Joan Didion stands at the panhandle of Golden Gate Park with a group of hippies in April 1967. (Ted Streshinsky/Corbis via Getty Images)

TGIF: I Couldn't Handle Vacation Edition

Plus, remembering Joan Didion, the original California contrarian.

Hello and welcome back. I said I would take today off for Christmas. But I have too much fun doing this. I can’t quit you! This week I’m writing to you from rainy San Francisco. 

Inflation is just a company being really mean: Senator Elizabeth Warren has been trying to convince her constituents that prices are rising because of some sort of corporate conspiracy. Rising prices are not “simply some inevitable economic force of nature— it’s greed. And, in some cases, it is flatly illegal,” Warren said. The soaring price of cars? That’s a chip shortage caused by lack of corporate competition, she said. The cost of milk and eggs rising? Grocery stores are putting “corporate profits over consumers and workers.” She wrote a letter to Kroger, Albertson’s and Publix demanding more information on these prices. For American consumers: Inflation surged 6.8% in November, the highest rate since 1982. Warren’s response is that businesses just need to be nicer and stop raising prices!

Moderates for honest accounting: Senator Joe Manchin gummed up Biden’s would-be signature piece of legislation, Build Back Better. The existing plan was chock-a-block with gimmicks that kept the price-tag seemingly low, when the truth was the bill’s programs would cost much much more. Manchin has indicated he is open to something that actually costs $1.8 trillion.

Biden doesn’t have any political capital to cash in, and the senior senator from West Virginia knows it. The common sense approach here seems to be for Democrats to re-prioritize and try again.

Schools never closed. That was a bad dream you had: Teachers unions and the mainstream media have pivoted. Hard. Union chief Randi Weingarten was described in the Times like so: “Those who fault Weingarten for closed schools misunderstand the role she’s played over the past 20 months. Rather than championing shutdowns, she’s spent much of her energy, both in public and behind the scenes, trying to get schools open.” The great news here is that parent pressure worked.

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Waiting for a test: As more of life requires a negative Covid test, Americans are waiting for hours at city-run facilities. Hours-long lines outdoors in winter. It’s unclear how the government still hasn’t figured out the testing bit, two years into the pandemic. When asked by a reporter about the lack of tests, a bemused Jen Psaki countered: “Should we just send one to every American?” Uh . . .

The Trump vax: Donald Trump, in an interview with conservative provocateur Candace Owens, stood firm on vaccines. “The vaccine is one of the greatest achievements of mankind.” Even as Owens pressed him, Trump stayed . . . on message, a shock to his supporters and detractors alike. “People aren’t dying when they take the vaccine,” he said. While many on the right have spent the year casting doubt on vaccines, Trump’s vocal vax advocacy is refreshing, and I wish he’d been doing it more this whole time. What’s notable is how out of step this sane position is from much of his base. Here’s a video of him on stage with Bill O’Reilly promoting the booster shot and getting boo-ed.

What does it mean that many hardcore Trumpists might now see their standard-bearer as a lib?

Madame Vice President, this is a comedy show: In a Comedy Central show hosted by progressive radio personality Charlamagne Tha God, Kamala Harris lost her cool (fast forward to minute 18). The question was basically: Why have you let Senator Joe Manchin derail your platform? Who’s really in charge around here? Harris’s right-hand Symone Sanders started shouting that the audio connection was bad, pretending the Vice President’s office was having technical difficulties. “She can hear me,” Charlamagne says, laughing. Her aide’s hands moving into the shot, Harris finally says, “I can hear you . . . Charlamagne, come on, it's Joe Biden. . . . It's Joe Biden and my name is Kamala Harris, and I am the Vice President of the United States.” Progressive Democrats have grown so insulated they can barely handle normal questions from their own fanbase. Lighten up! Harris is a heartbeat away from the presidency. It worries me that Comedy Central is too fierce a foe.

Refunding the police, continues: In Chicago, murders have hit a 27 year high, nearly back to 1970s levels. The Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot is requesting U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to send additional federal law enforcement officials to her city. “We cannot continue to endure the level of violence that we are now experiencing,” she said in a long speech on crime. In 2020, during those thrilling months when Americans were told that all crime would end if police stopped policing, Lightfoot proposed cutting the police budget by $80 million.

No one is exempt from the crime wave: Democratic Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon was carjacked at gunpoint this Wednesday in Philadelphia. The day before, in a Chicago suburb, Illinois State Senator Kimberly Lightford was also carjacked at gunpoint. The attacks sound horrific: “I begged them not to shoot us,” Lightford told reporters

State of emergency: London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco, declared a state of emergency in the city’s Tenderloin district, a blocks-wide wound in the middle of the city, in which families and small business owners contend daily with open drug abuse. It is an area where dealers have free rein and where the addicted die slow deaths, cared for as they go by a dozen do-good city agencies. It’s great to see the mayor take the situation so seriously. She and New York City’s moderate Democratic mayor, Eric Adams, are a smart future for Democrats. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin joined a press conference denouncing Breed’s declaration. 

Tech leaders are fighting: Since stepping down from running Twitter, Jack Dorsey has become . . .  kind of petty online? The venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who doesn’t hesitate to use the block feature on Twitter, blocked Jack, who then posted about it proudly. It ostensibly all has something to do with Web3. Also somehow involved is Elon Musk, who is the only tech leader with a good online persona. We are watching the chaotic situation closely.

