07
Jul 20

There’s audio here and I would be appreciative of your listening

No Phoebe and Poseidon on Monday? No. We had other cats to feature. I also had to do my work in the actual building on Monday. And the world has gone mad.

I was going to make that joke. But the local world has actually gone mad. There’s a banner on an overpass right now that says “A man was almost lynched” because a man here was almost lynched. There’s a video of the confrontation. A putrid, two minute and several seconds video of it.

So, last night there was a demonstration downtown about this troubling weekend event, as you might imagine. Someone chose to drive a car through some people. One or two people were hurt. One of them apparently mildly. The other was treated at a local hospital and released with a reported head injury. I’m also hopeful they’ll address arresting the driver of the car that did this terrible thing.

There’s certainly evidence. But there’s evidence of both, isn’t there? You can see it. I’m not putting any of that here, but it is out there if you want it, and it is all repugnant.

This is the thing about video: someone will always say “You don’t see what happened before the video.” And that’s a true and powerful insight you have there. What a keen legal mind you have. This is the real thing about video: no matter what happened before someone whipped out their phone and got the camera up, no action calls for what is seen before the unblinking eye.

At least one of my students was out there reporting. Apparently eye witnesses say the driver ran several red lights. So, in other words, done deliberate. And I’m really stuck on this part: one of my students was out there.

So vehicular assault in broad daylight, that ought to go somewhere, one assumes. One also assumes that state officials, the appropriate authority for where the almost-lynching confrontation happened, will figure out the threatened or attempted lynching. But they haven’t managed to do that yet, despite, you know, daylight video and plenty of incriminating evidence like work shirts, prominent tattoos and faces.

Madness.

But the FBI came down to look into the first crime, too. This was announced at this evening’s demonstrations which were, seemingly, much more peaceful for everyone.

So we’re having Phoebe and Poseidon on Tuesday this week.

Poseidon should also get a name for his love of cabinets. Cardea, if I recall, figures into hinged doors in Roman mythology, but I can’t think of anything close enough in the Greek, so we’re giving it to the mighty Poe, who was surveying his kingdom with great contentment here:

Phoebe and three of her favorite pursuits: a spring, a stair landing and the pursuit of belly rubs:

And they decided to sit together on the stove cover of my own design and creation. A rare display of getting along in proximity in their sibling rivalry.

So, yet again, spending a few hours building that little thing one weekend was worth it, I guess.

You know what else is worth it?

I talked to an epidemiologist today. We discussed whether the coronavirus is airborne. We talked about looking at the data and masks and the bubonic plague. We discussed whether I should get a haircut.

We also briefly mentioned the task of getting kids to wear a mask. Of course, she said, her children wear masks. She doesn’t have too much trouble with them, she said. But they are of a certain age now. And, being someone that tracks diseases, she probably brings home terrible images and scares them to death, as would be her parental right.

I’m sure she doesn’t do that. She’s a perfectly pleasant individual and probably her children listen to reason. And if they don’t, both of their parents work in public health, which means they’ve got plenty of adult experts in their lives to scare them senseless while mom and dad are conspicuously working on backyard appetizers.

Anyway, she says wear a mask. And be willing to leave places that have people not wearing masks. Stay distance and stay in well ventilated areas she said.

It keeps coming up: we had the stay-at-home orders handed down to give hospitals a fighting chance. Supplies were needed. Beds were needed. Crush the curve. Remember that, a few months and oh so many outrages and personal inconveniences and national outrages ago? Medicine and science needed time. Well, we gave it a bit of time, and now hospitals are filling up. There are a few more supplies headlines popping back up. And the consumer knows it. Stores are limiting paper goods and cleaning products again.

Let’s say everything about your health, and the health of the people around you. Mortality rates are lower than earlier projections. Thank goodness. Hard, hard earned trial-and-error have been teaching physicians for future rounds of patients, hallelujah. One of those things we’ve learned is this isn’t just about the sniffles, and it’s not just about your lungs. There are big, and varied impacts. One of the things still to be learned is how varied those impacts. Is it your lungs? Some other organ? Your mind? Medical science is still trying to figure that out. Another thing on the board, how lasting can the problems be? You can find nightmarish stories aplenty about that, too. You’re living in a big world of uncertainty right now, friends.

