Remember slow news days? Me neither.
And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.
The science-fiction author sees hope in our response to Covid-19:
People who study climate change talk about “the tragedy of the horizon.” The tragedy is that we don’t care enough about those future people, our descendants, who will have to fix, or just survive on, the planet we’re now wrecking. We like to think that they’ll be richer and smarter than we are and so able to handle their own problems in their own time. But we’re creating problems that they’ll be unable to solve. You can’t fix extinctions, or ocean acidification, or melted permafrost, no matter how rich or smart you are. The fact that these problems will occur in the future lets us take a magical view of them. We go on exacerbating them, thinking—not that we think this, but the notion seems to underlie our thinking—that we will be dead before it gets too serious. The tragedy of the horizon is often something we encounter, without knowing it, when we buy and sell. The market is wrong; the prices are too low. Our way of life has environmental costs that aren’t included in what we pay, and those costs will be borne by our descendents. We are operating a multigenerational Ponzi scheme.
And yet: “Flatten the curve.” We’re now confronting a miniature version of the tragedy of the time horizon. We’ve decided to sacrifice over these months so that, in the future, people won’t suffer as much as they would otherwise. In this case, the time horizon is so short that we are the future people. It’s harder to come to grips with the fact that we’re living in a long-term crisis that will not end in our lifetimes. But it’s meaningful to notice that, all together, we are capable of learning to extend our care further along the time horizon. Amid the tragedy and death, this is one source of pleasure. Even though our economic system ignores reality, we can act when we have to. At the very least, we are all freaking out together. To my mind, this new sense of solidarity is one of the few reassuring things to have happened in this century. If we can find it in this crisis, to save ourselves, then maybe we can find it in the big crisis, to save our children and theirs.
A structure of feeling is not a free-floating thing. It’s tightly coupled with its corresponding political economy. How we feel is shaped by what we value, and vice versa. Food, water, shelter, clothing, education, health care: maybe now we value these things more, along with the people whose work creates them. To survive the next century, we need to start valuing the planet more, too, since it’s our only home.
It will be hard to make these values durable. Valuing the right things and wanting to keep on valuing them—maybe that’s also part of our new structure of feeling. As is knowing how much work there is to be done. But the spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change. It’s like a bell ringing to start a race. Off we go—into a new time.
Meanwhile, even as the number of people dying of Covid-19 continues to climb, the White House is threatening to shut down the Coronavirus Task Force. But don't call them stupid.
Yes, yes, the world has most of the Biblical plagues going on right now, including apparently 40 mm–long hornets, but I can see some bright spots, despite (or because of) all this:
Alas, the rest of the news isn't as benign:
- White House economist Kevin Hassett, who has not made an accurate prediction in his entire career as far as anyone can see, projects zero Covid-19 deaths by next week. The CDC, which has a bit more reputation and a bit more experience in health care, projects 3,000 deaths per day—an entire 9/11 every day—by mid-June.
- Norwegian Cruise Line's latest SEC filing says it will probably sink into bankruptcy in the next few weeks. So if you want to buy a cruise ship at rock-bottom prices, now's your chance.
- The Lincoln Project, a never-Trump Republican organization whose members include George Conway, put out an attack ad so devastating it reduced the president to incoherent Tweeting. Of course, that's less a reduction than a normal Sunday morning, but still.
And finally, I mentioned a shooting in my neighborhood last week that hadn't yet made the papers. It took a couple of days, but CWB Chicago now has the story.
Yesterday I started Federico Finchelstein's new book A Brief History of Fascist Lies, and it may have kept me awake longer than I wanted last night. Finchelstein's central thesis is that for fascists, truth was a matter of faith, not of empirical fact, and this truth was made incarnate in the fascist leader:
Fascism defended a divine, messianic, and charismatic form of leadership that conceived of the leader as organically linked to the people and the nation. It considered popular sovereignty to be fully delegated to the dictator, who acted in the name of the community of the people and knew better than they what they truly wanted. Fascists replaced history and empirically based notions of truth with political myth. ... Fascism aimed to create a new and epochal world order through an incremental continuum of extreme political violence and war.
At root, fascists believed fantasy, and disbelieved reality that didn't fit their myths:
In their search for a truth that did not coincide with the experienced world, fascists resorted to making metaphors reality. There was nothing true about ideological falsehoods, but their adherents nonetheless wanted to make these lies real enough. They conceived what they saw and did not like as untruth. [Emphasis in original.] ...
For Mussolini, reality had to follow mythical imperatives. Too bad if people were not initially convinced; their disbelief also needed to be challenged. The mythical framework of fascism was rooted in the fascist myth of the nation.
In other words, arguing facts with a fascist had no effect because facts didn't matter to them. Only their beliefs mattered. A psychologist might call this "malignant narcissism."
I'm only a quarter the way in, but I'll probably finish it tonight. Finchelstein has given me a missing piece in my understanding of the creeping authoritarian nationalism plaguing the world right now. As he says in his introduction, "Populism is fascism adapted to democracy;" however, "populists merely want to diminish the power of representative democracy, whereas fascists wanted to end democracy."
Even the first couple of chapters has given me a lot to think about. I'll write more as I think about it more.
