Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Fatal Attraction

From TPM:

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) pounced on a golden opportunity on Tuesday after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the 2020 Republican National Convention out of Charlotte, North Carolina if that state’s Gov. Roy Cooper (D) didn’t allow full attendance at the convention amid COVID-19.

“With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention,” Kemp tweeted. “We hope you will consider the Peach State, @realdonaldtrump!”

The Georgia governor wasn’t the only Republican to swoop in amid Trump’s clash with Cooper.

Florida GOP chair Joe Gruters threw his hat in the ring several hours after the President issued his threat on Monday.

“The Republican Party of Florida would welcome the opportunity to host the Republican National Convention,” Gruters said in a statement. “Florida is committed to ensuring a safe, secure and successful event for President @realDonaldTrump and all attendees.”

And Texas GOP chair James Dickey made a similar offer on Monday during an interview with the American-Statesman.

“Texas would welcome President Trump and the RNC Convention,” he said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is all in favor having both conventions here.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the political conventions for both major parties would be great for Florida’s coronavirus-damaged economy as President Donald Trump has suggested moving the planned Republican convention out of North Carolina.

“Heck, I’m a Republican, it’d be good for us to have the DNC (Democratic National Convention) in terms of the economic impact when you talk about major events like that,” DeSantis said while in Miami to announce two appointments to the Florida Supreme Court.

DeSantis was asked about Trump tweeting Monday about possibly moving the Republican convention from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte because North Carolina wasn’t reopening fast enough amid the virus.

Yeah, the most important thing is to revive the economy by endangering the lives of the citizens of the state and brown-nosing Trump because he’s the lead lemming of their political future.

Florida’s tax structure relies on tourism and convention business, so naturally attracting thousands of people from out-of-state is good for the state’s coffers.  Unfortunately, you can’t really raise a lot of money from people that are sick and dying unless you’re in the healthcare business.  That would be Rick Scott, the former governor and now senator who made his fortune by running a scam healthcare business.

I got really tired of hearing how “pro-life” the Republicans are and how the Democrats are the ones who were going to implement “death panels” with Obamacare.  But it seems that the GOP is the one that is sick to death of it.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Reading

An Incalculable Loss — The front page of today’s New York Times.

Instead of the articles, photographs or graphics that normally appear on the front page of The New York Times, on Sunday, there is just a list: a long, solemn list of people whose lives were lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States approaches 100,000, a number expected to be reached in the coming days, editors at The Times have been planning how to mark the grim milestone.

Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Graphics desk, wanted to represent the number in a way that conveyed both the vastness and the variety of lives lost.

Departments across The Times have been robustly covering the coronavirus pandemic for months. But Ms. Landon and her colleagues realized that “both among ourselves and perhaps in the general reading public, there’s a little bit of a fatigue with the data.”

“We knew we were approaching this milestone,” she added. “We knew that there should be some way to try to reckon with that number.”

Putting 100,000 dots or stick figures on a page “doesn’t really tell you very much about who these people were, the lives that they lived, what it means for us as a country,” Ms. Landon said. So, she came up with the idea of compiling obituaries and death notices of Covid-19 victims from newspapers large and small across the country, and culling vivid passages from them.

Alain Delaquérière, a researcher, combed through various sources online for obituaries and death notices with Covid-19 written as the cause of death. He compiled a list of nearly a thousand names from hundreds of newspapers. A team of editors from across the newsroom, in addition to three graduate student journalists, read them and gleaned phrases that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost:

“Alan Lund, 81, Washington, conductor with ‘the most amazing ear’ … ”

“Theresa Elloie, 63, New Orleans, renowned for her business making detailed pins and corsages … ”

Ms. Landon compared the result to a “rich tapestry” that she could not have woven by herself. Clinton Cargill, assistant editor on the National desk, was Ms. Landon’s “editing co-pilot,” she said. Other key players in the project were Matt Ruby, deputy editor of Digital News Design; Annie Daniel, a software engineer; and the graphics editors Jonathan Huang, Richard Harris and Lazaro Gamio. Andrew Sondern, an art director, is behind the print design.

Marc Lacey, National editor, had warned Tom Bodkin, chief creative officer of The Times, that the milestone was coming. “I wanted something that people would look back on in 100 years to understand the toll of what we’re living through,” Mr. Lacey said in an email.

For the front page of the paper, two ideas stood out: either a grid of hundreds of pictures of those who had lost their lives to Covid-19, or an “all type” concept, Mr. Bodkin said. Whichever approach was chosen, he said, “we wanted to take over the entire page.”

The all-type concept came to the fore. Such a treatment “would be hugely dramatic,” he said.

The design references that of centuries-old newspapers, which Mr. Bodkin is keenly interested in. For many years after The Times started publishing in 1851, there were no headlines, in the modern sense.

“It was kind of running text with little subheads,” Mr. Bodkin said, describing newspapers in the mid-1800s.

Mr. Bodkin said he did not remember any front pages without images during his 40 years at The Times, “though there have been some pages with only graphics,” he said, adding, “This is certainly a first in modern times.”

Inside the paper, the list continues, threaded with an essay by Dan Barry, a Times reporter and columnist. But mostly there are names. More names, and more lives lost.

Doonesbury.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sowing The Whirlwind

We haven’t heard from Charlie Pierce in a while.

First, in Oregon, a devotee of the QAnon lunacy won the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Senator Jeff Merkley. From the Washington Post.

