Here’s a song for the silly season. May I call your attention to Iris DeMent, performing her song, “Wasteland of the Free.”
The video itself may be one of the worst ever seen on You Tube, which is saying a lot. But check out the lyrics as DeMent strums her guitar at an outdoor bluegrass festival in 2010.
It may sound as if she wrote the song while watching Sleazy, Dopey, Starchy, Wifty and the rest stumbling toward the Iowa caucuses, but in fact she issued it in 1996 during the Clinton years.
“We got politicians running races on corporate cash,
“Now don’t tell me they don’t turn around and kiss them people’s ass.”
DeMent is raging about extreme CEO pay, resistance to raising the minimal wage, wars for oil, teen-age ignorance, preacher hypocrisy.
Her shrill cutting sound – Dolly Parton on ‘roid rage – may not be to everybody’s taste (she’s one of my favorites) but watch handsome, driven redheaded Iris nailing her own words and unleashing the anger behind them.
First time I heard her voice was in 1994 while I was writing about a farewell tour by the great Tom Paxton, who had recorded his tribute to the Verdigris River in his native Oklahoma. I hope I didn’t insult him by asking, who in the world is that backup singer?
It was Iris DeMent, child of Arkansas, raised in California, from a Pentecostal family, the 14th child of her father, the eighth child of her mother.
Her first CD, “Infamous Angel,” would have been a career masterpiece for most singers except that she followed it with “My Life,” which contained two signature songs – “My Life” and “No Time to Cry” – which makes the listener cry and think and try to gather up "the pieces of my heart," as Iris puts it.
I caught her once, at some club on eastern Long Island, mid-winter. She played a few songs and then paused and looked around and solemnly pronounced, “Stopped off at Amityville on the way out.” She meant the site of the Amityville Horror, the family massacre, many years earlier. We all whooped at a glimpse of her noir streak.
In her third CD, “The Way I Should,” DeMent kept growing – with a haunting personal hymn, “When My Morning Comes Around,” plus songs about sexual abuse, the toll of Vietnam and politics in “Wasteland” -- no red, no blue, just fat-cat preachers and grubby politicians. Somebody recently started a web site called Wasteland of the Free, tied to the Occupy movement, for which Iris could be the songwriter laureate.
Check out the video but better yet find “Wasteland” on her third CD, with Iris in the studio, on a better beat. After that, enjoy the silly season.
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.