I’ve been reading and clipping less news because it’s all coronavirus and I got reasonably up to speed on that early. By reading less news, I have less to pop off about. But here’s (most of) what a wrote in my Common Place book today:
Both of my choirs have cancelled concerts and rehearsals. But since you’ll not hear us this Spring, here’s some second best:
- Phoenix Bach Choir, Grechaninov: Passion Week led by Charles Bruffy
- Sanctus from Duruflé’s Requiem. This is what I wan’t playing when I’m dying.
- I can’t resist: Quincy Jones, Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, especially Hallelujah
- I also can’t resist Lyle Lovett, That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas). There are several good versions out there, but I like the large band and backup singers on this one.
- Renee Fleming, Haunted Heart, “… the smoky chanteuse lurking behind America’s most prominent operatic soprano ….”
If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.
I’m not positive of this, but I believe the media have been treating “it’s going to disappear; one day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear” as a lie. I think it’s scarier than that, and that it (conveniently) “confirms my priors.”
Of course Trump was wrong. Of course he was spinning a fantasy. But what if he believed it?
I think it’s very likely that he did because, as I’ve been saying for rather a long time now (years, not weeks or months) his narcissism is so profound that he cannot perceive the world accurately. That presents us with greater danger than him being an habitual liar (though I think he’s that, too; the two are not mutually exclusive.)
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Rand Paul, “libertarian,” is just an arrogant, selfish a**hole.
[T]he mortality rate suffered by Americans in World War II is modest when compared to their enemies (including those of all ages who died under the rain of bombs dropped on Tokyo and Dresden) and most of their allies. Two thirds of males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 were dead by 1945, with a 7.2 percent death rate for Soviet soldiers of all nationalities. And it wasn’t just the Germans who killed Soviets: the Red Army executed 217,000 of its own men for desertion, over half the number of total U.S. combat deaths throughout the entire war. (“It takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army,” Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov observed.)
So while no one is underestimating the potential human tragedy we are facing with the coronavirus (in which, by some estimates, many more Americans will die than in all of our wars combined), it seems unlikely to come anywhere close to the 26 million dead (counting civilians) of the Soviet Union in the four years from 1941 to 1945, or the approximately 75 million dead of all nationalities, as grim a reaping as any in human history.
There are a thousand coronavirus-related things you can legitimately fault Donald Trump for, but two people in Arizona eating fish tank cleaner because the president said that a legitimate drug that sounds like the active agent in the aquarium powder might show promise against coronavirus — that’s not one of them.
One acquaintance, in a position to know, once said of another “Watch out. He’s not as he pretends.”
I’ve never been able to shake that, though I’ve seen no sign that it’s true.
True or toxic? If toxic, the toxins are still nasty years later. Watch what you say.
His well-known shortcomings — his disdain for expert advice and evidence, his penchant for grievance, his narcissism and self-congratulation— are problematic in the best of times. During this pandemic, those characteristics are positively dangerous to the country he leads.
A growing number of journalists are calling on news and broadcast networks to quit showing Trump’s briefings live — arguing that public safety is best-served by fact-checking the president’s statements before reporting them out to the broader public.
“Even this far into his term, it is still a bit of a shock to be reminded that the single most potent force for misinforming the American public is the current president of the United States,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote over the weekend. “On everything that involves the coronavirus Donald Trump’s public statements have been unreliable.”
Joel Mathis, The worst possible president for this crisis
I’m not sure I can bear to renew First Things after Reno’s latest screed. And I’d bet a modest amount that David French’s sensible Sunday column is what set him off (remember: Reno is the guy who published Sohrab Ahmari’s unprovoked attack on French).
It is, for me, the equivalent of The End of Democracy: Our Judicial Oligarchy, which led to resignations from the First Things Board.
David Warren’s (On living dangerously) is subversive in a gentle, irenic way — sharp contrast to R.R. Reno’s rage-monkey:
… The most restless society since the invention of restlessness cannot cope with “downtime.” … Without the “events” which help to distinguish one day from another, we will need to start a war.
Had we books, and to have developed the habit of using them, we might read history instead; and even a bit of poetry on the side. But now, at loose ends, we are inspired to do something. Also, please note, the doctrine of original sin. I’m a big fan.
My political dogma has surely been established by now. I am against “doing” anything. Fight for a world in which nothing exciting happens, other than the pursuit of beauty, goodness, and truth. Fight relentlessly — by example.
The victory of Body over Spirit is confirmed in the Church. A correspondent forwarded a particularly obnoxious, but catatonically glib, remark by one influential ecclesiastical hierarch. He and others say that “keeping people safe” is their “highest priority.”
As another priest explained — this one a believing Catholic, unlikely ever to suffer advancement — the hierarch in question probably didn’t think he was uttering Catholic doctrine, just mindlessly repeating what he had learnt by rote. If quizzed meticulously, he would probably realize that Christ was not a gym instructor; and that the salvation of souls is in many ways unlike a public health operation. He was just going with the flow, as the trivial consequence of being an idiot.
For the record: Catholicism does not keep people safe. Verily, Christianity is dangerous …
By all means follow their pandemic instructions, until you get bored and have to start a war. But the most dangerous life is not licking doorknobs. It is trying to become a saint.
* * * * *
Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.
Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1
[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….
Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed