It’s too hot to go out in Southwest France, report my cousin Jen and her husband Sam.
Bulletin: Wildfires in Nouvelle Aquitaine and Gironde,
Meanwhile, London was bracing for 104-degrees Fahrenheit – which would set a record.
Back in the southwest corner of Virginia, they are still digging out after the aptly-named Dismal River suffered a flash flood last week.
I know that portion of Virginia, from my days on the coal beat. Decades of strip-mining – lopping off the tops of mountains to get at the coal – have destroyed the watersheds of Appalachia.
(I wrote a book called “One Sunset a Week,” about a miner’s family in adjacent Russell County. Every time the heavens erupted, the rains washed down detritus from strip-mining, known as “red dog.” That was 1974.)
If only the governors and senators of Appalachia knew about this. Perhaps they might do something.
The prototypical politician from Appalachia is Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
He must know the ultimate flood is coming because he’s fitted himself out with a yacht, anchored outside Washington. When the Potomac rises, Commodore Manchin is going to float safely downstream – but to where?
The Commodore has been busy. Last week, he slipped up behind the helpless ancient figure of Mother Nature and whacked her with a coal shovel and stole her pocketbook.
He did it by voting against the tax bill that would have at least recognized the danger of rising temperatures, and the role of fossil fuel, not only all around the world but in his home state of West Virginia.
His Inner Republican said he was being a guard dog for fiscal sanity, blah-blah-blah, but we know better. We know that decisions that affect the future of world ecology are made by the (white) (old) men who are either rich or wannabes.
The Commodore is not only a scientific authority but also a coal baron, via his family business. It’s in trust, the Commodore tells us. He knows nothing – just like it was a shock to him that his daughter, Heather Bresch, presided over a drug company, Mylan, when the price of EpiPens – used to treat allergic reactions -- soared to $600 a shot. This was a shock to the Commodore. These kids today never tell their parents anything.
Maybe the flood on the Dismal River in neighboring Southwest Virginia was a shock to the Commodore.
Maybe the flood in Yellowstone National Park was a shock to the Commodore.
Maybe the heat wave in far-off Europe would be a shock to the Commodore, if he heard of it.
But the Commodore doesn’t have time to monitor events in such distant places. He just wants to balance the books, like a good Republican, although he is nominally a Democrat, and make sure energy moguls continue to make an honest buck, so they can all afford yachts to escape the cataclysm, so they can float off to some safe place, like maybe the Marshall Islands.
Oh, wait. The Marshall Islands are going under, day by day.
But don’t tell Commodore Manchin. He is heroically standing up for his constituency – energy barons, coal-mine operators. He’s a man of the people. A few of them.
* * *
I seem to be writing a lot about Commodore Manchin these days::
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.