Musings from the Bunker 9/15/20
It’s been six months. Six long months since mid-March, when the words “shelter-in-place” and “lockdown” became part of our collective vernacular.
In these six months over 193,000 people have died from COVID-19 in America alone. Confirmed cases of are over 6,000,000 nationally. And that calculation is clearly undercounted, for several reasons:
• Many people who were only mildly symptomatic didn’t get tested,
• We got started late, in no small measure because we were led to believe this wouldn’t be a big deal
• There were insufficient tests that were subject to periodic shortages
• People died at home without tests being administered
• Most recently, the Trump administration forced the CDC to roll-back its recommendations on testing asymptomatic patients. Therefore, sadly, we’ll never really know how vast or deadly this disease actually is.
REMEMBERING THE OLD DAYS…ONLY SIX MONTHS AGO…
Imagine the world six months ago. On March 8th, I had lunch at one of my favorite Italian restaurants. The maître d’ and I were talking about how he had to cancel his trip to Milan to visit his mother. How crazy, we both noted, that things could have deteriorated to that level in Italy. The unspoken thought was “well, that’s Italy; it could never happen here.” And then it did.
On March 12th, we had our last meal indoors with friends we didn’t live with. Back then it seemed awkward to suggest that we not hug when we saw each other and that we sit across the table at an appropriate distance, so as to avoid any communication of a disease we didn’t yet fully understand.
Earlier that week, our President assured us that the disease would disappear quickly and he was negotiating to avoid allowing a cruise ship to dock because it would affect “the numbers.” As we now know from Bob Woodward’s soon-to-be-released book, Rage, our President was lying to us. He was aware since early February (at the latest) that this disease was severe, easily transmitted, and likely to be devastating. Yet that information was kept from us—and in fact directly contradicted—because, as he has since recalled his thinking, he didn’t want to cause panic. Well that plan certainly worked out—look at how calm, unconcerned, and peaceful we all are!
When we were first told that there might be a “lock-down” for as long as two weeks, we were incredulous. How could we stop the American economy for such a long period? What would we do? How would we get groceries over those two weeks? Then the run on toilet paper began. Two weeks became two months and here we are. As a friend says, the hours pass slowly, but the days fly by…
In retrospect, we failed to take the steps that other countries were either brave enough to institute (e.g., Germany or Korea) or were held to follow by virtue of their repressive regimes (e.g., China). In our desire to be unfettered American rugged individualists, we didn’t take the necessary steps, either out of political considerations, our own perceived scientific acumen (that flew in the face of actual scientists), or belief that things weren’t so bad. So rather than “taking the pill” early, this has dragged on and on and appears poised to continue to go on and on.
How long is six months? For one thing, half of us have now celebrated birthdays during the Covid-19 pandemic so far. Indications are that we all will have this distinction before this is over (and some may celebrate two lockdown-birthdays…). Six months is also the length of a typical baseball season and the distance between the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.
To those of us over 50, this time has been an inconvenience between limitless freedoms of movement in the past and whatever modified broad freedoms that undoubtedly will emerge in the future. But for others, it’s been tougher. For children, it’s a lifetime. Imagine yourself at ten years of age. A school year seemed like forever. To them the lockdown has been an eternity. I’ve always felt that adult life begins some time in college, let’s say 20 years of age. To a recent college graduate, this means 25% of their adult life has been in lockdown. For a third year law student, some 25%+ of their law school career has been in lockdown. To a 30 year old, it’s 5% of their adult life since age 20. It’s a big deal. It will affect their memory of these times—for reasons both instructive and destructive.
ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
There has been a great deal of focus on the fascistic implications of labeling the press as the “enemy of the people.” But there is another analog that is as apt. It is Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Enemy of the People. The protagonist, Dr. Stockman, determines that the town’s spa is contaminated by bacteria. That baths must close, which will have economic implications for the town. An article is to be published in the town’s newspaper and Dr. Stockman is understandably pleased with his discovery of the root of the disease and the fact that closing the baths will result in saving lives.
I think by now you’ve figured out the plot. The good doctor is vilified, the family is evicted from their home, his wife loses her job, and he cannot find new employment. This doctor, potentially the savior of the town, is proclaimed “the enemy of the people.” The people of the town, from the Mayor to the man in the street, all turn against this man of science.
As the French would say, “plus ca change; plus c’est la meme chose.”
HENRIK IBSEN AND PEER GYNT
While we are on Ibsen… Ibsen was a brilliant playwright, whose works include A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. A Doll’s House did much to question the roles of men and women and their roles in marriage and society. He was ahead of his time.
Ibsen also wrote Peer Gynt, based in part on a Norwegian folk tale, in part on his family and part social commentary. While I am not as familiar with the play, I certainly love the music that Edvarg Grieg wrote to go with the story of Peer Gynt. The Peer Gynt Suiteis a classic part of the Classical canon, consisting of several short tunes. You may recognize the brief “In the Hall of the Mountain King”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nMUr8Rt2AI and “Morning Mood”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMs0rNtBZJk. Both performed brilliantly by the Seattle Symphony. I think “Morning Mood” may have been the background music on a few Looney Tunes cartoons just before things got, well, looney.
By the way, since writing this I have had recordings of the Peer Gynt Suite appearing in my Facebook ads and my Amazon recommendations. They are always watching…
Have a good day,