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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Karma In A Time Of Covid-19

No one wants anyone to die from Covid-19.  No one wants to mock someone for denying that it’s real, calling it bullshit, and then contracting it and then dying from it.  Karma does not need to be encouraged; it will exact its own toll.

In March, John McDaniel called Ohio’s shutdown order of non-essential businesses “madness.” A few days ago he died.

Now, we don’t know the circumstances of how Mr. McDaniel contracted the virus, nor do we know if he took foolish and unnecessary risks. But we do know what he thought of the measures put in place to keep him and the rest of the public as safe as possible. And we all know people who have similar opinions to those that McDaniel expressed on social media. If there’s any good to come from his death, let it be that people take those measures more seriously. They’re there for a reason.

In certain states that have governors of a certain political party — and are unnaturally sycophantic towards a certain president — they are sorely tempting karma to do its thing.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s move Monday to lift restrictions on a wide range of businesses, one of the most aggressive moves yet to reignite commercial activity in the midst the coronavirus pandemic, put his state at the center of a deepening national battle over whether Americans are ready to risk exacerbating the public health crisis to revive the shattered economy.

The announcement from Kemp (R), who was among the last of the nation’s governors to impose a statewide stay-at-home directive, caused blowback from public health experts, who said the state did not yet meet the criteria issued by the White House, and set up a potential confrontation with the mayor of Atlanta and leaders from other cities advising residents to stay at home.

Kemp, a first-term governor, said he would allow gyms, barber shops, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys, among other businesses, to reopen on Friday, though they would be required to follow social distancing guidelines and screen their employees for signs of fever and respiratory illness. He said theaters and dine-in restaurants would be permitted to resume activity on April 27. Meanwhile, a statewide shelter-in-place order expires at the end of the month.

The only other state pursuing as swift a strategy is South Carolina, where a range of retail stores were allowed to reopen Monday. The Republican governor, Henry McMaster, also lifted the state’s controls on beaches but left decisions about whether to reopen them to local officials.

The decisions in those two Southern states came as scattered protests across the country have targeted governors’ stay-at-home orders, encouraged in some places by President Trump, who has chafed at the social distancing guidelines issued by his own administration.

Epidemiologists say restrictions on economic activity and public assembly, combined with ramped-up testing and aggressive contact tracing to identify other potentially infected people, are necessary to contain the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 42,000 Americans. Many governors, including some Republicans, have heeded that advice, holding out against protesters who have descended on state capitol buildings to decry the emergency orders.

The problem isn’t just that these people are risking their lives for political or economic gain. If they were the only ones in danger, then the risk is theirs alone. But this virus is highly contagious, and like second-hand smoke in an elevator, it endangers those who are trying to avoid getting sick and passing it along to others, and worse, endangering the lives of those who are trying to stop the spread.

Monday, April 20, 2020


I’m entering the fifth week of stay-home/stay-safe life.  Everyone is facing this in their own way, adapting and adjusting, making their way.  I’m acutely aware of those who have lost their livelihood, their health insurance, and perhaps friends and family to the pandemic.  As I’ve noted in previous posts, it’s hard to see what’s happening on a global scale without being stunned and feeling helpless, knowing that being locked in place only makes it worse.

But I’ve also noticed that it helps when we look at the small things that we use to cope with this new reality.  For example, as I noted on Facebook:

Ten things I didn’t normally do before the quarantine:

1. Sleep until sunrise.
2. Not wear socks to work.
3. Not get dressed to go to work (my bathrobe is the new look).
4. Take my temperature three times a day.
5. Check NPX hourly for new plays to recommend.
6. Check NPX hourly for new recommendations of my plays.
7. Do the New York Times crossword every day.
8. Zoom.
9. Do laundry more than once a week.
10. Stay up late writing.

And then there was my observation about being fashion-conscious in the time of social distancing:

Allen, my late ex-husband, was quite fashion-conscious, even if he wore jeans and a t-shirt. I can just imagine him in line with me this morning at Publix: “Honey, that mask does NOT go with your outfit. Just because we’re under quarantine doesn’t mean you can’t coordinate your accessories.”

When I’m home, I’ve found solace and outlet in playwriting.  I have written ten new plays — two full-lengths, two one-acts, one monologue, and five ten-minutes — since August.  That’s more than I wrote in the previous ten years.  And I’ve also been attending theatre via Zoom and participated in the One-Minute Play Festival’s Conoravirus Play Project.  There were 625 one-minute plays presented over ten nights with playwrights contributing from all over the world.  Mine was included as one of 62 on Saturday night with the talents and energy of students from Macalaster College in Minneapolis.

Via Wisdom Traditions, here’s a little check list:

I have also found solace in turning off the computer, turning off the TV, finding comfort in a book, and in sitting in silence.  Sometimes that’s a luxury, but in times like these, simplicity and silence is often a necessity.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Reading

The Autocratic Creep — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker on the encroachment against democracy.

In the early days of the Trump Presidency, there was a lot of speculation about when, if, and how we would pass the point of no return, when we would know that American democracy had been destroyed. That conversation faded after a while, drowned out by the din of Trumpian news. The coronavirus pandemic has brought it back. Will Trump use the virus to establish autocracy? Is American democracy dead? Just in the past few days, Trump has asserted that the Presidency gives him “total” authority, made sure that his name will appear on the stimulus checks that Americans will receive, and threatened to adjourn Congress in order to fill Administration vacancies without waiting for Senate confirmation. Is this the definitive end of American democracy? No, but only because when a democracy dies there is rarely a definitive time of death. Democracy is never pronounced dead at the scene.

Trump walked back his “total authority” claim after a day. The design of the stimulus checks will, it seems, be the result of some negotiation: Trump’s name will not appear at the top or on the signature line but, rather, in the “memo” line. (Some Republicans, such as Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, think that this is in line with tradition.) The threat to adjourn Congress may not be as radical as it sounded at first: Trump certainly didn’t invent the “recess appointment,” and in fact it was the Obama Administration that fought for the right to make such appointments during a pro-forma session (although the Supreme Court declared this an overreach of powers). At the end of the day, like at the end of so many days, all of Trump’s threats and claims can be normalized or chalked up to so much authoritarian hot air. This is exactly how autocracy works: it creeps in, staking one claim after another, but it does not firmly and finally announce its own arrival.

It has perhaps never been so clear to so many people at once how warped time can feel. Coronavirus time moves at breakneck speed and doesn’t move at all. Instead of linear time, we have time that’s loopy, dotted, and sometimes perpendicular to itself. So it is with autocratic time: it lurches forward, circles itself, marches in place, and leaps. In history books, time is linear, with clearly marked mileposts: the day the Bolsheviks took power; the day Hitler claimed emergency powers; the day Pol Pot marched into Phnom Penh. It is not like that in real life, not even during the pandemic.