What’s amazing, according to every doctor and epidemiologist I’ve interviewed and seen interviewed, your best defenses are something so exotic as washing your hands and putting a protective covering over your mouth and nose. As most of us would prefer not to have our quality of life impacted in a negative way, please and thanks.

We didn’t discuss the covid19.healthdata.org charts, but we should have. They now have death projections stretching out to November 1st as a status quo, wherein some restrictions are being held and many are being eased, versus mandated mask wearing. And it looks like this.

In Connecticut 4691 – 4551 = 140 lives.

In Georgia 3,856 – 3,403 = 453 lives.

In Indiana 3,400 – 2906 = 496 lives.

In Alabama 3,442 – 1,682 = 1,760 lives.

In Texas 13,449 – 6,442 = 7,007 lives.

In Florida 17,472 – 9849 = 7,623 lives.

Wear a mask. Yeah, it’s itchy, but you can be that kind of hero.


06
Jul 20

Tigers, fireworks and back on campus, oh my!

We went to the nearby feline rescue this weekend. It was our first time out of the house for anything more than groceries or takeout or exercise since March. The place made at least a passing effort at taking everyone’s temperatures and masks were required. Smaller groups would be preferable, but they were limiting it to 10 people per tour.

It’s hard for people to stay out of each other’s way when they’re gazing in wonder.

Or just, you know, in general.

Anyway, our tour was supposed to last for 45 minutes, but it’s slow out there so our guide let us linger so everyone could get their national geographic photographs. We stayed on the property for just about 90 minutes. They have 150 or so cats they take care of — it’s a rescue and you heard some of the bizarre and some of the sad stories — and a few dozen of them were on display for the gawkers.

And it was a warm day, being July. So there was a lot of shade for the cats, which was nice to see and no doubt appreciated by the animals.

They’re a mixture of oblivious to people …

And oddly curious about you. In fact, they’ve probably seen more people than I have in the last few weeks. And they get their space, too. So it’s a happy little setup, as these things go.

And almost all of the tigers were interested in me.

This guy seemed to know it, and he was telling me RUN!

As in, “No, please, go. I feel the need to chase something down … ”

Here’s a thing you learn about tigers when you’re just a few feet away from them. All the sounds a house cat makes, a giant cat makes too, and they scale up. Just the sound of one of these massive things giving himself a bath gives one a lot to think about.

And the cats really liked me.

Almost all of them. Maybe it’s because I’m a Tiger. Maybe it was something I was wearing, or my animal magnetism, or that I’d slathered myself in chicken juice before we got there.

And, look, I don’t want to question the craftsmanship of a professional here, but when a tiger is casually walking directly toward you, you have a moment to think about the durability of a chainlink fence. There’s just enough time to hope that guy had a good day at the fence factory. No hassles at home, no aching joints, no in-law distractions or musings about his weekend on the lake. Just good, solid, earnest, pride in his work.

You don’t have enough time, though, to consider the plant that makes the nails, whether the second shift was on their game when they made the ones holding the fence against the wood. And, goodness knows when that wood was installed and it may be rotten already. You don’t have time to think about those things, or the team that assembled all of this here in 19Who Knows When.

You become keenly aware of the idea, percolating in your head and not yet verbalized, that all of this would merely slow down a properly motivated machine like this.

I liked how she was sneaking up on me from behind the maple tree. Completely fooled me.

There were two of these on our part of the tour today. Got a glimpse of one, and while I try to avoid the fence aesthetic, it couldn’t be helped here, and I hope you’ll overlook it. How beautiful is this creature?

Anyway, a warm day also allows for the indulgence of a cool bath. All of the tigers have giant plastic barrels. Those big heavy duty things that are in no way a simulation to tender human flesh because the barrels are much more sturdy. They are playthings. All of the barrels are destroyed.

The tigers don’t destroy their baths though. They’ve got this whole thing figured out.

“Wanna come in for a dip? It’s hot out.”

“But it’s so nice in here … ”

Thanks, tiger, but no thanks.