As Illinois hits 2,662 Covid-19 deaths and the CDC says the country will hit about that number every day by month's end, May the 4th be with us:
So it wasn't all horrible news today.
On 4 May 1970, Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on unarmed students at Kent State University outside Cleveland:
The sky was cloudless, the spring air warm and still. As the morning wore on, the growing crowd of students, now numbering in the thousands, became feisty, and some taunted the soldiers. Just after noon, a group of guardsmen suddenly huddled together, retreated briefly, wheeled toward the right, turned in tandem and fired at the students for 13 seconds.
The students were not only unarmed; most didn’t realize that the guards’ rifles held live ammunition. Four students were killed: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. Nine others were injured. After 50 years, we still don’t know why the guard turned and fired.
While Kent State was not the only instance of violence against student protesters, it immediately became a byword for state-sanctioned violence. Campuses nationwide erupted in protest. Krause, Miller, Scheuer and Schroeder became martyrs, their deaths memorialized by the band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in their song “Ohio.” The tremors were felt all the way to the White House; according to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, they precipitated the sense of political paranoia within the administration that set Watergate in motion.
The May 4 shootings were viewed very differently by conservatives and liberals; most conservatives endorsed the National Guard’s actions and at best wrote off the shooting as a tragic accident, at worst as the protesters’ just dessert — a position that liberals and the left found unimaginable. “Just as many consider shootings by the police to be ridding the streets of ‘thugs,’ the killings at Kent State were also celebrated by many. ‘National Guard 4, Students 0,’ or ‘They Should have Shot 400’ were commonly voiced views,” Professor Grace wrote, finding a vicious split that is echoed today over everything from climate change to the Kavanaugh hearings.
We also need to recognize the way that Kent State is viewed through race. The students shot on May 4, all white, became martyrs; most people have forgotten that less than two weeks later, Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green, two students in Mississippi, were killed by police officers in the wake of a false rumor about the death of a civil rights leader. And while Kent State stands out as an exception — National Guardsmen killing white college students — over the years, state authorities have killed far more African-American protesters than whites.
The Guardian says the shootings "marked the start of America's polarization."
We're finally on our own.
Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.
But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.
If only that were everything.
First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.
Next, all of this:
- The Experimental Aviation Association cancelled AirVenture 2020, the huge annual fly-in that brings thousands of airplanes to Oshkosh, Wis. (Bonus: video of a brand-new Airbus A-380 landing at the small Wisconsin airport in 2009.)
- The New Republic on "the morbid ideology behind the drive to reopen America."
- Republican legislatures and governors made it harder to get unemployment benefits in general, which makes it needlessly difficult to get them in this current crisis.
- Trump whipped out his "very good people" trope to support the armed protesters who stormed the Michigan State Capitol this week.
- Paul Krugman: "Crashing economy, rising stocks: What's going on?"
- Megan Garber: "Groundhog Day was a horror movie all along."
- Bruce Schneier says Covid-19 contact tracing apps "have absolutely no value." Only "ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing" will make a difference.
- Alexandra Petri: "Heroes, we cannot possibly repay you for your sacrifice, so we will make no effort to." ("We will give you everything except PPE, and we will offer you all the thanks in the world but an increase in compensation.")
But some good news:
Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.
Congratulations! You've made it to the end of April. This month has felt like one of the longest years of my life, and probably yours.
So as we head into May, here's what the last few hours of April have wrought:
Well, the only cops I've seen out in force recently were the guys who responded to a shooting and captured the two suspects a block from my home. (Yeah, that happened, and it didn't even make the paper.)
No, really. The countries that don't pity us are laughing their asses off. This video from a Chinese satire program sums it up nicely:
Josh Marshall is outraged—at the Trump Administration:
[The video] is certainly self-serving from the Chinese perspective. But big picture, good lord, pretty much completely guilty as charged. China initially bobbled the outbreak, had a major crisis. They mobilized. They shared information with the world. They mounted a massive, historic containment effort, built whole hospitals in a matter of days. The US hung back and did a mix of ignoring it or talking down to the Chinese. Look how they wear masks! Haha. Masks don’t work. Whether poo-pooing or derision the big message was that this didn’t have anything to do with us. Or it was a hoax. Until we had our own catastrophic outbreak and then suddenly you didn’t tell us! You hid the truth from us! You will pay the price! Also please send us masks! We really need masks! Please!
On COVID19 we are not only suffering horribly. We are also a joke. “We” is doing a lot of work here. “We” is really our national government, the Trump administration. But for the moment it’s the only national government we have and it’s calling the shots. As the closing puts it “Gosh!! Just listen to yourself.” Perhaps most tellingly, with perhaps the greatest longterm repercussions, the Trump administration has failed so badly, so accurately modeled the behavior of five year olds that we’ve gone a decent way toward discrediting the model of civic democracy and the rule of law we should be supporting at home and around the world. We’ve done about as good a job as one could imagine telling the story that maybe the authoritarians just handle things better.
It’s embarrassing. We’re an embarrassment.
I know it won't make anyone change his or her mind about why (or even whether) Russia interfered in our 2016 election, but this outcome is glorious for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinpeng, and every other authoritarian and totalitarian out there.