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The Bangkok airport in June 2021. (Romeo Gacad/AFP via Getty Images).

TGIF: Omicron Edition

Last takes of a long year.

Hello and a very happy New Year! Here in California it’s been pouring rain for more than a week, which undermines all of my justifications for the taxes. It is the slow week between Christmas and New Years, but Omicron has meant a good bit of news.

Omicron shuts down the world: Almost everyone I know either has Omicron—or else they are stuck somewhere random because everyone else has Omicron. The numbers bear that out: On Wednesday, according to the CDC, 486,428 positive Covid cases were reported. It’s the highest number of reported cases in the U.S. at any point in this pandemic.

People are waiting in lines for many, many hours for Covid tests. Thousands of flights were cancelled. (Some of the passengers who did make it onto planes didn’t exactly seem grateful for the privilege.)

But amidst all the chaos, a bit of sanity, strangely, is prevailing. The CDC cut the quarantine time in half, from ten days to five, so society can keep functioning.

And mainstream liberal commenters are coming around to a new conclusion: “As we recognize that COVID-19 is not a deadly or even severe disease for the vast majority of responsible Americans, we can stop agonizing over ‘cases’ and focus on those who are hospitalized or at risk of dying,” writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. We’re even getting Good News reports from Twitter-popular doctors. Are they a year late to these realizations? Yes. Do they deserve to be mocked for the delay? Probably. Will I celebrate their seeing the light anyway? Absolutely. 

The White House is also pivoting hard on its messaging. “There is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level,” President Biden said on Monday, prior to a gathering of governors. Just a little over a year ago, Biden was telling Trump that the death toll was somehow his fault or related to his coarse rhetoric: “It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden had said. 

→ Great news they won’t tell you on cable: The number of Covid deaths each week is dropping. A lot. On Wednesday, there were some 2,100 deaths reported. Compare that to more than 3,600 on this day in 2020. The point is: everyone is getting Covid, but thanks to the vax it seems markedly less dangerous. Which is perhaps why…

Even Covid religious totems are falling: Dr. Leana Wen, one of the regular public health voices on CNN and a former president of Planned Parenthood, went on the nightly news this week and said something entirely true: “Cloth masks are not appropriate for this pandemic. It’s not appropriate for Omicron. It was not appropriate for Delta, Alpha, or any of the previous variants either because we’re dealing with something that’s airborne.” 

If you are vaccinated, healthy, and happy, you are probably already living life like someone sitting in a New York City restaurant (i.e., unmasked but vaguely waving one around as you walk). 

If you just love the feel of fabric across your cheeks, by all means. If you really care about not getting COVID, wear an N95 for as long as you’d like. But it’s long past time to take life back from the hypochondriacs. 

Die-hards are not going to give up without a fight (masked, six feet away). Take Nicole Wallace, Host of Deadline: White House on MSNBC: “I’m a Fauci groupie. I’m a thrice-vaccinated mask adherent. I buy KN95 masks by the, you know, caseload. They’re in every pocket. I wear them everywhere except when I sit down.” 

One area where the excesses are still unchecked is in schools. Colleges around the country are imposing draconian rules (making students truly miserable). And unions around the country are laying groundwork for more remote learning. In Chicago, the union is polling teachers on “a district-wide pause” and going back to remote.


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→ Ghislane Maxwell found guilty: After five days of deliberation, a Manhattan jury found Jeffrey Epstein’s companion guilty of working to recruit, groom, and sexually abuse underage girls. She faces up to 65 years. The appeal has already begun, and it will be very interesting if she starts naming names. It’s hard to see how any of this would have happened were it not for the reporting of The Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown. She brought a dead story back to life.

Interest in legacy news is way, way down this year: The number of unique visitors to the New York Times website is down 34% from the year prior, according to Comscore. The Washington Post is down 44%. It turns out that the look-out-we’re-all-gonna-die approach is not hugely appealing to a lot of Americans in the long run. Plus the juice on Covid panic is running low. 

Network news viewership is also falling. According to Nielsen (from a report on the collapse of mainstream news by the Associated Press): Primetime viewership is down 38% at CNN, 34% at Fox, and 25% at MSNBC. Expect network news to kick it up in 2022: Get 20 or 30 pundits on screen yelling simultaneously while a dozen news tickers roll past.

A slur: During a Christmas call with President Biden, a prankster said, “Let’s go Brandon,” to which the president calmly replied, “Let’s go Brandon.” Whether he doesn’t know the meme or was playing along, it was a dignified response. (Let’s go Brandon is a euphemism for F— Joe Biden, based on a viral video from a NASCAR event.) As for the folks who spent four years yelling the actual F-word about Trump at awards shows and by bicycle, well—surprise—they’re now horrified by this terrible slur said in such an inappropriate context. There are so few consequences, like job loss for those who say the Let’s Go word, they note. (And yes: The prankster, who is making the rounds on conservative media, is open to running for office.)