Third-graders forced to reenact the Holocaust. Eight-year-olds at Watkins Elementary School were asked to re-enact Hitler’s genocide against the Jews. Some students were assigned the job of pretending to die in gas chambers. Others were told to fake digging mass graves. One Jewish child was assigned the role of Hitler. The teacher said: “Jews ruined Christmas.” That teacher was librarian Kimberlynn Jurkowski, who has a history of fraud and torturing dogs

Joan Didion, the great contrarian: Joan Didion, who inspired a generation of young writers including this one, died Thursday. She was a lot of things, but one of them: she was a brilliant contrarian. My favorite of her pieces skewered the trendy movements around her. 

When hippies were cool, where was Joan Didion? She was writing the darkest portraits of the movement that were ever made. She was showing readers the preschool-aged child whose parents gave her LSD. She went to the beating heart of the utopian progressive movement of the era–in the heart of the city where I was born and raised–and she showed what the unmooring looks like up close. 

In “Where the Kissing Never Stops,” Didion gives us a hilarious take-down of Joan Baez’s Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, where well-meaning young hippies wander glassy-eyed across her pages. Here’s Didion on Baez’s right hand man:

“Ira Sandperl is a forty-two-year-old native of St. Louis who has, besides the beard, a shaved head, a large nuclear-disarmament emblem on his corduroy jacket, glittering and slightly messianic eyes, a high cracked laugh and the general look of a man who has, all his life, followed some imperceptible but fatally askew rainbow.”

Here on Baez: “To encourage Joan Baez to be ‘political’ is really only to encourage Joan Baez to continue ‘feeling’ things, for her politics are still, as she herself said, ‘all vague.’” 

She ends the piece with Baez standing in front of the refrigerator eating potato salad with her fingers.

The Didion I read would quietly find the flabbiest bits of American culture. She was ruthless and funny. She was not on your side. She wasn’t on anyone’s side. If Didion had been working these past few years, I have no doubt who she’d be writing about. 

Now, TGIF is usually an ad-free zone, but we wanted to plug one special event Common Sense friends are putting on.

When Liel Leibovitz saw the left giving up on what he believed in, he changed politically—a shift he detailed in his recent knockout Tablet article, “The Turn.” Join Liel this Monday, December 27, at 8:30 p.m. EST for a conversation about political homelessness and what to do about it. He’ll be joined by Tablet editor Alana Newhouse and novelist, literary critic, and essayist Walter Kirn. Sign up here. We already have.

The fact-checkers need you to put the pipette down right now and walk away: When the esteemed British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a piece on alarming problems in a Pfizer vaccine development lab, Facebook’s fact-checkers could not let it stand. 

The fact-checkers marked it on Facebook as misleading and users were warned that they were sharing “false information.” These checkers are part of the “disinformation journalist” movement, a group of people across media companies and inside big tech who spend their days demanding nothing they personally dislike be shared online. And the Truth cannot be that anything went wrong in any vaccine lab at any time. So this Facebook fact-checking group (their bios here) fact-checked the British Medical Journal. 

Thankfully, the BMJ is fighting back. The journal’s letter to Facebook is pretty amazing:

From November 10, readers began reporting a variety of problems when trying to share our article. Some reported being unable to share it. Many others reported having their posts flagged with a warning about “Missing context ... Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.” Those trying to post the article were informed by Facebook that people who repeatedly share “false information” might have their posts moved lower in Facebook’s News Feed. Group administrators where the article was shared received messages from Facebook informing them that such posts were “partly false.”

We find the “fact check” performed by Lead Stories to be inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible.

— It fails to provide any assertions of fact that The BMJ article got wrong.

— It has a nonsensical title: “Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying And Ignored Reports Of Flaws In Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials.”

— The first paragraph inaccurately labels The BMJ a “news blog.”

— It published the story on its website under a URL that contains the phrase “hoax-alert.”

The Truth is always changing. For example, conservative commentator Dave Rubin was locked out from Twitter in July for saying vaccine mandates are coming, and we’d all be required to get boosters soon. 

Truth is only Truth when ten Waldorf graduates gather, and when at last we see the vape smoke signal rise. Hallelujah we may post. 

Comedy Break.

Imagine this group trying to unionize a factory. Like, “Excuse me, excuse me, transphobia alert. We need all you warehouse workers to try that ‘hello’ again.”

One more:

Here is a video of Trump in 2018 saying this during holiday calls: “Are you still a believer in Santa? Cause at seven it’s marginal, right? Well, you just enjoy yourself.”

Great reads:

This Week on Common Sense:

Only 35 students at Princeton were able to hear a recent speech by Abigail Shrier, which had to be hosted off-campus and couldn't be recorded for security reasons. So we brought it to you (off-off campus!) and had her record it. 

Common Sense
Abigail Shrier on Freedom in an Age of Fear
A few weeks ago, my friend Abigail Shrier—who you surely remember from this essay or this investigation—was invited to give a speech at Princeton. Abigail is the author of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing O…
Read more

And Megan Phelps-Roper has a Christmas essay that will make you cry. It’s about bridging past and present without burning it all down. 

Common Sense
I Was Taught "God Hates Christmas." Now, I Love It.
Holidays are infamous for bringing up all kinds of complicated feelings in people, and I count myself among them: my family hates Christmas. It was never a matter of bickering over politics at Christmas dinner, or the frustration of gifts poorly chosen and received ungraciously. No, no—in my…
Read more

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