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Weekend Jolt: What the Mask Panic Is Really About

Dear Weekend Jolter,

A reporter asked President Biden last week, on the heels of the court-ordered rollback ...


What the Mask Panic Is Really About

Dear Weekend Jolter,

A reporter asked President Biden last week, on the heels of the court-ordered rollback for public transit, if people should continue to wear masks absent a mandate.

"That's up to them," he replied.


"It is their choice," Jen Psaki explained.


Anyway, such anodyne statements reflect the policy reality for now. Yet this policy either isn't computing for some folks or really is viewed as malicious. Or, and stop me if this is a stretch, those in high dudgeon over the judge's ruling understand that mask-optional transit was the logical — the inevitable — next phase in the long-delayed return to normalcy but pretend otherwise lest they forfeit an identity now fused to the championship of pandemic strictures.

The cultural symbolism of penetrable face armor was expounded by Kevin Williamson in these digital pages a year ago. He writes prettier than I do, so best to deploy the block quote:

In our current plague years, we have rediscovered the religious veil in the COVID-19 mask.

The people who say "listen to science" already are finding reasons not to. It isn't a genuinely scientific question now — this sort of thing almost never is. The reason for the kashrut prohibition on eating pork wasn't, as is sometimes suggested, trichinosis, which wasn't even discovered until the 19th century — a more likely explanation (though by no means an absolutely certain one) is that Jews weren't supposed to eat pork because Egyptian Osiris-worshippers did so at religious festivals, as reported by Herodotus. Pork-eating wasn't a medical matter — it was a matter of cultural allegiance, of us and them.

The mask happens to be considerably cheaper than a Prius, so one can understand its appeal in this context. Last week's ruling was as if a Trump judge had recalled all the Priuses in all the world, citing the Administrative Procedure Act.

Cue end times.

Nate Hochman has dutifully gathered the social-media meltdowns in one place. There's too much to unpack here, but the best might be Valerie Jarrett throwing up a masked selfie with the caption: "Wearing my mask no matter what non-scientists tell me I can do."

Uh-huh. As Lewis Black once remarked of why adults shouldn't bother to dress up on Halloween, "You are an adult, and you can dress up whenever you want to." Wear one, don't wear one; there's nobody to defy here. Nothing is wrong with wanting to don an extra layer of protection. But the science remains so unsettled that the argument that the maskless window-seat passenger is endangering all aboard is hard to take. On a flight this week, coincidentally to the city where Judge Mizelle issued her ruling, an American Airlines crew patiently asked that we "be respectful to each passenger's decision" on whether to wear one. There were no incidents, perhaps a glimmer of the sober view prevailing. The post above links to this chart at City Journal showing how the trajectory of case numbers in states with mask mandates and without was virtually identical throughout the pandemic.

As for the transportation mask mandate’s future, the widespread expectation is that it's gone for now. The Biden administration is appealing the decision as a "matter of principle" but is not seeking a stay, which is revealing. This, as Anthony Fauci laments that a court was able to overrule a "public-health judgment" at all (which Kevin reasonably takes to mean he wants no legal constraints on the CDC). Returning post-ruling to the issue of the mask's cultural significance, Kevin writes that a certain cohort still views any restriction rollback as an "unearned victory for their cultural and political enemies rather than a salubrious sign of progress in the fight against the virus." Which is a shame.

My personal expectation is that scattered mask-wearing, at least on a seasonal basis, will be commonplace in parts of America for years to come, borrowing a norm from some Asian societies. Again, no judgment here (I still wear one sometimes, though often for reasons unrelated to health). But if the righteous-scold mentality toward the unmasked should also persist, we can adapt Barack Obama's most famous diagnosis for the reason: that bitterness at changing times has left those individuals clinging to face coverings or anti-normalcy sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.



Good luck, Musk: Godspeed to Elon Musk

There are better, more democratic ways to remove MTG from office than the challenge that's come before a Georgia judge: Don't Kick Marjorie Taylor Greene Off the Ballot


Michael Brendan Dougherty: Student-Debt Amnesty Is a Grotesque Gift to the Rich

Madeleine Kearns: Florida Is Following Europe's Lead on Gender-Dysphoria Guidelines

Charles C. W. Cooke: How Elon Musk Can Improve Twitter

Nate Hochman: Georgetown Law Scheduled to Host Anti-Semite Who Claims Israelis 'Harvest Organs of the Martyred'

Jimmy Quinn: Ukraine Using U.N. to Lay Groundwork for 'De-Putinization'

Kevin Williamson: Marjorie Taylor Greene Should Go

Caroline Downey: Feminist Philosopher Disinvited from Speaking at Harvard over Trans Views

Isaac Schorr: White House Restricted Access to Covid-Spending Binder That Psaki Used as Briefing Prop

Kyle Smith: Less Trolling, More Governing, Please

Kyle Smith: The Democrats Have a Principal Skinner Problem

Brittany Bernstein: Garland Says 'There Will Not Be Interference' in DOJ's Hunter Biden Investigation

Dan McLaughlin: Against Common-Good Conservatism

Ryan Mills: Wahid Nawabi Fled the Soviets as a Boy. Now He’s Sending Drones to Ukraine to Beat Back the Russian Invasion

Deroy Murdock: Orrin G. Hatch, R.I.P.


