Dear Weekend Jolter,
Christmas is here, and here we go again. A summer slowdown gives way to a late-year surge in coronavirus cases, prompting policy-makers to claw back whatever modest liberties they had granted people when they thought they could vaguely make out the clearing at the edge of the woods.
You might have seen certain writers here making the case that the pandemic does not end until we decide to end it. That is, Covid-19 is here to stay, and we can decide to incorporate basic precautions into our everyday lives but otherwise return to normal, or we can be gripped by cyclical regulatory convulsions based on the latest case counts.
Right now, Column B is winning in a rout.
The Omicron outbreak, to be sure, is likely to get worse before it gets better. It would be wise to start focusing on the stats that matter — hospitalizations and deaths — as opposed to overall case numbers. The Biden administration reportedly is considering this, but as Jim Geraghty rightly notes,
if the Biden administration wanted the public to stop focusing so much on total case numbers, the time to start making that argument was months ago, not a few days before Christmas when the case numbers had already started rising quickly.
Let’s hope they can anyway — otherwise it’s not too alarmist to ask whether every Christmas season is going to look like this: the perpetually tentative travel plans, the angst over whether we’ll see loved ones, the tightly controlled holiday office gatherings . . . the questions, like this one, about whether next year will be any better.
Already, the answer is not shaping up to be a very promising one, even as Biden assures us we’re not going back to March 2020.
Going into last weekend, schools in Prince George’s County, Md., outside Washington, D.C., closed and went virtual for the near-term. Other schools have since followed suit. This, even as the CDC backed allowing students exposed to coronavirus to stay in school with proper testing. Maryland’s Republican governor called the Prince George’s decision a “terrible mistake,” and even CNN’s Brian Stelter appealed to school districts not to make kids suffer more by sending them back home — again.
In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul earlier had ordered businesses to pick either a total mask mandate or total vaccination mandate. New York City is in a particularly frantic ferment, with shows being canceled, vaccine passports being rigorously checked, and long lines for testing snaking around the city. Seeing this, Kyle Smith warns about the prospect of more closings and, against his better instincts, appeals to common sense:
By now it really should be dawning on progressives and the media that what we’ve all been saying at NR for many months has been true: The virus doesn’t care where you live or how virtuous you are. . . . The virus is going to keep going until it burns out.
If you’ve been vaccinated, your chances of avoiding serious illness are excellent. If you haven’t been vaccinated, that’s your choice. But there will always be some significant number of Americans who shun the vaccines, and we’re going to have to live with that too. We can’t allow panicky leaders to treat us like prisoners of Covid as we head into Year Three of the pandemic in America. Life must go on.
Meanwhile, Anthony Fauci thinks masking on airplanes is never going away. This read almost as a rebuke to a pair of airline CEOs who days earlier testified that masks aren’t making passengers much safer. The trouble is, if Fauci thinks something, that thing has a funny way of actualizing as policy — what a rush it must be! For his part, Biden and his administration are now moving to provide 500 million at-home tests, a positive step, though Jim faults the FDA for the availability mess to date. (“Too little and too late,” adds an exasperated MBD.)
But back to Brian Stelter. He posed some questions on air, about whether it’s time to accept that everyone is going to get this virus and whether we should evaluate severity based on symptoms and not simply positivity rates. A lot of us in the conservative media-sphere consider this line of thinking to be spot-on, and hazard to guess most Americans do too. Some closing thoughts on exactly this from NR’s editorial:
Ever since the federal, state, and local governments started taking aggressive action against Covid in March 2020, Americans have been taunted by the promise that if we could just get over one hump, Covid madness would be over. In practice, once we got to the top of one hump, another one became visible in the horizon. And then another one. And another one. And another one. . . .
Whatever one’s views on the efficacy of the restrictions that were put in place back then, by Biden’s own admission, we are in a much different place now that so many have been vaccinated. So we should act like it. . . .
Some may argue that the policies being implemented now are not as draconian as before. But when we were debating lockdown measures in early 2020, the understanding was that the unprecedented intrusions of the government into our everyday lives were only being contemplated for a short period of time during a national emergency. Now, we have to operate under the assumption that any measures that have survived this long could endure forever. That’s why the only way to truly return to normal is to accept the fact that Covid isn’t going anywhere and reject the Covid-zero mentality altogether.
That’s enough from me, on this topic. Hopefully, this coming stretch is one of rest and recuperation for readers out there. For those who find themselves with downtime to think and reflect, may we recommend the year-end issue of NR, dedicated to “A Defense of the West,” as a fine fireside read. Or catch up on Hulu. It’s your choice. We’re not about mandates here at National Review.
NAME. RANK. LINK.