Jo Rae Perkins bested three other candidates to win the GOP nomination…In a video posted to her Twitter feed Tuesday night, Perkins declared that she supports the conspiracy theory, which revolves around “Q,” an anonymous Internet user claiming to be a government agent with top security clearance. “Where we go one, we go all,” Perkins said in the video, reciting a QAnon slogan. “I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic.”

It did not start with Trump and it will not depart with him. The Republican Party is a bag of monsters.

Then there is the Q-Poll, the national numbers from Quinnipiac University. We ordinarily don’t post on polls here at the shebeen. They are the ultimate shiny object. This one, though, is worth noting, because it is a snapshot of a campaign that really isn’t happening, and the numbers therein are not at all good for the incumbent.

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Trump 50 – 39 percent in a head-to-head matchup in the election for president, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll of registered voters released today. That’s up from the 49 – 41 percent lead Biden held in an April 8th national poll, but the change is within the margin of error. Democrats go to Biden 88 – 5 percent, Republicans go to Trump 87 – 8 percent, and independents go to Biden 47 – 36 percent.

“What does the 11 point Biden lead tell us? At best for Team Trump, it says voter confidence in President Trump is shaky. At worst for them, as coronavirus cases rise, Trump’s judgement is questioned – and November looms,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.

Bear in mind that Biden did little more during this polling period than issue the occasional message from his man cave in Delaware. Meanwhile, the president* has been all over television doing his own unique brand of presidentin’. Dark and rancid smears. Intimations of plots and scheming from The Deep State. Ginning up anger and fighting with his own government. However, this poll clearly indicates that the country’s actual pessimism is far outpacing the president*’s ability to create it to his advantage.

More than two months into the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., President Trump’s job approval rating ticks lower. 42 percent of voters approve of the job President Trump is doing, while 53 percent disapprove. That’s compared to a 45 – 51 percent job approval rating he received in April, his highest ever. On the president’s response to the coronavirus, 41 percent of voters approve and 56 percent disapprove. That is down from a 46 – 51 percent approval rating in April. On the president’s handling of the economy, 50 percent approve while 47 percent disapprove, compared to a 51 – 44 percent approval in April. On his handling of healthcare, although underwater, the president receives his highest approval rating ever, a negative 41 – 54 percent. In April he received a negative 39 – 54 percent approval.

Pessimism all around. 81 percent of respondents are afraid that the country will collapse into an economic depression. Almost half of them say the pandemic has affected their mental health. About 87 percent of them believe that a “second wave” of the pandemic is at least somewhat likely to occur. The country doesn’t need this guy’s help to feel bad about itself any more. He talked about American carnage in his inaugural address. He had no idea what that really looks like.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Back To The Office

For the first time since March 18, I’m going to the office.

It’s not for full-time (I’m a part-timer anyway), and it’s mainly just to see where we are with various projects, but it’s a start.  We’re taking all sorts of precautions: face masks, screens around the cubes in the open area, and it will be just a few of us.  School is over for the year.

But sunrise is coming.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Slow Going

Miami-Dade County is slowly re-opening.

Anyone going back to work on Monday needs to wear a face covering, and businesses must test all staff and hire deep cleaners if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

Those are two of the most sweeping decrees in an order released Friday night by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez outlining the rules that will be in place once businesses are allowed to reopen Monday.

The public schools — and the ones I work at — will remain closed to students for the rest of the school year. My office is open on a limited basis, but I can do what I need to do from home.

Everybody, me included, would like to get back to some semblance of normal.  I want my neighbors who own small businesses to get back to work.  I want the students to go back to school.  Watching graduations, weddings, and funerals on Zoom is no substitution for being there.  It’s going to take a while, and we’re probably not going to see life as we knew it again even after there’s a vaccine and everyone has been inoculated.

As for me, I’m staying put.  I’m not a worrywart, but I’m pretty sure a week from now we’re going to see a spike in new infections here in Miami-Dade.  And I’d rather not be one of them.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Armed And Dangerous

From the New York Times:

SHEPHERD, Texas — When Jamie Williams decided to reopen her East Texas tattoo studio last week in defiance of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, she asked Philip Archibald for help. He showed up with his dog Zeus, his friends and his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Mr. Archibald established an armed perimeter in the parking lot outside Crash-N-Burn Tattoo, secured by five men with military-style rifles, tactical shotguns, camouflage vests and walkie-talkies. One of them already had a large tattoo of his own. “We the People,” it said.

“I think it should be a business’s right if they want to close or open,” said Mr. Archibald, a 29-year-old online fitness trainer from the Dallas area who lately has made it his personal mission to help Texas business owners challenge government orders to keep their doors shut during the coronavirus pandemic. “What is coming to arrest a person who is opening their business according to their constitutional rights? That’s confrontation.”

Call it the armed reopening.

It’s one thing when a bunch of ammosexuals rally in the middle of the desert to play summer soldier and defy the BLM over grazing fees.  But when the very breath you blast when you’re carrying on about “freedum” endangers the people around you, then you’re a danger to the community.  If you want to take the risk, go ahead.  The Constitution grants you the right to be a blowhard.  But it doesn’t give you or any of your Spell-Check-challenged projectors the right to endanger innocent people or the ones who are doing their job to keep the community and the country you say you love out of danger.

But go ahead and scream “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  The way you’re going, you’ll get both.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How Are You?

