A month ago, during reports of turbulent weather on Long Island, I looked out the west side of our house and saw leaves being twirled in a cone shape, by a brute force.
Not long after, three distinct tornados hit ground east of us—a calling card from the future.
We are receiving predictions of global warming, but we don’t do enough. Wouldn’t want to upset the federal budget, would we?
The weather is getting worse everywhere. One tornado tore through Middle America on Friday, killing hundreds, tearing up Mayfield, in western Kentucky.
The destruction touched home with me, coming at this time of year, when darkness falls early, and people try to light up the night with holiday decorations. A December tragedy reminds me of 1970, when a mine blew up in eastern Kentucky, killing 38 miners one day before New Year’s Eve, and as a regional news reporter for the NYT, I happened to be in the area, and rushed to the scene of the disaster.
Whenever something like this happens nowadays, I think I have a journalist’s version of PTSD, viscerally recalling the gloom of long nights, people gathering, at the mine, at the funeral parlor, at the little country churches.
My family got to know Tornado Alley from 1970 to 1972, when we lived in Louisville, getting acclimated to another part of the world, including its weather.
My wife knew about tornados. She had lived just west of Dallas as a kid and remembered what people did when they saw funnel clouds. If the car radio brought tornado watches, and the sky looked ominous, she would pull off the road and look for the lowest dip in the ground.
One day, I had to rush to a town about an hour southeast of us, where a tornado had struck without warning, killing a little boy who been sleeping upstairs – blowing him into the branches of a tree just outside his window. By the time I got there, it was a lovely morning.
Tornados are lethal. My wife kept saying one was going to come blasting up the Ohio River, to the sweet little suburb where we lived. On April 3, 1974, about 18 months after we chose to move back home to Long Island, a tornado came right up Brownsboro Rd., blowing down the garden apartments at the corner, taking off the roof of the school our two girls had attended.
That same tornado soon decimated Xenia, in Ohio, to the north, killing 38 and dislodging thousands.
My wife had called the 1974 tornado, just as she heard about a virus on the loose early in 2020, and predicted the pandemic that will not abate, given the arrogant people who will not get vaccinated.
Now we have Mayfield, essentially leveled to the ground, and parts of six states grievously broken.
What can we do? Our so-called leaders, political and commercial, hear the science of global warming, but they cannot move as fast as a tornado, roaring across the countryside.
The best we can do right now is give some money, to care for the current victims.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky, wisely led by Gov. Andy Beshear (whose grandparents’ house is in stricken Mayfield) has a disaster fund:
And, thank goodness, there is always the Red Cross, on the site, in minutes. (I remember the Red Cross quickly at the scene in 1970, passing out sandwiches and blankets and first aid outside the Hyden mine.)
What is still there, within silent, impassive elders?
How can they be reached, revived, made happier?
This video suggests something more can be done, with mind, with balance.
It comes from Australia, from the ABC Science outlet, and it shows elders, people suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other debilitating conditions, responding to the universal blessing – music – and its partner, dance.
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At this point, you might prefer to just watch.
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But let me add this: I was hooked in the first few minutes because the video reminds me of my mother’s last months in the very nice Chapin Home in Jamaica, Queens.
She had suffered a stroke plus other indignities of old age, and she rarely spoke.
Sometimes my wife would pop in with CDs of operas we knew my mother loved -- “La Boheme” or “Madame Butterfly”-- and my mother would smile with recognition.
She did not burst into song or try to dance to “Musetta’s Waltz” but she surely perked up. A few times she even spoke my wife’s name.
Some of the other residents would migrate to the room, and listen to the music, which brought smiles and nods and humming memories of the past.
In this video, the Australian network delves into the science and the mysteries of the impact of music, but there is so much more to be learned. My wife, who knows more than I do about the science of the brain, asks if, by watching these transformations, couldn’t therapists use the power of music, the muscle memory of youth, to enable daily physical and mental action?
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I can tell you this: my kids and grandkids could dig up the music that stirs me, right from my vintage iPod with the click wheel.
My thanks to Bruce-from-Canada, for calling my attention to the Australian science video.
People were restless -- yawning, stretching, looking around.
Donald Trump, the latter-day Jim Jones, who would lead his people into a vicious pandemic, was losing his audience.
That's what the TV screen was telling me Saturday as Trump ran out of material, ran out of juice. Maybe it was the blue seats in the upper deck yawning down on him that took away his edge.
He was alone out there, dying, as they say in show biz.
People were breathing on each other, taking the chance of a fatal dose of the virus he does not take seriously.
