My two sons are each 50% Czech by background. So through the laws of algebraic equivalence, obviously this means that I myself represent one full Czech person. When you add in Deb, my all-Czech wife, in turn it’s obvious that our household constitutes two Czech votes. And then when you include the two halves from our sons, that makes three of us.
OK, just kidding on the imaginative math, plus warming up for creative delegate-counting at the GOP convention this summer. But I can honestly claim to be a native speaker of English. And in that role, I entreat authorities in my homeland-by-marriage of the Czech Republic: please, don’t change the English version of your name to “Czechia,” as apparently you’re planning to do.
What’s wrong with this new name? The minor issue — again, drawing on my authority as an English-speaker, since we’re the intended audience — is that it’s weird. No one in the English-speaking world has seen or heard it before.
Which leads to a larger problem: outsiders have heard the very similar-sounding (in English) name Chechnya. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the Czech ambassador complained that his country was being unfairly confused with Chechnya, where the bombers were from. Linguists at Language Log elaborated on the problem. Long before the bombing, the famous “Pine Barrens” episode of The Sopranos turned on the same confusion. Trust me, it’s only going to get worse with Czechia.
What’s the alternative? Our household casts its votes for any of these three:
Czech Republic. Ain’t broke, don’t fix it (an English-language idiom). Lots of countries have two-word names. Dominican Republic. Costa Rica. Ivory Coast. New Zealand. Saudi Arabia. Sierra Leone. El Salvador. Sri Lanka. South Korea. In ye olden days, the Soviet Union. Puerto Rico, which participates in the Olympics separate from the United States. And, for that matter, the United States itself (plus the United Kingdom). The desire to boil the name down to one word is said to lie behind this move. That’s not a very good reason.
Bohemia. OK, the Moravians and Silesians wouldn’t like it. But the rest of the world would recognize it immediately. It has panache.
Česko. This is what you call yourselves already. Make it the English name too! No risk of confusion with any other countries. The flair of being the only country (that I’m aware of) with a C-with-háček in the international version of its name: Č means a ch- sound. Pride in saying: here’s our name, get used to it, rather than the corporate-branding workaround of Czechia.
That’s how our branch of the diaspora votes. Česko, Bohemia, or Czech Republic, Yes. Czechia, Ne.
UPDATE The Czech word for “yes” is ano, as I realize from visits there. So logically the concluding sentence of the post should have said: “Česko, Bohemia, or Czech Republic, Ano. Czechia, Ne.” I chickened out from writing it that way, for fear that ano would be even more confusing to English readers than Czechia itself. (The meaning of ne is easier for English speakers to guess.) In any case this is the explanation for the mixed English/Czech Yes/Ne pairing in that sentence.
Before I disappeared into article-writing land, I put up an item arguing that today’s Czech Republic, homeland of all of my wife’s forebears back when it was Bohemia within the Austro-Hungarian empire, should avoid the mistake of changing the English version of its name to “Czechia.” Instead I suggested: either stick with Czech Republic, go retro with Bohemia, or embrace the country’s own name for itself, Česko.
Little did I know that a whole website exists to advance the name Czechia, and to address “The myths and facts about the short English name of the Czech Republic.” Give it a look (I resisted saying check it out) and see if you are convinced. One of the less ironclad parts of the argument:
Myth No. 8: There are other countries that exclusively use political names without any problems. Examples include the Dominican Republic or the Central African Republic. Fact: Although that is true, the vast majority of countries use short geographic names. The Dominican Republic and the Central African Republic are the only two countries in the entire world that do not have readily available short names.
The only two countries? Umm, New Zealand? Costa Rica? Sierre Leone? Burkina Faso, the one-time Upper Volta? Trinidad and Tobago? You get the idea.
A surprisingly rich stream of responses has arrived while I’ve been away, in three main categories: linguistic, historical, and flat-out angry (from boosters of the “Czechia” cause). I’ll start off with the linguistic.
Reader Andreas Stolcke, whose first language was German and who now does language-related computer work at Berkeley, goes into the details. The illustrations he has provided are Google ngram charts, showing the frequency of certain words in books over the years:
Two observations (and associated questions):
1) As a native speaker of German, I was surprised to read about the rebranding proposal because German speakers have adopted the proposal a long time ago!
