The Rio Olympics start Rio Friday night, with considerable gloom and doom.
Then again, there is always gloom and doom before the Olympics.
I covered seven of them and never once left home without being influenced by the Common Wisdom of the Media Herd that the end was near.
This time, however, the Olympics really may have hit triple witching hour, what with the Zika virus and the polluted Olympic waters and security concerns and feuding between the IOC and WADA and Brazil struggling to finish the project and rampant state-operated drug cheating.
This really might be time. In the decades I covered international sport, I came to realize that the stated idealism of spreading the Olympics and the World Cup of soccer around the globe imposed an unfair burden on emerging nations and cities that could ill afford the “honor.”
Unsupportable expense to build white elephants was the reason I was one of the first journalists to strongly oppose New York’s bid for 2012; I was thrilled my home town did not get it.
Drugs are always there. For me, it was a bore to have to wonder whether every sprinter or weight-lifter was clean. But now we have the Russian government running crooked labs. Does anybody really believe Putin? Beside Trump, of course.
To be sure, I wrote apocalyptic words before the seven Olympics I covered.
In 1984, we all fretted about gridlock but it never happened. I have never been able to zip around LA better than in summer of ’84. (“Everybody went to Hawaii,” a Beverly Hills friend explained.)
In 1988, we trembled after protests and change of government in South Korea the year before, but the Games were a delight – many old people still wearing the colorful robes of the past, young people plunging forward toward the 21st Century.
In 1992, there was caution in Barcelona because of separatism in Spain. I never minded when security rolled a mirror underneath the Timesmobile every time I drove to the media center. Mostly, Barcelona was a shimmering Gaudi dream – magic nights on the Ramblas plus Socialist plans for housing and waterfront, leaving maybe the best Olympic legacy ever.
In 1996, I was obsessed with the crassness of the Atlanta operation – until we were stunned by a home-grown terrorist planting a bomb among innocents at the central park. I came to like Atlanta; the city is better for having upgraded downtown.
In 2000 in Sydney, the fear and trembling was mostly about the Sydney funnel web spider (they hide in your boot! 20 minutes at most to get medical attention!) plus sharks in the surf and sunburn damage from on high and poisonous puffballs in the earth and fruit bats hanging from trees in center city. No worries, Mate.
In 2004, the first Games after 9/11, there was talk about bad guys steaming into the harbor at Piraeus. But the real damage from the Olympics was the rust, the empty stadiums and the debt in Greece today.
In 2008, we all fretted about air pollution in Beijing but the government simply shut down factories and traffic. When you went outside you could almost breathe.
Didn’t make London. Not going to Rio. But I am sure if I were still working, I’d go to Rio. I worry about the younger people who are going. My friend Dr. Gary Wadler, former advisor to WADA, is one of 150 experts who called for the Games to be moved or suspended. He says the Games are not worth the medical risk. And the IOC has not seemed up to inspecting the vile waters of Guanabara Bay or judging the Zika threat.
My image of Brazil will remain the music and the people and movies like “Central Station” and “Black Orpheus” and the beautiful team of 1982 with Sócrates and Falcão that did not win the World Cup – plus my friends Altenir and Celia and Neo in Copacabana. Be safe, my friends.
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.