SATURDAY, MARCH 13, 2021
Rachel keeps pouring it too: We've often noted a certain lack of curiosity in our major mainstream press organs. At issue are the low death rates from Covid in an array of Pacific nations.
The numbers from the Pacific are jaw-dropping. After adjusting for population, with three non-Pacific points of comparison, this is where some of the numbers currently stand:
Total deaths from Covid to date, per million population
United Kingdom: 1,840
United States: 1,641
European Union: roughly 1,250
South Korea: 32
New Zealand: 5
You rarely see such statistics. Japan is the charnel house among the Pacific nations we've listed. But after adjusting for population, Japan's death rate is roughly one twenty-fifth of our own, and the other Pacific numbers plummet from there.
By now, it may be too late to matter, but what explains the low death rates among these (and other) Pacific nations? We've been amazed by the lack of curiosity about this question on the part of our major news organs.
This morning, the Washington Post gives the impression that it actually cares. An essay on its op-ed page starts by giving this explanation for New Zealand's low death rate:
MILNER AND NGAZA (3/13/21): Life in New Zealand is almost back to normal. While the United States has seen more than half a million deaths from covid-19—with a death rate of more than 160 per 100,000 of population—New Zealand has lost only 26 people at a rate of 0.53 per 100,000.
Two months ago, one of us, Richard, went to a New Year’s festival with more than 12,000 fellow revelers—something barely imaginable in the United States, where most concerts are online-only. Meanwhile, teachers, including Matthew’s parents, have been instructing in person since May without requiring masks or social distancing measures.
Why has New Zealand fared so much better? Many people argue that these differences stem from New Zealand’s geographic advantages, and there is no doubt that being an island nation has helped. But other island nations, including Britain, have had very different outcomes.
There is a deeper reason: Manaakitanga.
It helps that New Zealand is an island ntion, the two writers acknowledge. (It's also a small island nation.)
But there is a deeper reason for New Zealand's low death rate, these two writers say. The deeper reason is manaakitanga—or at least, so these experts say.
What the heck is manaakitanga? As the writers continue, they explain, possibly putting a slightly rosy glow on a bit of a possible tale:
MILNER AND NGAZA (continuing directly): While New Zealand hasn’t always been great at recognizing or celebrating our indigenous Māori culture, campaigning by Māori advocates has helped to ensure that Māori culture is now well-incorporated into society. Manaakitanga is one of many customs of the Māori people that are now taught in New Zealand schools. It holds that others have importance equal to, and even greater than, one’s own.
Manaakitanga is about understanding the power of the collective. It derives from the Māori term “mana,” which is the spiritual life force and energy that every living thing possesses. When you honor the mana of others, your own mana will increase through the respect you have earned. When you acknowledge these connections, you understand that your freedom as an individual is only as strong as your place in the community.
It's all about Maori culture, these two experts explain. That one particular part of that culture explains, or helps explain, New Zealand's low death rate.
Given the prevailing culture in Our Town, this is a pleasing story. As the authors start to tell the story, they offer a possible understatement about the headwinds confronting Maori culture in this small island nation.
"New Zealand hasn’t always been great at recognizing or celebrating our indigenous Māori culture?" We'll guess that may be an understatement, perhaps of substantial degree.
At other times, the Washington Post publishes essays like this essay from last year, essays which stress the widespread racism afflicting New Zealand culture. A cynic would say it's all about which pleasing tribal narrative the Post is selling us townies that day.
(Let's not forget the original pleasing explanation for New Zealand's success at fighting the virus. The nation had a young female president, one who was even a mother.)
Here in Our Town, we love our stories—and our newspapers tend to provide them.
For ourselves, we don't have the slightest idea if there's any merit to this morning's essay. Neither does anyone else who read this morning's Post.
That said, we are left wondering why the death rates has been so low across so many Pacific nations, not just in New Zealand alone.
We've been amazed by the general lack of interest in that obvious question. Is this morning's essay a serious attempt at addressing that question on the part of the Washington Post? Or does it just represent the publication of the latest tribally pleasing tale?
We have no idea how to answer that question. That said, we'd still like to see a serious attempt at addressing the vast regional question.
Here in Our Town, it doesn't really work that way a great deal of the time. Our news orgs are strongly inclined to hand us the stories we like.
