How are we doing by you, Madre Tierra – aside from the virus and global warming, that is?
I remember the first Earth Day, 1970. I was in my first go-around as a baseball writer that spring, switching between the Mets and the Yankees.
As one of the so-called Chipmunks, the chattering youth of the press box, I loved the concept of Earth Day as a logical extension of protests against the Vietnam War and demonstrations for civil rights.
Ecology, to me, mostly focused on cigars -- weapons wielded by older men in the pressbox and newspaper offices. For most of the ‘60s, I worked for the great newspaper, Newsday, with a rotating schedule in sports that meant working in the office sometimes, well past midnight, with no rules against smoking.
We had our own little clubhouse – teammates of sorts, who bantered and cussed and popped a beer or two in the midnight hours.
Still, I would grump about the cigars while the older guys would look at me with shrugs. That crazy kid, there he goes again.
When I got home at 2 or 3 or 4 AM, the house rule was: dump my clothes in a hamper and take a shower before even thinking of sleep. But my throat would be sore from the smoke, and I would cough myself to sleep.
Pressboxes were just about as noxious, and baseball clubhouses were acrid with the players’ smoke. (Yankee manager Ralph Houk would spit tobacco juice on the cement office floor, near the shoes of reporters who displeased him.)
Some of the old reporters would even bring a soggy cigar butt onto the team bus. (In those days, reporters were part of the team entourage.) The worst offender was….well, no names mentioned….an old guy who could be smelled before he could be seen or heard. Sometimes we would ask him to put out the cigar, and he would just shrug, mutely.
On that hopeful April 22 of 1970, I was boarding a team bus to some airport or ballpark, and there was our colleague, with an odiferous lump of tobacco hanging out of his mouth.
“-------,” I said, using his last name, affectionately, of course, “don’t you know today is Earth Day? No smoking on the bus today.” He stared at me mutely. No clue. Well, I had tried.
At some point, while I was off working in the Real World, reporters stopped traveling with the team – just as well – and pressboxes and clubhouses began to cut down on smoking. (Chewing tobacco was banned, after a crusade by the sainted Joe Garagiola and others.)
By that time, I was encountering strip-mining in Appalachia – lopping off mountaintops to get at the coal, and dumping the debris into the valleys. I saw wind-blown damage from acid rain and smelled the befouled creeks of the coal region. Earth Day, indeed.
Nowadays the glaciers are melting and the seas are rising and this once hopeful country is ruled by avaricious know-nothings like Trump and McConnell.
Their aversion to facts has been endangering the world – even before the killer virus arrived and the red-state preachers and rabble-rousers protested the alleged loss of their liberties.
Our leaders make the old pressbox smokers seem downright harmless.
* * *
(courtesy of my one-lady research staff, a few pertinent links:
(how the NYT covered the first Earth Day, glorious bylines like Joseph Lelyveld, Gladwin Hill and McCandlish Phillips:)
How to celebrate, or mourn, the endangered planet today:
And in homage to John Prine, who died recently at 73, his witness to the destruction of his parents' home town, the coal-destroyed Paradise, Ky:
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.