One of the great joys of reading the New York Times these days is the occasional and highly literate essay by Margaret Renkl, an Op-Ed contributor based in Nashville.
Renkl writes about life out there in the Real World -- if upbeat and evolving Nashville (say I, an old Nashville hand) -- can truly be called the Real World.
In Monday's Times, Renkl suggests a technique for countering the discordant blares and roars and whines of -- no, she does not say that! -- the mechanical lawn-blasters who have invaded our otherwise serene lives.
She talks about the garden crews that most of us employ to blow leaves around for hours at a time. (Disclosure: I recently hired a very nice crew that not only collects leaves but also seems to have produced new green grass on my ugly patch of crab-grass.)
The crews in our neighborhood seem to intentionally vary their attacks so that, from March into December, there is always a group of hard-working guys whose decibel output reminds me of my freshman year at Hofstra College, when its direct neighbor across the turnpike was Mitchel Air Force, with planes warming up 100 yards away. Good for concentration on philosophy or history.
To make a statement about the ugly noise in our leaves, Renkl proposes digging out prehistoric tools employed by our fellow homo sapiens back in other centuries -- an implement with a long handle and slender tines. She describes, rather lasciviously I might add, the joys of slow, careful interplay with leaves. At least, that's how I read it.
In fact, it sounded like so much fun that I went out and practiced my raking, putting some leaves in bags but saving some for the little things she says inhabit the earth. I will take Renkl's word on that part; she does, after all, live out there in the Real World. (For those of us who do not have a lawn, I might suggest paring raw vegetables or cleaning a few windows. Therapy is therapy.)
Try it! And look up the work of Renkl in the Times and elsewhere. She is right up there with Dan Barry and Sarah Lyall and Corey Kilgannon, whose every article I read avidly, for choice of content as well as for style. Renkl is what the great editor Gene Roberts calls, in his eastern North Carolina accent, "a rahter."
And not only a rahter but a therapist. After reading her essay, I felt relaxed enough to tackle the front page.
* * *
Here is Renkl's gem of an Op-Ed piece:
And recent works:
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.