Email about sculptures and plagues

From: Ray Gangarosa

musical interlude: 

I know Friend#5 is also a big fan of Kate Wolf, who died in 1986 at age 44 of leukemia. 

Here is my favorite song of hers, “Poet’s heart”, which reminds me of a gifted poetess, pianist, and diarist whom I had a deep crush on the year after I graduated from college: 

I wasn’t familiar with this song until I just heard it, but it seems even more appropriate to our discussion: 

Across the Great Divide (Live)

This song, “These times we’re living in”, is also new to me, but it could easily become my favorite of hers: 

Kate Wolf & Nina Gerber ‘These times we’re living

Hi Friend#6

It’s intriguing that the two items you sent today (Trump’s Mt. Rushmore speech and a Move On solicitation) are interpreted completely differently by the “rightwing” and “leftwing” media — and by you and me. In an ideal — no, let me start over — in a normal world, there would be one reality and people with different perspectives and roles would apply the shared facts according to how they need to proceed in the world. Different people who advocate primarily and specifically for protecting the weakest link, for accepting collective responsibilities, or for taking personal responsibility would be seen as fulfilling different functions in a division of labor. They wouldn’t be playing musical chairs for legislative and executive positions, competing for campaign funds, and plotting to undermine each other. 

In one of my upcoming Dr. Lassie Adventures, Snideley Whiplash becomes president and makes very big splashes with two announcements in rapid succession: 

  • a “negative lottery”, for which everybody is really excited, especially the person who “wins” it, of course — until he realizes that what his “luck” has “won” him is the “privilege” of paying the national debt for that year! 
  • “quaternary medicine”, a new kind of super-specialized medical practice which differs from primary, secondary, and tertiary medicine in the minor detail that the objective is to rev up each specialist’s organ system to the detriment of all other “competing” organ systems! The poor patient is watching and listening as the quaternary medicine specialists brag about their own organ’s superiority and trash-talk about the other so-called “junk” organs, as if he’s just a Petri dish that happens to be growing them! 

Aren’t those perfect word-cartoons of our economic and political systems? 

There’s a better way to live life. Our own bodies do it effortlessly. A natural division of labor leads to perfect cooperation. Anything resembling competition between different cells, tissues, or organs manifests immediately as disease and is readily recognizable as abnormal. 

I understand that some conservative news anchor, I think Tucker Carlson, considered Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore, to be his best. Back on the planet I inhabit, the first expressions I read to describe it on my news feeds were “dark and divisive”. James Clapper described Trump’s strategy of shifting from real crises, largely of his own making (the coronavirus pandemic, the economic depression, mass layoffs, huge budget deficits, racial turmoil), to a crusade to draw attention to the plight of Confederate memorials as “a page out of the authoritarian playbook” — his incompetence at solving real problems forces him even more to intensify the polarization he thrives on. A headline from the Washington Post reads, “In Trump’s new version of American carnage, the threat isn’t immigrants or foreign nations. It’s other Americans.” Trump is the embodiment of cancer and autoimmune disease at the national and civilizational levels, both malfunctioning at full tilt, all at once. 

This evening on MSNBC’s The last word, Lawrence O’Donnell discussed Trump’s Mt. Rushmore speech with a quote from James Baldwin: “People who imagine that history flatters them are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin.” Along those lines, I saw a hilariously galling photo op that Trump surely conjured up deliberately with the White House photographer to troll people like me — a wide shot of Mt. Rushmore’s sculptures, with the camera tilted slightly upwards, showing how much of the mountain was still uncarved, with Trump’s head, in perfect proportion at the right side of the picture, crowding out Abraham Lincoln’s, as if to make himself the far right portrait on the sculpture! The Sioux already consider the sculpture an affront to their own preexisting reverence for that mountain, but to put Trump’s head on it would add insult to injury. To put our nation’s worst president on that monument next to the four best would be even worse. 

Trump talks about starting a sculpture garden of American heroes. I’m sure the f—ing narcissist envisions himself featured prominently. In sharp contrast, my Spirit of democracy proposal would honor others’ contributions, just as the French recognized America’s gift to the world of democracy with the Statue of Liberty. That’s the difference I see at every turn between Trump and myself: dictators commission sculptures of themselves; democratic people honor others. 

More than monuments erected in public spaces, we need museums where outdated sculptures can be retired as permanent lessons about the history of public perceptions and the art that responds to it. Imagine how informative it would be to stroll through relics from different communities erected at different times, directed by a guided tour that would discuss the historical trends, the circumstances of each work, the controversies it elicited, and the lessons learned. That kind of memorial museum would really teach history and raise awareness. 

About the Move On solicitation, what’s there to argue about? No other leader, not even Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, is mismanaging COVID-19 as badly as Trump is. We’re experiencing over 50,000 new cases per day already nationwide, with a nationwide doubling time of 2-3 weeks, which you can easily see from the curves as an exponential uptick. It’s 120 days until the election, which is ~120/16 = 7.5 doubling times; 27.5 = 181.02; 181 ´50,000 = 9,050,000 cases per day on election day, and growing exponentially; at 1% infection fatality rate, there would be 90,500 deaths per day, and skyrocketing! Even at that, we wouldn’t be getting close to herd immunity of 60-70% of the population, since 9 million/330 million ~ “only” 3% of the U.S. population would get infected on election day. By the time of the election, the total number of deaths is projected from more sophisticated models to be over 200,000 — which would be half the fatalities American armed services suffered in World War II, with almost three more months of Trump’s mismanagement to go before the next inauguration, with no coordination of public health interventions across state lines, during cold weather when people congregate indoors and have raw respiratory tracts. We haven’t yet come to grips with the cost to the economy of so many lives and so much expertise lost. 

