially confirmed to Bleeding Cool that it will halt the sales of Pokémon cards throughout the US, starting Friday, May 14th. The retailer cities [sic] “an abundance of caution” for the safety of both guests and store employees and notes that it will still be selling the cards on its site.

Currently, Pokémon cards (and other trading cards) are having a moment: people have swamped card grading companies, hoping to get a rating that makes their cards more valuable, and The Pokémon Company has been rushing to print enough cards to meet the demand. It seems that all the big numbers around the truly rare original cards have caused a lot of excitement around new cards as well. But Target isn’t feeling the hype.

It’s hard to blame the retailer, as the situation around the trading cards seems wildly out of control. People have reportedly been opening cereal boxes in stores to steal the included Pokémon cards out of them. And someone in Japan even climbed down a rope to steal almost $9,000 worth of the cardboard cards designed for kids.

I don’t think this necessarily means that the Pokémon cards I have long hoarded are now suddenly more valuable . . . but maybe it does. If only I had more. Where’s Missingno when you need him?

Health Care

There’s No Vaccine Against the Irrational Fear of Monsters

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s appointee to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), removes her mask to during a news conference at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., December 8, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Yesterday afternoon, the CDC saw fit to announce formally what people of sound mind have known for months: that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not gain anything by slinging pieces of dirty cloth across their faces. The timing of the declaration — which was coupled with the news that the American Federation of Teachers was softening its ongoing ransom demand — suggests that The Science might be more susceptible to the influence of opinion polling than we have been led to believe.

The CDC’s affirmation was met with celebrations from the journalistic class and the White House, and with laughter from everyone else. In New York City and Washington D.C., the news may well have felt like a liberation. In the places where the CDC has long lost its influence – namely, most of the United States of America — it felt like a bad joke. After months of incoherence, the federal government had finally arrived at where Florida, Texas, and others had been by March.

Alas, those who had hoped that the long saga might finally be over were swiftly disappointed, for, as we have should have learned by now, COVID abhors a vacuum. Almost immediately, a new talking point popped up — this one in the form of a question. “Sooo,” Katie S. Phang inquired, “how does one tell the difference between a fully vaccinated person and a not vaccinated person?” On Morning Joe, Dr. Michael Osterholm echoed Phang, suggesting that “The next question is going to be, ‘How will we know if someone has been vaccinated?’ If you’re sitting close to someone at a restaurant or . . . in a theater, how are you going to know that they’re not just kind of fibbing?”

The answer to this, of course, is that you can’t know, but, that if you’re vaccinated, it doesn’t matter whether you know, because unvaccinated people can’t hurt you. Or, at least, that’s the answer if one assumes that the fear is medical in nature. But, of course, it’s not. It’s social. What Phang, Osterholm, and their many fellow travelers are really asking is, “Without masks, how will I know who to disrespect?” Evidently, the final transmutation of the virus has been from epidemiological marker to political totem.

The novelist Walter Kirn noted this transformation as pithily as usual. “As the masks go away,” he wrote, “a lot of Americans are going to miss the ability to classify, shame, and despise one another at first sight.” Kirn’s right. But he may have missed a wrinkle here: To wit, that certain people within our society will continue to wear masks simply so they are not mistaken for the sort of undesirable and unclean types who disliked wearing masks in the first place. In contemporary America, there is apparently only one thing worse than being unable to tell which are the good guys and which are the monsters, and that is being accused of being pro-monster oneself. Unfortunately for those who fear such denunciations, there’s no vaccine against that.

Elections

Why Trump’s 2023 Decision Could Come in 2021 or 2022

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President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., November 3, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Rich Lowry argues, on the homepage, that Donald Trump’s decision in 2023 to run again – or not – in 2024 will be momentous for the Republican future:

Sometime in 2023, Donald Trump will presumably make the most momentous decision by a single person affecting the fate of the Republican Party in decades. He will decide whether to run for president again, and that will determine who’s the front-runner (Trump, if he’s a go) and the contours of the race. If Trump runs, he will, one assumes, blot out the sun. Everything will be about him — his record, his pronouncements, his animosities. Much of the conservative mass media will get on board, while the mainstream media — inadvertently aiding him, yet again — will be even more intensely hostile.

