Oh, there's nothing halfway
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you
Which we may not do at all.
-- “Iowa Stubborn,” Meredith Willson.
Thank you, Iowa (as the politicians say.)
One of the best movies ever made about America -- right up there with Brooklyn movies and LA Noir movies and Deep South movies - - is the musical "The Music Man," written by the great Meredith Willson (two Ls, cantankerously), originally from Mason City, called River City.
The movie is about another time and place and a flimflam man carrying a cheap suitcase, alighting from a smoky passenger train.
Somebody asks where he is going and he says, "Wherever the people are as green as the money."
Now they come on chartered jets, but they still want something, in this case votes,
from clusters of Iowan in gyms and halls, earnest and dressed for winter (with the occasional Bernie t-shirt.)
I recalled covering a few stories in Iowa (including Pope John Paul II’s visit to a heritage farm, charming Lutherans) and for one of the rare times since I retired I actually wanted to be working, talking to people in those clusters.
I kept thinking of wily Robert Preston, calling himself Prof. Harold Hill, and heartbreakingly lovely Shirley Jones as the librarian, and Buddy Hackett, for goodness’ sakes, settled down in Iowa, and all the characters, the puffed-up men and hormonal teenagers and cackling wives who were smarter than their husbands, of course.
And there was Trump, roaring in on his own jet, selling hot air out of an empty suitcase and empty mind. The Iowans asserted themselves in a few directions, going for Sr. Canada first and El Joven third and leaving Trump in a very loser-like second. (And what about his bluster that he can get things done?) He got on his plane and went east, unlike The Music Man, who…but heck, rent the movie.
The Iowans also went 50-50 for Clinton and Sanders, now joined at the hip like the couple in the Grant Wood painting, “American Gothic.”
All those people, coming out on a wintry night, did not settle much, but they did firmly establish that Trump did not get the girl in River City.
For a different metaphor of Trump, the pro-wrestling bozo, I urge you to read David Brooks’ brilliant column in the NYT.
I loved watching Iowans in their clusters – the Iowa-stubborn female vet who cursed the VA live on MSNBC, the Iowa-stubborn young man who held out for Martin O’Malley in his final hours as a candidate, the Iowa-stubborn voters who cheered Cruz and Rubio and Trump and Clinton and Sanders as they vanished into the night, leaving Iowa to Iowans.
And we're so by God stubborn
We could stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.
-- "Iowa Stubborn," Meredith Willson.
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.