Fourth of July was even more subdued than normal. No big civic events. We almost saw the little parade one of the nearby neighborhoods runs. We rode through the route on our bikes twice. Just missed it both times. We were the beginning, and the end of the parade, then.

We had cheeseburgers and corn off the grill, and cheesecake out of the fridge. Everything was delightful.

The neighbors, who have been working on their ballistics and trajectories for several days now, put on quite the impressive display. Had to be the better part of a mortgage payment. Anyway, this isn’t how you properly record fireworks, of course, but this is how I always remember them, fuzzy and dreamy. ‬

There were just things exploding every which direction. And neighbors elsewhere were launching things from decks. Here’s to prevailing winds and sensible precautions and the good old American technique of eyeballing flammable projectiles. But the big show was still going on. And it went on and on.

This was the fourth of five finales. They had a good time, and many of the neighbors approved. It was festive when there were few festive things taking place out of sensible precaution. How he managed to keep the really big explosions out of the woods that were just feet away is a mystery.

And, to his credit, they stopped promptly at 10:30. It’s a decent gesture and makes sense. He had to get up early the next morning to clean the debris.

(He did not.)

Back to work today. It’s my first time working in the building since mid-March, 116 days for me. Everything else has been work-from-home, which we are both fortunate enough to be able to do. I’ll be back off and on campus sporadically for a while, in the hopes of having a semester. And then, if things go according to plan, we’ll have an oddly structured semester. A lot of things have to go right for that, however, and while that is the plan and the hope, it’s easy to be skeptical about it.

But! Yet! We are still a considerable ways removed. It is impossible to say from this vantage point what our reality will be in August, September and October. Why would you want that sort of certainty in your daily routine, anyway?

So today, we moved furniture. Large rooms will stay the same size, but their capacities are considerably reduced. Our commons, which would seat 50 something is down to 17. Our largest classroom has a fire code of 72, or thereabouts. It has a covid code of 21. Our standard sized rooms will seat eight plus an instructor. It’s going to be a strange school year, to say the very, very least.

So after this morning’s bike ride I got cleaned up, donned a mask went to campus and got sweaty again flipping tables and stacking chairs. When this comes up I like to smile and say “This is why I went to college. And grad school!”

Also, today, Harvard went entirely online. And the U.S. government said “If your school goes entirely online and you’re an international student, you must go home.” It’s going to be a strange, sad school year. We’re going to be a hybrid institution. I’ll be doing a lot of my work from home, and I am incredibly fortunate in this respect. That’s been a lesson for a lot of us this year, hasn’t it? You can be both in a fortunate situation and still not in an ideal situation.

But tigers!


02
Jul 20

Things I read

I subscribe to Bookbub, a service that sends me emails about books I might like. You sign up, pick your genres, and they send you daily links to Kindle books onsale. I’ve gotten some decent books off the list. Certainly each of them have been worth the money I’ve paid. All of the books range from $.99 to $2.99. And aside from the algorithm sometimes wandering around, it’s been a great service. I tell all of the readers I know about it. No one seems as excited by it as I do, which is fine, but it is a mystery.

Two years ago I got an offer for a complete set of James MacGregor Burns’ three-volume masterpiece, “The American Experiment.” It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Club award. It was 4,000 pages of reading. It was on sale for $2.99.

The modern world is weird.

I didn’t buy it, but as I type this, I regret that. I do see a lot of books come back around so if that series shows up again, I’ll jump on it. Though, honestly, that feels more like a bookshelf book than a Kindle book.

Anyway, I generally read the Kindle books at night, which makes it slow going. I stay up until I’m exhausted, then get ready for bed and then read myself to sleep. So it’s a few pages here, a few pages there. Meaning it took a while for me to finish this book.

Wrapped it up last night. Coolidge tells you a lot about the former president you didn’t know, because you don’t know a lot about Coolidge. That’s a product of the man and our educational system, I guess. But here you get a lot of his economic politics, which makes sense given the author. It’s also a complimentary book, perhaps just a tiny bit fawning, which makes sense given that Amity Shlaes is also chair of the board of trustees of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation.