Tschechien is the popular way to refer to the neighbors on the other side of the Bohemian Forest. Personally, the term actually seems foreign to me and I like the sound of Tschechische Republik better, but this Google ngram frequency plot [below] proves I’m in the minority. Maybe the Czechs had German branding consultants in this matter?
1b) BTW, the corresponding plot for the English terms shows that there is no contest. [That’s the one shown at the top of this post.]
1c) Analogous to German, how many have other languages/countries effectively already adopted the Czechia proposal, i.e., have a commonly used term for the country of the Czechs that is a word with a root cognate to "Czech" and a simple suffix that means "land of" ?
2) The German Wikipedia page says that the Czech word for Bohemia is in fact Čechy, i.e., cognate of Czech. How do the Moravians feel about this? Do they feel like an appendage to the Czech/Bohemian “core” of the country? With your familial contacts you might be in a position to research this question ... And how does this play into the discussion that no doubt is taking place internally about this rebranding proposal? While both Czechia and Czech Republic are based on the same word, the latter has a slightly neutral feel (the
“Czech” part makes up only 50% of the complete name ;-).
Actually, German has a third term for Czechia (I’m using the proposed term now for the sake of brevity only—maybe that's the argument that will ultimately win out here).
That alternate term is Tschechei, using a toponymic suffix -ei that is used elsewhere, such as in Slowakei (Slovakia), Mongolei (Mongolia), etc. I was familiar with that term but always associated it with my grandparents’ generation. Indeed, the German Wikipedia page states that the term became widely used in the 1930 and was promoted by the Nazis.
After the war the term continued to be used, but upon the creation of the Czech Republic in the 1990s, the Czech government requested that the usage be discontinued in favor of Tschechien, precisely because of the association with Nazi colonial ambitions (Hitler used the term Rest-Tschechei to refer to what would be left of Czechia after subtracting the areas with German population). It seems the request was successful—except in revisionist circles.
What is neat is that the Google ngram frequency plot for all three terms bears out this interesting history of linguistics and politics quite accurately.
Among other things, it shows that the current preference of Tschechien over Tschechei is not just the result of political correctness but actually predates the Nazi's favoring the latter term. For example, in books published in 1920,Tschechien was 8 times as often used as was Tschechei, so the short form is legitimately old.
Anyway, this is a detour into the specifics of German-Czech history, but it is clearly useful to know as background to the discussion of country naming.
Scholar that he is, Stolcke proposed a direction for further research:
Regarding the question I posed earlier, one methodology for resolving it would be to inspect the wikipedia pages for Czech Republic in other languages (conveniently linked to on the left side) and look for a single-word term, then try the frequency of both that and the official two-word term according to Google ngrams. That would be quite time-consuming, so I didn't do it (yet). However, it looks like Spanish, French, Polish, and Danish all have a single-word terms listed that looks vaguely similar to Czechia. In other words, English might really be an outlier in linguistic terms.
I thanked Stolcke for his research — and thanked him again when he reported back after doing the further hypothesis-testing he had set out:
Applying the suggested approach to four European languages, taken from three different IE language sub-families spoken on the continent:
1) Italian: the one-word form exists (Cechia) but is not nearly as much in use as the two-word form (Repubblica Ceca). Still, Cechia is obviously the older term, since there was no Czech Republic until fairly recently! (See ngram plot below.)
Spanish and French also seem to have little use for their one-word equivalents of Czechia.
2) Russian: in 2008 books, the one-word form (RЧе́хия) is about three times as frequent as the two-word form (Че́шская Респу́блика). (See ngram plot:)
3) Danish: the Google ngram viewer doesn't have a Danish corpus, but the number of web pages retrieved by google.dk for Tjekkiet is about twice that forTjekkiske Republik.
Another Germanic language is German, of course, where the one-word formTschechien is used about three times as much as Tschechische Republik (as shown earlier).
a) Google ngrams are collected from books only. Usage in the language more broadly may be have a different profile, though one would think that the shorter (one-word) forms are even more preferred in informal and spoken language.
b) The frequencies are for the citation forms. I'm not sure how inflectional morphology, e.g., in Russian, would change the relative frequencies. Probably not much.
c) The data stops in 2008.
