Two of my favorite NYT bylines on the same weekend:
Elaine Sciolino gave us a walking tour of her street in Paris – how Rue des Martyrs is still feeding (and delighting) locals during the time of troubles.
And Margaret Renkl writes from another part of the world I love – Nashville – about the proliferation of wildlife around the world: sheep in a Welsh village, wild boars in Barcelona, coyotes all over the place.
Renkl also notes that global warming has affected her part of the world – Middle Tennessee -- causing birds to migrate northward, but not all of them: She glories in spotting a couple of bright red-headed male flickers, strutting their stuff for a female in the vicinity.
I’m happy for Renkl that she can see the mating competition in the woods near her home, but migration also explains the matinal fusillade of flickers on our home on hilly northern Long Island.
We agree with Renkl that the retreat indoors by noisy, destructive two-legged mammals has given wildlife more space and peace. (I’m still looking for the red fox that inspected our driveway so haughtily a few years back.)
The bay window in our breakfast nook overlooks the front lawn. On days when the most dreaded invader of all – the gasoline-powered blasters – are not blowing leaves and dust and pebbles and decibels around the spring air, the squirrels and birds are frolicking on our meager lawn, pecking away at last fall’s acorns, assorted bugs and worms, and other goodies.
With no place to go at the moment, we enjoy watching the most prosaic birds of the Northeast – sparrows, robins, blue jays and my favorites: having lived in Kentucky for a few years, I don’t call the state bird "cardinals" but rather "redbirds," lovingly, the way people do in Louisville or Whitesburg or Bowling Green.
Margaret Renkl revels in the maneuvers of the flickers the way Elaine Sciolino delights in the sales pitches of the shopkeepers with their delicious wares. (One vendor tosses in a few pears and suggests she make a tarte. Vive la France, toujours.)
If climate is truly taking the flickers northward, I know exactly where those rascals are going – the flyway near Manhasset Bay. In the glacial hills where we live, some birds chirp or tweet, but the flickers and other species of woodpeckers get up early and start battering the shingles and wood and siding of our home -- just as annoying as the day-to-night blasters and power washers we all use.
As the family early bird, so to speak, I seem to have the job of scaring the flickers away from their breakfast. I get out on the deck and clap my hands – which works to chase migrating starlings spring and fall, but does not intimidate the woodpeckers, who seem to be here to stay.
On Sunday, the creative half of the household fashioned a tinfoil streamer, like a silvery scarf, and wrapped it around the long neck of the emu she fell in love with at Home Goods a few years ago. According to Web experts, the fluttering and reflections of the tinfoil upsets the delicate little bug-eating creatures.
I know that most people who keep boats on the nearby bay post a fake owl to scare off the gulls and other airborne pests. They say it works. Dubious of most sales pitches online, I was curious to see if the silver scarf on the family emu might work.
I was up at my usual 6:30 AM on a cool, misty Monday. While preparing coffee, I heard the rat-a-tat-tat of something. I couldn’t blame any particular species but something was drilling into our house -- perhaps another byproduct of global warming.
* * *
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.