A few malcontents may know what we need. Our profit-seeking major news organs seem to know what we want.
This practice keeps us happy and self-impressed, but also barefoot and clueless. For another example of what we mean, please consider this news report in this morning's Post.
The report seems to be basically accurate. It concerns the latest arrest in the aftermath of the Capitol riot.
Below, you see the first two paragraphs of this news report. When they read that second paragraph, several of our analysts screamed:
HERMANN AND HSU (3/13/21): Authorities on Friday arrested a man accused of ripping the badge and radio from a D.C. police officer after rioters pulled him into a manic crowd and beat him unconscious during the Jan. 6. insurrection at the Capitol.
Thomas F. Sibick was taken into custody in his home city of Buffalo and later freed to home incarceration at his father’s residence following a hearing in federal court. Authorities said he buried the badge in his backyard.
The analysts screamed when they read that Sibick had been granted "home incarceration" (at his father’s house) in lieu of immediate jailing.
They screamed because they'd watched Rachel Maddow go on and on about this matter last night. As part of her opening she devoted six minutes to the Sibbick case.
As always, she rambled on and on. In the course of her travels and musings, "home incarceration" never got mentioned. Instead, she darkly said that Sibick had been "released on his own recognizance," full stop.
From there, she darkly suggested, as she constantly does, that this was the latest case in which These Federal Judges Today keep making peculiar decisions which favor the miscreants in the case of the Capitol riot.
"Some of these cases are just inexplicable in the way they're being handled," Maddow said last night, referring to the fact that Sibick hasn't been jailed. As viewers of her TV show will know, she offers these dark conspiratorial musings on a regular basis, never checking with legal specialists to se if her musings make sense.
Maddow isn't a legal expert or legal specialist, but she plays one on TV. She tends to ramble on and on, sprinkling in her fabulous comedy stylings, as she did last night in a wonderfully parody of what the federal judge was surely thinking when he let Sibick walk.
In such ways, this cable star lets us hear about the way These Federal Judges Today are refusing to imprison people before they've been tried and convicted of anything. We've never seen her ask a legal specialist—preferably two—if her dark accusations make sense.
(Last night, she said that Sibick is "charged with multiple violent felonies." As best we can tell from the official criminal complaint, that isn't exactly true. "Sibick is not accused of beating or tasing [Officer Michael] Fanone," CBS News explicitly says. We're not sure if that is perfectly accurate either.)
Based upon the facts in this case, it sounds like Sibick may not be the tightest corkscrew in the drawer. In our view, you had to be amazingly dumb (at the very least) to be part of that mob at all.
That said, was it darkly strange—actually, was it "inexplicable"—when a federal judge in Buffalo ordered Sibick to "home incarceration?" When he didn't just lock him up?
Maddow's opinion isn't worth the comedy-laced navel-gazing from which it's crafted. She was offering pleasing Storyline when she launched her familiar charge.
She offered her own pointless impression in lieu of the traditional journalistic practice in which she'd ask one or more legal specialists to explain how that federal judge's decision looks to them.
Maddow is deeply self-involved; massive wealth and monstrous fame will do that to many people. In a slightly more serious world, she would have been pulled off the air, then marched away for re-education, a good long while ago.
That said, Maddow is good at selling the car—and at delivering corporate profits. Perhaps for those reasons, she is allowed to blather along, offering dark conspiratorial musings concerning a topic on which she possesses zero expertise.
That's why the analysts shrieked when the read the Post's news report. In fairness, her parody of that federal judge's thought process displayed top clowning skills.
We're sharing with you our first two reactions to this morning's Post. We were handed a basically silly essay about New Zealand's low death rate—a slightly silly explanation which has the advantage of performing preferred Storyline.
Also, we were surprised by paragraph 2 of that news report. We were surprised because we'd watched a major cable star mug and clown, and spread her dark theories, at substantial length last night. She'd also massaged and selected her facts.
To our eye, Maddow has largely been devoured by massive wealth and fame. The Washington Post frequently peddles pleasurable tales which may bring us back for more..
This is life as it's lived in Our Town—though also, of course, Over There.
By normal standards, should Thomas Sibick be in jail this morning? Like you, we don't have the slightest idea.
Neither, of course, does Rachel Maddow. She's paid vast sums to entertain us and to make us feel morally pure.
This is the way our brains are wired, top scholarly experts still claim.