Because I am slow, I needed my son (and later, in print, Maureen Dowd) to explain to me that the Stephen Colbert I see in fragments is his entire act.
In my tangential relationship to much of television, I assumed this was one facet of Colbert’s persona, that sometimes he was actually Stephen Colbert.
But, no, I was patiently told, he does this all the time.
So now Colbert is about to replace David Letterman in the next year or so. As somebody who has grown older along with Letterman, I admit to misgivings.
Wait, they have given a terrific forum to somebody who mimics right-wing wackos?
How will that work in interviewing guests? Will Colbert switch a dial and draw out guests the way Dave does in his own twitchy way?
(My inner adolescent loves Dave talking about Martha Stewart and the justice system: “She shot a guy.” And how Dave made poor addled John McCain squirm for ducking him in 2008. And the quacking noises when Dr. Phil arrives. And Dave’s flat-out crushes on Julia Roberts and Cate Blanchett, and why not?)
Probably it’s just me, but I don’t find Colbert funny. (I know he’s a good, smart family guy.) I think it’s because, in addition to soccer and baseball, I watch mostly news on television and they are all over the place.
Ted Cruz? Louie Gohmert? Darrell Issa? Mitch McConnell? The Koch Brothers? The Fox lot? Rand Paul? Eric Cantor? Frothing preachers? Avaricious bankers? State legislators trying to make it harder to vote? Beyond satire.
The first time I saw much of Colbert was via the televised correspondents’ dinner in 2006 when he made fun of President Bush, who was there. My politics are the same as Colbert’s, but I still thought it was tacky. Remember this?
I have the feeling Colbert has created a role that may be hard to put behind him – much like another good man, James Gandolfini, who in his later work still seemed about to reach for his pistol. Not his fault. He had done too good a job creating Tony Soprano.
Next Tuesday, Colbert will appear on the Letterman show. The tastes of late-night audiences shift by the generation, of course. I tried watching Jimmy Fallon for his first few weeks. Love his band, but Fallon seems on a perpetual sugar rush. I dialed back to Dave, fiddling with papers on his desk, puzzling over electronics.
I’m hoping Dave, in his late-maturing way, will draw out the inner Stephen Colbert.
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.