The Trials of Jared K: At the Podium With the First Son-in-Law

Robert Cohen at Lit Hub:

Someone must have been telling lies about Jared K., for one fine morning without having done anything wrong, or right for that matter—without having done anything save run a major metropolitan newspaper into the ground and kick thousands of poor people out of their apartments—he was put in charge of the nation’s pandemic response. This had never happened to K. before. Except for that time he was put in charge of the border wall. And opioids. And prison reform. And presidential pardons. And the Middle East peace process. “I’d better get someone in authority to help me,” K. said. But there was no one.

Now he stood near the podium in the briefing room. It was prime time. The camera was eyeing him with bland curiosity, as if it expected something significant from him, some comprehensive answer or consoling truth. But what? He recalled this feeling from his bar mitzvah, for which he’d worn more or less the same suit: this same atmosphere of suspended meaning, of people coming together to hear him read from the coiled scrolls of the Law, at once precise and obscure. Only what was the Law? It was so hard to read. Where were the vowels? Where was the rabbi his parents had paid to help him? When would his voice change, and a few lousy hair follicles appear on the backs of his hands?

More here.

Spinoza, Nietzsche and Sloterdijk: Richard Marshall interviews Charlie Huenemann

Richard Marshall in 3:16 AM:

3:16:    You’ve written about Spinoza and religion. I thought he was anti-religious but you see him as a religious reformer and read him as a radical theologian. So was everything grounded in God for Spinoza and not a sly atheistic metaphysics dressed in borrowed theism?

CH: Yes. I’m not sure atheism, as we now know it, was generally available as an option for 17th-century thinkers. By “atheism” I mean a total rejection of any sort of divine being. There may have been a few real radicals who proclaimed such a belief, but encountering them in those days must have been like meeting someone today who denies the existence of electrons. Some sort of divinity metaphysics was woven into the very fabric of metaphysics back then – maybe the biblical God, maybe a less specific divine person, maybe an impersonal divine force, maybe something falling between these notions. But to think that there wasn’t some sort of special being ushering into existence the world with its laws of nature must have seemed like a non-starter. Even Hume, in the next century, couldn’t shake the idea that there probably was some sort of Big Designer, if we take the conclusion of his dialogues to represent his view. It’s not until the 19th century, with the postulation of deep time, that atheism in our sense becomes really thinkable.

More here.

Who Will Save Us?

Kevin Power at the Dublin Review of Books:

Indeed, from the beginning, the popular response to Greta Thunberg has displayed some of the characteristics of a millenarian movement, as described by Norman Cohn in his classic study The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957). The millenarian movements of the Middle Ages, Cohn writes in that indispensable book, appealed to “an unorganised, atomized population”; they tended to take place “against a background of disaster” (plague, famine, economic crisis); they were “salvationist” in tendency (imagining the redemption of the world through struggle); they convocated around “intellectuals or half-intellectuals”, figures of humble rank perceived by their followers as prophets or messiahs, leaders who possessed “a personal magnetism which enabled [them] to claim, with some show of plausibility, a special role in bringing history to its appointed consummation”.

more here.

John Nash’s Harvesting

Michael Prodger at The New Statesman:

There is little evidence in Harvesting, a charming and amusing picture of harvesters, rabbit catchers, idlers and canoodlers that the artist, John Nash (1893-1977), was a painter haunted by his experiences of the First World War. In 1917 his regiment, the Artists Rifles, was involved in a counter-attack against the Germans near Cambrai. As the men went over the top, he recalled, there was silence and then: “Suddenly the Germans opened up and that seemed to be every machine gun in  Europe…” Of the 80 men who climbed out of the trenches, only 12 returned alive and unfounded: Nash was one of them. Although his brother Paul was a better known war artist, John’s 1918 painting of the episode, Over the Top, poignantly captures the leaden-footed fatalism of the soldiers – not just weary but life-weary – as they trudge into no man’s land towards their deaths.

more here.