The 2020 William Inge Theatre Festival was supposed to start today.  At this hour — 6:00 a.m. — I was supposed to be boarding a flight to Dallas and then on to Tulsa for my 29th trip to Independence, Kansas, where the festival would honor the memory of the playwright who gave us “Picnic,” “Come Back, Little Sheba,” and “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” among other works including the screenplay for “Splendor in the Grass,” for which Inge won an Oscar.  The festival was planning to honor playwright Lynn Nottage with the Distinguished Achievement in American Theatre award in the name of William Inge, and I was going to present a paper for the scholars conference on the role of mothers in Inge’s plays.  We would also do what we do best at theatre festivals: make friends, read new plays, and eat a lot of good comfort food.

That’s not happening.  I’m sitting in my study at home in the eighth week of stay-home isolation, and the Inge Festival has been postponed for a year.  So has the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference, the Midwest Dramatists Conference, all the remaining car shows, and my summer camp reunion in Colorado.  The warnings from the smart people who are speaking out beyond the roses-and-rainbows forecast of the idiots in the White House are dire if we don’t pay attention to the real science, and we are all hoping against hope that by January we’ll all line up for vaccinations against the virus.  Maybe a year from today I’ll be finally using that ticket to Tulsa, along with the upgrade that came with it.

These are the things that occupy me right now, along with the health and safety of my friends and family.  I can hear about the global impact of the virus and the devastation it has caused on so many levels: physical, emotional, economic, and all the collateral damage that comes with it.  It can be overwhelming, and the urge to turn it off and tune it out is strong.  That would explain why the subscriptions to Netflix and other streaming services (and of course, porn, or so I hear) are through the roof and why everyone is now learning how to use Zoom for everything from doctor’s visits to play rehearsals and performance.  We are learning to cope — I found the New York Times crossword puzzle archives to be a godsend — and we are learning to turn our energy to other outlets.  For instance, I have written ten new plays and completed a novel since January, which means that I’ve done more playwriting in the last five months than I did in the first forty-three years since I had my first play produced.  And some of them are pretty good, if I do say so myself.

So, how are you doing?  How are you coping?  How’s your family?  Your friends?  Your pets?  What have you learned about yourself and your loved ones?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Losing It

I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and I don’t believe in diagnosis from a distance, but go ahead and look at Trump’s press conference yesterday, especially the closing minutes, and tell me that’s normal.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Trump abruptly ended a press conference Monday after telling an American reporter who was born in China to “ask China” about coronavirus testing statistics.

CBS News’ Weijia Jiang had asked Trump why he insisted on framing the United States’ testing capacity relative to other countries, to which Trump replied, “ask China.”

“Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay?” he said. “When you ask them that question, you may get a very unusual answer.”

“Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically?” Jiang responded. Trump dodged the question, saying he was posing the question to “anybody that would ask a nasty question like that.”

Jiang protested the characterization, but Trump moved on, calling on CNN’s Kaitlin Collins before trying to pass onto another reporter instead.

“Sir, I just want to let my colleague finish,” Collins said. But Trump was done. “Ladies and Gentleman, thank you very much,” he said, leaving the briefing.

It’s going to get worse.  So the question now becomes if there is anyone besides a Trump enabler or sycophant who can do anything about it?  There was a suggestion that the 25th Amendment be invoked, but that would require the Cabinet to sign off on removing the president from power temporarily, and they’re too much in his pocket to do it.  Congress also has the power to invoke the 25th Amendment, but that’s a non-starter as long as the Senate is in the hands of the Republicans; they are too much invested in Trump for their own futures to willingly go against him.

The only way the 25th Amendment can be invoked without turning it into a game of political cornhole is if Trump himself becomes physically incapacitated, certified medically.  In other words, he’s going to have to come down with Covid-19 or some other malady.

I wouldn’t willingly wish the virus on anyone.  But since a lot of Republicans are saying that sometimes we have to sacrifice human life for the greater good — destroying any “pro-life” argument they would ever make again — it would be ironic on a scale unimagined by the best classic Greek tragedians if that would be the end awaiting this administration.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Priorities — An Ongoing Series Part Infinity

The pandemic rages on, and what is Trump tweeting about?  An editing error at NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Trump spent much of his Sunday holiday sharing more than 100 tweets and retweets, bouncing between wishing everyone a “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY,” and railing against targets like former president Barack Obama, “60 Minutes” and late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

But perhaps no one received as much ire from the president and his supporters on Mother’s Day than “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. In a late-night tweet Sunday, Trump said Todd should be fired by NBC News for using an abbreviated quote from Attorney General William P. Barr to criticize the Justice Department’s decision to drop charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The show acknowledged the “error,” and said that the tail end of Barr’s quote, which was edited out of the clip shown on “Meet the Press,” included important context.

Meanwhile, people in the West Wing are testing positive for the virus, meaning that at some point someone there is going to be hospitalized or worse.

The only reason that Trump wants to wipe out coronavirus is because it’s interfering with his chances for reelection.  As long as you remember that, you’ll know what’s going on in the White House.  As far as he’s concerned, he’ll let the people die.  Let the Republican Party go down in flames — as well it should for their enabling and excusing his behavior and pathology — and let the economy implode to a point that makes the Great Depression send him a thank-you note for rehabilitating its reputation.  All the rest is just noise.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

He Can’t Handle The Truth

Trump obviously doesn’t care that over 72,000 people have died in America from Covid-19.  He doesn’t care that the numbers of deaths from the disease in the minority communities are disproportionately high as compared to the rest of the country.  He doesn’t care that small businesses in rural communities are being devastated and millions of low-wage workers are losing their jobs.  What he does care about is the fact that these facts could hurt his chances for re-election and that the depiction of his incompetence, which is vividly on display on the level of a neon sign on the Las Vegas strip, is out there for the world to see and he’s being called out for it.

