Good Friday Morning, especially to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have fired Urban Meyer as their head coach. I was sorely tempted to write something this week that roped Urban into something I wrote, but decided better of it. I got a laugh out of Annie Agar’s joke, “I know we shouldn’t be happy about Urban Meyer getting fired, but I’m sure some people got a real kick out of it.”
This week, I’m do a writeup on two things on my mind this week regarding the pandemic, and a broader question about writing and creating art. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Texas and California’s fight underlines Supreme Court’s need to get out of the abortion debate – The Conservative Institute.
China’s economy threatens America and the world – The Conservative Institute.
Two thoughts to end the year.
This is going to be the last newsletter I write for this year. The following two Thursdays fall right before Christmas and New Year’s Day (and my birthday), so I will take a two-week hiatus on writing. The same is true of the podcast. I inadvertently took off last week on the podcast due to pure exhaustion. Between end-of-the-year work tasks and the tornadic weather, I went into the weekend on about 3 hours of total sleep.
I leave you this year with two thoughts. The first deals with the pandemic: when will people accept normal? The second is a question I get when talking about the craft of writing: how do you become a writer?
On the first question: the new normal.
Over the past week or so, one of the most talked-about articles in the online “discourse,” was a piece in The Atlantic: “Where I Live, No One Cares About COVID: Outside the world inhabited by the professional classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over.“
In it, Matthew Walter makes the rather obvious observation that if you’re in places outside blue-city America, people have essentially moved on from COVID. That’s not to say there aren’t COVID impacts. Has anyone tried grocery shopping and dealing with COVID-related shortages or shipping issues? It’s not that. It’s that they’ve moved on and returned their lives to normal. He starts:
In November, my wife asked me whether I had seen an article with the remarkable headline “Is It Safe to Go to Thanksgiving Dinner?”
“Is that from last year?” I asked.
“No, it’s a few days old,” she said, her voice sinking to a growling murmur. “These people.”
I am old enough to remember the good old days when holiday-advice pieces were all variations on “How to Talk to Your Tea Party Uncle About Obamacare.” As Christmas approaches, we can look forward to more of this sort of thing, with the meta-ethical speculation advanced to an impossibly baroque stage of development. Is it okay for our 2-year-old son to hug Grandma at a Christmas party if she received her booster only a few days ago? Should the toddler wear a mask except when he is slopping mashed potatoes all over his booster seat? Our oldest finally attended her first (masked) sleepover with other fully vaccinated 10-year-olds, but one of them had a sibling test positive at day care. Should she stay home or wear a face shield? What about Omicron?
I don’t know how to put this in a way that will not make me sound flippant: No one cares. Literally speaking, I know that isn’t true, because if it were, the articles wouldn’t be commissioned. But outside the world inhabited by the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many, if not most, Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over, and they have been for a long while.
I’m in a similar boat. Those of you who have read or listened to me for a while know that I predicted, of myself, that when I got vaccinated, the idea of an ever-present pandemic would recede into the background. And I think that’s happened, and my writing has reflected a far less interest in the pandemic. It still exists, for sure. But it’s not a constant threat. I plan on getting a booster and moving on with my life again.
I cannot even begin to imagine the mental load it takes for people in these blue states and cities thinking about shutting down over the new variant. I’ve yet to see a single piece of concerning news about that variant — at all. It’s been quite the opposite. Here’s some reporting out of Florida to prove it:
Even though there have been practically no cases of clinical infection, wastewater samples show that the new omicron variant is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the Florida county that is home to the nation’s largest theme park resorts, officials said this week.
The omicron variant has quickly surpassed the delta variant in collections taken from wastewater sampling sites in Orange County, officials said.
A sampling this week showed that omicron represented almost 100% of the strains in the samples from the wastewater facilities, Orange County Utilities spokesperson Sarah Lux said in an email.
It’s a different story when it comes to people seeking treatment for COVID-19, officials said.
“Those who are hospitalized are being primarily infected by the delta variant,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Wednesday at a news conference held at the Orlando International Airport.
Omicron is rapidly becoming the new dominant strain, whether people know it or not. It’s vastly more pervasive and spreads faster — and people don’t know it. Those sick in hospitals are still dealing with Delta. Vaccines work against both.
And yet, as that Atlantic piece notes, people on the left are having a full-on meltdown over what to do. They see rising case numbers and panic. It’s the most bewildering thing to me. Either you believe in the miraculous cures that our very best scientists have wrought (with literally billions of data points to back it up), or you don’t. The “I love science” crowd is petrified of the world.
I’ve tried to be honest on where I’ve changed politically or mentally, and I admit what I’m about to say is an evolving stance. But I have to admit: I will never trust an “expert,” or more specifically, the type of person who fits in this class. I’ve called them various things like the “Zoom class,” the technocratic aristocracy, or the managerial class. This point is mildly ironic because I am squarely a member of this crowd. But these people have lost their minds.
No, we shouldn’t have universal healthcare! Have you seen the outright idiocy of policy-making that takes place in the FDA or CDC? I was opposed to government-run healthcare before this pandemic. But after this pandemic, I don’t know how you can look anyone in America in the eye and say, “Yes, we want these people in charge of our healthcare. The people petrified of Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.”
The most neurotic people are running public health policy, and it’s utterly insane. I fully admit, on the pandemic, I’m a weird conservative in that I’ve openly supported masking and vaccines policies as we’ve worked towards a majority-vaccinated society. And as we’ve reached those goals, my stances have shifted accordingly (at least in my mind; I think my writing has reflected that). But as the vaccination numbers have gone up across the country, there’s no need for pandemic measures.
The world has changed. It is not March 2020. We need to enact the policies and ideas heading into January 2022 radically different from March 2020. I cannot fathom the person who has hunkered down into a hole, never to emerge out of fear. The person who wanted lockdowns over South Africa over a variant that we’ve never had evidence suggesting it was as dangerous as Delta.
And when you tell them the things in that Atlantic piece — they freak out. I’m not joking when I tell you people were canceling their memberships to The Atlantic over that piece. That is, by definition, insane. As I said many times, I’m over it. Vaccines arrived. We have multiple ways to treat this thing now (the FDA/CDC slow-walking approval is another story entirely; my hatred for bureaucrats burns brighter than ever). You simply cannot pretend it’s March 2020.
But we have a class of people in this country who refuse to believe that. And it matters that they do because they live in large cities and can move the economy in dumb directions. The Federal Reserve lists new COVID variants as one of its potential economic threats. US Banks have measured this same sentiment and found that their clients, by and large, think the same thing; variants are a danger. But the threat is how the US government responds, not the danger of the virus itself.
We’re in bizarre territory at the moment. We need these people to come out of their shells so the country can return to normal. But it’s hard for me to even start to care — because like so many people in this part of the country, I’ve moved on.
The second question: How to write.
This second question is one I’m going to make a bit broader because the principle applies the same. I used to think of myself as a writer. I thought this at various points in high school, college, law school, and even upon graduation. Those are lies. I was not a writer. A writer is a person who has written. Authors are those who have authored. Musicians have played. To be an artist, you must have created a work of art.
Now, when I say work of art, I mean the act of creating and then publishing that thing to the world. The person who creates and never shares has a journal or a private gallery. They are not an artist in the true sense because all art, all creations, must be seen and shared. It is impossible to be an artist without creating and then sharing with the world. That’s where invention meets judgment, and vulnerability begins.
I write primarily about politics. The things I peddle here in this newsletter fit into the realm of observation, opinion, and traditional essay writing. I am a columnist because I write two columns a week that get published. The same is true of newsletter writing. I occasionally offer essays to third parties (hopefully, I can return to that in 2022). Those are things I am because I have done them.
There are other things I’d like to be too: I’d like to be a book author, a politician, an essayist, and more. These are things I consider various forms of art (politics is an art, and it meshes with leadership). But until I’ve done them, I cannot claim the title.
I say all of that to say this: what you create will never be perfect. There is no such thing as perfect art; there is only published or presented art. I remember, very early on, when I opened The Beltway Outsiders website, I wrote a piece called “The Modern Scarlet Letter.” When I published it, I was also terrified that maybe I shouldn’t post it because it was one of my “best” ideas, and if I burned a “best” idea on my free site, I might not have another one like it.
That’s a laughable fear. I still agree with every point in that essay. But if you gave me that same topic, I could produce a radically better version that people would read and wipe the floor with that version of me. That’s ok! Writing is a skill, like any other art form. The only way to progress in art is to accept that your work, especially starting out, will suck. Perfection in your first works is impossible. And either you allow yourself to become paralyzed by imperfection and never publish, or you publish what you have, learn, and move on.
That’s the other thing I’ve learned. You cannot produce a better “next” project until you’ve published the item on your plate. That feeling of fear you get before hitting publish or sending in that draft never goes away. This is my 272nd newsletter. I’ve written more than 500 columns and various other columns and essays for this site and others, closing in on a thousand published items. Every time, without fail, I can hear one person in the back of my mind criticizing a point I’ve made somewhere. The fear, criticism, or fear of criticism never goes away.
There’s an excellent book by Steven Pressfield called “The War of Art.” It’s full of wonderful advice. He has two quotes that have stuck with me:
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Fear is good. Fear reminds us to try our absolute best. Fear drives us to perform. Fear reminds us of what we’ve been to propel us into what we can become. The Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Fear has the ability to keep you grounded. Where fear goes wrong is when you allow fear to paralyze; fear should, instead, be a guide.
In college, I did this thing called Mock Trial. I was very good at it. I’d estimated on my graduation that if I was leading a team, we won more than 70% of the judge’s ballots in a given contest. For the life of me, I cannot remember a single round that I ever won. I can tell you with disturbing detail about the matches I lost more than a decade later. I’ve seen basketball and football players diagram out, from memory, games they played in from years ago.
Even now, with writing. I can’t tell you all the praise I’ve gotten for writing. I can tell you about the criticisms. Those stick with you. Art is the skill of pushing forward and publishing again, again, and again. And pretty soon, after a while, you look back and see the mountain of things you’ve created, and you’ll be astonished.
As you head into 2022, I’d give one piece of advice: publish that thing, sing that song, show that art, and above all: do the work. To be the thing, you have to do the required work. There’s no other way. Do the work.
I hope you, your family, and your friends have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Blessed New Year in 2022.
Links of the week
Biden concedes Build Back Better bill won’t get passed this year: “It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote,” the president said. – Politico
Senate passes Uyghur forced labor bill – Zachary Basu, Axios
Chinese creditors sue Evergrande for claims totalling $13 billion – Financial Times
A review of The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World by Adrian Wooldridge. – Razib Khan, Quillette
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!