Friday, July 23, 2021

Happy Friday

I haven’t written a new play in over a month. What is wrong with me?

What I’ve been doing, though, is working on the plays and stories I’ve already written; trimming them, tweaking them, re-reading and finding little things like typos or anachronisms (no, they didn’t have smartphones in 1996) and just hanging out with the people in them. Sometimes I have better friends inside the plays and novels I write than in real life.

Years ago on this very blog I did a series called “Writing on Writing” where I rather self-indulgently explored the background of my works and what got them on paper or on the stage. I think I’ve grown out of that stage, so to speak, because now that I’ve written over fifty plays of various lengths and topics, I hope they do the speaking for me. I’ve written about my family, my friends, my growing up and going to school, and lots of other people and places in between.  As I’ve said here and other places, writing is cheaper than therapy and doesn’t damage my liver.

I’ve also met a lot of good people along the way, some even in person, and learned from them.  That’s one of the reasons I will spend a week in the beautiful wilderness of Alaska or the plains of Kansas: to be with like-minded souls who only want to share their insight to themselves and life.  There’s something affirming by being with so many friends of every way, shape, and thought who are not only willing to share their innermost thoughts and vulnerabilities, but listen to you and learn together.  And it’s all accomplished by putting simple black marks on paper or screen and having the courage to share it.

A simple thought conveyed from one person to another means more than all the money in the world, and the written word has changed the world time and again with such simple phrases as “In the beginning” or “We the people.” That’s all I ever wanted to do: share that simple idea and maybe, just maybe, inspire someone. And if it was just one, well, then, that’s one more than yesterday, and I’ll reach one more tomorrow.

That’s from a play of mine called “A Good Year.” It’s still in progress, but that pretty much says what I’ve been doing and will keep on doing for as long as I can.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Kinda Late, Ron

I saw a clip on Morning Joe wherein Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is urging people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.  This happened a week after his campaign website started carrying merchandise that mocked Dr. Anthony Fauci.

I’m wondering what caused him to suddenly change channels: has he finally realized that it’s a medically-wise thing to do, or that the people who refused to get vaccinated were his base.

Nothing focuses the mind on election chances like seeing your supporters dropping like flies.

Then That Happened

Yesterday I had what you would call a rich full day. Last week, after a heavy downpour, I found everything in the trunk of the Mustang was soaked. I thought that I hadn’t closed the trunk, but this afternoon I found the real reason: the rear window glass in the top had come loose along the bottom, hence the flood.

I learned a little over four years ago that you can’t just replace or repair the glass: you have to replace the entire convertible top, which can run close to $2,000. So I stopped off at All In Leather, the shop that replaced the first top when the same thing happened in 2016.  It turns out the current top is still under warranty, so all I have to pay for is the labor. Whew. But — and you knew there’s a but — the new top won’t be in until August 22. So I guess the Pontiac is going to get some miles on it. Just don’t tell the insurance company.

And… while I was driving to the repair shop, I got a text from Josh, my housemate. The toilet in his bathroom was backing up into bathtub. *Sigh* The landlord was contacted, and he thinks that since all the other facilities are running free and clear, there could be a clog in the vent stack. My plumber pal Alex is coming to take care of it this afternoon.

So, how was your day?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Two Floridas

Excellent editorial in The Miami Herald about the stark differences between reality and the governor’s wishful thinking.

There are two different realities in Florida.

In the governor’s mansion and the state Capitol, Florida has beat the COVID-19 pandemic. The real problem is Dr. Anthony Fauci and mask mandates, not the eye-popping spike in new cases over the past weeks.

In the rest of the state, especially in hot spots like Miami-Dade County, hospitals are seeing a surge of patients. Florida accounts for 20 percent of all new coronavirus infections in the nation, with the more transmissible delta variant finding vulnerable people, mostly those who did not get vaccinated.

In this clash of realities, those of us in these hotspots are left with little to combat the virus. That’s because, in May, Gov. DeSantis suspended all local COVID-19 restrictions and signed a law making it virtually impossible for cities and counties to enact new ones.

When that happened, the Herald Editorial Board proclaimed that by tying the hands of local officials, DeSantis and the Legislature were telling communities “tough luck.”

In the following weeks, it looked like maybe we overreacted.