Bottom line: in the matter of Czechia vs. Czech Republic English behaves much more like French than a Germanic language (not that surprising given the Norman invasion).
So how did English speakers refer to the land of the Czechs before, say, 1960, since they didn't have the historical one-word country name that the Germanic and Slavic languages had in their dictionaries? I'm guessing that the answer lies in this plot.
If he were alive and writing today, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have Sherlock Holmes solve "A Scandal in Czechia".
Now we know! Thanks to Andreas Stolcke.
Historians, and angry readers, to be heard from soon.
In the previous posts collected in this Thread, I argued that the country officially known as the Czech Republic should resist the idea of changing its “short English name” to Czechia.
Under a proposal from the “Go-Czechia” group, people inside the country would still refer to it as Česko, and its full official name would remain “Czech Republic” in English and Česká republika in Czech. But just as the place officially known in English as “People’s Republic of China” goes by “China” in common international parlance, and just as “Republic of China” goes by “Taiwan,” so too (according to supporters of the plan) should English references to their country be to “Czechia.”
I received a lot of ill-humored mail from people in the Czech Republic after I said that I thought Czechia would sound strange in English. A representative note from a scholar who works as a translator from Czech to English and German began, “I have to strictly oppose your argumentation in the article ‘People of Czechia’ …”
I wrote back to several pro-Czechia correspondents, and have had an extended exchange with Petr Pavlinek, who originally was trained at Charles University in Prague and is now a professor in the geography and geology department at the University of Nebraska — Omaha. (Bonus info: in my role as in-law to an extended Czech-American family, I’m aware that Nebraska is one of the centers of Czech settlement here, along with Iowa, Texas, Minnesota, and of course greater Chicagoland, where all of my wife’s Czech grandparents began their American lives.) With Prof. Pavlinek’s permission I’m quoting the back and forth. It clarifies some issues, and also is just interesting.
Round 1. Professor Pavlinek begs to differ with my views:
Your article on Czechia is very subjective and uninformed. It is very disappointing. Please, learn basic facts first before writing.
The fact that Czechia sounds weird to you is not an argument against using it. Czechia is perfectly fine in terms of linguistics. No one is taking the Czech Republic away and it stays in place as the official political name of the country.
Arguing for using Cesko in English is the same as saying that we should not use Austria but Osterreich or Deutchland instead of Germany in English. This does not make sense. To write an article based on what your family thinks without knowing the basic facts is unprofessional to say the least.
I sent a note back saying: OK, thanks, I’ll quote people on your side of the argument [as is happening now].
Round 2. He wants to make sure I understand:
OK. Fair enough as long as you get your facts right. As I said, the basic facts are at www.go-czechia.com. This is NOT about renaming the country but about standardizing its short geographic name. The Czech Republic remains in place as the political name.
By the way, you need to know that in order for a geographic name to be registered with the United Nations it first needs to be standardized and approved nationally. Czechia was standardized by the committee of 55 geographers, historians, linguists and others in 1993. Bohemia was not standardized and will never be because it is wrong geographically as you know. It does not include [Silesia] and Moravia.
Czech has no chance either because it is an adjective, a member of the Czech nation, the language. Czechia is the only one that is correct. The Czechlands is incorrect since the Czech Republic is not composed from any lands. That would be the first question the UN committee for the standardization of geographic names would ask: what lands is your country composed of now?
Please, see attached about the UN rules and procedures. If you study all of this, you will get a better understanding of the subject.
Round 3. In another post in this series, I quoted part of the Go-Czechia manifesto that I found unconvincing. That part said, “The Dominican Republic and the Central African Republic are the only two countries in the entire world that do not have readily available short names.” I said, only two? What about New Zealand? Costa Rica? Sierra Leone? Etc.
Prof. Pavlinek was one of many to write back and say: The length of the name is not what they’re talking about! (Despite all the emphasis on coining a new “short English name.”) The complaint is that “Czech Republic” refers to a political entity rather than a geographic place. Sample:
This [my use of Costa Rica and New Zealand as counter-examples] is completely wrong. So for example. The political name of Costa Rica is the Republic of Costa Rica, Costa Rica is its geographic name (as is Czechia), Sierra Leone is the geographic name, its political name is the Republic of Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago is the geographic name, its political name is the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I am sure you get it now.