Case in point: a PAC called The Lincoln Project came out with an ad called “Mourning in America,” a play on the 1984 Reagan campaign ad touting how great things were, going after Trump and his blatant incompetence.  One of the leaders of the PAC is George Conway, husband of Trump enabler Kellyanne Conway, and the most visible spokesperson for the conservative group.  As expected, Trump went after the ad and Mr. Conway in his typical manner: a tweetstorm generated in the middle of the night.  Mr. Conway noted the response in a column in the Washington Post:

In a fourtweet screed, he attacked me and my colleagues at the Lincoln Project as “LOSERS,” “loser types,” “crazed” and “a disgrace to Honest Abe.” About me, he said, “I don’t know what Kellyanne did to her deranged loser of a husband, Moonface, but it must have been really bad.” Ten hours later, on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews, Trump was still enraged, ranting about us for nearly two minutes in front of the media.

That’s all that matters to Trump, and being called out for his failings is the worst thing of all because it’s the truth.  And the truth is what is driving him around the bend.

Now it all matters, painfully and concretely. Trump’s lying, his self-regard, his self-soothing, his lack of empathy, his narcissistic rage, his contempt for norms, rules, laws, facts and simple truths — have all come home to roost. Now he sees his poll numbers fall accordingly, and lashes out with ever-increasing anger. For deep in his psyche he knows the truth. Because he fears being revealed as a fake or deranged, he’ll call others fake or deranged. Because he fears losing, he’ll call them losers instead.

This isn’t anything new in the pathology of Trump and his followers.  If it was purely an ideological or philosophical difference of opinion about political parties or how to lead the country, we’d survive it.  We have in the past.  But this time, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

No One Could Have Predicted…

Via the Washington Post:

One month ago, seven states made up 60 percent of the coronavirus cases in the country. Most of those cases were in New York, the main U.S. hotbed of the outbreak. But an additional 28 percent of cases were in California, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey.

The good news is that the number of new cases those states have seen each day over the past month has steadily fallen. The bad news? That the number of new cases everywhere else has steadily increased.

There’s some irony to this, given how these two groups of states are responding to calls from President Trump to scale back efforts to contain the spread of the virus. States that expect to keep restrictions in place aimed at encouraging social distancing — including most of the seven states above — have seen drops in the number of new daily cases relative to a month ago. States that have already begun to scale back those measures have seen a rapid increase in daily case totals relative to one month ago.

Or, to put it simply, social distancing and shut-downs are saving lives.  Re-opening is killing people.

Trump says we have to re-open our country because “the economy” (in other words, his poll numbers) is in trouble.  Well, that’s fine to have a booming economy; we all want that.  But it seems kind of pointless if you’re dead.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

How Are You?

For those of us who communicate via text or messenger, “How are you?” is a common greeting.  (Some people go shorthand: “how r u” but I am a stickler for proper spelling.)  Even before Covid-19, it was a standard salutation, not requiring a reply that went beyond “Good and you.”

In the era of what the commercials and pundits call “these uncertain times,” the query takes on more meaning, and it goes beyond asking about physical health.  The lock-down, social distancing, lost jobs, lives on hold, mounting death tolls, crumbling infrastructure, and an administration in the White House that is thrashing around like a drowning rat has taken a toll on our mental state as well.  Boredom, fear, grief, and uncertainty can overwhelm us, and the aftershocks will be felt for a long time after.

Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Roughly 20,000 people texted that hotline, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, last month.

Online therapy company Talkspace reported a 65 percent jump in clients since mid-February. Text messages and transcribed therapy sessions collected anonymously by the company show coronavirus-related anxiety dominating patients’ concerns.

So, my question this morning is simple: How are you?  What are you doing to cope?

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sunday Reading

Fifty Years Later — Charles P. Pierce on the anniversary of the killings at Kent State.

Seeing those gomers and their firearms walking around the Michigan state house unimpeded reminded me that we were coming up on the 50th anniversary of the day when four unarmed college students were shot to death by soldiers of the Ohio National Guard—two of them for protesting the escalation of a grotesque war, and the other two for the crime of crossing the campus of Kent State University at the wrong time. It is said by many people—including the late H.R. Haldeman, the White House chief-of-staff at the time—that the massacre at Kent State and its aftermath was the first push Richard Nixon got toward the paranoia that led to the crimes of the Plumbers Unit and, eventually, Watergate. It was one of the tragedies that made up the criminal tragedy that was the United States involvement in Southeast Asia.

It wasn’t even the only one of those that May; eleven days later, police shot down two students during protests at Jackson State University in Mississippi. It also was the event that shook my politics out of the comfortable suburban torpor in which they had theretofore resided. I didn’t feel radicalized. I just felt that a deep and profound wrong had been done to people who were only a couple of years older than I was. (Interesting Factoid I Just Learned: Alabama football coach Nick Saban was a student at Kent State at the time and was an acquaintance of Allison Krause, one of the students who were killed.) Nothing was the same in my head after that. Terrible arguments at home resulted. None of it made any sense and, for the first time, I was angry about that.