Vaccines became widely available, and we learned more about how highly effective they are at preventing serious illness. The number of cases dropped. “Delta” was nothing more than the name of an airline or the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet. People quickly dropped wearing masks indoors — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that is OK as long as you are fully vaccinated. Local governments relaxed restrictions.

This was meant to be our summer of freedom.

Turns out, we didn’t overreact.

The state now has the fourth-highest per-capita hospitalization rate in the country (Almost all hospitalizations and deaths have been among unvaccinated people nationally, according to the CDC). Immunizations have slowed, which was expected as more people got their shots but millions of Floridians who are eligible have chosen not to get vaccinated out of fear, ideology, misinformation, complacency or lack of access.

When asked on Monday what he planned to do to get more shots in the arms of Floridians, DeSantis blamed “quote-unquote experts” for distrust of vaccinations and “misinformation and a lot of bad advice that’s been given by some of these experts over the last year,” the Sun Sentinel reported.

DeSantis’ response does nothing to help communities fighting rising infections and only makes certain groups more wary of health authorities.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told ABC News over the weekend that “it’s very reasonable” for places with low vaccination rates and a rising number of cases to adopt “more mitigation measures” such as the mask mandate that Los Angeles County, California, reinstated over the weekend. He added that wouldn’t be “contradictory to the guidance the CDC issued” on masks.

It seems reasonable to allow Miami Beach to control the size of crowds at local nightclubs and bars or for the county to reconsider a mask mandate and social-distancing measures if we continue to see cases surge.

But “tough luck” — that’s not going to happen.

The law DeSantis signed in May, SB 2006, gives him the authority to invalidate a local emergency order that “unnecessarily restricts individual rights or liberties.” The governor’s campaign has been selling T-shirts and drink koozies emblazoned with “Don’t Fauci my Florida” — there’s not doubt he would exercise that authority with gusto.

Miami-Dade’s case rate jumped to 242 per 100,000 people last week from 150 the week before, and test positivity grew from 5.4 percent to 7.4 percent despite the county having the largest percentage of people who have received at least one vaccine dose (75 percent).

Experts suspect groups with low immunization rates, such as younger people, are behind this surge. But knowing that for sure is hard because the state isn’t releasing county-by-county demographic information on vaccinations. The state also stopped classifying deaths by county, releasing hospital data and reporting coronavirus numbers on a daily basis, switching to weekly reports. That made it harder to get a real picture of the pandemic, but perhaps that’s the intention. Burying Florida’s COVID-19 stats is the governor’s MO, as it was throughout 2020.

So, if anyone asks, Florida has beat the virus.

Sure, more than 38,000 Floridians have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

But let’s just call that a footnote.

There are two reasons why Gov. DeSantis wants to promote the idea that the pandemic is just a footnote. The second is because if people are told we’re a plague state, they won’t come and spend money at the resorts, theme parks, bars, and other tourist destinations. But the first is because he wants to basically replace TFG in the minds of the Republican party base as the tough guy who fended off the panty-waist hand-wringers from the CDC and run in 2024; if not as president, then as TFG’s running mate because Mike Pence is a wuss and a traitor. So he’s going to go around the state and the country like the mayor of the seaside town in “Jaws,” saying everything is fine, nothing to worry about, come on down.  And vote for me.

But as I noted the other day, the target of this killing machine seems pointed at the very people who would follow him.  Tough luck for them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Go Canada

From CBC:

The federal government announced today it plans to let fully vaccinated tourists visit Canada again soon.

Ottawa now says that — starting Aug. 9 at 12:01 a.m. ET. — fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in that country will be able to visit Canada without having to quarantine for two weeks.

The government said it then plans to open Canada’s borders to fully vaccinated travellers from all other countries on Sept. 7.

Officials also announced today that as of Aug. 9, children under 12 — who aren’t yet approved to receive a vaccine — will be exempt from the quarantine requirement after entering Canada and can move around with their parents if they follow public health measures.

But those children are advised to avoid group settings such as school, camps and daycares — especially indoor ones.

“The key here is for parents or any travellers coming to Canada to understand what are the requirements and plan accordingly,” said a government official speaking on background to journalists today

“It is possible that they are attending tourist locations or activities — as long as things are outdoors, I think the risks are limited.”

I’m sure this is a relief to the Stratford Festival, where they rely on their audience coming from Detroit, Toledo, Buffalo, and other places south of their border.  Let’s go, Ken.