New Zealand goes by only by its geographic name, the same is the case of Burkina Faso, Upper Volta (the geographic name) - its political name used to be the Republic of Upper Volta. Some countries do not have political names.
The number of words in the country name does not determine whether it is the political or geographic name. The political name included the nature of the political regime such as the Kingdom of Denmark, the Kingdom of Spain, the Czech Republic. Geographic names are then: Denmark, Spain and Czechia.
I hope you understand now. Should we expect a third article then?
Round 4. I noted to my correspondent that we were nearing a delicate and unfair reality of modern life. I have spent many decades wrestling with a range of languages, but the only one in which I dare undertake professional work is my own native language of English.
Thus I greatly respect the burden, challenge, and bravery of people doing professional work in their second, third, fifth, etc language, and I try always to make allowances for this uneven playing field. Still, when it comes to discussions of how things sound in English, a riposte that begins “I have to strictly oppose your argumentation ...” works with an extra handicap. (To spell it out for any non-native speakers reading along: That sentence sounds really odd and stilted in English.) So I suggested that since the audience for “Czechia” was the non-Czech-speaking, English-functional international community, perhaps the group should include some native English speakers in its deliberations?
In specific, I said, two parts of the argument raised problems for English-speakers. One is the heavy emphasis on a “short” name, when their complaint has nothing to do with the name’s length. (Ie, with what English speakers would understand from the word “short.”) Rather it is about names based on political organization — “republic” — instead of a geographic place.
But for me that leads to the second problem. In fact, there are two pretty famous examples of countries known by their political name: the United States, and the United Kingdom. In the American case, you can use “American” as an adjective, just as you can use “Czech.” But the uniforms at Olympic games, the name tags at international conferences, etc say “United States,” “US,” or “USA.” So too for the Brits. We know all the common geographic names: England, Britain, Great Britain. But none of them is officially equivalent to the United Kingdom. (England is just England; Britain brings in Wales; Great Britain is the whole island, including Scotland; and the UK is all of them plus Northern Ireland.)
It’s one thing to say: the Czech Republic should change its name, because that makes it part of an outlier category whose only other members are the D.R. and the C.A.R. But the category seems more impressive and mainstream if it also includes the U.S., the U.K., and previously the U.S.S.R.
In reply, with emphasis added at one point:
Yes, you are absolutely right that it is very difficult for non-native speakers to make their point clearly in English...
As for America, you are absolutely right that it is not an official short country name (it is not included in the UN’s database) and it is not used in any official events. But the truth is that it is used informally in everyday speech as the geographic name for the country, including presidents and presidential candidates (“America first,” for example now) however wrong it might be.
The implication is that America and Britain are used in the everyday speech and in the media for the United States and the United Kingdom (shortened political names). As such, I would argue that these two countries are very different cases from those of the Dominican Republic and the Central African Republic.
I am not trying to convince you. Not at all. I just want you to have your facts right in your article. In this case about the difference between geographic and political names and examples used. Then it is perfectly fine to argue against Czechia.
Now tell me one more thing: you recognize the difficulty for non-native speakers to understand the English language. How should then the Czechs who are not English speakers decide about how the word Cesko is properly translated into English? Isn’t it the same situation as if I asked you how America should be properly translated into Czech?
Also, in your arguments you need to consider that the geographic name Cesko (Česko) is commonly used in Czech. The whole issue with Czechia and the fuss about it is actually about the proper translation of Cesko into English. Many people translate it as Czech, Czecho etc. which is wrong for obvious reasons. There is a need for the grammatically correct translation of the Czech term Cesko into English.
Your article shows clearly that translations of Cesko into other languages, such as German etc. are commonly used. What would be your advice then for its translation into English? Sticking with the Czech Republic as the only option for translating Cesko into English is not going to help here and it is not correct. What is your suggestion?
What the government is doing now is making the translation of Cesko into English as Czechia official so that these wrong translations (Czech, Czecho) are not being used. I would be interested to hear your take on this because this is really what the whole argument is about.
Otherwise, I enjoyed reading your article.
