Magazine June 1, 2020, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

X Æ A-12? Isn’t that more of a girl’s name?

 Like so many other things these days, the coronavirus has become a political football. It’s only in blue states! Red-staters on beaches are morons! Etc. ad infinitum. Unfortunately this is no new thing. In the 1790s, Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital, was subject to repeated outbreaks of yellow fever. Medical science had no idea how to treat it (mosquitoes would not be identified as the vector for a century). So doctors and journalists engaged in a partisan scrum. Benjamin Rush, medico and supporter of Thomas Jefferson, whose party had just taken over the battleground state of Pennsylvania, believed in bleeding and purging. William Cobbett, arch-Federalist journalist, attacked Rush as a murderer of his patients. A Rush-friendly court slapped Cobbett with a libel judgment so heavy he fled the country. Meanwhile Philadelphians died. Treat the sick, do your jobs, dial it down. We’re all Americans here.

The idea that COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese lab was supposed to be a wacky conspiracy theory. But the circumstantial evidence keeps mounting, as our Jim Geraghty has documented. Wuhan is home to not one but two labs that study bat coronaviruses, and Chinese labs have a track record of poor management and even virus leaks. Leaked cables from the U.S. State Department reveal concerns about one of these labs in particular, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in 2018. A Chinese academic paper — posted and quickly removed from the Internet in February — posited that COVID-19 “probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.” Now NBC has reported evidence that there was “no cellphone activity in a high-security portion of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from Oct. 7 through Oct. 24, 2019, and that there may have been a ‘hazardous event’ sometime between Oct. 6 and Oct. 11.” The suspicion is that Chinese researchers accidentally lost control of the virus while studying it, not that they deliberately engineered and released COVID-19. But U.S. officials must get to the bottom of this, inform the public of their findings, and if appropriate hold China accountable.

Most advanced countries have responded to the pandemic with roughly the same strategy, which is a reason to regard the approach of highly civilized Sweden as something more than an idle curiosity. Large gatherings are banned, but restaurants, bars, gyms, parks, and elementary schools remain open — even in Stockholm, whose metro area holds more than 20 percent of the country’s population. Chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell says the nation will sidestep the economic consequences of mass lockdowns while building immunity to stave off a “second wave” of infections. But the results are mixed. Excluding microstates, Sweden ranks seventh in the world in per capita COVID-19 fatalities, worse than the United States and far worse than its Scandinavian peers. Its economy is projected to shrink significantly, though less than locked-down Denmark and Finland. Its hope of building enough immunity to avoid a second wave is conjecture. The Swedish approach has been ridiculed and hailed, but it is too early to render a verdict. That suggests it is neither catastrophe nor panacea.

It’s been a rough couple of months for the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The group’s statistical model, which predicts the trajectories of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. and each individual state, surged to prominence with a de facto endorsement from the White House. But then the problems set in. New information dramatically reduced the model’s projections; at one point it predicted only about 60,000 deaths nationally, which the country has already blown past. Other researchers pointed out that the state-level predictions were appallingly inaccurate even over the very short term. And now, the model’s fundamental workings have been completely overhauled, giving us an untested tool to consult as we enter the next phase of the pandemic. The IHME model is not a conspiracy to over- or underpredict the toll of COVID-19; it just doesn’t work. Policymakers should ignore it until this latest iteration proves capable of making accurate predictions.

Panicked by a Twitter stampede, California governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order, not obviously legal, closing the beaches of Orange County. A news photo making the social-media rounds had shown the beach looking like spring break; other photographs showed a much more dispersed and socially distanced crowd. It was the sort of thing a more responsible government might have responded to with investigation rather than headlong autocracy. Orange County has been faring relatively well, with fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths than nearby counties such as Riverside and San Bernardino even though it has a larger population. Like many places, it has continued to see an uptick in cases, but there is no evidence that this is linked to the enjoyment of the beaches, which, in any case, have reopened in Orange County as they have elsewhere in California. People are more likely to accept the legitimacy of rules when the decisions governing them are made in a way that is reasonable and democratic, when decisions are made locally and respect the diversity among our communities, and when those entrusted with the extraordinary authority of using emergency powers are not themselves acting out of hysteria or in response to hysteria. Governor Newsom fails on all counts.

What Jefferson called “the spirit of resistance to government” is a valuable thing. It can keep lawmakers mindful of the rights of all, and humble in the exercise of their responsibilities. Protests against Michigan’s statewide lockdown partake of that spirit. But there are protests and protests. Swarming the state capitol, shouting and carrying weapons, is menacing or, if not meant in that spirit, bad theater. The mobbing of the Wisconsin state capitol during Scott Walker’s tenure went on far longer, and was therefore worse, but we deplored that too, for the same reasons. Rally, write, vote. It’s a free country.