The Stratford Festival Theatre

Sam

He died nineteen years ago today. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him. There’s still that worn spot on the old bedspread where he slept, and I still make room for him on the bed.

Sam BW 11-26-03

Sam
February 1, 1989 – July 20, 2002

Monday, July 19, 2021

Darwin, Take The Wheel

According to the New York Times, the number of new cases of Covid-19 has increased by 140% in the last two weeks, and the number of deaths is up 33%.  This is happening in states where the opposition to vaccination is high and vaccination rates are low, and it coincides with the political alliance of both the state government and the general population: Republicans and conservatives.  Despite the efforts of the Biden administration — or, more likely, because of them — they aren’t getting the shots and they’re resistant to it.  Here in Florida, our governor is even fund-raising off his resistance to the campaign to get the vaccine to the people.  He’d rather spend the state resources in Texas guarding against border crossers and ginning up his 2024 presidential run.  Meanwhile, the conservative press and talking heads are coming up with a plan to blame the libs for all the impending deaths from a preventable disease because the lefties don’t respect their stupidity.  So there.

It may seem to go against my better nature, not to mention what I’ve learned as a Quaker these last fifty-plus years, but at this point in the saga, it’s hard for me to work up any sympathy or even empathy for a mindset that willfully chooses to ignore the science and allow this to happen to themselves.  So as long as they’re not presenting a danger to others, I’m in favor of letting nature take its course.  To be blunt, let them get sick, let them suffer, let them go through the pain of loss that millions of other people have witnessed and felt, especially those who fought the disease and did everything they could to prevent the spread, got the shots, but still had to endure the loss, only to be tormented by the wicked who mocked the masks, who flaunted the rules in the name of their “freedom,” and who voted to pass laws that went against the advice to isolate, to certify vaccinations, and all in the name and spirit of a charlatan who somehow still holds sway over their lives even though he nearly died of the disease himself.

A lot of these same people are the ones who are supporting the new laws in several states to suppress the votes of poor people and minorities because they didn’t like the way the last election turned out.  Well, it seems that both karma and the spirit of Charles Darwin are taking a hand and instituting their own form of voter suppression by killing off the very voting bloc that refuses to get vaccinated based on the time-honored and preadolescent philosophy of You Can’t Make Me.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Pandemic Will End — Cheryl Rofer in Balloon Juice.

Sometimes I think the pandemic will never end, but I remind myself that it will.

Numbers are headed up again in the US and skyrocketing in other countries. A Yankee – Red Sox game was postponed because of 19 positive tests within the Yankee organization. One wonders what the vaccination status is of the Yankee organization.

This is how the pandemic will end.

People who are not vaccinated will become sick and die. Those who recover will be immune to the disease. Either way, they will be removed from the susceptible pool. People are being vaccinated every day. They are removed from the susceptible pool after the appropriate number of shots and waiting period. The numbers of the susceptible decrease every day.

The alarmist takes that immunity will wear off and that variants will get around immunity are wildly overblown. I have seen no evidence for either of those and good arguments that our multiple-barrier immune systems react well to the vaccines and infection, except for small numbers of people with weakened immune systems. Every day that passes argues that immunity is not wearing off. If we eventually find a decrease, we can deal with it from a base of immunized people.

As the numbers of susceptible people decrease, we can concentrate attention and vaccines on hot spots or boosters if we learn that they are necessary. At some point, we will even quench the hot spots.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s not clear when we’ll get there. My estimate is that it will be five years before the world is back to something close to pre-pandemic normal. It will be uneven for different places, as the pandemic has been all along.

We recently passed four million recorded deaths from COVID across the world. The total is undoubtedly higher and will go higher still.

We must speed up vaccinating people. The longer the pandemic goes, the higher will be the death count. And pretending we are back to normal now delays the end.

“You’re Gonna Have a Fucking War” — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker on the extraordinary final-days conflict between Trump and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The last time that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with President Donald Trump was on January 3, 2021. The subject of the Sunday-afternoon meeting, at the White House, was Iran’s nuclear program. For the past several months, Milley had been engaged in an alarmed effort to insure that Trump did not embark on a military conflict with Iran as part of his quixotic campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election and remain in power. The chairman secretly feared that Trump would insist on launching a strike on Iranian interests that could set off a full-blown war.