To answer the two possibly rhetorical questions: if I were trying to re-brand “America” for a Czech audience, I’d mainly ask the Czechs for advice! And if they were asking me about how to present their country in English, I’d go back to my original post. Either just stick with Czech Republic (and soon I’ll quote another historian on a very interesting reason why), or go all in with Česko. We non-Czech speakers will get used to it more easily than Czechia, and we’ll admire the pride and panache.
Thanks to Prof. Pavlinek and others for their correspondence. There is a ton more, at least some of which I’ll quote in a follow up.
We may be nearing the home stretch here, but I didn’t want to get there without mentioning the case for the (apparently) unloved current name for the homeland of the Czechs: the Czech Republic. Side note: I have yet to hear from a native English-speaker who thinks that “Czechia” is a great idea. This matters because the whole point of Czechia is to give the country a new “short English name.”
Andrea Orzoff, of the history department at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, writes about the actual merits of “Czech Republic,” as opposed to mainly pointing out (as I have done) the defects of its proposed replacement, “Czechia.” She writes:
There's a better, more historically grounded reason to keep "Czech Republic" than euphony. Czechoslovakia came into existence because its leaders promised to craft a democracy at home and foster democratic internationalism through the League of Nations.
They kept that promise, however imperfectly. Czechoslovakia maintained an adherence to democracy through 1938, and again from 1945 to 1948.
In 1989, philosopher-president Václav Havel made a point of quoting the country's first president, Tomáš Masaryk, to announce the end of Communism: "people, your government has returned to you!"
Masaryk himself was quoting the 17th century thinker Jan Comenius, which makes my point in a different way: this is a country with a long humanistic tradition as well as a strong democratic one. Worth keeping.
And maybe a useful reminder in the face of recent Czechpolitical behavior -- polls showing increasing xenophobia, president Miloš Zeman drawing closer to Vladimir Putin, internationally embarrassing treatment of Syrian refugees, etc.
Makes sense to me.
The other favorite in the anti-Czechia derby has been “the Czechlands,” on the model of “the Netherlands.” A few sample arguments:
As another potential new name for the Czech Republic, why not use "TheCzechlands" It's not inaccurate, and can cover Bohemia, Moravia and CzechSilesia. Think of it as "the Dutch Solution".
I have no particular standing to weigh in, but for what it's worth: I'm a little surprised not to have seen anyone suggest "Czechland" or "the Czechlands," which seem to avoid a number of the pitfalls of Czechia and would be analogous to a number of familiar English forms.
"Czechland" and "Czechlands" are rare in English but not totally unattested (Czechia, FWIW, has always been much more common than either and totally dwarfs both when it's included in the ngram).
I do sympathize with the desire to have a short-form name. Obviously there are other countries with two-word names, but "Republic" is a longish word, and a fairly generic one. Many, many countries have a long-form name that includes "Republic." But most countries also have a name that simply refers to the country itself; it's very rare for there to be no alternative to a name with the form "demonym + republic." "Czech" is a demonym in search of a country.
Do I have any alternative of my own to propose? Yes, though it is not a perfect solution: “the Czech Lands.” It does have the advantage of saving two syllables over “the Czech Republic” and it is more poetic than the official title.
Thanks to all. This is what you get by marrying into a Czech family, but on balance it’s all worthwhile.
The new Netflix film is a think-piece trap—shiny on the outside, hollow on the inside.
“Everyone in this world is one of three kinds,” declares Mamaw (played by Glenn Close), the wise grand-matriarch of Ron Howard’s new film, Hillbilly Elegy. “A good Terminator, a bad Terminator, and neutral.” I hate to correct Mamaw, who is trying to encourage her impressionable grandson, J. D. Vance (Gabriel Basso), to follow a righteous path by invoking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s beloved action franchise. But there is no such thing as a “neutral” Terminator; those cyborg heroes exist to either protect or destroy. I cannot imagine what a neutral Terminator would do, save sit in a chair and remain forever shiny and inactive.