I’m sure it glosses over some of the contemporary criticism. Teapot Dome is in there, and sure, that’s Harding, but it resonated over Coolidge’s administration, but we don’t get what was surely the real heft of it. And perhaps there are other things, too. Which, hey, to a degree that’s fine. I paid $2.14 after tax and it isn’t an exhaustive biography or the most authoritative scholarship, but it’s a decent enough primer. I’d like to find out about the man as anything and there are parts of his life where you’re put in the room.

I love this part. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone — the vagabonds, they called themselves — have made the pilgrimage to Vermont to see Coolidge before the reelection in 1924. There was the need to give a gift.

Love that line. It’s so New England. Shopworn and perfect.

Coolidge, who was so often a man of few words, probably didn’t say anything like that. Maybe it’s all Shlaes, but the ethos and pathos there say so much. I should make a present-tense version of that and brand it into things I make.

I found photographs of the event. But then I found this:

Ford isn’t whispering to Edison there. The great inventor by then was nearly deaf. You learn in the book that the vagabonds were charmed by Grace Coolidge, the first lady taught at a school for the deaf, and she was helpful with clear speaking and lip reading. The Coolidges had, just a month before, buried their youngest son, at just 16-years-old. And suddenly you’re summering at home and then come these huge leaders of American innovation because campaigns never really stop, even back then.

Here’s more of that footage, if you are inclined.

Having finished Coolidge, I started this book last night.

I mentioned it in a group chat recently and became the butt of many jokes. I’m three or four chapters in and, aside for expounding a little more than necessary on fish, it’s a good read.

Fish was an important part of the Mediterranean diet — still is! And of course this was a staple in England — yep! Northern Europe — sure enough, name a country, we checked! And it’s all in this book. I don’t know if it is going to be the most exhaustive book on salt, but if it isn’t you’ll nevertheless be satisfied. The larger point is how this humble little mineral is a culture shaping, societal forming chemical compound. And so far we’ve only covered China, a bit of India and the first part of selections of Europe, bouncing back and forth across several centuries.

Its Amazon’s best seller in geology. And just look at that list and tell me you wouldn’t dazzle people at parties with the things you could learn from those books. The 19th best seller is about mines in a particular county in Nevada. Number 37? So glad you asked, “Carbonate Reservoir Characterization: An Integrated Approach.”

I’d say that’s the sort of thing you read to get some Stop Bothering Me trivia, but how much of that does one really need?


01
Jul 20

New month, old paper

Here’s video from dinner the other night, because I uploaded it and never shared it. And because we needed something colorful here.

Doesn’t hurt that it was quite tasty, either.

Anyway, not much here right now, so we go back, back, back in time. This is 105 years ago, 1915. Let us see what was going on around here.

Newspaper design was not going on, that is for sure. This is a four-page rag, and it was a slow week in a sleepy town and we’re going to get into all of the news and, this time, ignore the society pages altogether. I am inclined to think there was the editor, the typesetter and, otherwise, the old Evening World was a slim operation. There’s not a lot of unique local stuff to see. Let’s see what there is to see, though.

Do not go fast. Charley Stevens, who doesn’t pop up in a lot of search engines today, is warning you. You’re supposed to do 10 miles per hour, and no more. Ten miles to the hour, excuse me. Town squares are fascinating features. It looked exactly like this in 1915. It looked nothing like this in 1915.

This is the editor of the other paper in town. And this is a big description about an out-of-town trip. And this has to be an inside joke or something. Also, this is on the front page.

No one was in trouble. Grover Lazelle messed around got a triple-double. It was a good day.

This seems impressive. Remember, it was four years before Dwight Eisenhower’s transcontinental Army movement. His caravan covered 3,242 miles through 11 states in 62 days, an average of 52 miles per day, going from Maryland to California. Ol’ Willie Curry did the hardest part coming the other direction.

Ike lost two days in Nebraska. Curry apparently lost two tires over the whole trip.

There’s a big block of text about the fireworks you couldn’t buy anymore, and an editorial bit about the stuff you can buy. Some stories, it seems, never change. But to get SAFE AND SANE you had to be unsafe and insane, right?

