You already know who the ridiculous is. So let’s start with the sublime.
I was in the library the other day at the “New/Non-Fiction/14 Days Only” section.
On a lower shelf, I spotted a book of essays by Annie Dillard, “The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New.” Somehow, I had gotten to be this old without ever reading anything by Dillard, so I picked up the book, and opened it in the middle, to a chapter entitled “The Weasel”
“The weasel is wild. Who knows what he thinks? He sleeps in his underground den, his tail draped over his nose. Sometimes he lives in his den for two days without leaving.”
Needless to say, I checked it out.
The weasel essay, six pages long, includes a 60-second encounter in the woods when Dillard and a weasel locked eyes. The essay also includes the tale of an eagle that tried to carry off a weasel, and got more than it expected.
The essay become an exhortation to grab life – whatever life is – with your jaws, and not let go.
That is pretty much what Dillard does in her writing, and in her life, by her own testimony. In one section, "An American Childhood,” previously published, she races through her family and her church and her boyfriends and her life.
Required reading for teen-agers.
I was knocked out by the two final essays.
One was about sand, and geology, and the Jesuit priest-paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, and love.
The final chapter by Dillard, a convert to Catholicism, was alternating segments about what she called the modern "hootenany" Mass and doomed polar explorers who went off unprepared. It ends with a fantasy of the two themes overlapping.
I am now a fan of Annie Dillard, maybe even a groupie.
* * *
The second book continues the furry, feral theme, considering the muskrat Donald Trump carries around on his head and in his head.
The book is “The Making of Donald Trump,” by Pulitzer-Prize-winning David Cay Johnston, seen often on the Web and the tube, warning us, “The Trumpites are coming! The Trumpites are coming!” The book hit No. 15 on the Times best-seller list last week.
Johnston is an investigative reporter, one of the best, and has been on the scent of Trump and the muskrat for decades.
He has put together verifiable details of the way Trump does business – the Polish immigrants who tore down a landmark building at nights, without safety precautions or attention to artwork; the vendors who got stiffed by Trump, the garish casinos in Trump’s name without his having any knowledge of how gambling works, the threats, the suits, the welching, and the lies about women he never dated.
Johnston’s book should be read – but won’t be -- by the fact-averse minority that considers Trump the great white hope.
Weasels sí, muskrat head no.
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.