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, has received a lot of attention for using the coronavirus to consolidate power. He has declared an indefinite state of emergency, given himself the right to suspend any law, and instituted rule by decree. But framing these moves as the death of Hungarian democracy risks eliding the past dozen years of Hungarian history, when Orbán established a monopoly on political power, changed the constitution to reframe the understanding of the state itself, rewrote history, packed the courts, waged war on civil society, suppressed the media and educational institutions, and consolidated wealth in his inner circle.

Benjamin Netanyahu has used the pandemic to suspend most court cases in Israel and to engineer placing the Knesset on ice. Rodrigo Duterte, in the Philippines, has given himself the power of censorship. Vladimir Putin has not yet used the virus to meaningfully increase his authority, perhaps because he lacks the imagination for increasing his authority more than he already has, after twenty years of dismantling electoral institutions, suppressing the media, subjugating the courts, amassing wealth, destroying civil society, and laying the constitutional framework for eternal rule. Through all these years, Putin has claimed that Russia continues to be a democracy. The Economist’s Democracy Index places Russia a hundred and thirty-fourth out of a hundred and sixty-seven countries, tied with the Republic of the Congo and solidly in the middle of the undemocratic bottom bracket of the index. Yet Russian political scientists continue to argue about how, and when, things will reach a crisis moment, and often refer to the regime as “hybrid,” a term often used in political science to describe regimes that are neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. From the inside of a country, things generally don’t look as dire as they do from the outside, because conditions are quickly normalized, because people know that things can always get worse, and because modern-day autocrats don’t generally announce when they are usurping power.

The pandemic has so far genuinely bolstered Trump’s power. It has amplified his words by giving him the extraordinary pulpit of the daily coronavirus briefing. It has given his Administration the chance, in the shadow of coronavirus news, to push through legislative and administrative agenda items that otherwise would receive more attention and outrage. It briefly bumped Trump’s approval ratings, which, even having ebbed a bit, remain at all-time high levels for his Presidency. It has, in other words, created all the conditions for Trump to continue his autocratic attempt. The stories of dramatic power grabs elsewhere may also have dangled the hope that at least we will know when the worst has arrived. That is a false promise. The autocratic creep continues.

Doonesbury — Good news and bad news.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Happy Friday

This has been a week of fundamental change.  The number of people in the United States who have died from Covid-19 is over 30,000, and over 650,000 cases have been reported.  In one way or another, it has touched every one of us, be it the death of a family member or friend, or word that someone we know has been diagnosed with it, or a job loss because of the necessary shutdown, and the overall uncertainty that life will never be the same.  This is not just a passing moment; this is fundamental change, and reorienting our view of the world will come with it.  Just as we refer to events in American history as pre-war and post-war keyed on World War II, or pre- or post-Depression, we will go forward from this time noting events in our life as pre- and post-Covid-19.

Just as you don’t know what’s going on outside when you’re trapped inside by a hurricane, the impact of this is hard to determine.  How will we deal with our family, our neighbors, and ourselves once this has passed?  Our politics, our economy, even our arts and culture will be different, and markedly so; indeed, they already are, and we have to accept the fact that we’re not going back to the way things were.  The trauma is going to be more than just the physical impact; there will be aftershocks long after a vaccine is found and distributed.

Our nation and the world has survived war, famine, economic upheaval, and terrorism.  And while we’re rapidly getting tired of being told that “we’re all in this together,” the way we’ve made it through in the past has been knowing we can without being told we can by TV spots.  Each one of us has our coping mechanism, be it reading, writing, watching cat videos, meditation and prayer, or, as John Lennon said, whatever gets you through the night.  And at some point, we’ll see what’s there when the sun comes out again.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lessons Learned

Here’s a good article from CNN International about how four countries — Taiwan, South Korea, Iceland, and Germany — got their coronavirus response right.

Like a line of dominoes, country after country has been shut down by the novel coronavirus. Despite signs the threat was making its way across the globe, there was a clear pattern of response in many parts of the world — denial, fumbling and, eventually, lockdown.

In our globalized world, it’s puzzling that so few lessons were learned in the early weeks of each country’s outbreak, when the chances of containing and stopping the virus were highest. Now the focus is on flattening the curve, or slowing the virus’ spread, to keep death tolls from climbing further.

As much of the world mulls gradually lifting lockdowns, there are still lessons to be learned from these four places that got it right.

Another lesson we’re learning is that the folks who have been screeching about the sanctity of life and worrying endlessly about the unborn really don’t care about what happens to people once they’re born.  In fact, they’d rather let the old people die because it’s more important for the economy to reopen.  It’s a sick version of the old Jack Benny skit: when confronted by a mugger who demands “Your money or your life!”, Mr. Benny replies, “I’m thinking it over!”

Here’s one of those “pro-lifers”:

Reopening the economy is preferable to preventing a new wave of coronavirus deaths, a member of Congress from Indiana said Tuesday.

“It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say it is the lesser of these two evils,” Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth told radio station WIBC-FM of Indianapolis. “It is not zero evil, but it is the lesser of these two evils, and we intend to move forward that direction.”

There’s one simple fact of economics that he and his greedy bastards forget: it doesn’t do any good to reopen an economy if there’s nobody alive to buy things.

And then there are those rabid ight-wingers who are going out and protesting against strict social distancing orders.

Thousands of demonstrators descended on the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s restrictive stay-at-home order, clogging the streets with their cars while scores ignored organizers’ pleas to stay inside their vehicles.

The protest — dubbed “Operation Gridlock” — was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, a DeVos family-linked conservative group. Protesters were encouraged to show up and cause traffic jams, honk and bring signs to display from their cars. Organizers wrote on Facebook: “Do not park and walk — stay in your vehicles!”

Many ignored the demand. Demonstrators, on foot, were seen waving American, “Don’t Tread on Me” and Trump campaign flags. At least two Confederate flags were spotted.

I don’t want to wish ill on anyone, but the more these useful idiots hang around out in the open with their like-minded friends, the more they’re going to get sick and probably die, thereby proving that Darwin was right.  And when they get sick, they’re going to be crying, with their labored breath, for free healthcare.  As for the rest of us, keep your distance.  Shawn Windsor in the Detroit Free Press:

For those who drove to Lansing out of fear of losing home and pantry, and stayed in their vehicles, that’s understandable. Let it out. Say your piece.

