Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Chance to Contemplate

There have been quite a few essays and columns written about the current pandemic but most cite the two greatest classic pieces about previous such occurrences: Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year and Albert Camus's La Peste (The Plague). The selections all appear appropriate to our situation even if I will confess I haven't read the originals, which always makes me reluctant to comment too much about them. (I have Camus's novel in French somewhere upstairs and I intend to find it today!)

This is the first time that I'm feeling that we may be experiencing a moment of the kind this country knew in World War II, when life as people knew it changed forever. What didn't change, though, was the return of narrow-minded behavior right after the war. I was born in the month when the war ended so I never really got to experience how people for the most part worked in concert for a change. But people were still driving their old prewar cars when I was very young and there were some signs like that of how people felt then that they were all in this together. 

Living in Washington, of course, prevents me from getting rhapsodic about how people behave. The same craven lobbyists who operate here constantly peppered the stimulus package with gifts for the special interests. The Democrats did indeed make a terrible bill less terrible, but they didn't excise everything awful: the miserable Republicans were able to treat DC as a territory and thus cut its allowance of funds under the bill to half that of any state, many of which have fewer people than the District. The airlines got their bailout without having to eliminate their sheer greed displayed in the endless extra charges they have levied on travellers confined to ridiculously tiny seats--a condition that was superbly exposed last week by Columbia law Prof. Tim Wu in a N.Y.Times op-ed piece.

And the first thing the Kennedy Center did with its own earmark in the bill was decide not to use any of it to pay the National Symphony Orchestra players. On the plus side, Opera, the British magazine, sent out a list of operas being streamed by companies all over Europe and the Met is also making its recorded productions available for streaming. I do look forward to seeing a lot of worthy series on streaming television that I haven't bothered to watch until now.

Staying inside is indeed stultifying even if life-saving. We've gone for walks but I've decided to keep shopping trips to a minimum now. It seems too easy to make a wrong move and pay for it big time. I don't focus much here on politics but we are truly paying the price for our totally antidemocratic electoral system and our tolerance of malevolent and ignorant people in major leadership positions. Those who are skeptical of religion are certainly on point in fighting those who would elevate religion and wishful thinking above science in dealing with our crises. 

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