I agree (though I question how “inadvertent” is the mainstream media’s tactic of elevating Trump against all Republican alternatives). One of the hopes of any strategy of denying Trump attention is to build consensus around an alternative, partly with the aim of convincing Trump that it is a better play to be kingmaker than try again to be king. But allow me to offer a more depressing suggestion: there is no particular reason to think that Trump will wait until then to announce a 2024 candidacy. Nothing bars Trump from launching a campaign much earlier.

There are a variety of legal issues with fundraising that put cross-pressures on prospective presidential candidates. As campaigns have de facto started earlier and earlier, they have tended to maintain legal ambiguity until a later, formal announcement of candidacy that is anticlimactic. But there is no hard rule against announcing three years early, and for Trump, doing so could be attractive. He could raise boatloads of money and spend it on rallies and campaign events and draw eyeballs. And he could always back out later on; it would hardly be the first time he left investors in a Trump endeavor in the lurch, or even the first time he bailed on a presidential campaign (as he did with his Reform Party run in 2000).

Declaring early could freeze the field, deterring many others from entering. It could maintain the ongoing threat to run third-party. Trump has used this sort of ambiguity to great effect before. Given that a number of possible 2024 contenders (including Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio) must first run for re-election in 2022, and others still have day jobs in office, it would give Trump a head start. I doubt Trump would launch something quite yet, but particularly if he feels that he is not drawing enough attention otherwise, a decision could come sooner than anyone expects.

World

One Way of Thinking about Israel

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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, May 11, 2021. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

Texas, where I live, once was part of Mexico. Many in Mexico (and elsewhere) believe Texas was stolen, that it is unjustly occupied territory. Some even dream of taking it back for Mexico. As a matter of historical fact, those claims have some merit. Mexico was greatly reduced by the self-aggrandizing ambitions of a superior power, and it is possible to sympathize with that.

But if rockets were raining down on Brownsville from Matamoros, the United States would respond in a way that would make recent Israeli-Palestinian skirmishes look like a halfhearted game of duck-duck-goose. As, indeed, would any sensible country. This is, in most cases, understood. If the British started firing rockets into France, no one would say, “Well, what about the Pale of Calais?”

It is only the Jewish state whose right of self-defense is denied.

Loathing of the Jewish state is inseparable from loathing of the Jewish people. What Ludwig von Mises wrote about Nazi anti-Semitism in 1944 continues to apply in our own time:

Nearly all writers dealing with the problem of anti-Semitism have tried to demonstrate that the Jews have in some way or other, through their behavior or attitudes, excited anti-Semitism. Even Jewish authors and non-Jewish opponents of anti-Semitism share this opinion; they too search for Jewish faults driving non-Jews toward anti-Semitism. But if the cause of anti-Semitism were really to be found in distinctive features of the Jews, these properties would have to be extraordinary virtues and merits which would qualify the Jews as the elite of mankind. If the Jews themselves are to blame for the fact that those whose ideal is perpetual war and bloodshed, who worship violence and are eager to destroy freedom, consider them the most dangerous opponents of their endeavors, it must be because the Jews are foremost among the champions of freedom, justice, and peaceful coöperation among nations. . . . As the parties seeking to destroy modern civilization and return to barbarism have put anti‑Semitism at the top of their programs, this civilization is apparently a creation of the Jews. Nothing more flattering could be said of an individual or of a group than that the deadly foes of civilization have well-founded reasons to persecute them.

Hamas has its advocates and apologists in the United States. So did Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Mao, etc. — all of them “deadly foes of civilization.”

Politics & Policy

Pro-Life Concerns about Chemical Abortions Are Reasonable, Not Hypocritical

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A demonstrator holds an abortion flag outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as justices hear a major abortion case on the legality of a Louisiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors, March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On Thursday, the New York Times published a guest essay from feminist writer Jessica Valenti entitled “The Anti-Abortion Movement Can’t Use This Myth Anymore.” Valenti applauds the FDA’s new policy of allowing women to obtain chemical abortions without a doctor’s visit for the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is confident that expanded access to chemical abortion drugs will provide ample evidence of their safety. As such, if the safety of chemical abortions is well documented, Valenti argues that future pro-life efforts to limit access to chemical drugs in the name of protecting women’s health can be easily dismissed as hypocritical.

In her essay, Valenti exudes plenty of confidence, but provides readers with precious little evidence to support her position. She confidently states that chemical abortions are “safer than over the counter ibuprofen.” She cites one study which appeared in the journal Contraception in 2012. However, a 2015 study that appeared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which used comprehensive data from California’s Medicaid program, found that chemical abortions had four times the complication rate of first-trimester surgical abortions. Additionally, as of 2018, the FDA has attributed 24 deaths and over 4,000 adverse events to chemical-abortion pills. Since abortion reporting requirements in the United States are weak, the actual numbers are likely higher.

