Proust’s kaleidoscope

This is from volume 2 of In Search of Lost Time:

The people who lived in such an atmosphere imagined that the impossibility of ever inviting an “opportunist”—still, more a “horrid radical”—was something that would endure for ever, like oil-lamps and horse-drawn omnibuses. But, like a kaleidoscope which is every now and then given a turn, society arranges successively in different orders elements which one would have supposed immutable, and composes a new pattern. Before I made my first Communion, right-minded ladies had had the stupefying experience of meeting an elegant Jewess while paying a social call. These new arrangements of the kaleidoscope are produced by what a philosopher would call a “change of criterion”. The Dreyfus case brought about another, at a period rather later than that in which I began to go to Mme Swann’s, and the kaleidoscope once more reversed its colored lozenges. Everything Jewish, even the elegant lady herself, went down, and various obscure nationalists rose to take its place. The most brilliant salon in Paris was that of an ultra-Catholic Austrian prince. If instead of the Dreyfus case there had come a war with Germany, the pattern of the kaleidoscope would have taken a turn in the other direction. The Jews having shown, to the general astonishment, that they were patriots, would have kept their position, and no one would any longer have cared to go, or even to admit that he had ever gone any longer to the Austrian prince’s. None of this alters the fact, however, that whenever society is momentarily stationary, the people who live in it imagine that no further change will occur, just as, in spite of having witnessed the birth of the telephone, they decline to believe in the aeroplane. Meanwhile, the philosophers of journalism are at work castigating the preceding epoch, and not only the kind of pleasures in which it indulged, which seem to them to be the last word in corruption, but even the work of its artists and philosophers, which have no longer the least value in their eyes, as though they were indissolubly linked to the successive moods of fashionable frivolity. The one thing that does not change is that at any and every time it appears that there have been “great changes.”

Check this out tweet from not so long ago (notice the date):

Oh how the turntable turns.

And this:

The mayor of Boston said the city won’t be following New York’s lead requiring proof of vaccination at many indoor businesses, claiming the move is reminiscent of “slavery” and birtherism.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey — the first woman and black Bostonian to hold the office — said “there’s a long history” in the United States of people “needing to show their papers” when asked Tuesday about the mandate unveiled earlier in the day by Mayor Bill de Blasio that requires proof of vaccination to enter indoor restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms starting on Sept. 13.

PS. This is from volume 3 of ISOLT:

But, for one thing, however fiercely the anti-Dreyfus cyclone might be raging, it is not in the first hour of a storm that the waves are at their worst.

How far along are we in the Trump cyclone?

PPS. The quotation on top is taken from a four page long paragraph. Proust’s classic isn’t so long if measured in terms of number of paragraphs, rather than in terms of page or word count.

PPPS. One of my earliest memories is of seeing a big two volume book on my parent’s bookshelf, entitled “Remembrance of Things Past.” I know that’s not the “correct” translation of the title, but you know how memories of one’s childhood are. . . .

Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene lead the GOP

Back in 2016, Trump specifically disavowed racist anti-semites like David Duke:

Donald Trump issued a crystal clear disavowal Thursday of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke after stumbling last weekend over a question about the hate group leader on CNN.

“David Duke is a bad person, who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Today, Trump raves about racist anti-semites like Marjorie Taylor Greene:

I’m not sure if people have processed the fact that today’s Trump is not like the Trump of 2016, he’s far worse. You might believe that the leaders of the GOP denounce Greene:

The candidate, Marjorie Taylor Greene, suggested that Muslims do not belong in government; thinks black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party”; called George Soros, a Jewish Democratic megadonor, a Nazi; and said she would feel “proud” to see a Confederate monument if she were black because it symbolizes progress made since the Civil War. . . .

“These comments are appalling, and Leader McCarthy has no tolerance for them,” said Drew Florio, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) went further, throwing his weight behind Greene’s opponent.

“The comments made by Ms. Greene are disgusting and don’t reflect the values of equality and decency that make our country great,” Scalise said in a statement. “I will be supporting Dr. Cowan.”

But people like McCarthy and Scalise are not the leaders of the GOP. Trump is the real leader of the GOP, and close ally Greene is one of his favorite people.