Mamaw is entitled to her bad movie opinions, of course. But this monologue is the kind of speechifying that rings hollow throughout Hillbilly Elegy, an adaptation of Vance’s best-selling 2016 memoir that debuts on Netflix tomorrow. When it first arrived on bookshelves, Vance’s story was celebrated as a glimpse into an oft-ignored pocket of America: the white working class of Appalachia and the Rust Belt who swung to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Hailed as an “anger translator” and cited by Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, Vance wrote about growing up poor, living with a heroin-addicted mother, and clawing his way into Yale Law School. The book arrived at a seemingly serendipitous moment, offering a bleak but candid view of communities gutted by drug abuse and poverty.
In the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks, the French government has introduced new legislation that threatens the very freedoms it vows to defend.
The beheading of the middle-school teacher Samuel Paty on October 16 by a young man enraged by Paty’s showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to vow that France will never flinch in its defense of freedom of expression. In the name of upholding the core values of the French Republic, however, Macron’s government and members of his party have introduced new legislation that effectively restricts them. Unless the proposed laws are modified or scrapped, France will soon be a far less free country than it is now.
Three new pieces of legislation aim to make the French more secure by restricting democratic rights. A bill that sets the research budget for French universities for the next decade, adopted by France’s Senate on November 20, targets student protests and took a stab at academic freedom. The bill includes a provision criminalizing on-campus gatherings that “trouble the tranquility and good order of the establishment” with a fine of up to 45,000 euros and a prison term of up to three years. An amendment requiring that academic research hew to the “values of the Republic” was scrapped only at the last minute, after strong pushback by scholars who feared that its intent was to restrict freedom of inquiry.
“We are on an absolutely catastrophic path,” said a COVID-19 doctor at America’s best-prepared hospital.
Perhaps no hospital in the United States was better prepared for a pandemic than the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
After the SARS outbreak of 2003, its staff began specifically preparing for emerging infections. The center has the nation’s only federal quarantine facility and its largest biocontainment unit, which cared for airlifted Ebola patients in 2014. The people on staff had detailed pandemic plans. They ran drills. Ron Klain, who was President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” and will be Joe Biden’s chief of staff in the White House, once told me that UNMC is “arguably the best in the country” at handling dangerous and unusual diseases. There’s a reason many of the Americans who were airlifted from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February were sent to UNMC.
The U.S. could have hundreds of thousands of fewer births next year than it would have in the absence of a pandemic.
By now, the pandemic has disrupted Americans’ daily lives for nearly as long as a baby typically spends in the womb. This means that many children conceived in mid-March are weeks away from joining us in this disorienting new world, but just as notable are the children who won’t be joining us—the babies who would have been born were it not for the ongoing economic and public-health crises. These missing births, which could end up numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S., will make up what’s been called the “COVIDbabybust.”
One would think that a baby bust would take at least nine months to reveal itself, but traces of one seem to have already appeared. As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, has noted, births started to decline in California and Florida during the summer. That’d be too soon, though, to reflect a drop in conceptions during the pandemic, or a rise in abortions or miscarriages (which tend to happenearlier on in pregnancy). Three possible explanations, Cohen told me, are errors or lags in states’ data on births, large numbers of pregnant people moving during the pandemic and giving birth in another state, or a large, unexpected drop-off in births that was already going to happen regardless of the pandemic.
Stopping the virus from spreading requires us to override our basic intuitions.
Over the summer, parts of the United States seemed to have a grip on the pandemic. New York and much of the Northeast, for instance, recorded relatively few new infections. The pandemic gloom was taking a less heavy toll than it had in its first months, partly because warm weather made restrictions on indoor activity more bearable.
That sense of control was illusory. As the seasons have changed, the virus has resumed its exponential spread. The public’s willingness to follow health guidelines also feels more tenuous. After months of sacrifice, many people seem simply to lack the will to keep up their social-distancing efforts.
Many factors help explain America’s abject failure to contain the pandemic. A good number of them can be traced back to Donald Trump. But many democracies with able leaders, such as Germany and Canada, are also struggling to contain the virus, so pointing to the president’s lies and incompetence isn’t sufficient.
Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere.
