Obscured by other events, “The Circus” recently announced it is going out of business in May.
What circus? To New Yorkers, there is only one – The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The Barnum referred to P.T. Barnum, the showman who once observed there is a sucker born every minute. You still hear that quote these days.
Were we suckers, taken to the circus as little kids, and then taking our own little kid, or borrowing somebody else’s kid, to pay homage to lost childhood?
The circus said it is shutting down because people stopped going when the circus had to get out of the elephant business.
I suspect it was more complicated. Little kids can find more esoteric stuff in whatever phone or computer they are packing. Movies have stuff that explodes (but no plots.) Kids can kill thousands of people with a flick of the thumb on a video game. Elephants? Echh.
And young boys don’t need to go to the circus to get a glimpse of a bare thigh or bare shoulder of an exotic-looking acrobat. It’s all out there on the web, and more.
In classic Americana lore, the circus was always there for boys who wanted to run away from home. Today, young people don’t run away to join the circus, they…(supply your own punch line.)
Still, I’m thinking something is lost. One of the first signs of spring in New York was always the photos in the papers (really, do check out these vintage photos) or TV footage of elephants striding through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, en route from their special trains – cooped out by Shea Stadium, how appropriate -- to the supersized elevators in Madison Square Garden. Better than the first robins.
I knew a young hockey writer who told his readers that the Rangers stunk even worse than the elephants in the basement. Great line. Well, except that the circus was still in Norfolk or Charlotte. Henceforth, he was known as the guy who made up elephant shit.
But what about the elephants?
Another great line. It came from the screeching voice of Ted Turner, mad genius of CNN who created the Goodwill Games, primarily between the U.S. and the soft, vulnerable Soviet Union. In 1986.
Ted went to Moscow to pitch environmental sanity. Birds were dying. Fish were dying. Then, Ted would squawk, “But what about the elephants?” (Imagine, a holy fool with a dollop of compassion and knowledge.)
Well-meaning people said the circus was cruel to elephants and the supply system endangered the great beasts. I say poachers were more of a danger. No poachers in Sarasota, their winter quarters, or the depths of the Garden. But it’s a good point.
Elephants are noble beasts. Some are deities. We have a sweet, wise Ganesh in our home. I was once in a taxi in Mumbai that lingered behind a huge elephant carrying stuff.
And on a day off during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, four soccer writers took a day trip to the Pilanesberg preserve and our guide Witek paused at the edge of a path as a family of elephants passed, watchful eyes right, a few yards in front of us. I have loved elephants even more since then. If shutting down the circus helps that family in that preserve, then closure is a good thing.
On May 21, the circus plays its last show a few miles from my home on Long Island. I can’t imagine going. But I reserve the right to feel nostalgic for another time, when we could enjoy elephants (and bare shoulders) in the center of the big city.
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.