Joseph Sullivan sees the energy market splitting in the aftermath of Russia's Ukraine invasion: The Global Oil Market Is Over

Dominic Pino says China's people will pay the most for their government's wretched lockdowns: China Will Bear the Burden of Its Brutal Covid Lockdowns


Armond White examines an overlooked film by a master director: Liberation of L.B. Jones — An Evolutionary Lesson Returns

ICYMI, Brian Allen follows up with another fine review of a fine D.C. museum: The National Portrait Gallery: Ways to Make a Good Museum Better


Mike Gallagher: Woke Warriors

Rich Lowry: The New Nuclear Gap

Nat Brown: Witness at 70

Matthew Continetti: How the Right Misunderstands Its History

Carine Hajjar: Our Inhumane Southern Border


Michael Brendan Dougherty takes a flamethrower to the entire system of college financing, as Washington considers a mass debt wipeout:

The plan being mulled by the Biden administration to cancel and forgive up to $1.6 trillion of federal student-loan debt is a brazen act of class warfare by the affluent against everyone else. It is a politically, and cosmically, unjustifiable robbery that offers yet more rope for the decadent and totally indefensible American college system to become even more decadent and indefensible.

The overwhelming majority of student debt is held by the affluent; less than 10 percent of it is held by the bottom third of earners. Nearly 40 percent of it is held by students who earned advanced degrees — many of them now doctors and lawyers. Unemployment for the college-educated is less than 2 percent.

At every level, the American college system is deranged by the government guarantees and preferment extended to student debt. At the lowest end, schools take advantage of government-guaranteed student loans to prey on service-sector workers. They market a college education as a path of upward mobility, while knowing that most of their students never graduate, or simply return to the service industry after graduation. All that these colleges do is load five-figure-earning students with debt, which is transformed into six-figure salaries for third-rate professors and administrators.

In the great middle tier, the oceans of student debt have inspired colleges to become luxury resorts for the youth. They build endless recreational and athletic facilities, they install baroque food courts in an appalling race to offer something first-rate. These schools are increasingly trying to insert themselves as gatekeepers into fields such as turf management and catering, which never required college education before.

If you view the top-tier colleges from their balance sheets alone, they look like enormous tax-advantaged hedge funds with minuscule vestigial educational institutions named Yale or Harvard attached to them. The student-loan fix has allowed them to raise tuition above $50,000 a year annually. These exorbitant prices, driven by the ocean of loan money guaranteed by the government, help fund the expansion of the administrator class. There are more social managers and commissars than professors at many schools now.

Forgiving student loan debt would be an act of absolution pronounced over this corruption of higher education. Paired with no reform, it does nothing to reduce the profligacy, cost, and predatory nature of these institutions. It only encourages it, and implicitly promises amnesties in the future.

Ryan Mills relays the remarkable story of Wahid Nawabi:

When he was a young teenager, Wahid Nawabi would go to the roof of his family's home in Kabul and watch the Soviet helicopters flying in the distance.

For most of his childhood, Afghanistan had been peaceful and increasingly prosperous. But that all changed after the nation's democratic government was overthrown by Marxist military officers in 1978 in the Saur Revolution. In December 1979, the Soviet troops invaded, plunging the country into what has become 40 years of war, violence, and instability.

In 1982, Nawabi and his family fled. Nawabi, then only 14, led his three younger sisters on a harrowing 48-day journey to escape the war-torn country to reunite with their parents in India.

Because of that experience, Nawabi said he feels a personal connection with the more than 5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine in the wake of this latest Russian invasion. Now as an American and as the chief executive of AeroVironment, a leading provider of military-grade fighter drones, Nawabi said he has a moral obligation to aid the Ukrainian defense effort.

"We need to help the Ukrainians get their freedom back," Nawabi told National Review. "I've gone through that experience. It's heart-wrenching for me."

Last month, the U.S. government sent 100 of AeroVironment's Switchblade drones to the Ukrainians, part of a massive weapons package.

Madeleine Kearns finds the latest example of how conservative positions being lambasted by the Left in America (see: voter ID) are mainstream in Europe:

Last week, Florida's surgeon general released a memo on the "treatment of gender dysphoria for children and adolescents." The document seeks to "clarify" assertions made in a Department of Health and Human Services "fact-sheet" about trans-identifying youth. Whereas the HHS document claimed that "early affirming care is crucial to overall health and well-being," Florida's one-page summary warns of "low-quality evidence, small sample sizes, and medium to high risk of bias."

