Theodore Roosevelt is back in the news, since armed protestors occupied a national wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon, including land put aside for the ages by Theodore Roosevelt.
The old Rough Rider would have had his own ideas how to disperse these intruders. I feel I have an insight into the strength (and temper) of Theodore Roosevelt, since his daughter once bawled me out.
This was in 1974 when I wangled a tour of Sagamore Hill from Roosevelt’s second daughter, Ethel Derby, of Oyster Bay.
Mrs. Derby was polite, and formidable and knowledgeable, but the interview almost ended in the first minutes when I referred to her father as “a hunter.”
“Don’t think of him as a hunter,” Mrs. Derby said. “He was a conservationist. Sometimes he shot deer for food. He also helped classify many animals. But he was not a hunter. Young people who visit get the wrong impression.”
I knew some of the trophies in the American Museum of Natural History had been donated by Roosevelt, whose father had been a founder of the museum. And a few heads and hides are now spread around the very male, very dark, family home Roosevelt had built.
In 1974, his daughter was mad at me. I caught Joyce Dopkeen, the Times photographer, looking at me as if to say, “You are blowing this interview, dude.”
Fortunately, Mrs. Derby was as gracious as she was loyal, and she continued the interview, her memory vital at 83. She made sure to tell me her father had made many positive gestures toward African Americans, and that she was from the liberal wing of the Republican Party. She also said kind words, but no excuses, about President Nixon, who had been kind to her, and was soon to resign because of the Watergate scandal.
She was a tribute to her patrician father and mother, Edith Carow Roosevelt, her father’s good friend in childhood, whom he married two years after his first wife died in childbirth.
My faux pas with Mrs. Derby has long dominated my memory of the interview. Last fall my wife and I were accorded a tour of Sagamore Hill through friends, Brian and Janet Savin of Connecticut, and I only vaguely remembered having been there with Mrs. Derby, decades earlier.
I have since read “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book by Edmund Morris, which covers Roosevelt’s family life and early political years leading up to his replacing the assassinated President McKinley in 1901.
Mrs. Derby’s father was a complicated man – brilliant intellectual skills, deft political operator, source to friendly reporters, high morals, but impetuous, often losing his temper even to close friends. After the first 600 pages, I went to the Web and found plenty of educated speculation that TR was bipolar.
Morris also makes it clear that fellow Rough Rider volunteers were falling all around him as Roosevelt led the charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba in 1998.
The best part of the book is about Roosevelt’s visceral love of the west – chasing down three rascals who stole his boat, resisting the suggestion he hang them, turning them over to a sheriff.
In his first terrible months after the death of his first wife, Alice, he went to his ranch in the Dakota territory and shot just about anything that moved – “making his total bag 170 items in just 47 days,” Morris writes.
I’m glad I didn’t have that statistic at hand when I interviewed Mrs. Derby, who passed three years later. Her father would have been proud of the way she scolded me – and the way she continued the interview, as she had promised.
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.