What was worse was the ennui of the faithful, who had driven all that way to downtown Tulsa, braving the fears of violence and huge crowds -- and now they seemed to be thinking about whether they could get their car out of the parking lot and head for home.
He had nothing for them.
That doesn't mean Trump won't do scandalous things, violent things, in days to come, when he can take out his anger on his staff, his enemies, the American people, aided by the Lickspittles of the Year, Barr and Pompeo. He will fire people, sure, but deep down he knows that the polls and Joe Biden and the honest investigators and even the Supreme Court are on to him.
He tried to wing it once too often, and on Saturday night he came up empty.
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(The following is my original essay leading up to the Tulsa yawner:)
Jim Jones picked Guyana.
Donald Trump is, you might say, dead set on Tulsa.
Having a bad month with that mean Supreme Court, Trump is mimicking that old-time religion -- trying to hold an old-fashioned tent revival for the faithful in an arena in Tulsa on Saturday, during a pandemic.
Trump is losing in the national polls plus polls of most swing states, and if he loses the election he knows that dozens of legal challenges are waiting. Even if he has no stomach or brains for it, he needs this job.
As of Friday, Trump was going ahead with the mass meeting of Coronavirus microbes while nags like Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to remind him that the pandemic is still on, and while cases are spiking in red states that "opened up" without precautions.
Of course, Trump is already responsible for thousands of deaths because he ignored the warnings early in the year. Any executive would already be indicted, probably convicted, of wilful malfeasance. Instead, he gets crowds at his rallies.
Putting 19,000 people in an arena could be injurious to their health and exponentially that of many thousands more outside.
The result would be on a much higher scale than Jim Jones' pouring the poisoned Kool-Aid for his American followers in far-off Guyana on Nov, 18, 1978, leaving 909 dead, including himself.
For whatever reason, Trump has the same messianic appeal to his people that the charismatic preacher from California had back in the ‘70s.
The son of Jim Jones, Stephan Jones, who happened to be away from the Jonestown compound on Kool-Aid Day back in 1978, has been comparing Trump and Jones for years.
“I see so many parallels it’s ridiculous,” Stephan Jones told Susie Meister in Medium.com in 2018. The son said that Trump, like Jim Jones, is a narcissist and relies on similar manipulation tactics.
“My dad would meet someone, quickly read what you feared most and what you wanted most, and convince you that he was the one to save you from one and give you the other,” Stephan Jones said.
Trump, who needs to feel big about everything he does, might be heading for a much higher figure than Jones achieved.
There are some sensible people out there: themayor of Tulsa, a Republican, wants this thing called off, and conservative doctors and lawyers went to court to block this health hazard, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the rally could go ahead.
There are indications the regular ushers and other workers at the arena might decline to show up because of the danger, leaving "security" in the hands of volunteers, most of whom do not have the sense to avoid crowds, much less control one.
Another person who has seen the light is Trump’s 11-day-wonder of a press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci.
I wonder whether Rep. Jackie Speier of California makes the connection between Jones and Trump. At Jonestown, Speier took five bullets in an ambush when she accompanied her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, who was investigating the Californians said to be in danger there. Ryan died but Speier survived 10 operations and in 2008 was elected to Congress from the same region as her late boss. She is one of the most stable and subtle critics of Trump.
Trump may have prevailed in this legal effort to spread the word -- and the virus -- so gratuitously, but with the Supreme Court making decisions that rebuke him and relatives and aides writing books critical of him, deep down he may understand that he has been found out.
An arena full of potential virus carriers could be the new version of poisoned Kool Aid. This could be his way out.
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How this rally came about:
Scaramucci and Trump:
Stephan Jones on his father and Trump:
Rep. Jackie Speier of California:
When the Trump era ends next January – if some of us make it through – our descendants will want to know what we knew about this guy that convinced us to put up with his reeking malicious incompetence.
But time is short and we may need to set up a time capsule. I would search for the Paul Revere moment when somebody rode through the countryside crying, “The sociopath is coming! The sociopath is coming!”
I would pay homage to the great reporting and snarky social media and legislators who tried to reign him in, but I would make sure the time capsule included three videos of John Mulaney, making us laugh, and cry.
To be honest, I never heard of Mulaney until he materialized as the host of “Saturday Night Live” in 2018. He has since made two more appearances, both hilarious, both biting.
Mulaney’s evolution on the Trump issue began with a guest appearance on Nov. 19, 2015 with Seth Myers, who prodded him about the strange New Yorker threatening to run for president.
Mulaney, who lives in New York, had been paying attention to Trump as poseur billionaire builder and ham reality show host, and pronounces him "an odd person."