When Fox News called Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden shortly after the polls closed there on Election Night, right-wing social media erupted in fury. Fox is the most conservative of the nation’s major news outlets, and its aggressive Arizona call—which most other national outlets did not follow for days—left true believers on the right feeling betrayed. On the social-media app Parler, which has been gaining popularity among supporters of President Donald Trump, posts alleging electoral irregularities mixed with assorted hashtags decrying Fox itself: #BOYCOTTFOXNEWS, #DUMPFOXNEWS, #FAKEFOXNEWS, #FOXNEWSISDEAD, and #FOXNEWSSUCKS. Throughout Election Day, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had been cracking down on a flurry of allegations about voter fraud in Arizona; the platforms quickly applied warning labels to new posts containing false or disputed information and reduced the distribution of groups spreading them. In response, pro-Trump influencers exhorted their followers to congregate on Parler, which tells users to “speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views.”
At the dawn of the 1960s, a couple of New York admen named Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass created the Christmas special. Before that, the networks hadn’t been sure exactly how they should entertain children during the holiday season. They had largely come down on the side of edification, as seen in NBC’s 1951 commission of a children’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, broadcast live on Christmas Eve, after which the show lived on in reruns, and—also on NBC—Babes in Toyland, a turn-of-the-last-century operetta based on the Mother Goose tales.
But American children of the 1960s weren’t going to put up with operas and nursery rhymes. We had grown strong on orange juice, casseroles, and chewable vitamins. We weren’t afraid of polio or tuberculosis—we had the Salk vaccine and the tine test. We had had one small step for mankind, 31 flavors, and 101 dalmatians. The previous decade had already established the whims of children as a legitimate market force; in two years, Wham-O had made $45 million on the Hula-Hoop. Rich guys in office buildings were taking us seriously. What did we want next?
A year of scientific uncertainty is over. Two vaccines look like they will work, and more should follow.
For all that scientists have done to tame the biological world, there are still things that lie outside the realm of human knowledge. The coronavirus was one such alarming reminder, when it emerged with murky origins in late 2019 and found naive, unwitting hosts in the human body. Even as science began to unravel many of the virus’s mysteries—how it spreads, how it tricks its way into cells, how it kills—a fundamental unknown about vaccines hung over the pandemic and our collective human fate: Vaccines can stop many, but not all, viruses. Could they stop this one?
The answer, we now know, is yes. A resounding yes. Pfizer and Moderna have separately released preliminary data that suggest their vaccines are both more than 90 percent effective, far more than many scientists expected. Neither company has publicly shared the full scope of their data, but independent clinical-trial monitoring boards have reviewed the results, and the FDA will soon scrutinize the vaccines for emergency use authorization. Unless the data take an unexpected turn, initial doses should be available in December.
If you wonder how Biden’s appointees will govern, just close your eyes and imagine yourself back to 2016.
The name “Sleepy Joe” was meant to be pejorative rather than prophetic. But today President-elect Joe Biden’s team leaked the names of three likely appointees, and they are the equivalent of a warm cup of Ovaltine with a melatonin chaser. According to reports, Antony Blinken, Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, will be nominated for secretary of state. Michèle Flournoy, an under secretary of defense under Obama, is widely expected to be nominated for secretary of defense. And Jake Sullivan, Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, will be appointed national security adviser. They will barely need to order new business cards: A felt-tip marker to take out a word or two will suffice. If you wonder how these people will govern, just close your eyes and imagine yourself back to 2016, before you developed that nervous tic that causes you to rip out your hair by its roots whenever your phone buzzes with a news alert.
A devastating surge is here. Unless Americans act aggressively, it will get much larger, very quickly.
The end may be near for the pestilence that has haunted the world this year. Good news is arriving on almost every front: treatments, vaccines, and our understanding of this coronavirus.
Pfizer and BioNTech have announced a stunning success rate in their early Phase 3 vaccine trials—if it holds up, it will be a game changer. Treatments have gotten better too. A monoclonal antibody drug—similar to what President Donald Trump and former Governor Chris Christie received—just earned emergency-use authorization from the FDA. Dexamethasone—a cheap, generic corticosteroid—cut the death rate by a third for severe COVID-19 cases in a clinical trial.
Doctors and nurses have much more expertise in managing cases, even in using nonmedical interventions like proning, which can improve patients’ breathing capacity simply by positioning them facedown. Health-care workers are also practicing fortified infection-control protocols, including universal masking in medical settings.