The full editorial on ending our Covid-crisis culture, again, is here: End the Covid-Zero Mentality
And ICYMI, the editorial marking the (maybe) death of Build Back Better is here: Good Riddance to Build Back Better
Michael Brendan Dougherty: Biden Fails the Christmas Test
Philip Klein: Why Biden’s Approval Ratings Are About to Get Worse
Kathryn Jean Lopez: The United States Abandons Nigerian Christians
Therese Shaheen: Ignore Xi Jinping’s Deceptions. China Is Struggling
Rich Lowry: The High-Water Mark of Biden-Era Progressivism
Roger Wicker: How Biden Can Outfox Putin in Ukraine
David Harsanyi: AOC’s Grasp of American Governance Is a ‘Farce’
Brittany Bernstein: How the Conservative ‘Save America Coalition’ Helped Kill Build Back Better
Paul Jossey appeals to Congress to keep the regulators at bay: Don’t Let Regulators Kill Crypto
Orphe Divounguy calls out Speaker Pelosi on her tax rhetoric: An Inconvenient Truth about the SALT Deduction
LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.
Brian Allen reviews the Met’s latest spectacular exhibition, on the luscious Parisian style that helped give birth to Disney. Feast on this: The European Rococo Style That Inspired Walt Disney
Armond White breaks down and picks apart Barack’s best-of list: Obama’s 13 Commandments
EXCERPTS MAKE THE BEST STOCKING STUFFERS
If you live in America contemporaneously with the transmission of this newsletter, chances are you’ve run into trouble getting Covid-19 tests or have witnessed this problem. Michael Brendan Dougherty lets the Biden administration have it:
More than ten months in, the Biden administration has been unwilling to break the monopoly public-health officials are trying to build over the case numbers and the general course of the pandemic. What America — the Northeast in particular — needed this week was an abundance of cheap, easy-to-use at-home Covid tests. The few that were on the shelves are long gone.
Almost every testing site has all its appointments booked. Every pharmacy that lists at-home Covid tests is reporting that they’re sold out. The few pharmacies that do list them as in-stock turn out to have outdated information.
And this was all so predictable, and was predicted. In year two of Covid-19, public-health officials and the public themselves have learned about Covid’s seasonality. Because the Northeast never quite got a Delta wave, it was obvious that region was going to get a major winter wave, no matter what. The Northeast was more vaccinated than the South, but not that much more. . . .
The Biden administration had as much time in office as European governments needed to approve these tests and see their production soar. The White House had a head start, and failed miserably anyway. Now many Americans are going to cancel Christmas plans again in 2020 because they or their family members wanted or needed just this one extra layer of reassurance during the Omicron spike. Chances are they’ll remember it next November, too.
Here’s a taste of that special issue mentioned above, on the glory of Rome and Greece, by Jeremy Tate:
Whether we recognize it or not, our whole environment — social, political, religious, economic, artistic — has been shaped by the history that precedes us, by the ideas and decisions of our forebears. No aspect of the present can be understood without the context of the past; no professedly moral cause can be understood in a vacuum, because no one lives in a vacuum. (It’s too dark in there, for one thing.) So if we want to live intelligently and virtuously in the present, we need to understand the past. And that past cannot be dismissed as just “dead white guys,” branded “problematic” and therefore safe — or worse, obligatory — to ignore. Even if we take the most “woke” of approaches to history, the very problems we identify cannot be dealt with if we do not first grasp them clearly. And for us, that has to mean grappling with the roots of the West, because that is the tradition we find ourselves in.
Those roots lie in the Mediterranean. The continuum of civilizations from Baghdad to Lisbon is thoroughly interwoven, but we can for convenience isolate the Greeks and the Romans as two of the keys to our story.
Greece has been described as the “overachieving father” of Western civilization, and there is a lot to be said for this. To begin with, nearly all European writing systems descend from one form or another of the Greek alphabet, so that it is almost literally the forerunner of all Western scholarship. In Homer’s magnificent epics, we find the beginning of all of our literature; in Aeschylus, the origin of all subsequent drama (as it was he who first put multiple actors on stage at once, going beyond a mere responsory between a solitary actor and a chorus), and thus, in a way, the great-grandfather of film. In another vein, as far back as the seventh century before Christ, we find the speculations and investigations of Thales and his successors laying the groundwork for science, philosophy, and mathematics; to this day, children in geometry classes learn the Pythagorean theorem. All these had their own sources, sure — Babylon, Egypt, Phoenicia. But it is through the Greeks, who learned from these civilizations and added their own genius to what they had received, that we in turn have obtained this rich heritage. . . .
