There are people out there, breathing a killer virus at you.
There is also a ton of snow on the ground where I live.
My suggestion: try tuning out the Lame-Duck Orange Sicko for a day.
I did it over the weekend. Good Stuff on everywhere. .
I started with a link from a friend known as The Cork Lady. (Ireland, that is.) She and her husband sent me a link to a concert via the shut-down Metropolitan Opera -- Bryn Terfel with a holiday concert from his native Wales.
What a wonderful surprise: the concert (with no audience) was in the Brecon Cathedral – a place we know and love, in the highlands above Cardiff, The vivid stained-glass brought back memories of a beautiful summer evening, still light outside, our friend and host Alastair (like all Welsh men) singing in a chorus.
While Terfel and a talented cast took turns, my mind drifted to Brecon in long-ago summers --sheep being marshalled by border collies, the jolly sound of tourists on canal boats from the nearby Usk River, trips to upscale pubs along the canal, and Alastair going to Brecon market to buy lava bread (pungent, allegedly edible seaweed from the coast.) Not exactly Christmas memories, but lovely memories nonetheless.
At 5 PM, another link – this one via the Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Stephen Dunn, my friend from his days as a zone-busting shooter for Hofstra College. No. 20 was known as Radar on a 23-1 team.
Radar writes as he shot – smoothly -- his latest book, Pagan Virtues, just out.
Stephen’s poetic aim is still perfect but his voice does not permit him to read his own work these days. In a weekly web poetry reading, called LitBalm, some of his new work was read, and read well, by his friend Indran, while Stephen listened in one of the squares on the laptop grid. Keep lofting these jumpers, man.
At 9 PM, we turned on the local PBS station, Channel 13, with its Saturday-night feature -- a classic, or classy, movie (sometimes, inexplicably, displaced by drippy oldie concerts). But not Saturday.
Mercifully, there was the Trevor Nunn movie version of “Twelfth Night,” from 1996, Shakespeare’s gender-bender comedy, with a cinematic shipwreck and looming Cornwall hills and castles and Helen Bonham Carter falling in love with a saucy emissary with a highly dubious mustache draped across her kissable upper lip.
The cast, as in any English rendition of Shakespeare, was marvelous, but let me praise two: Nigel Hathaway as Malvolio, the resident mansion bully, and Ben Kingsley, for goodness’ sakes, as an omnipresent troubadour (with a really nice voice, his own; it turns out that Kingsley was once urged to pursue singing by his pal, John Lennon.)
(We recently saw a stage version of Twelfth Night via the marvelous National Theatre's at-home series, prompted by the pandemic. In that version, Malvolio is female, played by Tamsin Greig, and her comeuppance seems more cruel than Hawthorne’s.) During the final scene Saturday night, when everybody finally figured everything out, I had tears in my eyes. Good Shakespeare does that to me.
The antidote for tears came nine – count ‘em, nine – minutes later, on “Saturday Night Live,” the last new one for a month apparently. The host was Kristen Wiig, one of the all-timers, visiting her old haunts.
Her opening bit was singing the wintry standard “My Favorite Things,” and when she botched the lyrics, she was joined by another all-timer, Maya Rudolph, who also botched the lyrics, and was in turn joined by the current all-timer Kate McKinnon.
Regarding McKinnon: I am watching SNL more in my “retirement” than I ever did, and am totally enthralled with McKinnon
In the all-time web ratings of SNL females, I propose St. Gilda as first, and Tina Fey as second (those laser eyes, looking right at you), and McKinnon now ranks third, with me.
I love her versions of Rudy and Dr. Fauci and that fuzzy little attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and McKinnon also aces some dark-side female roles, throwing off heat in all directions. How Shakespearean.
That brings us to Sunday.
The far-flung family of Anna and the late Kate McGarrigle is staging a virtual reunion, Sunday, all over the world, apparently. It will be streaming (at a price) and available for two weeks, starting at 3 PM. The cast includes longtime backup Chaim Tannenbaum, third-sister Jane McGarrigle, and other staples of that wonderful time. I will catch it, and think of Kate.
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Also, Nick and Teresa Troiano Masi (Terry and I worked on the paper at Jamaica High) have a grown daughter, Terri Dierkes, who is a cantor in a church in Connecticut, and a leading member of a lovely Christmas concert, which aired Sunday. Details at:
Finally, ongoing, for a season of great plays in our homes, the National Theatre is showing 12 filmed plays, for quite modest fees. We've seen about half in recent years. Wonderful stuff.
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There’s a pandemic out there. Nasty weather all over.
Stay safe til the vaccines get here.
You can't watch The Dangerous Fool every second.
Ride it out. Stay safe. Happy Holidays to all.
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.