But for those who caravanned to the state capital to play militia? To wave a Confederate flag? To argue that social distancing is the gateway to the end of the Second Amendment?

Stop. Please. For your sake. For everyone else’s.

No one is coming after our guns. Or our right to protest. Or our right to affix a sign to our car comparing watching Netflix to prison.

We just can’t go pontooning. Or barbecuing with our neighbors. Or visit the pro shop at the local golf course.

You want to protest that?


Next time stay in your vehicle. And wear a mask if you step out of it.

Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

On Their Hands

From the Washington Post:

As governors across the country fell into line in recent weeks, South Dakota’s top elected leader stood firm: There would be no statewide order to stay home.

Such edicts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Kristi L. Noem said disparagingly, reflected a “herd mentality.” It was up to individuals — not government — to decide whether “to exercise their right to work, to worship and to play. Or to even stay at home.”

And besides, the first-term Republican told reporters at a briefing this month, “South Dakota is not New York City.”

But now South Dakota is home to one of the largest single coronavirus clusters anywhere in the United States, with more than 300 workers at a giant ­pork-processing plant falling ill. With the case numbers continuing to spike, the company was forced to announce the indefinite closure of the facility Sunday, threatening the U.S. food supply.

Then let’s be clear: every death from Covid-19 in South Dakota is on her hands.  And while I’m no lawyer, I’d like one to explain to me why she can’t be held responsible or even charged as an accessory to negligent homicide.   And while other governors have exercised their authority to order people to stay home, she’s basically giving it up, all in the name of “freedom” or some right-wing whack-job idea of states’ rights.

And then there’s this:

Trump declared Monday that he has “total” authority and “calls the shots” when it comes to deciding how and when to lift the pandemic restrictions and reopen the economy, even as governors on both coasts proceeded with their own plans and asserted their own powers.

The contrary approaches hinted at what could become a fractured response from state and federal officials in the coming weeks and months, marked by disagreements over who has the authority to dictate when, whether and how to begin the nation’s slow return to normalcy.

“The authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total,” Trump said, adding, “The president of the United States calls the shots.”

Which is in direct contradiction of what his minion and sycophantic governor of South Dakota is saying.  Clash of egos?  More like clash of idiocy that will lead to more deaths and economic disaster.

An observation from John Cole at Balloon Juice:

Trump is looking like an insane person on tv, and most of you are probably thinking “so no different from normal.” And actually, no. He is looking more insane and more unhinged. And it is going to keep getting worse and worse. And there is a simple reason for that.

This is the first time in his life he simply can not bullshit his way through things. The last 75 years, every single time he has been in a pickle, he has been able to buy his way, bullshit his way, or make a deal out of the mess. He and daddy bought his way into schools and bought his way out of Nam. Daddy’s money got him a start in business. He was able to make deals with the mob and pay lawyers to shed liability on his failed real estate bids, he made deals with the Russians to funnel money to him through Deutsche Bank, he’s was able to bullshit his way through the election and bullshit his way through releasing his tax returns and pay off the women.

And finally, he has made it this far through his Presidency because he made a deal with evangelicals and the Republican base, that in return for some judges, shredding the environment, and throwing money at the rich while hating on minorities, they’d just sit quietly by and wear their MAGA hats.

But Trump can’t make a deal with coronavirus, and he has no control over it. No amount of bullshit or Russian money or ginned up racism is gonna keep people from dying. And he is finally starting to realize it.

This realization isn’t that he’s basically responsible for the sickness and death of thousands of Americans.  It’s the realization that it might cost him the election.  Period.  That’s all he cares about.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Distance Learning

Spain is lifting some of their restrictions on travel and reopening parts of their economy even as the pandemic still spreads in that country.  Right-wing whackos in Idaho are meeting in groups, ignoring the stay-at-home warnings in that state, claiming its just a left-wing conspiracy.  Trump and his minions are already chafing to get the country back open so that he can get out there and campaign for re-election.

But it’s not over by a long shot, and places like China where they thought the worst had passed are seeing a second wave of infections.

Human nature is such that if it’s not happening to us or those around us, it’s not happening.  If you’re not sick, no one is.  And if the authorities or institutions are taking precautions that inconvenience you, it’s just not fair.  So while we sit at home and figure out new ways to occupy ourselves, teach our children and do our jobs, it only hits home when we find out that our job is not coming back or a loved one or a friend somewhere has contracted the disease or worse, has died.

It’s ironic that one of the aspects of human nature is that we are quick to adopt a point of view based on an abstract idea — for example, same-sex marriage — and allow it to be exploited for political gain.  Hard-core conservatives won many elections in rural America by pointing at what was happening in a place like Massachusetts and warning their constituents that it could happen in their small town to the point that they would vote against their own interests to go along with them (“What’s The Matter with Kansas”).  The liberals are coming, they warned, and it worked.  But now we’re faced with a real threat, not some abstraction, and those same conservatives and their followers are ignoring or condemning the safeguards, claiming it’s all made up just to make Trump look bad.

No one really knows how this will end.  A vaccine is a year away, and mark my words, there will be a groundswell of lunatics who will campaign against it as more a danger than the disease itself.  (Darwin, do your stuff.)  But the longer human nature refuses to learn from what’s happened and is still happening somewhere else, the pandemic will continue, people will die, and even if we do eventually learn and adapt, the sad fact is that the first social gatherings we may be allowed to attend will be memorial services.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sunday Reading

Preexisting Condition — David Remnick comments in The New Yorker.

When has New York known a grimmer week? The sirens are unceasing. Funeral parlors are overwhelmed. Refrigerator trailers are now in service as morgues, and can be found parked outside hospitals all over town. We’re told that there are “glimmers of hope,” that hospital admissions are slowing, that the curve is flattening. Yet the misery is far from over. “The bad news isn’t just bad,” New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said at one of his briefings last week. “The bad news is actually terrible.”

Across the country, the coronavirus continues to ravage the confined and the vulnerable, from inmates of the Cook County jail, in Chicago, to workers at the Tyson Foods poultry plant in Camilla, Georgia. Data from a variety of reliable sources show that African-Americans, who suffer disproportionately from poverty, inadequate housing, limited access to good health care, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, are dying from COVID-19 at horrific rates.

The pandemic is an event in the natural history of our species, but it is also a political episode. Its trajectory is shaped by policy measures specific to particular governments. The fact that the United States is experiencing tremendous losses—that it has far more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world—relates to a number of collective risk factors and preëxisting conditions. The most notable one is to be found in the Oval Office.

“This is not the apocalypse,” President Barack Obama assured his shell-shocked staff members the morning after Donald Trump’s election. When, the next day, Obama received Trump at the White House and tried to relay information about a range of issues—the threat from North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal, immigration, health care—he got nowhere. Trump wanted to talk about himself and the size of his campaign rallies. Obama spoke about the value of having at his side such people as his homeland-security adviser, Lisa Monaco, citing her insistence on bringing him unvarnished, unwelcome news about everything from terrorism to the Ebola crisis. In the White House, she was known as Dr. Doom. Trump replied that maybe he should hire a Dr. Doom; he was joking. From the beginning, he practiced social distancing from anyone who told him what he didn’t want to hear.

And here we are, playing a tragic game of catch-up against a virus that has killed thousands and left millions unemployed. At Trump’s State of the Union address on February 4th, he pledged, “My Administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat.” Three weeks later, Kayleigh McEnany, a loud promoter of birtherism and of Trump talking points during the 2016 campaign, cheerfully told the Fox Business audience, “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here, we will not see terrorism come here, and isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful Presidency of President Obama?” Now McEnany is the President’s press secretary.

The coronavirus has inflicted a level of pain that is deep and global. And yet many nations, from South Korea to Germany, have done far better at responding to it than the United States has. The reasons for the American failing include a lack of preparation, delayed mobilization, insufficient testing, and a reluctance to halt travel. The Administration, from its start, has waged war on science and expertise and on what Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon called “the administrative state.” The results are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public-health calamity.

If the death rate turns out to be less than the initial forecasts––and, please, let it be so––it will be thanks to the discipline of the public and the heroics of first responders, not the foresight or the leadership of the President. The knowledge that we are led so ineptly and with such brazen self-regard is humiliating to millions of American citizens, if not to their leader. Trump gives himself “a ten” for his performance and berates any reporter who dares to challenge that premise. “You should say, ‘Congratulations! Great job!’ ” he told one, “instead of being so horrid in the way you ask the question!”

A nation facing a common threat normally pulls together, but Trump’s reflex is always to divide; he has invoked a multiplying litany of enemies. He directs his fire at the Obama Administration, at the World Health Organization, and at governors from Albany to Sacramento, with their constant pleas for ventilators, test kits, and face masks. The Democrats are to blame for everything. Early in the year, as the pandemic grew, they “diverted” the attention of the federal government, because “every day was all about impeachment,” as Trump’s unfailing loyalist Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, put it.

At a time of medical peril and economic devastation, the President heads to the White House briefing room and frames the terms of his reëlection campaign. It is a campaign of cynicism and authoritarian impulses. To begin with, he has made it clear that he does not approve of efforts to make voting easier in November. Why should he? He takes a dim view of early voting, voting by mail, and same-day registration. Such reforms, he complains, would produce “levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump has not had the sort of bounce in the polls usually seen by Presidents during a crisis, but this hardly insures an end to his reign. Senator Bernie Sanders, who did so much to transform the debate over health care, the environment, and education policy, in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, has dropped out of the race, and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has been either absent or woefully inarticulate in recent weeks. The former Vice-President cannot run on the idea of personal decency alone. He needs to provide a vivid, comprehensive plan of renewal equal to the moment. He needs to emphasize hard truths, one being that the laws of science, of the physical world, must be recognized. This pandemic is, in a sense, a rehearsal for what awaits us if we continue to ignore the demands of climate change. Biden would signal a seriousness of intent and offer a convincing alternative if he were to name very soon not only a Vice-Presidential running mate but a set of advisers and Cabinet officers who have shown themselves capable of policy rigor, executive competence, and compassion for the very communities that are suffering most from neglect and mistreatment.

Meanwhile, at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, a painful reckoning begins. New York has long prided itself on being a sort of cultural and political city-state, able to hold its own against any vagaries emanating from the White House. This is plainly not the case. We are in this together: that is the phrase, the balm, of the moment. But it is more than a cliché. It should be the spirit and the foundation of our national politics, starting with the election in November.

Doonesbury — Cutting back.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Keeping In Touch

The stay-at-home orders/suggestions/advisories are keeping people in place.  They’re also keeping families separated.  Not just not letting people travel across the country but sometimes within the same place.  That’s one of the tolls of this pandemic that isn’t being counted by the statistics, and the aftershocks of this isolation will last beyond the end of the quarantines.

I have my own stories to tell, and I am sure you have yours, too.  Thanks to Zoom, Facetime, Skype, and good old telephones, we’re able to keep some semblance of connection, but nothing takes the place of human connection.  A handshake.  A hug.  Even a wave to a passing neighbor or a smile delivered without a layer of pixels, plexiglass, cloth, or surgical gauze are things we use to have a sense of comfort that go beyond the medical treatments.

The news is telling us that the quarantine is being lifted in the city in China where the pandemic started.  There are countries in Europe where the restrictions are being relaxed even though there’s a likelihood that another reinfection wave may come through.  But as time goes by and even when the vaccine is created and distributed, it’s going to take a long time for the economy to recover, and the habits and patterns we’ve become used to in this time will be hard let go of.  But we’ll do it.

Tonight is the first night of Passover.  It is one of the many observances that traditionally bring Jewish families together, including those who don’t live under the same roof.  That’s not going to happen in person and in real time this year, but it will happen.  As Jewish families have done for generations, they will do what needs to be done to carry forward their traditions and stories that form the basis of their faith and practices.  In a way, this is the way forward for all of us, for all of our families.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Tuning Out

If you’re not watching the news, what are you watching, if anything?

I found the HBO series “The Newsroom” and watched the first three episodes.  Originally aired in 2012 and starring Jeff Daniels and a supporting cast that included Alison Pill, Emily Mortimer, Thomas Sadoski, John Gallagher, Jr. and Sam Waterston, it holds up very well for this time.  If you can find it, it’s binge-worthy.

Netflix is a treasure-trove of movies and series, including some made exclusively for the channel.  But I found solace in reruns of “Cheers,” which holds up very well.  Netflix costs me $14 a month.  There are plenty of other channels you can add such as Hulu, Apple+, Disney Plus, and plenty of others that can divert your attention from the live news.

Some aspects of life move on.  I received a jury summons from the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts.  I followed the instructions to fill it out on line, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be going in on May 4.  I prepared for my guest-lecture on playwriting today that will be conducted over Zoom, and I look forward to seeing how the students respond to writing and perform online.

I also took a nice walk last evening.  Some of my neighbors were out for a stroll as well, and we traded nods and waves from a distance.  And over on Facebook I’ve taken to posting landscape pictures of peaceful places that I’ve visited, giving me and my friends a moment of reflection and remembrance of quiet times.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Routine Maintenance

The other morning it occurred to me that I had not shut off my computer for three weeks.

When I was working full-time, I would turn it off when I left the house for work, then turn it on when I came home in the afternoon, and leave it on overnight when it backed up every night and updated whenever Microsoft sent the download.  But since I’ve been home for three weeks, I kept it on: writing plays, keeping in touch with friends and family, reading, blogging.  But Saturday morning I shut it off, went out to the patio in the dawn’s early light and did the crossword.  I left it off for three hours until the pull of my new play became insistent.

We all develop routines.  I did when I retired, changing — or trying to change — my wake-up time to something closer to sunrise, finding new routines on the way to work (Starbucks in Miami Springs knew my order when I showed up) and coming home in the middle of the afternoon and finding things to do around the house.  Now I’m finding a new routine: working from home, learning how to use Zoom, and other little trivial things that become necessary in this situation, this crisis, this new world.

Yesterday I went to Quaker meeting via Zoom.  It was new, but it was also like it always was: the Friends in their homes, sitting in silence, later sharing, reuniting, shaking hands virtually, joking (are you mediating or is that a screen-freeze?), and doing what we do every Firstday.  Later that afternoon, I attended a meeting of the car club board, testing this new way, trading our jokes and seeing a bunch of old guys who know the insides of a 1939 LaSalle or Corvette but proud that they didn’t need to ask their grandson how to set up this newfangled contraption.  It helps.  And we will all be better for it.

Routines help us cope with the overwhelming enormity of what’s happening in other places that we hear about, we read about, that loom in the distance.  Worrying about remembering the Zoom password help to digest the fact that nearly one thousand people in this country have died from Covid-19; not by ignoring it, but by somehow making us realize that a little thing that occupies the mind, that fits and fills the routine, keeps us from being paralyzed by the enormity.  It’s our human nature to do this.  It keeps us from sheer panic.  That’s one way of surviving.  For some of us, it’s a comfort.  For some, it’s the only way.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Sunday Reading

A Letter to My Students — George Saunders in The New Yorker shares his thoughts with the students he won’t be seeing again this school year.

Jeez, what a hard and depressing and scary time. So much suffering and anxiety everywhere. (I saw this bee happily buzzing around a flower yesterday and felt like, Moron! If you only knew!) But it also occurs to me that this is when the world needs our eyes and ears and minds. This has never happened before here (at least not since 1918). We are (and especially you are) the generation that is going to have to help us make sense of this and recover afterward. What new forms might you invent, to fictionalize an event like this, where all of the drama is happening in private, essentially? Are you keeping records of the e-mails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.

Also, I think, with how open you can keep your heart. I’m trying to practice feeling something like, “Ah, so this is happening now,” or “Hmm, so this, too, is part of life on Earth. Did not know that, universe. Thanks so much, stinker.”

And then I real quick try to pretend that I didn’t just call the universe a “stinker.”

I did a piece once where I went to live incognito in a homeless camp in Fresno for a week. Very intense, but the best thing I heard in there was from this older guy from Guatemala, who was always saying, “Everything is always keep changing.” Truer words were never spoken. It’s only when we expect solidity—non-change—that we get taken by surprise. (And we always expect solidity, no matter how well we know better.)

Well, this is all sounding a little preachy, and let me confess that I’m not taking my own advice. At all. It’s all happening so fast. Paula has what we are hoping is just a bad cold, and I am doing a lot of inept caregiving. Our dogs can feel that something weird is going on. (“No walk? AGAIN?!”) But I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is like a sleeping tiger and we tend to live our lives there on its back. (We’re much smaller than the tiger, obviously. We’re like Barbies and Kens on the back of a tiger.) And now and then that tiger wakes up. And that is terrifying. Sometimes it wakes up and someone we love dies. Or someone breaks our heart. Or there’s a pandemic. But this is far from the first time that tiger has come awake. He/she has been doing it since the beginning of time and will never stop doing it. And always there have been writers to observe it and (later) make some sort of sense of it, or at least bear witness to it. It’s good for the world for a writer to bear witness, and it’s good for the writer, too. Especially if she can bear witness with love and humor and, despite it all, some fondness for the world, just as it is manifesting, warts and all.

All of this is to say: there’s still work to be done, and now more than ever.

There’s a beautiful story about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Her son was arrested during the Stalinist purges. One day, she was standing outside the prison with hundreds of other women in similar situations. It’s Russian-cold and they have to go there every day, wait for hours in this big open yard, then get the answer that, today and every day, there will be no news. But every day they keep coming back. A woman, recognizing her as the famous poet, says, “Poet, can you write this?” And Akhmatova thinks about it a second and goes: “Yes.”

I wish you all the best during this crazy period. Someday soon, things will be back to some sort of normal, and it will be easier to be happy again. I believe this and I hope it for each one of you. I look forward to seeing you all again and working with you. And even, in time, with sufficient P.P.E., giving you a handshake or hug.

Please feel free to e-mail anytime, for any reason.


Author’s note: I wrote this letter quickly and sent it out. Later I was able to find the actual Akhmatova quote, from her poem “Requiem”:

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad. One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):

“Can you describe this?”

And I said: “I can.”

Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.

That last line is, maybe, the real point of the anecdote—Akhmatova’s confidence gave this unknown and tormented woman some measure of comfort.

Doonesbury — Restoration hardware.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Happy Friday

“Happy Friday” is a wish, not a declaration.  In the midst of this crisis, we are all looking for something, large or small, to keep our spirits and hopes up.

How about some good news, at least for me?  My play, “A Life Enriching Community,” has been picked up for publication by ArtAge Publications of Portland, Oregon, and will be available soon for reading and performance from their catalogue.  It was originally written in 2014 and first presented in December 2014 at the Miami 1-Acts Festival, then in readings at the William Inge Festival New Play Lab in 2016 and at the Midwest Dramatists Conference in 2019.  It was slated to be read at the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference in June, but it’s been postponed until 2021.

I’m entering my third week of self-imposed isolation.  I have, however awkwardly, figured out how to work from home; I’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings, and next week I’ll be guest-lecturing a theatre class via the internet.  I’m working on new plays, maintaining contact at a distance with friends, and making new ones through this dance of electrons and pixels.  My housemate is conducting his broadcasting arts classes to his middle-schoolers via Zoom and Team, keeping his office hours from the dining room table, doing his martial arts exercises on the patio, developing film in the bathroom, and painting in watercolors, all under the watchful eye of Sombra, whose feelings are kept to herself, as is the practice of all cats.

Stay well. Stay safe.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Home Work

When I worked full-time, most of it was done at a computer and a lot of it was conducted over the phone or via e-mail.  I used to note that there were some people that I worked with on a daily basis and became friends with but never met them in person.  My part-time work is basically the same: do my reporting and data-crunching at the computer.  That was before Covid-19 and stay-at-home orders, but other than relocation from a school office to the one in my house, it’s the same routine.

But that’s me.  A lot of people are figuring out how to do their job from their kitchen table or living room, and they’re finding out new ways to do it.  Teachers and students especially are adjusting to conducting classes and doing their work via Zoom or Microsoft Team.  It has the advantage of keeping some semblance of the classroom.  It’s interesting to note that a lot of school districts have been moving in the direction of iSchooling; now they’re learning how it may or may not work.

If there’s an upside to this, and I realize it’s a bit of searching for a silver lining, it may be that productivity at work and learning at school may benefit from having to adapt to this new method of what futurists dreamed of years ago: “Learn and work from the comfort of home!”  It may lead to lowering the stress level of job performance and thereby actually improve our daily lives on the job or at school.  After all, doing a budget amendment or completing a homework assignment when you are surrounded by the comforts of home — a cat on your lap, a dog snoozing next to your desk, and no dress code — may be one of the unintended consequences for good from all of this horror.

Cartoon by Jon Adams in The New Yorker, 4/1/20.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How Are You?

That seems to be the question I hear in just about every conversation I’ve had, either in person or on line or even as a salutation in an e-mail.  It’s usually a throw-away line, asked out of habit, and the reply is usually just as casual: “Fine,” “Okay,” “Good, and you.”  But now we pay attention when we ask and we listen for the answer.  We used to joke about asking someone how they are and dread it when they would actually tell us.

This crisis has made us think about both our physical and emotional well-being.  We are creatures of habit and changes in routines, even if they’re voluntary, are disruptive and stressful.  Now that we’re hearing the depths and breadth of this crisis: extending the restrictions on social interaction to May 1, the stark prediction of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, and it coming home to nearly everyone with the loss of a job, the distance of friends and family, the concern for our own well-being is becoming a driving force in our lives.

We deal with this in our own way.  I have work to do here at home, and I’m doing it.  I have friends to talk with about things like playwriting and car clubs over Zoom (and being sure to wear more than just a t-shirt).  I found my thermometer and take it three times a day (I’m literally cool; it averages 98.3 F).  I do my best to keep the humor quotient up.  I’ve been writing plays, including the next chapter in the “All Together” series.  I’ve discovered things on TV that have nothing to do with news — Netflix is a treasure trove (“Cheers” is timeless) — and the simple pleasure of a good book or crossword puzzle is as much a stress-reliever as a good massage or a stiff drink.

One of the memes on Facebook has been to post pictures of landscapes without people in them: no selfies, just beauty.  I’ve been doing that, and one I put up yesterday was of the beach on Montserrat, the little island in the Caribbean where Allen and I went twice in the 1990’s.  It also has a part in the novel “Bobby Cramer” where it plays the role of St. Edmund.

I hope you are well.  I wish I could tell you that it will all be over soon.  And I hope that the next time someone asks you how you are, you will truly to be able to say “Good, and you?”

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Even In A Time Of Crisis

Franklin Graham and his pharisaic Jesus-shouters can still be annoyingly and dangerously sanctimonious and full of hate.

The group building a makeshift tent hospital for coronavirus patients in Manhattan’s Central Park is asking all volunteers to read and follow a “statement of faith,” including rejections of same-sex marriage and abortion.

As the toll of the outbreak on New York continues to increase dramatically, Mount Sinai Health System has been working with the relief group Samaritan’s Purse to open a 68-bed respiratory care unit that will begin treating patients as early as Tuesday.

Praised by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), the tent facility is one of several efforts to expand medical capacity across the city: A 350-bed facility is set to be erected at the Queens tennis arena home of the U.S. Open, while a temporary hospital has been constructed inside a Manhattan convention center.

Yet unlike the other projects, Samaritan’s Purse has asked all volunteers working at the field hospital — including health workers — to pledge to 11 declarations, Gothamist reports, including one that defines marriage as “exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female” and another that says “human life is sacred from conception to its natural end.”

The Christian group was founded by Franklin Graham, a minister with a famous preacher as a father and a history of making incendiary comments, and has specifically sought out Christian medical staff for the tent hospital.

As some local lawmakers questioned whether LGBTQ patients would receive equal treatment, a spokesperson for de Blasio told Gothamist that the field hospital must adhere to Mount Sinai’s nondiscrimination policy.

“Our record on human rights is clear; and we are confident that the joint effort by Mt. Sinai and Samaritan’s Purse will save New Yorkers’ lives while adhering to the values we hold dear by providing care to anyone who needs it, regardless of background,” she wrote to the news blog.

In the middle of this plague, the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of superstitious hatemongers judging those who want to help.  Either let everyone who wants to help do their job or get the fuck out.

Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell Jr., who never misses a chance to fleece the flock with the same vengeance and mercilessness of his dead father, spreads not only his poisonous version of ancient fables, he’s spreading coronavirus along with it and supremely ironically proving the theory of both evolution and survival of the fittest.

LYNCHBURG, Va. — As Liberty University’s spring break was drawing to a close this month, Jerry Falwell Jr., its president, spoke with the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service about the rampaging coronavirus.

“We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,” Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Mr. Falwell. But he did not urge him to close the school. “I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, ‘This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do,’” Dr. Eppes said in an interview.

So Mr. Falwell — a staunch ally of President Trump and an influential voice in the evangelical world — reopened the university last week, igniting a firestorm. As of Friday, Dr. Eppes said, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggested Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. An additional eight were told to self-isolate.

As of 8 p.m. on March 29, of those three students tested, one was positive, one was negative and one student’s results are still pending, according to Dr. Eppes, who added that the student who tested positive for Covid-19 lives off campus.

“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview on Sunday when confronted with the numbers. He added that any student now returning to campus would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“I can’t be sure what’s going on with individuals who are not being tested but who are advised to self-isolate,” said Kerry Gateley, the health director of the Central Virginia Health District, which covers Lynchburg. “I would assume that if clinicians were concerned enough about the possibility of Covid-19 disease to urge self-isolation that appropriate screening and testing would be arranged.”

After initial publication of this article, the university said it had asked four students who returned from the New York area and two of their roommates to self-quarantine, but none of them were referred for testing and none had symptoms. One student who returned from a county with a high number of cases was running a fever and had a cough. He was tested and elected to go home pending the results rather than self-isolate, the university said.

Of the 1,900 students who initially returned last week to campus, Mr. Falwell said more than 800 had left. But he said he had “no idea” how many students had returned to off-campus housing.

It’s one thing to feel sorry and hope for the best for the students at Liberty; they’re victims of both the coronavirus as well as the scam of religious bigotry.  But the people who willfully exposed them to it should be visited by as many plagues as their sky faerie can inflict upon them, and with dispatch.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Information Overload

You can’t turn on the TV or the radio or the internet without being inundated by news, public service announcements, even commercials pinned to Covid-19.  The numbers, the statistics, the trend lines, the buzzwords; it can be overwhelming to the point that you want to change the channel or just turn it off.  Sometimes it’s worse to hear the news and the rumors and the fear than it is just to isolate yourself for a few hours or a day or however long it takes to loosen your jaw, unclench your fists, and remind yourself that a great deal of the equation of staying healthy is mental stability.

Last week I mentioned humor as a vaccine, and it works to the point that it helps relieve the tension without ignoring good medical advice.  I binged all the episodes of “Schitt’s Creek” and found myself giggling over a line by a minor character (come to think of it, it still makes me chuckle).  I diverted my attention by catching up on “Star Trek: Picard,” letting the battle between the synths and organics (no spoiler alerts) occupy my time.  I wrote thirteen pages of a play that I’ve been promising to write for two years, happy to be back in the world of characters who don’t have to worry about social distancing.

According to the calendar, spring break is over.  School is back in on-line.  The Quaker meeting is figuring out how to use Zoom, as are schools and businesses.  This morning I will go to my office for a few minutes to pick up some files and then come home and work from here.

I’m not ignoring the news.  I’m taking it in small and necessary doses, recognizing the fact that the talking heads on TV have to say something to fill the hours and that everyone from General Motors to the restaurant down the street have to adapt to the conditions of the time and have to let me know they’re doing what they can to keep my business.  Message received; thank you.  Now let me get back to my writing.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday Reading

Trump’s Quackery — Steve Coll in The New Yorker on the need for rigorous science in the midst of the worst pandemic in history.

On March 18th, researchers in France circulated a study about the promising experimental use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, in combination with azithromycin, an antibiotic, as a treatment for the disease caused by the coronavirus. The study was neither randomized nor peer-reviewed, and other scientists soon criticized its methodology. But Tucker Carlson, on Fox News, highlighted the work. The next day, President Trump promoted hydroxychloroquine’s “very, very encouraging early results.” He added, mentioning another unproven therapy, “I think it could be, based on what I see, it could be a game changer.”

At a White House press briefing on March 20th, a reporter asked Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whether hydroxychloroquine could be effective in treating covid-19. “The answer is no,” Fauci said, before yielding the microphone to Trump, who countered, “May work, may not. I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling, you know, smart guy.” A few days later, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said, “Using untested drugs without the right evidence could raise false hope and even do more harm than good.”

Trump’s quackery was at once eccentric and terrifying—a reminder, if one was needed, of his scorn for rigorous science, even amid the worst pandemic to strike the country in a century. Yet his conduct typified his leadership as the crisis has intensified: his dependency on Fox News for ideas and message amplification, his unshakable belief in his own genius, and his understandable concern that his reëlection may be in danger if he does not soon discover a way to vanquish COVID-19 and reverse its devastation of the economy.

New York City now faces a “troubling and astronomical” increase in cases, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the emergency is overwhelming hospitals, straining drug and equipment supplies, and threatening to cause a shortage of ventilators. The grim course of events in the city is a “canary in the coal mine” for the rest of the country, Cuomo said, and leaders elsewhere must take decisive action lest they, too, become inundated. Trump, though, spent much of last week promoting a contrarian gambit that has been percolating in the right-wing media. He said that, to revitalize the economy, he would like to lift travel restrictions and reopen workplaces across the country within weeks, perhaps by Easter, which is on April 12th, because, as he put it repeatedly, “we can’t let the cure be worse than the problem.”

Public-health experts immediately warned against such a reversal of social-distancing rules. “The virus will surge, many will fall ill, and there will be more deaths,” William Schaffner, a specialist in preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told the Times. When a reporter asked the President whether any of the “doctors on your team” had advised him that a hasty reopening was “the right path to pursue,” he replied, “If it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down . . . let’s keep it shut for a couple of years.’ ” Public-health specialists have said no such thing; they have spoken of a conditions-based approach (“You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Fauci has said), while advising that, to save the most lives, local leaders must wait to lift restrictions in their areas until the data show that the virus has stopped spreading. Trump said that any loosening of rules he might seek around the country—he mentioned Nebraska and Idaho as possible sites—would be “based on hard facts and data,” but he also said that he chose Easter as a target date because he “just thought it was a beautiful time.”

It is true, as Trump also argued, that enormous job losses and an all but certain recession caused by the pandemic will harm many vulnerable Americans, and claim lives, as ill people without health insurance, for example, forgo care or struggle to get it at stressed clinics and hospitals. Yet, at least in the short term, over-all mortality rates fall during recessions; the reasons for this aren’t fully clear, but social scientists think they may include the public-health benefits of a decrease in pollution, as a result of the slowing economy. In any event, the case the President made for hurrying an economic revival against the advice of scientists was morally odious; it suggested that large numbers of otherwise avoidable deaths might have to be accepted as the price of job creation.

Public-health officials spoke frankly to the press about the catastrophic prospects of the President’s Easter folly. (“President Trump will have blood on his hands,” Keith Martin, the director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, told the Times.) Trump responded on Twitter by lashing out at the “LameStream Media” for reporting such forecasts, calling the press “the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success.” Last Wednesday, after Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted to convict the President, on a charge of abuse of power, during the Senate impeachment trial, announced that he had tested negative for COVID-19, Trump tweeted mockingly, “I’m so happy I can barely speak.” At the White House briefings, surrounded by the sorts of civil servants and experts he habitually disdains, Trump has adapted awkwardly to the role of solemn unifier. When he leaves the podium to tweet nonsense at his perceived enemies, he at least provides his opponents among the country’s homebound, screen-addled, and anxious citizenry with a galvanizing dose of his immutable obnoxiousness—a splash of the old new normal.

The journal Science asked Fauci why he doesn’t step in when the President makes false statements in the briefings. “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” he said. America’s public-health system is fragmented and market-driven, conditions that only compound the challenge of quashing COVID-19. In the Trump era, however, decentralization has a benefit: the President is not solely in charge, and in the months ahead governors and mayors will continue to shape the odds of life or death for great numbers of Americans. Last week, Trump reviewed the possibilities for quarantine in New York City, his ravaged home town. He rambled about the stock exchange (“It’s incredible what they can do”), before going on to pledge, “If we open up, and when we open up . . . we’re giving the governors a lot of leeway” to decide how this should be done. We can only hope so.

Home Theatre — Ben Brantley in The New York Times has some suggestions for plays to read with your family gathered around.

Our stage was always a sofa — the long one that faced the fireplace. It could easily seat four or five, but my mother and I would huddle at one end, sunk into extra cushions, with our books on our laps.

And my 12-year-old self might say to her, “Now, mother, what’s the matter?” And she would answer, “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.”

That’s from “Hamlet,” of course, the scene where the title character confronts his mother in her chamber about her unholy marriage to his uncle. We were, I should hasten to add, too caught up in a cracking, plot-propelling confrontation — and the gorgeous language in which it was expressed — to be consciously thinking about how it might mirror any tensions between a real-life mother and son in the 1960s.

No, the play always was truly the thing, a fascinating story that you understood better on every occasion you read it aloud. Though we went through “Hamlet” at least several times together — as we did with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Twelfth Night” — it always surprised us.

We’d read an act or two at a time, and there’d always be a certain point when the words would make sense in a new way. I’d feel so privileged to be saying them myself, with my voice, and hearing my mother answer me in the same language. And I’d start to feel a hum of undiluted contentment, pitched at the level of a cat’s purr, that was so very rare during my adolescence.

Those moments have been much on my mind in this time of shuttered theaters and social isolation, when a drama critic is deprived of his livelihood and memories have a way of surfacing amid the silence. Though I have yet to coax my partner into picking up a script with me, reading plays aloud is a tradition I’d love to revive — and one I would highly recommend to those looking for ways to find magic in empty hours.

I can’t recall exactly when my mother and I started reading plays aloud together, or which of us first suggested we do so. Her father, an English professor, specialized in Shakespeare, so the canon had always been part of our lives. Though my mom, like my dad, became a newspaper journalist, she had loved acting in college and community theater productions when she was a young woman. And, by the age of 8, I was taking acting classes and appearing in local shows in Winston-Salem, N.C., where we lived.

We’d select works not only by Shakespeare, but also by Kaufman and Hart, Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, Philip Barry and occasionally something grittier — Eugene O’Neill, say, or Clifford Odets. We weren’t reading scripts to flex our muscles as thespians or to show off for each other. (OK, maybe I was, a little.) This was just our version of stress-free, parent-child bonding, an activity that took us out of ourselves for an hour or so, while confirming our mutual love of theater and words.

You don’t have to be a Meryl Streep or a Mark Rylance to enjoy this pastime, any more than you have to be Tom Brady to play touch football. All that’s really required is the ability to read and to speak — and, well, a willingness both to suspend critical judgment and to let whatever you’re reading take over your imagination enough that self-consciousness retreats.

Remember that plays — even those lofty classics that show up on college reading lists — are meant to be spoken and heard. And saying their lines aloud, no matter how clumsily, helps you hear the music and cadences in them. This is true not only of Shakespeare, but also of linguistically rich latter-day writers like August Wilson, Caryl Churchill, Edward Albee, Suzan-Lori Parks and David Mamet.

If play reading at home captures your fancy, here is a list of suggestions. Because times are grim, I’m mostly sticking to works that are easy to follow and fun to read — and driven more by dialogue than visual effects or physical interaction.

This is my choice for a first dive into Shakespeare out loud. It’s sinewy and relatively short, and moves as fast a Scottish warrior’s steed on a battlefield. It is also irresistibly lurid, with lots of opportunities to go over the top in interpretation. (Those witches!) It also seems fair to say that all of us these days — who have become weary experts in hand-washing — are prepared to take on Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, in which she endlessly scrubs at hands she imagines are permanently bloodstained.

Thornton Wilder’s portrait of small-town American life in a cosmic context is written in plain and forthright prose that grows in power in the recitation of it. Perfect for those who would just as soon avoid flashy histrionics, and a good choice for families. (An alternative could be O’Neill’s uncharacteristically sunny domestic comedy, “Ah, Wilderness.”)

This one’s definitely not for children. But Albee’s immortal, four-character look at marriage as a blood sport (which was to have been staged on Broadway this season, with Laurie Metcalf) has a fierce momentum that can be ridden like a roller coaster. This is the play that the woman I lived with my senior year of college and I would trot out for postprandial entertainment when we had guests for dinner. And no, I do not want to think about what this says about my character at that age.

Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winner from 1987, set in Pittsburgh during the Great Depression, turns the classic domestic drama into an exploration of the legacy of slavery. It’s the most immediately accessible — and family-friendly — of his plays, and it has a poetry all its own that approaches Shakespearean heights.

Another favorite from my college days, Coward’s peerlessly urbane tale of a couple who can’t live together and can’t be apart provides an occasion to put on plummy English accents and arched eyebrows. Just the sort of thing to read in a dressing gown, with a dry martini or two at hand. (An alternative: Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” a series of comic vignettes set in the hotel of the title, which had been scheduled to open on Broadway this season with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.)

Lillian Hellman’s great potboiler about greed and chicanery in small-town Alabama in 1900 allows plenty of opportunity for camping it up wickedly, and with a Southern drawl to boot.

For those who are feeling that life is indeed an endless waiting game these days and are brave enough to take on the ultimate literary evocation of that feeling. Not exactly escapist fare, but a lot funnier than you may remember. (An alternative: Parks’s Pulitzer Prize-winning two-hander “Topdog/Underdog.”)

For the British mystery lover, these theatrical adaptations of Agatha Christie novels are equal parts cozy and creepy. And the reassuringly stock characters require no special actorly finesse to bring to life. (Ayn Rand’s “The Night of January 16th,” a longtime favorite of high schools, could be an alternative. I played the gangster my junior year.)

Most of these plays are available for download online. One warning: This kind of project can affect the way you talk. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself saying “methinks” (if you’re doing Shakespeare) or calling people “dahling” (if you’re reading Coward). But, really, what’s wrong with bringing a little flash to everyday conversation at a time of stay-at-home monotony?

Actually, I have another list to offer: my own plays are on New Play Exchange and they offer a variety from one-minute comedies to full-length dramedies.  If you want copies for your in-home entertainment, let me know via e-mail: mustangbobby (at)  I mean it.

Doonesbury — Ladies first.