If we have Greece to thank for much of our philosophy, art, and science, we have Rome to thank for the infrastructure that protected those things from decay and passed them on to the future. Roman administration, architecture, and engineering have been bettered only in the last few hundred years, and many of our advances build directly upon Roman models. Politically, too, their principles were appropriated by the Founding Fathers, who preferred the checks and balances of the Roman republic to the malleable, short-lived democracy of classical Athens. Everything from term limits to veto power to a deliberate balance between numerical and regional representation finds precedent in Roman law. Our whole political system is heavily indebted to the Roman model; to study the Constitution without the context of Roman law and history is to study a plant plucked without its roots.
From the editorial on BBB’s demise for now:
The radical legislation that sought to spend trillions of dollars to transform America at a time of historic debt was a bad idea that should never even have made it this far. . . .
[Manchin] has publicly made his position clear for months, and, as we explained last week, the bill in question violated many of the red lines he had drawn. It was more expensive, was not fully paid for, included accounting “gimmicks” he opposed, allowed for taxpayer funding of abortion, disguised the long-term cost by trillions of dollars by funding many projects for only a few years in hopes they would become permanent, created new programs when the government cannot pay for existing ones, and added to government outlays at a time when inflation is on the rise. . . .
Even if something does emerge from the ashes of Build Back Better, it is going to be much less revolutionary than Democrats had hoped. Remember, this was a bill that they initially hoped would finance subsidized child care, government preschool, paid leave, an expansion of Obamacare, a souped-up Medicare, ongoing monthly payments to families, portions of the Green New Deal, and even amnesty for illegal immigrants.
With Republicans poised to take back at least the House next year, Manchin’s statement likely forecloses the opportunity for any sort of mega-bill to pass in the rest of Biden’s presidential term. That gives conservatives something to celebrate going into the new year.
Did you know that the classic Disney aesthetic borrowed from a swing through Europe? Brian Allen gives the history behind the Met’s newest exhibition:
In 1935, Disney went to Europe for a bit of a Grand Tour. He brought back with him over 300 illustrated children’s books, the genre’s canon. He also returned immersed in Rococo style. This new visual vocabulary informed some of his biggest projects and a studio style that had one of its biggest hits in the ’90s, long after Disney died.
Animating the inanimate is at the heart of Rococo style. We can see it in a Sèvres ewer shaped and decorated to evoke splashing water or a church with turrets so attenuated it seems to reach for the heavens. The word rococo comes from the French rocaille, a style of ornamentation drawing on the shapes of rocks and shells formed by constant exposure to water. As a whimsical and witty decorative style, it starts in Paris in the 1720s in reaction to the heaviness of Baroque decoration. For French elites of all stripes, it suggested joie de vivre, a gaiety of spirit and freedom of motion. A Sèvres three-arm wall sconce from the Met collection, made in the 1760s, introduces us to the style. Pink, blue, and green, its subtly burgeoning leaves articulated with gold, it’s as luscious as it is breezy.
Snow White, which opened in 1937, and Pinocchio and Fantasia, premiering in 1940, are more informed by Rococo style than inspired or even influenced. It’s the exhibition’s biggest intellectual problem since Disney and his artists were omnivorous. Some of his artists were European, the studio had a workshop system with many steps involving different people, and the zeitgeist was “do what works” rather than “follow the playbook.” Snow White, the first feature-length animated color movie, had faces and figures that conveyed human emotion, both in expressions and in action compelled by mood. The Disney studio, the show says, struggled to achieve these goals after lots of experimentation in the ’30s, much as French porcelain makers sought the same effects in the 1720s and ’30s. The French didn’t even know how to make porcelain until 1700.
The easy interplay of art, dance, and music characterizes Rococo style. Decoration seems to sway. Disney saw this as essential in animated movies. Rococo color is riotous, and so is Technicolor. Light and airy Rococo style makes more room for children at play and young romance than any other aesthetic vocabulary.
Ronald Bailey, at Reason: NYC Declares War on Gas Stoves
Michael Lind, at Tablet: How American Progressives Became French Jacobins
Tevi Troy, at the Washington Examiner: Conservatives we lost in 2021
Kenny Xu, at RealClearPolitics: Salvation Army’s Woke Descent Hurts Those It Serves
This isn’t a Christmas song, but it mystifyingly has a Christmasy title, and that’ll do, in the interest of ending with something a little different. “Wrapping Paper,” by Cream, is one of numerous examples of just how strange that band could be, even if they’re associated more with the proto–hard rock hits. Songs like “Anyone for Tennis” or “Pressed Rat and Warthog” sound more like recordings from an underground ’60s coffee shop in the Village than preludes to Sabbath. “Wrapping Paper” is a sad little gem, with a deceptively upbeat saloon-piano backbone — so maybe imagine it’s about preparing presents for the tree, and enjoy the mood that way?
Either way, here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, from all of us.