Their names should be said every year—Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller, and Sandra Scheuer—in their memory, and that should remind us all of the wildness that still stalks our politics. Now, of course, we have a president* that owes his election—and, it should be said, his re-election—to his predator’s gift for unleashing that wildness. A pandemic has made the country claustrophobic, and the wildness is awfully close to the surface these days. Our institutions are tottering. There’s something coiling behind events, and it’s not far from striking again.

Will It Change Us? — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker on what a pandemic has done and will do to our view about life.

The coronavirus pandemic, everyone tells us, is changing and will change everything that we think, believe, expect, and do. It’s what used to be called a “world historical moment.” Yet the curious thing about this certainty is that it seems to sit comfortably with the reality that, to a first approximation, no one has actually changed any view about anything because of the pandemic. The sins that you think the plague is punishing are the sins you were preaching against before it began. If, like Bernie Sanders and his followers, you believed in the absolute importance of national health insurance, of “socialized medicine,” then looking at the mess of the American health system under extreme duress—even at the simple reality that many of our doctors are primarily small businessmen and our hospitals profit-seeking firms—you are more than ever convinced of the necessity of Medicare for All. But this truth, undeniable on its own terms, does run silently aground against the parallel truth that, despite excellent, public-spirited health-care systems, France and Italy have per-capita mortality rates worse than our own. Paris, where the system is quick and flexible and universal, is shut down even more tightly than New York.

On the other hand, if, like the distinguished historian Niall Ferguson, you accept the importance of escaping, Brexit style, from big transnational bureaucracies, such as the European Union, you find proof in the superiority of the small, flexible, responsive city-state model you have long preferred—although the skill with which, say, Singapore has actually evaded the plague seems to alter from week to week.

If you see that issues of identity and inequality are central to our time, then the harsh proof that prejudice and poverty have created disproportionate casualties in the African-American community during the pandemic is the central fact. (And yet, it would be strange to look past the parallel evidence that men of all kinds and classes are dying from the virus more often than women—a correlation that seems to be largely biological, because even female mice have stronger defenses against coronaviruses than male mice do.)

And if you were indignant about the “culture wars” before, you have no time for them now; if you hated people cancelling “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” before the plague started, you are even colder about it now. (Though coming out against the culture wars now would be more impressive if you had ever been enthusiastic about them in the first place.)

In fact, it makes no more sense to moralize this virus than it did to moralize earlier plagues. This pandemic has acted with equal cruelty in theocratic societies, social-democratic ones, and in free-market citadels. To the degree that states seem to be more or less successful against the pandemic—predictably, in Iceland, or unpredictably, in Greece—the true and full cause of their escape is as yet unclear. California may have done so much better than New York simply by closing sooner, but its advantage was at most three days, with New York seeming to pay an unduly large price for a reasonably small delay. Certainly, plagues X-ray each government’s inequities and flaws, but they do so indifferently, universally. This one exposes the failures of the authoritarian opaqueness of China’s Communist Party as much as it does the indecencies of the Trump Administration. To seek one set of social sins as somehow central to the crisis is to miss the reason they put the “pan” in pandemic.

Nor is it necessarily our weaknesses and dysfunctions that account for our fatalities; it is often our greatest strengths and virtues as people and communities that are responsible for the worst consequences. New York City is the U.S. epicenter of this pandemic—the picture would look much less serious in America if it were not for us. But the best guesses as to why point to what are largely consequences of many of the most admirable things about the city and its people; things that are as good and as green as mass transit, high-rise living, and the glorious density of kinds that make New York New York. (The habit of driving alone in cars rather than crowding together on subways may be one reason that California has suffered less than New York, but that does not mean that driving alone in cars is now morally virtuous.) And the intergenerational mingling of Italy—until months ago, one of the boasts and joys of Italian life—seems partly responsible for that beautiful country’s woeful record. At a time when people longed for community, they had it, and have suffered for it.

There is no surprise in this. Far from making us revise our fundamentals and reform our thoughts, major historical crises almost invariably reinforce our previous beliefs, and make us entrench deeper into our dogma. By Christmas of 1914, it was apparent that no European power’s war aims could be achieved, and that to continue the course would entail only meaningless mass slaughter. But that didn’t make the European leaders revise their views; it just made them redouble the effort. They just dug in—literally, into the mud on the Western front, and ideologically, into the dogmas of heroic militarism and the necessity of war.

What makes it hard to maintain our intellectual integrity in such times is that crises can expose some political truths, though we have to struggle to see straight and recognize the limits of what they expose. It is not false to see a vast difference between the Five O’Clock Follies of Donald Trump and the noontime sanities of Andrew Cuomo. (One New Yorker is so dependent for reassurance on Cuomo’s appearances that she claims to feel calmer as soon as she hears the odd New Age-y music that precedes them.) But while Cuomo’s candor and clarity may have helped flatten the curve, the plague has not nearly ended, and in the face of the uncertainties he has had to rely on essentially the same therapies that until Trump’s latest swerves, the White House had, however reluctantly, enjoined as well: shutdowns and social distancing. The performances have moral content in themselves, but everyone’s efficacy is severely limited in the face of an as yet incurable virus.

If there is a point to be drawn from the plague it is, perhaps, that we are caught in a conundrum of numbers not easily parsed by human minds. The scale of modern populations—about nine million people in New York City—are so vast that even small statistical minorities represent huge numbers of human beings. The COVID-19 “truthers”—the self-proclaimed and mostly self-instructed skeptics about the gravity of the coronavirus crisis—are not entirely wrong when they point to what are, by historical standards, the limited fatalities of this plague and to the accompanying truth that the fatalities largely fall in predictable groups, chiefly of the elderly and the already ill. But in this country alone that “limited” number means more than sixty thousand people dead already, many of whom were healthy and some of whom were young. Even a small percent of an enormous population is an enormous number.

