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Belated Weekly Wrap-Up
A light week comes to a delayed end
Family matters intervened to prevent me from writing much the last few days, and this wrap-up will therefore be briefer than last week’s. Nonetheless, for completeness’s sake:
Over at The Week I expressed some skepticism that outright refusal of the vaccine is really going to stand in the way of achieving a return to normal. Therefore, I argue, we should focus on making the vaccine cheaper than free and see how much progress we make before concluding that only punitive measures will suffice:
[C]onsider what we haven't yet done. We haven't brought the vaccine to people's workplaces (unless they work in the health-care sector or in the military). We haven't sent roving vans through urban neighborhoods or out to remote rural areas, bringing the vaccines to people's homes. We haven't made it possible to get the shot as part of a routine visit to the doctor or pharmacy; we still require people to make a specific appointment. And we haven't worked with people with difficult schedules or mobility issues to make sure they can get the shot. While it is definitely easier to get a vaccine now than it was a month ago, to say nothing of three months ago, it still requires determination and some facility with navigating an often confusing system.
And because we're not bringing the vaccine to people, or generally delivering it through channels that are already trusted, we also haven't opened lines of communication that might be helpful for overcoming the hesitancy that clearly does exist. The same people in Luntz's focus group who were sick of hearing from Dr. Fauci might be far less dismissive if a vaccine drive were being held at their local church. That's the kind of thing Israel did to combat vaccine hesitancy in the ultra-Orthodox community— but it hasn't been our approach, at least not yet.
The only thing I’m going to add here is to note that Israel appears to have broken the back of the virus with less than 60% of the population vaccinated — and the more-contagious U.K. variant has been dominant in Israel throughout the latest wave. They should still push to achieve something closer to universality! But we should still take it as a very positive sign for America’s own vaccination effort.
I had only two posts this past week; I’ll look to do better next week.
“The Female Vagrant” is my write-up of Nomadland, which in my view has the same troubled relationship with its subject that Wordsworth’s poetry on homeless beggars does. I didn’t love the film unreservedly the way some critics did; I was personally more moved by both The Father and Sound of Metal. But I expect Nomadland will take home the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars at tonight’s Academy Awards—and it will deserve them, because it is a film of more ambitious scope than either of those films, and largely achieves its aims.
“Does the Reason for Jewish Achievement Matter?” is a post about, well, exactly what it sounds like, and if you’re interested in wading into those swampy waters I encourage you to go there. But I also encourage you to read the book highlighted in the photo at the top of that post, which I didn’t wind up discussing in the post itself. The book is Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century, which belongs on a shelf with Albion’s Seed, a shelf of books that make you think about history from an angle you never considered, and which after you’ve read them leave you unable to remember the world as you understood it before. You don’t necessarily wind up agreeing with them—but they reset the argument so that even in disagreement you wind up accepting their terms of debate.
The World Elsewhere
The most important story in the world right now is still the pandemic, and notwithstanding America’s success on the vaccination front (and I really do think we’re having great success on that front) the pandemic is far from over around the world. I encourage reading Megan McArdle’s column in The Washington Post about how much worse things could have been back to back with Matt Yglesias’s piece here on Substack about how much better things could have been, because they’re both right. Their views are retrospective, though; right now, the most important question is how to address the catastrophic situation in India, which I expect to write about in the coming week.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to be captivated by the latest train-wreck-in-a-tea-pot cultural story, then you’ll probably want to read Jeet Heer and David Rieff back to back on the Blake Bailey scandal—because they are also both right. The “cancelation” of Bailey is very plausibly a desperate lunge for self-preservation on the part of compromised individuals and institutions, and the ways in which they are compromised is the more important scandal. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t also part of a shift that is incompatible with the literary and artistic culture that characterized much of the 20th century.