Someone surely looked at the mangled hand of some kid the year or two before and said, “Y’all. This is insane.” Then there was legislation, and the marketplace kicked in to high gear. And, sure, stuff got safer, and more refined over time, thank goodness, but some of the stuff you couldn’t use anymore, by 1915, even, sounds kind of awesome? And terrifying?

Finally, this news update is brought to you by this advertisement. You figure Mr. Man, sitting there at his desk, let his eyes drift over the society mentions and saw that and thought, “You know, I haven’t had any look keeping the books all week … ” It’s easy to think he put two and two together there, but, you know.

It went on for two more paragraphs, but given what we know of the digestive habits of the time, surely this is all anyone need read. Sentanel, despite the unfortunate spelling, stayed an operating concern until at least the 1930s, but you don’t see much of it after that. I guess their job was done.

And so is mine, for now. Tomorrow … I’ll have something or other for you here. You’ll see!


30
Jun 20

A flashback before a big flashback

We were sitting in a corner booth at the OK Cafe in Atlanta, Georgia in 2006 or 2007 and I was, as usual, thinking out loud. The Yankee had to have known that by then — this guy does all his thinking outside of his head — and she still decided to hang out with me.

We were talking about this trip she’d made to New Orleans. She was a TV hotshot and a station down there wanted her to come work for them and, as part of the tour, they drove her around to see what New Orleans was like after Hurricane Katrina. One of the job interview meals was at McDonald’s. There still weren’t a lot of options even at that point in the aftermath.

We’d watched it from afar, fearful for our friends and thankful it wasn’t our coverage area, and knowing that in all that horrible devastation that the media down there would do good, solid, amazing, real work. The year before we’d done the same when another hurricane right into the Port of Mobile. Our corporate boss forwarded us a very complimentary email he’d received, saying our work deserved the Pulitzer Prize. Only Pulitzer didn’t offer it in that format for which I would have been eligible in 2004. But they surely did in 2005 when Katrina roared ashore in New Orleans and our peers in the newsroom down there did the work and got the prize and to live and struggle and grieve and upend their own lives and look after their families and then go back to work to do it all again the next day.

It’s probably easy to forget, if you weren’t there, or somehow otherwise immersed in it, what New Orleans was like after August of that year. In the last week, a quick Google News search tells me, that three dozen stories referencing the storm have been written. It was 15 years ago and it’s still on the tip of their tongues. Which is why the news director wanted to give her the tour when she went down there for the job interview. You need to see, he said, what it is like right now. Usually when people bring you in from out of town they show you the good stuff. Back then, they had to show you the real stuff.

It was, I am sure, sobering. She ultimately turned down the job, but we talked about it a lot, and in that cafe in Atlanta I remember formulating what I thought would be just the neatest job in the world. Because I think out loud it started out pretty ragged and never really got much better, especially the name, but I called it a history journalist, reporting the journalism through the prism of time and past events, and history through a lens of journalism.

None of the things we cover or experience or watch or read about happen in isolation, after all. And New Orleans, a place hip waist deep in history and hip deep in tragedy, would have been a place for that sort of work.

They didn’t invite me down for an interview, which is fine and probably for the best. I would have pitched something like that idea and it would have been dismissed out of hand. A role like that is a passion project. It would take time and vision. And it is, admittedly, incredibly niche, when all of my media work was incredibly immediate and niche in some other sort of way. Besides, most journalists that do that sort of work? They have another name: Author.)

Anyway, I was thinking of that cafe and that corner booth and that conversation and how, all these years later that still sounds like the coolest idea. I interviewed a medical doctor and a professor who somehow holds appointments in seven different areas around the university. He’s written hundreds (literally, hundreds and hundreds) of journal articles and 12 books and he is still practicing medicine and who knows what else.

The subject was how the coronavirus pandemic is sometimes sorta similar to the influenza pandemic of 1918. He answered these questions in his role as a medical historian.

And if Dr. Gunderman, there, can find time in his day to be a medical historian on the side, I should be able to figure out some way to be a history journalist. Right? We should dive into some of that soon.

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