Well, we can’t say we weren’t warned. (see above video, the first few minutes.)
By June 9, 2017, Trump had been president for five months, beginning his regime by exaggerating – lying, really – about the size of the Inauguration crowd, and going on from there.
By now, Trump is something more than an "odd person," which is clearly on Mulaney’s mind as he danced through his interview with Stephen Colbert.
The first 7:20 are fine late night chatter but you can skip through it. Then it gets good as Colbert prods him about this strange phenomenon in the White House.
The thing is, Mulaney ponders, it’s almost like….you know….there’s a horse…in a hospital. Some in the audience start to titter as they start to get it, which encourages Mulaney to keep tossing out fragments of thoughts about this horse…in a hospital….and soon people are applauding...and then are roaring, wanting to hear more….but there is no more.
Was it spontaneous combustion? I don’t know. Comedians have their creative ways, always trying stuff out.
I only know that by February of 2018, Mulaney is on tour as Kid Gorgeous, appearing in Radio City Music Hall.This By now this slim and strangely graceful comic has the horse routine down, choreographed, informed and anxious, emphasizing the punch lines at high decibels, exhaling hard for each “H” in “Horse” and “Hospital.”
He prances and points, he pauses and resumes.
And he has saved two marvelous punch lines for the end.
And remember: this show was two full years before the present Covid-19 plague, when Trump shows not the slightest grasp of details, only wanting to goose stock prices, claiming he drinks an untested substance to ward off the virus, at danger to anybody who still believes anything he says.
Trump belittles scientists and doctors in front of them, on live television. He shows no ability to organize anything (No wonder he tapped out on his daddy’s money.)
John Mulaney had it right. Years ago. "Odd."
In this medical crisis: There’s a horse! In a hospital!
(Now, check out the video below)
Watching Dr. Anthony Fauci politely try to clear up some of the most egregious errors by Donald Trump, I am fascinated by his political poise.
Dr. Fauci was at his best Friday, calmly labelling Trump’s claims that a malaria vaccine might help stop the Coronavirus as "anecdotal." Trump had a “hunch.” Fauci had experience and facts. And character. And discretion.
I’ve been impressed by Dr. Fauci since he escaped Trump’s dungeon for inconvenient experts. You know, the Deep State. People who know things, like Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 -- six presidents, two Democrats and four Republicans.
Apparently, in this Dark Age, circumstances dictated that one qualified person should be up front with all the Pences and Pompeos.
So there he was, this tiny man (the web does not seem to divulge his actual height) who keeps a straight face while Trump is making stuff up during a grave crisis. And when Dr. Fauci speaks, he does so in a mixture of scientific knowledge and a gravelly accent that says, “Noo Yawk."
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NB: Maureen Dowd spoke to Dr. Fauci. Great quotes. She also uses the word "gravelly," only proving that great minds think...or hear....alike .
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I did not know anything about Dr. Fauci, but felt I knew him from my home town. He reminded me of the humble comedian, Jimmy Durante, a presence in my childhood, always ending his TV show with the mysterious salute:“ Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”
The good doctor also sounds just like Lou Carnesecca, the beloved ex-coach of St. John’s basketball, still very much alive at 95. Looie, bless his heart, would usually begin his post-game summary by saying: “Two t’ings,” which he would then enumerate. And he always raved about New York pizza and bagels, claiming they were superior because of the elixir in the city pipes.
Turns out, I was on the right track, comparing Dr. Fauci with Looie. My brother-in-law Rich recalled Tony Fauci as a star athlete at Regis High School in Manhattan, one of the best Roman Catholic high schools in the city.
Anthony Fauci was the captain and starting point guard for Regis. before concentrating on his studies at Holy Cross and med school and has had a long and honorable career. Surely, running the offense against larger players prepared him for the gross lack of expertise and leadership in this ailing country.
I watch him while Trump is bloviating. He looks straight ahead, no eye-rolling, no twitching, no raising his hand to make a point. Some people might see him as going along with the program, just another Trump toadie, but I see him as Tony Fauci, point guard, trying to find space amidst the blockheads, and taking the charge for the good of the nation.
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(Another alum of Regis is Colin Jost, the pleasant, deceptively sly co-host of Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live.” Jost recently published a sweet little article in the New Yorker, about commuting from Staten Island – bus, ferry, subway, 90 minutes each way, for four years, and the interesting species he encountered, two-legged and four-legged. It’s part of a book he has coming out.)
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Links about Dr. Anthony Fauci:
Very nice column by Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman:
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.