(A few weeks ago in Boston I met Nate Waters, who plays soccer for Principia College in Illinois, near St. Louis. He told me he was catching a few matches in Brazil, and I said I was extremely jealous. I was curious what a college player would find interesting about being at the World Cup and made him promise to write. He wrote two lovely pieces that were well received by readers. Here is his final report.)
By Nate Waters
Great athletes say that when their feet cross the line, they jog onto the freshly cut grass and glance down at the name on their chest. Nothing else in the world matters. They’re required to forget about what happened the previous day. Everything pauses, because nothing is bigger than the next 90 minutes. After traveling down the coast of Brazil and attending three World Cup matches, it seems as if the country has paused to enjoy watching the Seleção attempt to sew a sixth star into Brazilian soccer history.
Attending the World Cup is like no other trip I could imagine. Each corner is equipped with street stands selling jerseys, every park is packed with people cheering for their home country, and the taxi drivers couldn’t be more busy. It’s an atmosphere of excitement, passion and patriotism. I was caught up in the magic of it all.
Every activity was determined by the games being played that afternoon. We weren’t sure if we should visit the Christ the Redeemer statue because the United States was playing Portugal that night. Waiters brought out food and drinks only during commercial breaks and halftime. And I quickly realized that sporting the canary yellow Brazil jersey was the safest choice one could make while cruising through Rio de Janeiro.
While being swept up in the awesomeness of crossing the street into Copacabana Beach, you would not think to look down and notice “Go Home FIFA” stenciled into the crosswalk, as if it was included when the streets were first painted.
However, thousands pass by each day glancing down at the bitter reality that this World Cup has brought to Brazil. The tourists probably never noticed the fare increase for the Metro or that the Brazilian workers outside the stadiums have “Volunteer” printed on their official shirts because FIFA does not pay most of its employees. The only concern was to arrive before kickoff and be squished with 10,000 other fans on the burning sand to watch the game in the FIFA Fan Fest.
Brazil is caught up in hosting the World Cup, and the riots seem to have been overshadowed by a 22-year-old striker with a crazy Mohawk and four goals for his country. Maybe it’s Neymar or simply the amount of tourists that outshine all of the problems we read about before, but the Brazilian dream of playing futebol on the beach and enjoying the breathtaking beauty all seemed to be true.
I watched the Brazil-Cameroon game with a Brazilian family in São Paulo, and following Neymar’s second goal, they all cheered, calling him the best player in the world. I laughed for a second and questioned if they truly thought he was better than Messi or Ronaldo or Van Persie, even referencing other great Brazilian players like Ronaldinho. I honestly had never seen such confusion before as I was almost asked to leave the room and find a different place to watch the game.
It’s true—nothing is bigger than soccer in Brazil. It’s their culture. It’s what unites the country. It’s the beautiful game.
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(In case you missed, here are Nate Waters’ two earlier pieces. I just want to add how happy I am for him that he produced these three articles. Good luck, Nate.)
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.