Shelley Luther, a salon owner in North Texas, was fined $7,000 and sentenced to seven days in jail after she reopened her business in defiance of statewide lockdown orders. Luther appeared before Dallas Civil District judge Eric Moyé, who called her decision to buck the COVID-related order “selfish.” Moyé said he would consider leniency if Luther apologized, paid a fine, and closed the business until state regulations changed; Luther refused, and disagreed with Moyé’s assessment of her behavior: “I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I’m selfish — because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hairstylists [who] are going hungry because they’d rather feed their kids.” We sympathize with Luther. The economic hardship faced by businesses right now is not a result of their mismanagement or other failures in which their executives are inculpated, but rather of twin forces beyond their control: a highly contagious pandemic, and the lockdown policies that officials enacted in response to that pandemic. One can argue that those policies were a justified response to the virus, but in either case, throwing a business owner in jail for a violation of such policies seems excessive — if not downright cruel.

The early days of the coronavirus epidemic were an awfully busy time for Capitol Hill stock traders: Just before the market crash, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) dumped millions of dollars’ worth of stock. So did Republican senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who is married to the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. So did Senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and his wife, who were unloading shares in 33 different transactions even as he made relatively rosy statements — far too rosy, in fact — to the public about the likely course of the coronavirus epidemic. And now we learn that Senator Burr was joined in that selloff by his brother-in-law. The Burr family’s timing is exquisite: The sales came after the senator attended a January 24 committee briefing on the epidemic but before the market crash a few weeks later. The best gloss for Burr is that he is a very lucky trader and a very unlucky politician.

After weeks of revelations that exculpatory evidence had been withheld, the Justice Department moved to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national-security adviser. Special Counsel Mueller’s prosecution of Flynn had raised enough red flags that Attorney General Barr appointed a prosecutor from outside Washington to review it. It emerged that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence case against Flynn (part of its Trump–Russia probe) but was about to close it in early January 2017 for lack of evidence that he was a clandestine agent of Russia. After learning that Flynn had had phone conversations with the Russian ambassador in late December, though, the FBI sought to keep it open. The conversations were proper for an incoming White House adviser, and Flynn made no concessions to Moscow — though he later misinformed Vice President Pence about whether the subject of Obama-imposed sanctions had come up. The FBI nevertheless theorized that Flynn might have violated the Logan Act (a constitutionally dubious prohibition on freelance diplomacy by unauthorized Americans that the Justice Department has never tried to enforce). The bureau conducted an ambush interview of Flynn, but the agents concluded he had not lied to them. The FBI appeared to drop the matter once Flynn had been fired for misinforming Pence. Months later, however, Mueller’s prosecutors pressured Flynn into a false-statements guilty plea — he was broken financially, and prosecutors threatened to indict his son if he held out. But Flynn eventually changed his mind, found aggressive new counsel to fight the case, and moved to vacate his plea. On review, the Justice Department has concluded that the case is not viable: Any alleged false statement would be difficult to prove, and could not be material because there was no legitimate predicate for investigating Flynn. As we go to press, the judge has yet to rule on the DOJ’s dismissal motion, while former president Obama — who appears to have been deeply involved in the Flynn investigation — leads the usual suspects railing that Barr is politicizing justice and undermining the rule of law. That’s rich.

In his virtual town hall at the Lincoln Memorial, President Trump said, “I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen.” Recollecting that the man in whose memorial he sat had been murdered by a critic, he conceded that Lincoln had a pretty bad press too. Lincoln, and how many other presidents? Washington: depicted in a newspaper poem and cartoon being led to the guillotine. Jefferson: atheist, Jacobin, sleeps with his slave (they got one out of three). Jackson: bigamist. McKinley: William Randolph Hearst published a ditty about him being shot — and then he was . . . But enough. This is a boisterous country, with a free press that runs the gamut from the Federalist Papers to the sewer. If the president doesn’t like being smacked, he should have checked the job description before he applied for the position.

Twice now, President Trump has told Fox News that Joe Biden sent him a letter of apology: a letter apologizing for earlier criticisms of the president’s handling of the pandemic. The Biden campaign flatly denies that such a letter was ever written or sent. Someone’s lying. In this case, we fear that it is not Biden.

Donald Trump likes to say that elections are, were, or will be “rigged.” He said it most recently with regard to a special House election in California, which took place on May 12. Mike Garcia (R.) and Christy Smith (D.) were running to replace Katie Hill, who resigned in scandal last November. The balloting was done by a mixture of mailing in and in-person voting. The mayor of Lancaster, Rex Parris, requested a voting center in his town, which he got. Parris is a Republican, a supporter of Garcia, and a supporter of Trump. But Trump objected to the opening of “a voting booth in the most Democrat area in the State. They are trying to steal another election. It’s all rigged out there.” In the end, Garcia, the Republican, won in a landslide. There are boys who cry wolf and boys who cry rigged. Both are unhelpful.