Here’s Wikipedia:

Greene has promoted numerous far-right, white supremacist, and antisemitic conspiracy theories including the white genocide conspiracy theory,[7][8] QAnon, and Pizzagate,[9][10] as well as other disproven conspiracy theories such as false flag mass shootings, the Clinton body count, and those related to 9/11.[11][12] Before running for Congress, she advocated for executing prominent Democratic politicians.[13] As a congresswoman, she equated the Democratic Party with Nazis[14][15] and compared COVID-19 safety measures to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.[16] She apologized for the latter comparison.[17]

A supporter of Trump’s efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, Greene has repeatedly and falsely claimed that Trump won the election in a landslide victory that was stolen from him.[18] She called for Georgia’s election results to be decertified[19] and was among a group of Republican legislators who unsuccessfully challenged votes for Biden during the Electoral College vote count, even though federal agencies and courts overseeing the election found no evidence of electoral fraud.[20] Greene filed articles of impeachment against Biden the day after his inauguration, alleging abuse of power.[21][22]

What a lovely lady.

August 21, 2021

The GOP has a vaccine problem. Whether fairly or unfairly, the media is hammering the GOP for being anti-vax and anti-mask. Republicans will reply that they are not anti-vax, just pro-choice. Nonetheless, the media is relentlessly portraying the GOP as anti-vax, and that perception is beginning to take hold.

Consider that on just a single day (August 21, 2021) I saw no fewer than four big headlines about four different GOP people associated with opposition to vaccines or masks who died of Covid (in one case a wife):

This last article contains the following:

In the GOP circles where Apley was well known, however, there was little mention of covid-19 or how to prevent it. Two days after mourning their former vice chairman in a Facebook post that did not say what put him on a ventilator, the Galveston County Republican Party shared a far-right website’s medical-evidence-free claim that immunization against the coronavirus had killed a young conservative activist. “Another tragedy – From the Vaccine!!!!!” they warned.

I find this concentration of anti-vax sentiment in the GOP to be rather odd. Vaccines were originally presented as an alternative to all the lifestyle changes that so many Republicans hate. Vaccines were the magic bullet when bleach didn’t pan out.

The GOP has become a Donald Trump personality cult, where mere criticism of Trump’s behavior caused even a hard core Republican like Liz Cheney to be excommunicated and replaced by a New York moderate who opposed the border wall and voted against Trump’s tax cuts. But on the issue of vaccines, no one listens to (pro-vax) Trump. It’s an almost perfect example of the nature of a personality cult. Republicans could not care less what Trump thinks about vaccines; all that matters is that members of the tribe must be personally loyal to Trump.

Random articles

1. Philippe Lemoine has a good article on how Covid will impact society in the long run:


The pandemic is on its way out, but SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay. Fortunately, as everyone develops immunity to it (whether through vaccination or natural infection), it will soon no longer be a major problem anymore. The virus will continue to circulate, but much less than during the pandemic and, even when people are infected, the infection will typically be mild. In the future, almost everyone will get infected for the first time during their childhood, which is harmless and will protect them against severe illness when they are reinfected.15 The virus will continue to mutate and some of those mutations will favor immune evasion, but while this will allow it to infect people who have already been infected or vaccinated more easily, immunity should continue to protect against severe forms of the disease, thanks in particular to the role played by T-cells. This is likely what happened with other human coronaviruses, which are already endemic and typically cause a cold in the people they infect. To the extent that immune evasion occurs, it will be very gradual and the fact that most people will be infected every few years will update their immunity, ensuring that subsequent reinfections will also be mild. The most vulnerable people, whose immune system doesn’t work very well and could use some help to be ready in case of infection, can get a vaccine booster from time to time. The virus will still kill people, as the flu does, but it will never cause the same amount of disruption again. The hardest part of what lays ahead may be to convince people who have been traumatized by the pandemic that it’s over and that restrictions are no longer necessary.

2. The Economist reports that only 15% of the Bulgarian population has been fully vaccinated, and yet demand for vaccination is so low the country is being forced to export lots of unused doses:

Historically, Bulgarians have had little trust in official advice. Circumventing rules of all sorts is a national pastime. Many people are suspicious of the jabs because they are new; some think the virus does not exist, and that measures against the pandemic are a conspiracy. Only a handful of prominent politicians have had themselves vaccinated on television, or are urging people to get a jab. . . .

Watching Bulgarian television can leave you confused. A few covid-sceptical doctors are regularly invited on talk shows. Some advise people with medical conditions that would place them in priority vaccination groups in most countries against getting jabbed. About 30% of doctors and 60% of nurses are unvaccinated.

Dr Kunchev says this is partly because infectious diseases and immunology are barely covered in medical-school curriculums. 