There were two “nightmare scenarios,” Milley told associates, for the period after the November 3rd election, which resulted in Trump’s defeat but not his concession: one was that Trump would try “to use the military on the streets of America to prevent the legitimate, peaceful transfer of power.” The other was an external crisis involving Iran. It was not public at the time, but Milley believed that the nation had come close—“very close”—to conflict with the Islamic Republic. This dangerous post-election period, Milley said, was all because of Trump’s “Hitler”-like embrace of the “Big Lie” that the election had been stolen from him; Milley feared it was Trump’s “Reichstag moment,” in which, like Adolf Hitler in 1933, he would manufacture a crisis in order to swoop in and rescue the nation from it.

To prevent such an outcome, Milley had, since late in 2020, been having morning phone meetings, at 8 A.M. on most days, with the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the hopes of getting the country safely through to Joe Biden’s Inauguration. The chairman, a burly four-star Army general who had been appointed to the post by Trump in 2019, referred to these meetings with his staff as the “land the plane” calls—as in, “both engines are out, the landing gear are stuck, we’re in an emergency situation. Our job is to land this plane safely and to do a peaceful transfer of power the 20th of January.”

This extraordinary confrontation between the nation’s top military official and the Commander-in-Chief had been building throughout 2020. Before the election, Milley had drafted a plan for how to handle the perilous period leading up to the Inauguration. He outlined four goals: first, to make sure that the U.S. didn’t unnecessarily go to war overseas; second, to make sure that U.S. troops were not used on the streets of America against the American people, for the purpose of keeping Trump in power; third, to maintain the military’s integrity; and, lastly, to maintain his own integrity. He referred back to them often in conversations with others.

As the crisis with Trump unfolded, and the chairman’s worst-case fears about the President not accepting defeat seemed to come true, Milley repeatedly met in private with the Joint Chiefs. He told them to make sure there were no unlawful orders from Trump and not to carry out any such orders without calling him first—almost a conscious echo of the final days of Richard Nixon, when Nixon’s Defense Secretary, James Schlesinger, reportedly warned the military not to act on any orders from the White House to launch a nuclear strike without first checking with him or with the national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger. At one meeting with the Joint Chiefs, in Milley’s Pentagon office, the chairman invoked Benjamin Franklin’s famous line, saying they should all hang together. To concerned members of Congress—including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—and also emissaries from the incoming Biden Administration, Milley also put out the word: Trump might attempt a coup, but he would fail because he would never succeed in co-opting the American military. “Our loyalty is to the U.S. Constitution,” Milley told them, and “we are not going to be involved in politics.”

This account of a behind-the-scenes struggle over Iran involving Milley and Trump—a secret backdrop to the public drama unleashed by Trump’s unprecedented refusal to accept the Presidential-election results—comes from some of the nearly two hundred interviews, with a variety of sources, that I have conducted along with my husband, the Times reporter Peter Baker, for a book on the Trump Presidency that will be published next year. Some of the other details reported here about Milley’s actions have been disclosed in recent days by the authors of two new books about Trump and 2020—Michael Bender, of the Wall Street Journal, and Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, of the Washington Post—and been independently confirmed by me. Milley has not addressed the revelations publicly.

In a statement released on Thursday, reacting to reports about the Rucker and Leonnig book, Trump said, “I never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government.” He added, “If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.” Trump said he selected Milley for the post only because he wanted to spite his then Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, who, he said, “could not stand him.” “I often act counter to people’s advice who I don’t respect,” Trump noted. The former President posited that Milley, a career military officer, was allowing these accounts to circulate “to curry favor with the Radical Left.”

Milley had been in full-alarm mode since the summer of 2020. On June 1st, Trump had used the general as a prop in his infamous Lafayette Square photo op: Trump had marched through the plaza minutes after it had been violently cleared of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, and following him was Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a pack of his White House advisers, and Milley, who was dressed in combat fatigues, as if at war inside America. Milley, an Irish-Catholic from outside Boston who worships the Constitution and the military’s tradition of political neutrality, considered that photo op his “Damascus moment,” as he would later call it: a few short minutes of misjudgment that would haunt him forever. He considered resigning but instead decided to do his penance. “I’ll fight from the inside,” he told his staff. The following week, during a previously scheduled commencement address, he apologized publicly for taking part in a political display that was completely inappropriate for the leader of America’s apolitical armed forces.

On June 3rd, in the Pentagon briefing room, Esper announced that he was opposed to invoking the Insurrection Act against protesters and said that he tried to remain apolitical in his job. Soon after Esper’s statement to the press, Esper, Milley, and the CENTCOM commander, Frank Mackenzie, were scheduled to attend a White House meeting on Afghanistan. Trump, enraged, lit into Esper before Milley could even sit down. The President went “apeshit” on Esper, Milley told associates, one of the worst such reamings-out he had ever seen. Trump would go on to fire Esper days after he lost the 2020 election. Milley told his aides that he, too, was prepared to be fired, or even court-martialled. In another meeting after Milley’s speech, Trump, sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, demanded to know why Milley had apologized; apologies, Trump told him, according to an account that Milley later repeated, are a sign of weakness. “Not where I come from,” Milley replied, as he later told associates. Milley said he had to ask for forgiveness because he was a soldier in uniform who did not belong at a political event. “I don’t expect you to understand,” Milley had said, “It’s an ethic for us, a duty.” (In his statement on Thursday, Trump referenced his anger at Milley’s apology. “I saw at that moment he had no courage or skill, certainly not the type of person I would be talking ‘coup’ with. I’m not into coups!”)

A running concern for Milley was the prospect of Trump pushing the nation into a military conflict with Iran. He saw this as a real threat, in part because of a meeting with the President in the early months of 2020, at which one of Trump’s advisers raised the prospect of taking military action to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons if Trump were to lose the election. At another meeting, at which Trump was not present, some of the President’s foreign-policy advisers again pushed military action against Iran. Milley later said that, when he asked why they were so intent on attacking Iran, Vice-President Mike Pence replied, “Because they are evil.”

In the months after the election, with Trump seemingly willing to do anything to stay in power, the subject of Iran was repeatedly raised in White House meetings with the President, and Milley repeatedly argued against a strike. Trump did not want a war, the chairman believed, but he kept pushing for a missile strike in response to various provocations against U.S. interests in the region. Milley, by statute the senior military adviser to the President, was worried that Trump might set in motion a full-scale conflict that was not justified. Trump had a circle of Iran hawks around him and was close with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also urging the Administration to act against Iran after it was clear that Trump had lost the election. “If you do this, you’re gonna have a fucking war,” Milley would say.

Finally, on January 3rd, after Trump had flown back from his Christmas vacation at Mar-a-Lago, he convened the Oval Office meeting on Iran, asking his advisers about recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear activities. Both Mike Pompeo and the national-security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told Trump that it was not possible to do anything militarily at that point. Their attitude was that it was “too late to hit them.” After Milley walked through the potential costs and consequences, Trump agreed. And that was that: after months of anxiety and uncertainty, the Iran fight was over.

At the very end of the meeting Trump brought up the forthcoming rally of his supporters on January 6th, asking Milley and the acting Defense Secretary, Christopher Miller, if they were prepared for what Trump had already promised, on Twitter, would be a “wild” protest. It was a short conversation, Milley later recalled to associates, no more than a couple of minutes at the end of an hour-long meeting. “It’s gonna be a big deal,” Milley heard Trump say. “You’re ready for that, right?” It was the last time the President would ever speak to his Joint Chiefs chairman.

Just three days later, on January 6th, a version of Milley’s nightmare scenario played out anyway: an attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob seeking to stop Congress from ratifying Biden’s victory. Milley had not envisioned it, not exactly—his fears had been largely about street violence, involving running battles between pro-Trump thugs and left-wing opponents that Trump might use as a pretext for demanding martial law. This was the analogy to Germany in the nineteen-thirties that Milley had in mind. When January 6th happened, it wasn’t quite like that, of course. But Milley told others on that awful day that what they had dreaded had come to pass: Trump had his “Reichstag moment” after all.

Doonesbury — Inside the fire.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Friday, July 16, 2021

Happy Friday

We’re already halfway through July and I’m still catching up on stuff I did — or meant to do — in June.  At school, we’re already having leadership meetings for the new school year.  But this year we’ll have all the students back in the classroom.

As is typical of this time of year in Miami, it’s raining a lot.  Here’s a view of what was coming down earlier this week at school.

But that leads to views like this:

Enjoy your weekend if you have one.

Thursday, July 15, 2021