In times past, societies accepted mortality from infectious disease as part of existence—death as part of life—without stopping work or study or love or dinner. (When Beth March dies after contracting scarlet fever, in “Little Women,” it is heartbreaking, but not surprising.) It is a part of the moral acquisition of our time that we don’t feel this way, and part of our material improvement that we don’t have to feel this way. We could, until recently, rely on science to relieve us of a good deal of our suffering. That we have so little to rely on for the moment may be the real lesson that the plague is teaching—a lesson, really, in the fragility of progress and the suddenness of its possible reversion. Such ambivalence, at least, contains more truth, if of a tragic kind, than the simplicities of ideological self-soothing.

Doonesbury — Good to see ya!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

I’m Still Not Voting For You

From the Washington Post:

Trump pushed to have his name printed on the economic stimulus payments the IRS is sending to tens of millions of Americans. Now he’s written a gushing letter to almost 90 million people, with his jagged signature in thick black pen.

The one-page letter, with one side printed in English and the other in Spanish, was required by the coronavirus economic package approved by Congress as a record of a deposit from the Treasury Department. The law does not say who should mail the letter.

If the money went to the wrong person, came in the wrong amount or didn’t arrive at all — all scenarios that have befallen taxpayers in recent weeks — the government is giving them proof of its intent.

But in classic Trump style, the letters now arriving in mailboxes across the country carry no shortage of brio, underscoring the president’s penchant for personalizing his administration’s response to the pandemic.

“My Fellow American,” begins the letter, on a copy of White House letterhead, arriving in an envelope from the Treasury Department and the IRS from Austin. “Our great country is experiencing an unprecedented public health and economic challenge as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. Our top priority is your health and safety.”

“As we wage total war on this invisible enemy,” Trump continues, “we are also working around the clock to protect hardworking Americans like you from the consequences of the economic shutdown.”

Yeah, I got the money, But I’m still not gonna vote for him or listen to his sniveling minions, including the flaming sphincter Marc A. Thiessen, who claims, apparently with a straight face, that the lack of preparedness for the pandemic was the fault of Joe Biden and the Obama administration.  That’s because Joe Biden and the Obama administration has still been in office for the last three years.

I also got the letter with that crayon-scrawled signature from Trump.  I put it to good use: I used it to scoop up a dead cockroach and toss it in the trash.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Of Course He Knew

From the Washington Post:

U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, months during which he continued to play down the threat, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The repeated warnings were conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats.

For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.

But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.

Back in December when the impeachment of Trump was ramping up, one of my right-wing friends — yes, I have them — made the remark that no one died because of the Ukraine scandal as opposed to the four dead in Benghazi, which was truly impeachable: “Lock her up!”  In retrospect, the impeachment of Trump over Ukraine seems almost inconsequential had we known what was lying in wait.

Sometime this week, if it hasn’t already happened, the number of people who have died from Covid-19 will surpass the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam war: over 58,000.  That war changed America and the way we perceive so many things, from military service to civil rights; from our treatment of veterans to popular music; from trust in our government to the war on drugs.  No one can imagine what our country, our world, our families, our art, our daily life, will be like after this is over.

No one can say for certainty that this virus would not have spread.  But it appears to be stunningly obvious that when the warning signs were there, shrieking like a siren and jumping off the pages of the intelligence briefing, they were willfully ignored, denigrated when brought up, dismissed for political gain, and criminally neglected by the one person who could have made a difference in the response and the impact on the nation and the world.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Shutting Him Up

The Republican establishment is getting nervous about their chances in November.

Trump’s erratic handling of the coronavirus outbreak, the worsening economy and a cascade of ominous public and private polling have Republicans increasingly nervous that they are at risk of losing the presidency and the Senate if Mr. Trump does not put the nation on a radically improved course.

The scale of the G.O.P.’s challenge has crystallized in the last week. With 26 million Americans now having filed for unemployment benefits, Mr. Trump’s standing in states that he carried in 2016 looks increasingly wobbly: New surveys show him trailing significantly in battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he is even narrowly behind in must-win Florida.

Democrats raised substantially more money than Republicans did in the first quarter in the most pivotal congressional races, according to recent campaign finance reports. And while Mr. Trump is well ahead in money compared with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democratic donors are only beginning to focus on the general election, and several super PACs plan to spend heavily on behalf of him and the party.

Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Trump’s single best advantage as an incumbent — his access to the bully pulpit — has effectively become a platform for self-sabotage.

Put aside the fact that his medical advice — sarcastic or not — shows a stunning callousness toward human life. What is most important to Trump and his minions isn’t that people are getting sick and the body count is over 50,000; it’s that his attendance at the daily briefing is damaging his chances for reelection.  That’s the most important thing?

Glen Bolger, a longtime Republican pollster, said the landscape for his party had become far grimmer compared with the pre-virus plan to run almost singularly around the country’s prosperity.

“With the economy in free-fall, Republicans face a very challenging environment and it’s a total shift from where we were a few months ago,” Mr. Bolger said. “Democrats are angry, and now we have the foundation of the campaign yanked out from underneath us.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies have often blamed external events for his most self-destructive acts, such as his repeated outbursts during the two-year investigation into his campaign’s dealings with Russia. Now, there is no such explanation — and, so far, there have been exceedingly few successful interventions regarding Mr. Trump’s behavior at the podium.