Price controls will work this time: As inflation continues to soar, efforts to deny the problem have fallen away. Democrats have settled on the notion that it is about corporate greed. And the new solution gurgling up on the left: Institute price controls. I don’t think America is turning into Venezuela, but this would certainly be a step in that direction. (Nor should we expect help from Republicans, who have decided that inflation is a winning issue in an election year and are in no rush to do much about it.)

The tragic shooting of a 14-year-old girl: In taking down a rampaging maniac in a Burlington Coat Factory, an LAPD officer shot and killed an innocent teenager named Valentina Orianna Peralta. A bullet tore through a dressing room wall and killed Valentina while she and her mother were trying on dresses. A few notes here: First, the officer’s colleagues had told him to “slow down” before he moved toward the assailant and fired. Second, when cities see homicides and chaos spike, terrible scenes like this one are more likely. Third: how are we in a situation where going to a department store is a high-risk situation?

Democratic advantage through gerrymandering: All is now quiet on the “redistricting is voter suppression” front. Could that be because Democrats are winning these battles, skewing races more in their favor? Previously, the redistricting that journalists assumed would favor Republicans was called the primary threat to U.S. democracy. Doesn’t seem to be such a threat anymore.

→ Harry Reid RIP: Democrats (and some Republicans) pine for the days when the Democratic Party prioritized the working class. Here’s a nice remembrance in Politico: “The pol I once scoffed at for embodying the worst of American politics turned out to be one of the most morally effective leaders the Democratic Party has ever seen.”


Good Reads (Lots Today):

The great Olivia Nuzzi, a Common Sense staff favorite, profiles Dr. Oz

Hari Raghavan, a progressive tech entrepreneur, leaves San Francisco and writes a goodbye, “The American Dream is on Life Support in the Bay Area.” Zingers include: “You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if your boots keep getting stolen.”

The Times war correspondent and Marine veteran Thomas Gibbons-Neff has a devastating piece on going back to Afghanistan and meeting with the Taliban fighter he once fought: “He wasn’t fighting in a war that seemed like it would never end. And neither was I. He had won his war. I had lost mine.” 

The New York Post’s Samantha Ibrahim has the Year in Cancellations: “From Dr. Seuss to Chrissy Teigen: The stars who got canceled in 2021.” Here’s 2020. And 2019

And in McSweeney’s, a hilarious piece by Kate Brennan: JOB POSTING: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS AND ANIMAL HUSBANDRY WITH A SPECIALIZATION IN DANCE

To apply, please submit a cover letter detailing your interest and experience in AI, Animal Husbandry, and Dance, including anti-racist practices, experiences with diverse learners, teaching philosophy, and a brief list of sexual partners. Include an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Statement, a Research Statement, a statement of goals, wishes, and broken dreams, as well as a manifesto addressing how you will dismantle institutional racism within your first seven days of employment.

For the motherlode of good reads–and if you find yourself a passenger on an expected road trip because your flight has been indefinitely cancelled–check out our favorites of 2021. There are incredible essays on this list. The most impressive part is that half of them were published in outlets that didn’t exist a year ago.


Quotes, Apropos of Nothing:

“Hamilton is understood to use its color-conscious casting to ‘whitewash’ the slave-owning founding fathers. Harry Potter, fans note to each other significantly, ‘was a trust fund jock who became a cop and married his high school sweetheart,’ and moreover his author is transphobic. Parks and Recreation is a symbol of the failure of liberalism in the face of Donald Trump.” — Constance Grady, Vox News, 12/27

“[EO Wilson’s] influential text Sociobiology: The New Synthesis contributed to the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture and spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms. . . . Wilson was hardly alone in his problematic beliefs.” — Monica R. McLemore, Scientific American, 12/29


This Week on Common Sense:

More than a dozen writers came onto Common Sense this week to answer the prompt: What did you change your mind about in 2021?

Enes Kanter Freedom, Jordan Peterson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tim Urban, Ross Douthat, Chloé Valdary, Niall Ferguson, Leandra Medine Cohen, and others weighed in.

One writer changed his mind on individual genius (overrated). One family changed their mind on homeschooling (from thinking it’s crazy to thinking it’s exactly right for their family). Others wrote about state power, Critical Race Theory, and liberalism. I wrote about realizing prestige was a boring goal.

We broke it up into two days, Part I and Part 2

Thank you, as always, for reading. A special thanks to our subscribers. Doing this newsletter has brought me a lot of joy in 2021. See you next year!

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