Valenti goes on to say telehealth chemical abortions are safe. However, Valenti fails to cite a single study to back up her assertion. Furthermore, the existing research provides little evidence of the safety of telehealth abortions. A February BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology study failed to property separate women who obtained telehealth abortion from women who obtained abortions under medical supervision. Furthermore, a March 2021 Contraception study found that within a month of the abortion, 6 percent of women who had telemed abortions made visits to emergency rooms or urgent-care centers for reasons related to the abortion. Other research shows that the emergency-room visit rate for abortion-related reasons is about 2.6 percent.

Of course, the absence of actual studies does not appear to bother Valenti in the slightest. She engages in a strategy often used by supporters of legal abortion — predicting future studies will support her narrative! In her New York Times essay, she states the “F.D.A.’s new rule . . . will soon arm pro-choice organizations with more studies reiterating the safety of medication abortion and show how shipping pills poses no risk to patients.”

I hate to break it to Valenti, but supporters of legal abortion have not been very good at predicting the future. Prior to Roe v. Wade supporters of legal abortion said that legalizing abortion would reduce the out of wedlock birthrate. Of course, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has continued to increase since that time. As recently as 1979, NARAL was arguing that legalizing abortion would reduce the incidence of child abuse. However, data from the U.S. Statistical Abstract, indicates that deaths due to child abuse increased by 400 percent between 1972 and 1990. Finally, the predictions that the removal of Planned Parenthood from the Texas family-planning program in 2010 would cause unintended pregnancies to soar in the Lone Star State clearly did not come true.

In reality, there are plenty of reasons why unsupervised chemical abortions will pose serious health risks to women. A chemical abortion could be fatal to a woman with an ectopic pregnancy. Additionally, a woman obtaining a chemical abortion might underestimate the gestational age of her unborn child. That could also pose serious health risks. Even one of the companies that sells chemical-abortion pills online acknowledges these risks on their website. Overall, pro-life concerns about the safety of unregulated chemical abortions are not hypocritical. They are rooted in the best interest of both mother and child. Contrary to Valenti’s assertion, future research will likely bear this out.

National Review

Will America Rule the Waves?: Inside the New Issue of NR

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Poseidon or Mars? That’s the question that Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain, takes up in the cover story of the latest issue of National Review: “To Rule the Waves: Why America Must Be a Sea Power.”

The United States was founded as a self-consciously maritime nation, but we’ve strayed from our roots, Hendrix argues. A Cold War buildup to defend the West from Soviet tyranny, 20 years of battle against terrorism, and the naïve and misguided hope of collecting an End of History “peace dividend” has left the U.S. Navy badly understrength and underfunded in this new era of great-power competition with Chinese and Russian aggression.

Because the United States has presented itself as a global leader, it must continue to lead globally so that the security structure it has created can sustain itself. Should China in the South China Sea or Russia in the Arctic successfully create and then sustain a carve-out to the concept of the free sea, should either create a local sphere of influence, it will make a lie of the entire American-led global system, introduce instability, and most assuredly lead to a disastrous and costly war.

In today’s dangerous world, a sea power strategy for a sea-power nation will have many benefits: Sea power is cost-effective compared with maintaining large land armies, it’s a prudent move during a period of suspicion of foreign adventurism, and it is one of the best ways that the U.S. government can invest in the American industrial base.

Our national security-economic-industrial game plan should embrace the “decision to return to the Founders’ intent of placing naval power first in our national strategy,” Hendrix writes, “reduce Ameri­can boots-on-the-ground continentalist commitments around the world, and focus on investing in maritime commercial trade and a naval offshore-balancing military strategy.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Phil Klein looks at why some people seem to be embracing a philosophy of COVID Forever. Rob Long explores Tinder chat transcripts. Al Felzenberg reviews a new biography of the Magnificent Nancy Reagan. And Charlie Cooke busts open the myth of “Rebekah Jones: the COVID Whistleblower Who Isn’t.”

(Oh yeah — and don’t miss the bus on Ross Douthat’s road trip through a robot apocalypse.)

In 17 articles — across culture, current events, and politics — NR is the captain of your Poseidon Adventure.

Read the whole issue here, or subscribe today via NRPLUS!