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) wants the U.S. to withdraw from the World Trade Organization, which along with its precursor has been a forum for the global reduction of trade barriers since World War II. We would be better off, he thinks, negotiating trade deals one on one with other countries. Yet these are not mutually exclusive options: We have many trade agreements with individual countries and with groups of countries. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was an attempt to achieve one of his objectives, “a new network of trusted friends and partners to resist Chinese economic imperialism.” It was the WTO’s opponents, not it, that blocked U.S. participation in it. Hawley has not yet identified any particular proposal that he thinks would help American workers but that the WTO would prevent, or any specific decision it has made that has harmed them. (He claims that the WTO has forced Americans to compete against forced labor in China, but this isn’t true.) Nor has he reckoned with, or even mentioned, any of the gains for Americans that the WTO has enabled. Doubtless there are ways to change the WTO, or our practices toward it, that better serve American interests. We should bring many more cases against Chinese abuses to the WTO, preferably with support from other countries. But the case for withdrawal is not persuasive; indeed, it has barely been made.

Betsy DeVos has enraged the Left with promises of . . . due process. The education secretary has revised Title IX rules pertaining to the investigation of sexual assault and sexual harassment on college campuses. The new rules are a lot like the old rules — the very old ones, dating back to the Magna Carta and beyond, including such non-novelties as the right to question witnesses and evaluate evidence. Joe Biden, who is accused of the forcible sexual assault of a former aide, promises to throw out the new rules even as he claims the right to a full and fair hearing himself and enjoys the power to make that happen, something that is not true of the typical college sophomore. The new rules are an improvement to the process, but part of the problem is the process itself: Colleges and their administrators are simply not equipped to handle the investigation of sexual assault, a serious crime that is properly the business of police departments and prosecutors. Some victims of sexual assault are reluctant to go to the police or in no state of mind to do so; universities can help these students by offering support and mental-health services. Some police departments and prosecutors may be callous or incompetent, but that is an argument for police reform, not for making a policeman out of Professor Plum. The best way for victims of crime to seek justice is through the criminal-justice system.

Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man in Georgia, was out for a run. A white father-and-son team, the father a former police officer, say they took Arbery for a possible criminal suspect — a black man had been reported lurking around a construction site — and gave chase in a pickup truck, brandishing a shotgun and a .357 Magnum. They caught up to him. In the ensuing confrontation, Arbery was shot twice in the chest with the shotgun, and died. The vigilantism in question is not even close to a permissible “citizen’s arrest” under Georgia law, which requires would-be freelance policemen to witness a felony. The vigilantes in Georgia probably had committed a felony themselves (unlawful imprisonment) even before they killed Arbery. Local officials made the situation worse by initially declining to pursue a criminal investigation of the killing, saying that the vigilantes had acted in self-defense. If Georgia’s “stand your ground” law is a factor here, it is in confirming Arbery’s right to defend himself from armed assault, not the right of the vigilantes to shoot him down. Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, have now been arrested and charged with murder, and rightly so. John Quincy Adams famously described the United States as a nation committed to liberty, but one that “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” Much less possible misdemeanor-trespassing cases. The nation’s responsible gun-owners should take some note of that.

Reaction to Bridgegate was unanimous when it hit the news in 2014: New Jersey officials had behaved badly in cutting down the number of available lanes for commuters from Fort Lee in retaliation for its mayor’s refusal to endorse the reelection campaign of Governor Chris Christie (R.). Unanimity was again achieved when all the justices of the Supreme Court determined that the official malefactors had violated no federal law. While a state prosecution might have been successful, federal convictions had to be voided because “not every corrupt act by a state or local official is a federal crime.” Justice Elena Kagan wrote those words for her colleagues, and we will take the rare occasion to endorse her words.

Once again, the Little Sisters of the Poor are in court defending their right to follow Catholic teaching while ministering to the needy. The Obama administration sought to force the nuns, and other religious employers, to sign forms allowing the use of their health plans to cover sterilization and contraception, including methods of “contraception” that prevent already-conceived human embryos from developing. The Trump administration is attempting to exempt employers who object. But a lawsuit, backed by Biden and nearly everyone else in the Democratic Party, is asking the Supreme Court to coerce the nuns and block the new policy. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the oral argument (on conference call in these COVID days) to argue for the lawsuit, claiming that Trump had “tossed to the wind” the intent of Congress that all women have access to contraception at no out-of-pocket cost. But Congress had no such intent: The Affordable Care Act didn’t include a contraceptive mandate in its text and didn’t exempt itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Obey the law, and let the nuns obey their faith.