This is not rocket science. If 50% of people who weren’t routinely wearing face masks had just done so, we could have gotten the viral reproduction rate R0 below 1 and begun to extinguish the outbreak like “normal” countries. We need to institute such a policy on a national level or else convince all states and localities to go along in synchronized fashion. But not having done that in time, we have to do so much more now. Every time we let another cat out of the bag, we give the virus more opportunity to mutate into more virulent forms and have to work that much harder to restore control again. My impression is that we need to initiate another lockdown for at least a couple incubation periods, this time synchronized across the U.S., if not the whole world, to have complete, uniform suppressive effects. Trump’s vaunted economy was just a runaway train all along — by dismantling all regulations, he disabled the brakes and fated it for derailment. 

And yet what messages does Trump send by example and statement? — rallies with no social distancing, relaxation of constraints to crank up the economy, masks “don’t look good”, the pandemic might just go away in a couple weeks or so, we’ll just have to live with it, 99% of cases are harmless, we’re not going to shut down again, we’ll just put out the fires as they flare up, we’ll penalize schools and universities if they don’t open up in-person classes. Ironically, pandemic control measures within the White House cocoon are actually intensifying, with the sole purpose of providing exceptional protection for Trump and Pence. 

Plagues are a force of nature. They used to elicit sheer dread. It seems that my father’s generation of epidemiologists may have been a bit too successful, to have conveyed to our national leaders the impression that public health can work in the background to make epidemics “magically go away” with no effort on their part. The nature of exponential and hyperexponential curves is that they catch us napping until they explode. The lag times are such that we must anticipate crises well in advance. 

Like the fundamentalists, I think divine providence acted in the 2016 election to install Trump in the most powerful job in the world, which demands more responsibility than any other on earth — but not for the same reasons they have imagined. God knew the evil in Trump’s soul — his arrogance, his utter lack of responsibility, his inclination to scapegoat, evade, and distract when his own incompetence surfaces yet another crisis of his own making. God put Trump in charge when this pandemic could have been thwarted by early American leadership, but Trump’s malignant narcissism compelled him to dismantle the pandemic prevention programs installed by the preceding two administrations. And then, like the high-rolling gambler he is, Trump spends $1.6 billion on just one completely unprecedented and untested messenger RNA vaccine, paid to a company that had never brought a product to market, to produce 100 million doses (which isn’t even enough to attain herd immunity just in the U.S.). Even if that long shot works, it wasn’t a rational choice, since vaccine development is a hit-or-miss proposition that has never been tested with this kind of speedup. Instead of just routine attention to detail, Trump had to repeat his lifelong pattern of escalating, oscillating crisis mismanagement until “Project Warp Speed” precipitates yet another spectacular bankruptcy. That’s not how public health practice works. 

The future of life on earth is crying out to human civilization to recognize our collective responsibilities and get our act together. For Trump to shift the subject to Confederate memorials in the face of massive public health, economic, and social crises largely of his own making is the worst kind of demagoguery, malfeasance, and mismanagement. 

Here are the lyrics to the two “new” Kate Wolf songs that I discovered tonight and have been listening to over and over again: 

From website

Across the Great Divide

Kate Wolf

I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep 
Countin’ troubles ‘stead of countin’ sheep 
Where the years went I can’t say 
I just turned around and they’ve gone away 

I’ve been siftin’ through the layers 
Of dusty books and faded papers 
They tell a story I used to know 
And it was one that happened so long ago 

It’s gone away in yesterday 
Now I find myself on the mountainside 
Where the rivers change direction 
Across the Great Divide 

Now, I heard the owl a-callin’ 
Softly as the night was fallin’ 
With a question and I replied 
But he’s gone across the borderline 

He’s gone away in yesterday 
Now I find myself on the mountainside 
Where the rivers change direction 
Across the Great Divide 

The finest hour that I have seen
Is the one that comes between
The edge of night and the break of day
It’s when the darkness rolls away

It’s gone away in yesterday
Now I find myself on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide

It’s gone away in yesterday
Now I find myself on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide
Where the rivers change direction
Across the great divide

From website

These times we’re living in

Kate Wolf

Down by the river the water’s runnin’ low
As I wander underneath the trees
In the park outside of town
The leaves turned brown and yellow now
Are falling on the ground

Remembering the way you felt
Beside me here when love was new
That feeling’s just grown stronger
Since I fell in love with you

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

Winter wood piled on the porch
Walnuts scattered on the ground
And wood smoke risin’ to the sky
An old man comes home from work
And he hugs his wife in a sweat-stained shirt
Walks through that door to 
Where it’s warm inside

And I’m walking as the wind
Rustles in the fallen leaves
My footsteps picking out a tune
My heart sings silently

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

See the roses dried and faded
The tall trees carved and painted
With long forgotten lovers’ names
Old cars standing empty
And dogs barking at me
As I walk through the quiet streets the same

If I could I’d tell you now
There are no roads that do not bend
And the days like flowers bloom and fade
And they do not come again

We’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

Best wishes and thanks for listening to my tirades, 

Ray G


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