Friday Poem

American Cavewall Sonnet

Wolf milk and wilderness                  America.
Romulus and Remus built                 a city
but it couldn’t hide the animal in
their hearts: a river-child discovers blood
when he searches for a blessing. Hold your
motherland in your mouth, all marble and
doomed, a single lozenge of loss. Heaven
fell into the pond and killed all the fish.

Even in the shape of a boy I can
wear the morning. Daisies behind my ear.
Minutes thin gold arm hairs. Blackberry vine
tied around my wrist. Under this field is
the only battle my father lost. Place
your ear right here        if you want to listen

by C.T. Salazar
from the
Echotheo Review

What Can Daniel Defoe’s “Plague Year” Teach Us About Coronavirus?

Eliott Grover in Inside Hook:

The panic began the moment the earliest cases were confirmed. Those with means hurriedly packed their belongings and fled the city. Those who stayed had a range of reactions: many laid siege to the markets, stocking up on provisions before barricading themselves and their families in their homes; some congregated in churches while others consulted astronomers and fortune-tellers; many more, dismissive of the invisible disease or the visible fear it stoked in the masses, continued their lives unabated. These individuals were the first to die. The government acted swiftly. Invoking emergency measures passed in earlier times, the mayor issued a series of orders that aggressively changed life in the city. Public events and gatherings were banned, schools were closed and the city was divided into more readily policeable quarters. Infected individuals were locked in their houses with their families and were forbidden from leaving under the penalty of death. Upstanding citizens, deputized in various capacities as searchersexaminer, and watchmen, were — under the penalty of death — tasked with overseeing this quarantine. The city in question is not Wuhan or Milan or Manhattan. It is London and the year is 1665. Before the end of 1666, the Bubonic Plague will kill roughly one-quarter of the city’s population. As devastating as this figure is, it could have been much worse.

This is one of the key takeaways from Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. Published in 1722, Defoe’s text is technically a novel, but historians and epidemiologists have praised it as an accurate report of life in London during “the Great Plague.” Defoe, who is most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe, did live in London in 1665, but he was only five years old. In A Journal, a middle-aged narrator renders a graphic and comprehensive look at life inside a city beset with a pandemic far more terrifying than the one we face today. Defoe’s purpose for writing the novel was didactic. “I have set this particular down so fully,” the narrator states, “because I know not but it may be of moment to those who come after me, if they come to be brought to the same distress.”

More here. (Note: I re-read this recently and recommend highly. Shocking to see how little has changed since 1665)

Difficulties Everywhere: Can Kierkegaard tell us how to live?

Christopher Beha in Harper’s Magazine:

Throughout its history, philosophy has been marked by figures who sought to demolish the prevailing intellectual systems of their moment—to practice “philosophy with a hammer,” as Friedrich Nietzsche put it—in order to look with fresh eyes at the most urgent human problems. As depicted in Plato’s early dialogues, Socrates railed against professional Sophists who charged fees to engage in what amounted to rhetorical games. By contrast, he merely wandered the agora, posing pointed questions about life’s meaning to anyone who’d listen. He insisted that he had no new knowledge to impart: his wisdom lay entirely in recognizing his own ignorance. He devoted his energy to unsettling commonly held beliefs rather than imposing his own, and he spoke of himself as an annoyance, a gadfly stinging a complacent Athenian society. To much of that society he was a laughingstock, but he also attracted a substantial following, for whom his personal example—his ironic temperament; his embrace of poverty and his detachment from worldly matters; and, especially, his equanimity in the face of death—signified at least as much as the content of his thought.

Ever since, outsider-philosophers have tended to take Socrates as their touchstone. Like Plato, they have blurred the line between philosophical and literary writing, and they have shown a talent for the kind of aphoristic insight that the general public has come to expect from philosophers. While often hostile toward religion, they have all been deeply concerned with what we might call “God questions”: Does one exist? And what should such existence or nonexistence actually mean for us here on earth? They have had ambiguous or outright adversarial relationships with the academy, and they have often been ignored in their lifetimes or treated as objects of ridicule. In defiance of a discipline that prizes disinterest and objectivity, they have openly acknowledged the connection between their ideas and their experience. A striking proportion have died young, and they are often remembered more for their attempts to authentically live out their philosophies than for the philosophies themselves. As the field has become increasingly specialized and systematized in the modern era, these figures have stood out more conspicuously, coming to represent a tradition of their own.

More here.

Of Migrants, Muslims, and Other Non-People

Namit Arora in The Baffler:

India is the world’s second most populous country. Yet it boasts one of the globe’s lowest levels of public expenditure on health care, just 1.3 percent of GDP, less than a fifth of what the European Union countries invest. Knowing this, the government recognized the virus as a grave, perhaps catastrophic, threat. Public health officials heroically pursued contact tracing. “Social distancing” and “self-isolation” rapidly entered the national lexicon. By March 23, with the number of confirmed cases nearing five hundred, the government had prudently shut down all domestic and international flights and hardened its borders.

The following day, amid a growing sense of alarm, Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly ordered a nationwide lockdown, the largest in the world, meant to last twenty-one days. He made the declaration via a live telecast to the nation at 8 p.m., leaving people just a few hours to plan their affairs. The timing of the announcement was needlessly theatrical, as if he wanted to take the public by surprise. In this it resembled his decision in 2016 to rescind all higher denomination banknotes overnight, an order intended to defeat the shadow economy run by “black money”; the foolishly conceived plan, known as “demonetization,” never stood a chance of achieving this stated goal, thought it struck a brutal blow to India’s vast informal sector, which relies on cash transactions. Other parallels soon emerged: the same disastrous planning and execution, callous disregard for the poor, and ruthless policing. As before, Modi continued to avoid all interaction with the press, defying a rather basic expectation in a democracy.

More here.

Tomas Pueyo: What We Can Learn from Countries Around the World

Tomas Pueyo in Medium:

A month ago we sounded the alarm with . After that, we asked countries to buy us time with  and looked in detail at the US situation with . Together, these articles have been viewed by over 60 million people and translated into over 40 languages.

Since then, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has grown twentyfold, from 125,000 to over 2.5 million. Billions of people around the world are under the Hammer: Their governments have implemented heavy social distancing measures to quench the spread of the virus.

Most did the right thing: The Hammer was the right decision. It bought us time to reduce the epidemic and to figure out what to do during the next phase, the Dance, in which we relax the harsh social distancing measures in a careful way to avoid a second outbreak. But the Hammer is hard. Millions have lost their jobs, their income, their savings, their businesses, their freedom. The world needs answers: When is this over? When do we relax these measures and go back to the new normal? What will it take? What will life be like?

When do we get to dance?

This article will explain when, and how, we will dance.

More here.

Covid-19’s partisan divide

Robert Talisse and Boudewijn de Bruin at the Institute of Art and Ideas:

Eating garlic, taking a bath, and drinking hot water. These are three alleged “cures” that will not protect you from the coronavirus, but they have become so widely believed that the World Health Organization has launched a myth busters page to debunk them.

The likelihood that you believe any of these myths can be predicted by certain key characteristics. In the UK, the older and more educated you are the less likely you are to believe coronavirus myths. But in the US, a key characteristic is political identity.

New US polling conducted by one of us (de Bruin) in late March finds that, even when controlling for education and other variables, there is a statistically significant correlation between political identity and the number of COVID-19 myths people believe: Republicans tend to believe more coronavirus myths than Democrats.

More here.

The Woman in Black

Eric Jager at Lapham’s Quarterly:

In a freezing December day in 1386, at an old priory in Paris that today is a museum of science and technology—a temple of human reason—an eager crowd of thousands gathered to watch two knights fight a duel to the death with lance and sword and dagger. A beautiful young noblewoman, dressed all in black and exposed to the crowd’s stares, anxiously awaited the outcome. The trial by combat would decide whether she had told the truth—and thus whether she would live or die. Like today, sexual assault and rape often went unpunished and even unreported in the Middle Ages. But a public accusation of rape, at the time a capital offense and often a cause for scandalous rumors endangering the honor of those involved, could have grave consequences for both accuser and accused, especially among the nobility.

more here.