Is this because Bulgaria is poor? Perhaps, but Portugal is also relatively poor, and has the world’s highest vaccination rates, with over 78% having received a first dose:

3. Speaking of The Economist, this is madness:

Only when the world is adequately vaccinated will travel start to feel as it did before the pandemic. That may not be until 2024, by some estimates. Even then, daft rules could stick. America’s ban on travellers with hiv was introduced in the 1980s and abolished only in 2010. Likewise, airlines could be asking for covid-19 papers for years to come. Britain’s transport minister, Grant Shapps, says Britons who venture abroad will need to be fully vaccinated against covid-19 “for evermore”.

Vaccine certification may well make sense in the long run. But bans on visitors from certain countries or caps on international arrivals do not. The risk is that these rules and regulations may outlive their purpose not because governments cannot undo them, but because no politician wants to be the first to try.

4. And The Economist is skeptical of the value of massive fiscal stimulus:

Some economists see insufficient spending as a cause of subdued labour demand. In three-quarters of rich countries the “fiscal impulse”, a measure of the oomph government spending gives the economy, is expected to turn negative this year. Yet it seems unlikely that governments can close the worker deficit simply by spending more. Compare America and the EU. In the spring of 2020 aggregate working hours in both economies tanked. America then passed gargantuan stimulus packages, while European governments chose more modest measures. The recovery in working hours since then has been only marginally better in America—not much extra labour for a lot of extra cash.

5. The same issue documents the sad decline in democracy in numerous Asian countries, including India:

Under Narendra Modi, the prime minister since 2014, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has eroded many of the checks and balances that underpin true democracy. Elections themselves are largely free and fair. But defamation laws are abused to hound critics. Political opponents are intimidated and even imprisoned. Over 7,000 Indians have been charged with sedition under the BJP, casting a chill on civil society. . . .

The v-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, which produces an annual report on the state of democracy around the world, declared this year that India has gone from “electoral democracy” to “electoral autocracy”, as autocratic as Pakistan and worse than Bangladesh or Nepal. 

Still more democratic than China, but the gap is narrowing.

6. A few months ago, some commenters asked me why I thought the US was becoming more puritanical. Here’s an example:

OnlyFans provided a financial lifeline to sex workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now those who have built businesses on the platform are wondering whether they’ll see everything evaporate. . . . The company has said the changes were due to pressure from financial services companies, such as banks or payment providers.

This article in Reason provides some context.

7. The war in Afghanistan may soon be over, but the American government’s war on drug-using Americans is endless:

None of the nine wealthy 20-somethings who were rushed to Manhattan emergency rooms by ambulance one night in November 2019 meant to use opioids. They all thought they were using cocaine, until seven of them passed out within minutes of the first bump.

All of them needed hits of naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, on the way to the hospital. Two were so far gone that they needed three.

The partiers were part of five groups who didn’t know each other, but several had the same contact’s number in their phones, suggesting that a tainted batch of coke was indeed floating around Midtown and Lower Manhattan that night. Blood tests indicated that the cocaine was tainted with fentanyl,

That’s what an illegal drug market looks like—lots of accidental overdoses.

8. Trumpistas a month ago: “Biden shouldn’t get credit for the pullout, as he is merely implementing Trump’s policy decision.”

Trumpistas today: “How dare you suggest that this fiasco was Trump’s idea.”

(But don’t underrate Pompeo’s role.)

Covid follies

Here’s what I said in April 2020:

My general view is that social distancing is better than an explosion of coronavirus cases. I believe we were too slow to begin social distancing, at least in hindsight. At the same time, I expect that after the worst phase of the epidemic is over we’ll do too much social distancing.

And here’s Matt Yglesias today:

I’d like to claim to be some sort of Nostradamus, but anyone who has lived in the US for 65 years and has half a brain would have known that Americans would wildly overreact to Covid risks at the tail end of the pandemic. But even I could not have imagined the overreaction would be this extreme. Here’s the NYT article that Yglesias was reacting to:

Dr. Murray said boosters would undoubtedly boost immunity in an individual, but the benefit may be minimal — and obtained just as easily by wearing a mask, or avoiding indoor dining and crowded bars.

The administration’s emphasis on vaccines has undermined the importance of building other precautions into people’s lives in ways that are comfortable and sustainable, and on building capacity for testing, she and other experts said.

“This is part of why I think the administration’s focus on vaccines is so damaging to morale,” she added. “We probably won’t be going back to normal anytime soon.”

Sadly, a hysterical overreaction to minor risks has been “normal” life in America for decades, so we actually are back to normal. I recently did some traveling and found that not only does everyone have to wear a mask on airplanes, you even need to wear a mask in airports. Why?

PS. This link has lots of amusing comments: