Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #16.
Here’s your chance to air your vatic laundry, whether drip-drying new ocean verse or exhuming classic moldie oldies.
Include your location in your link so we can apprize the global choir, and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.
Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge.
Hope you are staying safe and productive on all the distant islands of this pandemic.
A cool and rainy day here in Central Florida (this Thursday, at least, when I broke ground on this week’s open link write). Thunderstorms rolled into the afternoon swelter as my wife and I were painting a hallway after a decade of promises to do so. (Projects are such vigorish for staying-in-place blues.)
Cracks of thunder broke into tracks from a 3-CD collection of Philly Soul by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff—“Expressway to Your Heart” by Soul Survivors, “Only The Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Howard Melvin & the Blue Notes. Arch 70s disco soul for hard times; my wife had bought the set 20 years ago after a resoundingly bad yard sale—instead of making some real cash for bills, we barely made enough to eat dinner out on a hot Florida summer night and score the CD set.
Thick smells of paint as we grunted and groaned painting corners, rolling thunder and memories of walking frozen Chicago streets in 1972 with “Me and Mrs. Jones” echoing deeply in my teenaged soul. But it’s great music for painting projects—how long has it been since we’ve given these CDs a spin?—making the afternoon feel like a seedy Chicago movie theater where I used to go watch grindhouse movies with the Puerto Ricans who lived us in my high school years, “Enter the Dragon” and “Superfly,” “Death Wish” and “Unholy Rollers.” Painting all that over, so many decades later, with a wife who never went any of those places but still loves the music so …
It rained through the night last night—something we so need here after months of almost none while pandemic dreams lay siege. Have yours been weird? Last night I wandered lost in some great bowel of a hotel complex, late and later for a job interview, passing bars where patrons motioned me to join them and the full weight of something overhead felt about to collapse.
Somewhere I read that dreams for everyone are weird right now because we’re in the doldrums of a massive change with no real clarity or end in sight. Maybe you have a COVID-19 dream in your holster you’d like to spin out and fire for open link weekend. I usually wake from mine exhausted.
Public comment in Chennai, India.
Climate news is bad, as one would expect in a world of continuing inaction and denial. Scientists now say that Greenland’s ice sheet melted last summer at a record rate largely because of a high-pressure dome which sat over the area, much as it did in 2012 when Greenland experienced its worst melting event. If this weather phenomenon becomes a more normal event, as it is expected in climate models of a warming earth, sea level rise will accelerate at a much faster rate.
Another chirrup of bad news from a worsening world: A study published this month in Nature states that climate change could result in a more abrupt collapse of many animal species than previously thought, starting in the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. Large swaths of ecosystems would falter in waves, creating sudden die-offs that would be catastrophic not only for wildlife, but for the humans who depend on it. We can look on our presently clearer skies and pray that enough people start working from home instead of commuting to an office for the merciful slowdown in emissions. Our pain is nature’s gain …
Yes, but back to our pain. The bonds of medical safety are stretching the bonds of sanity, especially at the extremes. In Michigan yesterday, thousands gathered at the state capital to protest Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, milling on the steps with rifles and pistols on display as well as Trump 2020 signs and shouting “lock her up!” (“It’s always lock her up,” a ruffled feminist tweeted.) Rural areas of the state have been less affected the virus than In Detroit where 5,000 residents have been stricken by the virus and nearly 400 have died. (Commenting to reporters later in the day, Gov. Whitmer said, “The sad irony here was the protest is they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order and they may have just caused a need to lengthen it.”)
Protestors on the steps of the Michigan state capital.
Let’s remember that Republican South Dakota governor Kristi Noem still refuses to issue even a localized stay-in-place order after 600 employees and relatives of the workers at a Smithfield meat-packing plant in Sioux Falls were stricken with the virus, causing the facility to close and resulting in dire warnings about the security of the nation’s meat supply. “I don’t believe (a stay-at-home order is) appropriate considering the data, the facts and the science that we have,” governor Noem said Tuesday, referring, I suppose to the alternative-facts universe by which coronavirus hotspots get pooh-poohed while they mushroom.
In good ole Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has adopted a similar “What Me, Worry?” attitude about the virus in the Sunshine State, waiting too long to order a rather flimsy stay in place order (allowing spring breakers to mosh on beaches, cruise ships to sail out and tourist parks to remain packed), refusing to disclose details about nursing home infections, languishing on unemployment claims (35,000 of 850,000 submitted have cleared) and deeming televised professional wrestling and golf “essential” entertainment options. “You know what Florida really needs now?” asked a recent op-ed by the Miami Herald editorial board. “A governor.” ‘Tis easier to find a Gulf sea-turtle without oil in its belly than get an unemployment application approved in this state …
Not that DeSantis or any other elected official accused of misconduct, abuse of power or simple favoritism toward vested interests over the vital needs of citizens have much cause for worry. The pandemic is obliterating the newspaper industry; 50 percent ad revenue losses have sent the stock of the 280-daily newspaper behemoth Gannett down into whaleshit territory where other newspaper chains like McClatchy have languished for too long. My former employer, which used to do a fairly good job of convincing those newspapers to run cartoons on its pages for exorbitant rates, is looking more doubtful than a penguin diving into the bubbling Antarctic sea ..
A sobering essay by Ed Yong titled “Our Pandemic Summer” published on April 14 in The Atlantic. It’s the best analysis I’ve seen on what we face next in contesting a virus for which we have no vaccine, is killing about 7 percent of those it infects and is already resurging in Singapore, China, Taiwan and other Asian states trying to re-engage daily life. Yong writes,
The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world. “Everyone wants to know when this will end,” said Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”
It’s hard to imagine this stuff a month from now, much less a duration which lasts through the summer or much longer after that. But welcome to the strange new world of weirdness without end. You can thank the obscenity of lust for exotic meat; or silence from officials when truth was needed; or the inaction of other government officials when immediate action was called for. A pair of epidemiologists project that the US death toll would have been ten times lower had social distancing measures been implementing just two weeks earlier. You can’t help but wonder how much humanity would be improved if it had retained more animal instincts.
Now there’s talk of restarting a desperately stalled economy, of going back to work and school albeit with great (OK, some) caution. But you have to add a heaping dollop of uncertainty as to just how to proceed. “We’ve never faced a pandemic like this before in modern times, so we’re going to have to be flexible,” Jong quotes Caitlin Rivers of the John Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There’s no real playbook.”
More than anything, weirdness is the result, an omnipresent goo-goo eyed whack-a-mole fucking with our dailiness, our relationships, our eating habits, our dreams, our poetry.
Shall I iterate the weird sampling of the moment? There’s a Japanese cult called Happy Science which claims that coronavirus is a disease spread by extraterrestrials and offers “spiritual vaccines” for a fee. Streets are almost empty in many urban areas, but speeding tickets are being issued at an all-time high. A judge in Florida (of course) has ordered that attorneys who participate for court hearings via Zoom bother to get out of bed and dressed. Authorities in the Maryland village of Taneytown warn residents that they must put on pants before leaving the house to check the mailbox. Routines are disintegrating for those now working from home; meal-times are all over the place, diets are in an uproar, bedtimes are a flaccid joke and streaming has become a less obliterative form of opiate abuse. A bobblehead of Dr. Fauci will soon be available. A man in Cheltenham, England, ran a virtual marathon in his back yard. Authorities now warn runners to give more space to each other as they may create a wake of air behind them that could carry exhaled respiratory droplets for 15 feet or more, meaning that the droplets could reach people walking or jogging well behind them. Tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo have come down with the virus. A Kentucky town has created a neighborhood “safari” for kids during the pandemic, placing stuffed animals in the windows of houses. In Hutchins, Texas, a semi-truck hauling toilet paper to market crashed and caught fire, destroying the precious commodity.
And all the jobs created in the US after the Great Recession have been wiped out with 22 million jobless claims filed in the past 4 weeks. When you look at the graph of job losses in this country during and since the recession, scale is totally lost, with this mild ambling Poconos of a curve irrupted by the starkest upward brutal Himalayas of a four-weeks spike. Weird weird weird.
The new normal is unendingly new: I could sit all day at my Twitter feed, eager for the next instant’s weird development. I try not to—there are halls to paint—but the weight of weirdness bears down on everything, especially dream-time. Last night I wandered about the vast and lavish underground lobby of some grand hotel—there was the sense of enormity hundreds of floors rising above—trying to get to an important event while I passed bars with gleaming taps and bathrooms always too occupied to relieve myself in. And the weird is so invisible, nothing burning or exploding; it’s just the sense that everything is being pushed over by weirdly invisible hands. Like the cold rains today—where did they come from, when it’s been so hot and humid and still for days? There will be a job market out there when I can finally suit up and start showing up again, right? If this is the new normal, it’s a drip I can do without. Can I? Please? Will someone tell weirdness that its season is now over?
Unfortunately, no one has that kind of authority, nobody is really free to decide what they want to and go however they please in weird time. Coronavirus is the truest libertarian, infecting whomever comes unprepared within sneezing distance. The decision to restart a country’s economy cannot be done with any conscience without knowing how many of its population has been infected. Testing is crucial: The official count is the tip of an iceberg, but how much lies below? What is called “herd immunity” means that 60 to 80 percent of a population have endured the infection and survived (and making the wait for a vaccine unnecessary). Liberal estimates put the current infection range at about 20 percent. “However,” Jong writes, “if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean ‘this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,’ said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. ‘Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.’”
With wide-scale testing still a ways off in the U.S. and cabin fever beginning to trump the fear of virus fever, I’m not sure who to feel sorrier for—those going back to jobs in such uncertain peril or unemployed folks who can’t find a way to get back into perilous workplaces. Which straits are more dire?
In the end, humanity is fast catching up with the Earth’s dire straits, with climate change pushing so many species to the brink of extinction. Coronavirus will not spell the end of homo sapiens, but it does lend a certain vantage which the rest of life has been crowded into.
At the end of his essay, Yong likens this to contrast between those who have lived in with disability and the rest of us who are now gaining some appreciation for their plight:
The disability community has also noted that, at a time when their health is in jeopardy and their value is in question, abled people are struggling with a new normal that is their old normal—spatial confinement, unpredictable futures, social distance. “We know how to do community from afar, and how to organize from bed,” said Ashley Shew of Virginia Tech, who studies the intersection between technology and disability. “Instead of feeling this great vacuum, our social life hasn’t radically changed.” Disability scholars have written about “crip time”—a flexible attitude toward timekeeping that comes from uncertainty. “Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind,” Shew said. “Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, depending on my next cancer scan or what’s happening in my body. I already live in this world when I’m measuring in shorter increments, when my future has always been planned differently.”
As the rest of the U.S. comes to terms with the same restless impermanence, it must abandon the question When do we go back to normal? That outlook ignores the immense disparities in what different Americans experience as normal. It wastes the rare opportunity to reimagine what a fairer and less vulnerable society might look like. It glosses over the ongoing nature of the coronavirus threat. There is no going back. The only way out is through—past a turbulent spring, across an unusual summer, and into an unsettled year beyond.
Crip time it is then—schools still suspended, employment still distant, enforced isolation without clear end, stock market volcanic, job loss curve at full lust thrust, dream-time anxieties oceanic as the night mashes down. Will there ever be something definitive to be said about all of this?
I keep thinking we’ll find it in our poetry, but maybe the times are just too weird. No poetry survives the era of pyroclastic rain when Mt. Vesuvius erupted next to Pompeii. Maybe everyone was too busy dancing.
Until then, then, this continuance. Keep your poems coming!