On Joseph Conrad

Fredric Jameson at the LRB:

It is historically unsurprising that, in the context of an emerging mass culture, nostalgia for older forms should express itself in their revival and imitation as high-art products. The adventure story was promoted into literature. A taste for this ‘canon’, from Stevenson to Kipling, from gaucho stories to Westerns, was formative for Borges, whose admiration for Conrad was well known. It is a mistake to consider Borges a modernist; rather, when he was awarded the Prix Formentor in 1961, marking his belated arrival on the world literary stage (along with Beckett, who shared the prize that year), it was a harbinger of the postmodern return to plot, to intricacy and intrigue, and away from the densities of poetic language. Conrad’s ‘postmodern’ reversion to plot was, however, combined with a different kind of modernist supplement, namely the work of style. Conrad dealt with his traditional raw material according to a stylistic strategy very different from Borges’s superposition of alternating plots and narrative paradoxes; yet the affinity betrays a deeper contradiction in the literary production process common to their respective historical moments.

more here.

The world after Covid-19: We have a chance to transform society

Matthew Taylor in iai:

Covid 19 is a challenge to which we are all seeking to respond. Some major social upheavals lead to fundamental and progressive shifts, think for example of the way the AIDS crisis accelerated the fight for LGBT rights; while others, most obviously the global financial meltdown of 2008, fail to precipitate major reform despite causing immense hardship. Indeed, the widespread assumption on the left that the financial crisis would lead to a reaction against inequality and global finance was not only disappointed but confounded as the political momentum was, in many countries, seized by nationalist populism.

Of the conditions that turn an immediate crisis into long term change, three stand out, all of which need to be in place:

  1. Latent potential, an underlying desire and logic for things to be different;
  2. Precipitating factors, events that create momentum for change;
  3. and Workable mechanisms, concrete ways of embedding change in social structures

Where might be the spaces in society and policy areas where these conditions could apply?

Let’s start with inequality and insecurity. Overall, there has for some time been a strong public feeling that inequality is excessive. Even politicians on the right have accepted the problem of real and perceived unfairness. The pandemic doubly amplifies the inequality story. On the one hand, it reminds us of our common humanity and vulnerability, on the other, it brings into sharper relief how much more vulnerable are some citizens whether it’s casual workers, children in poorer families, isolated older people or even prisoners.

More here.

Three Ways to Make Coronavirus Drugs In a Hurry

Michael Waldholz in Scientific American:

Mark Denison began hunting for a drug to treat COVID-19 almost a decade before the contagion, driven by a novel coronavirus, devastated the world this year. Denison is not a prophet, but he is a virologist and an expert on the often deadly coronavirus family, members of which also caused the SARS outbreak in 2002 and the MERS eruption in 2012. It is a big viral group, and “we were pretty certain another one would soon emerge,” says Denison, who directs the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

A virus is an unusual beast. Essentially it is a cluster of genetic material that integrates itself into a cell and takes over some of the cell’s molecular machinery, using it to assemble an army of viral copies. Those clones burst out of the cell, destroying it, and go on to infect nearby cells. Viruses are hard to kill off completely because of their cellular integration—they hide within their hosts. And they have explosive reproductive rates. Because total eradication is so hard, antiviral drugs instead aim to limit replication to low levels that cannot hurt the body.

In 2013 Denison and Ralph Baric, a coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, identified a vulnerable site on a protein common to all coronaviruses they had examined, a spot that is key to the microbe’s ability to make copies of itself. If that ability is hindered, a coronavirus cannot cause widespread infection. Four years later researchers in the two laboratories spotted a compound that acted on this protein site. It was sitting, unused, in a large library of antiviral compounds created by the biotech giant Gilead Biosciences. The scientists got a sample and, in test tube and animal experiments, showed that the drug, called remdesivir, shut down the replicating machinery of several coronavirus variants.

More here.