Insofar as the guidelines caution against gender-transitioning drugs and surgeries for minors, Florida is following Europe's lead. The Florida memo does go further in its explicit caution against social transitions, however.

In 2021, gender-dysphoria experts in the Netherlands — where youth gender transitions were first pioneered — said that "more research is really necessary, and very much needed." Thomas Steensma of the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at Amsterdam UMC admitted that "little research has been done so far on treatment with puberty blockers and hormones in young people. That is why it is also seen as experimental."

In February, Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare (NBHW) issued an update on its service guidelines for children and youth with gender dysphoria, citing "uncertain science" and "no definite conclusions about the effect and safety of the treatments" as reasons to conclude that "the risks outweigh the benefits at present." The Florida memo is accurate, then, in aligning itself with Europe's increasingly cautious approach: "These guidelines are also in line with the guidance, reviews and recommendations from Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom, and France."

Of course, this is not the impression you would get from progressive culture warriors.

Kyle Smith identifies the Simpsons quote that explains everything about Democrats' policy choices lately:

It's pretty obvious what President Biden could do to boost his approval ratings and improve his party's rapidly dissolving prospects in the midterms. He could reverse course on some, or many, or all of the bad policy choices that people hate. He could, for instance, go down to the border and outline a harsh new set of policies for cracking down on illegal immigration. He could give a speech blasting away at woke DAs such as Chesa Boudin (San Francisco), George Gascón (Los Angeles), Alvin Bragg (Manhattan), and Larry Krasner (Philadelphia) for being soft on crime and making minority communities much less safe. He could go up to Montana to say he's restarting the Keystone Pipeline and announce that he's opening the spigot on American oil and gas development. He could waive the Jones Act to goose the supply chain. To relieve inflationary pressures, he could tell people who have student debt, "The party's over, pal. Pay up." He could talk up an austerity budget and/or try to jawbone the Fed into sharply raising interest rates. If he switched sides on even one issue in the culture war, even by giving a speech, it would impress moderates. How about going to Virginia to back parental rights in education and lambast teachers who foist woke sexual politics on third-graders? . . .

Instead of slapping down the woketivist far Left, Joe Biden is channeling Principal Skinner and asking himself: "Am I so out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong." To Democrats, voters are children: The wayward ones need to be taught and corrected instead of heeded.

Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki, Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party's media arm (colloquially known as "the media") are all ignoring the Democratic Party's policy problem and whining that something called "disinformation" is making their wise policies unpopular. The voters are preparing to punish Democrats because they have supposedly taken to believing stuff that isn't actually true, so the Democrats feel they must lash out at the unfairness of the information ecosystem rather than looking in the mirror.

Elon Musk's Twitter takeover should lead to a greater commitment to free and open speech on the platform. Charles C. W. Cooke offers some ideas for how to ensure this outcome:

First, he should replace Twitter's vague guidelines with a long list of more specific rules. I know, I know — that sounds paradoxical. Usually, I am of the view that the fewer the rules, the better the outcome for liberty. But, in this case, I suspect that the opposite is true. "Don't Be Evil" might be a good policy for a society that agrees upon the nature of "evil," but, in one that does not, it is next to useless. As a result, Musk ought to insist on a larger set of narrower limits — "You may not threaten to kill another user" — and to assiduously avoid any of the broader concepts that have been captured and corrupted by the DEI-types that are ruining the American workplace. . . .

Having set these narrow and concrete rules, Musk's second step ought to be to fire pretty much everyone who has ever been involved in Twitter's content moderation. Over the past few years, Twitter has provided Americans with a perfect example of the old adage that "personnel is policy," and, clearly, Twitter's existing personnel cannot be trusted. One could put together the greatest guidelines that have ever existed on the Internet, but if the people who are charged with interpreting and executing them are biased lunatics, they'll make no difference whatsoever. Going forward, every employee at Twitter must be asked, bluntly, "Are you in favor of free speech, even when you hate that speech?" If the answer is "No," they should be asked to leave. There is no reason whatsoever for a "platform for free speech around the globe" to employ people who oppose free speech around the globe.

Finally, Musk ought to dramatically increase transparency. At present, Twitter is an infuriating black hole for everyone except the famous and well-connected.


Brad Polumbo, at the Washington Examiner: A free-market oasis in the desert

David Auerbach, at UnHerd: How the elites lost the Twitter war

Devin Gordon, at the Atlantic: What Happened to Jon Stewart?

Philip Wegmann, at RealClearPolitics: Showdown Looms Over Vacated Mask Mandate


Last weekend, I boasted about having found the "longest song," but I should know better. There's always a longer song. Sure enough, Kevin Antonio writes in with “The Devil Glitch,” by Chris Butler, which at 69 minutes once held the record for longest pop song.

Meanwhile, in belated honor of the mask-mandate reversal: "Breathe (In the Air)."


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