If people weren’t actually trying his quackery and loading up E.R.’s with people who shot up Lysol, it would be in the best interests of the country if Trump just kept talking every afternoon and showing with an incompetent and unmanageable disaster he and his administration is.  Joe Biden and the Democrats could literally phone in the campaign.

We are told every four years that the coming election is the most important one in our lifetime.  Usually that’s just campaign rhetoric and it’s usually voiced by the underdog in an attempt to get the voters to listen to them.  In this case, though, this election could literally mean the difference between life and death.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sunday Reading

He Refuses to Mourn the Dead — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

In just the past few days, President Trump has blamed immigrants, China, the “fake news” and, of course, “the invisible enemy” of the coronavirus for America’s present troubles. He has opined extemporaneously about his plans to hold a grand Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall and has announced that he planted a tree on the White House lawn in honor of Earth Day. He has offered his opinion on matters small and large, bragged about himself as “the king of ventilators,” and spent much time lamenting the pandemic-inflicted passing of what he invariably (and inaccurately) calls “the greatest economy in the history of the world.”

Despite the flood of words, though, what has struck me the most this week is what Trump does not talk about: the mounting toll of those who have died in this crisis. So voluble that he regularly talks well past dinnertime at his nightly briefings, the President somehow never seems to find time to pay tribute to those who have been lost, aside from reading an occasional scripted line or two at the start of his lengthy press conferences, or a brief mention of a friend in New York who died of the disease soon after calling him at the White House. “He said, ‘I tested positive.’ Four days later he was dead,” the President recounted. “So this is a tough deal.” It was not exactly the prayerful, if often politically expedient, mournfulness Americans generally expect of their elected leaders. Trump, for the most part, dispenses even with the ritualistic clichés that other politicians, regardless of party or creed, have always offered in times of crisis.

But the numbers are the numbers, and, notwithstanding Trump’s relentless happy talk, the coronavirus epidemic has, as of this week, already produced some fifty thousand American dead. This is not, needless to say, a best-case scenario, or anything close to it. Just a few weeks ago, a survey of scientific experts predicted forty-seven thousand U.S. dead by the beginning of May, according to the Web site FiveThirtyEight. Instead, forty-seven thousand deaths were recorded by this Wednesday, April 22nd, well before the experts had anticipated. On April 8th, a leading model at the University of Washington had revised its projections downward to forecast a total of sixty thousand American deaths by the beginning of August. But the nation now looks to hit that number by May 1st, meaning that, just a few days from now, more Americans will have died from COVID-19 than the entire toll from the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Trump talks of reopening the country, and of the “tremendous strides against this invisible enemy.”

You would think that no amount of Trumpian misdirection could disguise the awful fact that America has more confirmed coronavirus deaths than any country in the world, and that many of them might have been prevented by earlier, more decisive government action when the President was denying that the coronavirus even presented a threat to the United States. But Trump is trying his hardest to ignore the COVID-19 deaths. To the extent that he discusses those who have died, he tends to do so largely in self-justifying, explicitly political terms, framing the pandemic as an externally imposed catastrophe that would have been much, much worse without him. Earlier this deadly spring, Trump was briefly scared into a more sombre public presentation by projections that showed hundreds of thousands or even millions of U.S. deaths if no preventative actions were taken. Now he cites the absence of those worst-case scenarios as proof of his own brilliant handling of the crisis. The numbers of dead citizens he throws about, meanwhile, seem to be abstractions to a President who believes that even the subject of mass death is all about him. “If we didn’t do the moves that we made, you would have had a million, a million and a half, two million people dead,” he said on Monday. “You would have had ten to twenty to twenty-five times more people dead than all of the people that we’ve been watching. That’s not acceptable. The fifty thousand is not acceptable. It’s so horrible. But can you imagine multiplying that out by twenty or more? It’s not acceptable.” Trump did not pause to offer any sort of regret or sorrow, and instead claimed that the entire death toll in the United States would end up around fifty or sixty thousand as a result of his heroic moves. Of course, this was not true; that is, essentially, how many have already passed away.

Honoring the dead has long been one of the tests of American Presidential leadership. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was, after all, not just another political speech but a remembrance of those who were killed in the bloodiest single battle of the Civil War, in which some fifty thousand Americans became casualties and about eight thousand died. Twenty-five years ago this week, Bill Clinton’s lip-bitingly empathetic response to the Oklahoma City bombing, in which a white supremacist blew up a federal building and killed a hundred and sixty-eight people, was seen as a key moment of his tenure. He was dubbed the “mourner-in-chief,” at a time when he was languishing politically. That speech is often said to have saved his Presidency. More recently, Barack Obama wept from the White House lectern in speaking about the deaths of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, and gave arguably the speech of his lifetime in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, singing “Amazing Grace” as he mourned at a funeral service for nine African-Americans killed by a white supremacist at a church massacre. Even those Presidents who aren’t particularly good at speechifying—think of the two George Bushes—have considered public commiseration amid national tragedy part of the job description. Have we ever had a President just take a pass on human empathy, even of the manufactured, politically clichéd kind?

Trump’s departure from normal behavior is often most painfully evident during his nightly briefings, when his persistent disregard for the dead stands in stark contrast to the manner of others in his Administration. Dr. Deborah Birx, the State Department official who has been named White House coördinator for the pandemic response, often mentions the human toll of the disease and thanks the medical caregivers risking their lives. On Wednesday, Vice-President Mike Pence began his brief remarks with a nod to the “loss of more than forty-seven thousand of our countrymen.” It was just the sort of thing you would expect Pence to say, and yet notable for how different it sounded compared with the President. Trump began that very same briefing by saying, “Our aggressive strategy to battle the virus is working.” It is, he said, “very exciting, even today, watching and seeing what’s happening.” What was happening, though, was another day on which more than two thousand Americans died of the coronavirus, a fact that Trump did not mention. We know what a normal President would do and say at such a time. He would comfort the afflicted, weep tears of sadness, whether real or not; he would rally the country, or at least seek to. It is hard to write about the absence of something but especially necessary in this case, with a President like Trump, who has relentlessly used his public platform to discourage the contemplation of how deadly the disease has proved. His fear of the political consequences to himself that such contemplation might engender is painfully transparent.

On Thursday, I left my house for the first time since my once-a-week, socially distanced trip to the grocery store a couple days earlier, and drove through the empty streets of Washington, D.C., passing the shuttered headquarters of massive federal agencies and the silent white bulk of Trump’s executive mansion. Everywhere I looked, there were flags flying at the top of their flagpoles, and few if any people. Determined as he is to avoid any kind of reckoning, Trump has not even ordered American flags lowered in tribute to the dead, although individual governors have decided to. In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy did so in early April, as did Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York. “We recognize those who have been lost to this terrible illness and all those affected by it. Many families cannot hold funerals for their loved ones at this time. By doing this, we remind them that their losses are not forgotten,” Murphy said in a statement announcing the move. Trump, who has in the past personally asked for the flags to be lowered after a shooting or a politician’s death, can’t even bring himself to do this much for victims of the coronavirus.

During my drive home, I turned right on Constitution Avenue, normally crowded with cars headed out to Virginia, and parked for a couple minutes near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The national parks are closed, too, and no one was there to look at the more than fifty-eight thousand names of the American war dead inscribed on Maya Lin’s V-shaped black granite monument to them. Will the victims of this deadly spring one day have their names recorded on some grand Washington pile? I doubt it. Trump calls himself a wartime President, in his battle against the virus, but, like all politicians, he is more eager to speak of victory over the enemy than of the costs of winning. The Vietnam memorial was not built until 1982, seven years after the last U.S. troops left Saigon. The dead from this war may have to wait even longer.

Doonesbury — Untouched by human hands.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Friday, April 24, 2020

Happy Friday

Did he really say that?

After a presentation Thursday, which touched on the disinfectants that can kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces and in the air, President Trump pondered whether those chemicals could be used to fight the virus inside the human body.

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said during Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

The question, which Trump offered unprompted, immediately spurred doctors to respond with incredulity and warnings against injecting or otherwise ingesting disinfectants, which are highly toxic.

“My concern is that people will die. People will think this is a good idea,” Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center,told The Washington Post. “This is not willy-nilly, off-the-cuff, maybe-this-will-work advice. This is dangerous.”

If there are people out there who will mainline chemicals (“It’s so easy when you use Lestoil”), then perhaps this will prove that yes, Charles Darwin, there are those who are too stupid to live.

It occurs to me that if Trump had listened to the people who are in a position to know and whom his administration had in place to warn the nation about the virus in the first place and given the doctors, the scientists, and the public health officials the stage and let them do their work, not only would this have slowed the spread of the disease, it would have made him look like the calm and dedicated leader this situation requires to reassure a nation and the world.  And it could have boosted his chances for reelection to the point that he could coast to November on his amazing skills in a time of crisis.  But no; he had to be the grifter, the bamboozler, the political hack that we have come to know and have known since the beginning: finding someone else to blame, denying, lying, fomenting insurrection in one breath and calling himself emperor in the next.

If there are enough people out there who would vote him back into office, then perhaps that would prove that yes, Charles Darwin, there are entire civilizations that are too stupid to live.

Since I like to put up something soothing for Fridays, contemplate this scene while you wonder what Nature has in store for us next.

Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Long Haul

When the first warnings about Covid-19 were being circulated back in February — remember then? — the worst-case scenarios being forecast were that we would have to invoke the stay-at-home restrictions until the end of March.  Then as time went on it became April 15.  Then April 30.  Then May 15.  Meanwhile, hope was still held out that we might have a normal summer; school would be back, graduations would happen, theatre festivals would go on, and the curves would have been both flattened and maintained at a safe level.

That was then.

This virus is rampaging across the country and an arbitrary date on the calendar isn’t going to stop it.  The stay-in-place orders are working, and the majority of Americans both understand and heed the science that says the longer we keep the guidelines in place, the sooner we will be safer.

So the mind is boggled when people who can only be described as either politically craven or just plain stupid go on TV and say that it’s better for the country if we re-open the country as soon as possible.

I get it that it’s in the political interest for certain members of the Republican party to re-open the country as soon as possible, to get back to what passes for normal — at least to them — and pin the blame on someone else.  (The attorney general of Missouri is suing China for all of their medical expenses related to Covid-19, not unlike those people who sue God for sending a tornado and with the same predictable results.)

We’re in this for the long haul, and I’m willing to predict that while I’ve already received assurances that the two theatre festivals I was slated to attend in May and June will be on again a year from now, I’m perfectly willing to accept the possibility that it will be a stay-at-home Christmas, that President Biden’s inauguration will be the largest Zoom meeting in history, and this time next year we’ll still be told that we’re all in this together.