The legal team of the three female high-school athletes in Connecticut who are fighting a trans sports policy has filed a motion for the presiding judge to recuse himself after he insisted that they describe biological males as “transgender females.” Alliance Defending Freedom’s lead attorney, Roger Brooks, who is representing Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, and Chelsea Mitchell, told District Judge Robert Chatigny that “the entire focus of the case is the fact that the CIAC [Connecticut Interscholastic Athletics Conference] policy allows individuals who are physiologically, genetically male to compete in girls’ athletics.” ADF first filed a civil-rights complaint with the Education Department last summer, in response to the CIAC’s policy permitting two boys (unambiguously male until three years ago, when they began to present socially as female) to compete in the female category and win 15 women’s state championships, titles that were held by ten different Connecticut girls the year before. The Department of Justice issued a statement in the girls’ support in March. Still, Chatigny maintained that “referring to these individuals as ‘transgender females’ is consistent with science, common practice and perhaps human decency” and said that continuing to call them male would be received by him as “unfortunate.” It’s beginning to look as though it’s not just the sports competitions that are rigged.

Having given him kid-glove treatment through the presidential campaign, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have become obsessive critics of President Trump in office. Trump has fired back in Trumpian fashion, most recently in tweets that bragged about Trump’s use of the couple’s MSNBC show, disparaged its current ratings, and called Scarborough “nuts.” For good measure Trump urged that the network’s parent company, “Concast,” open up a “cold case”: the death of an intern in Scarborough’s congressional office in 2001, which was ruled an accidental effect of her undiagnosed heart condition. Trump has a penchant for conspiracy theory: Remember when he speculated that Antonin Scalia had been murdered? And that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Plausibility does not matter. Malice is the goal. Bad enough usually, worse when a dead girl’s family is collateral damage.

For almost 60 years, the word “fiasco” has been associated with the Bay of Pigs. In Venezuela, there has been another fiasco, although this one smaller, and not organized by the U.S. government. Evidently, it was organized by Jordan Goudreau, a former Green Beret who is now for hire. His plan was called Operation Gideon, and its mission was to overthrow the Venezuelan dictatorship, led by Hugo Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro. There was an extensive report about Goudreau and his activities from the Associated Press on May 1. Operation Gideon was launched on May 3. Sixty men took off in two boats from Colombia. The men vomited all the way, and the boats nearly ran out of gas, according to Goudreau himself. The operation was quickly foiled. Eight men were killed. Among the captured were two Americans, former Green Berets, recruited by Goudreau. Venezuelan television showed them handcuffed, face down on the pavement. A fiasco, all the way around. “They were playing Rambo,” said Maduro, an insult that landed. The Venezuelan people will have to be liberated by some other means.

Officials in Prague have removed a statue of Ivan Konev, the Soviet marshal who led Red Army troops into the city at the end of World War II. The statue was erected in 1980. Since freedom, it has often been vandalized: spattered with blood and so on. Konev led the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956; led Soviet forces in East Germany when the Berlin Wall went up; and prepared the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. In place of the Konev statue, officials will erect a monument to Prague resistance fighters. The Konev statue will be placed in a future museum of the 20th century. Moscow reacted furiously to the removal of the statue, saying that Prague was “defiling symbols of Russia’s military glory.” The Czech president, Milos Zeman, was critical too, if not furious. He is a Putin ally. Zeman called the removal of the Konev statue “ridiculous and miserable.” But the city of Prague acted independently, and admirably, too.

In 2010, the Russian Duma acknowledged that the Soviet Union was guilty of the Katyn massacre. In April and May of 1940, the Soviets killed about 22,000 Polish military officers, intellectuals, and others. Since 2010, however, the Russian government has done a good deal of backtracking. Soviet conduct is being defended or denied, in numerous ways. On May 1 of this year, the Russian mission to the European Union sent out a tweet, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The tweet showed a picture of pretty Polish girls and women greeting Soviet soldiers with flowers in July 1944. The tweet also had this quaint observation: “Defending their motherland, 26 thousand Polish troops were killed or went missing.” In the Russian city of Tver, about 100 miles northwest of Moscow, there were two plaques on the façade of a medical-school building: a building that once housed the secret police, where Russians and Poles alike were tortured and executed. The plaques commemorated both the Great Terror and the Katyn massacre. They were placed there by the city government in the early 1990s. On May 7 of this year, the government removed them, on the grounds that the plaques were “not based on documented facts.” If the fight against tyranny is “the struggle of memory against forgetting,” as Kundera wrote, the Russian government has chosen its side.

When we last published, Kim Jong-un, the dictator of North Korea, was out of sight. Was he dying, dead, recuperating? Something else? Whatever it was, Kim has now been seen in public. He was shown cutting a ribbon at a ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer factory. Over a picture of this act, President Trump tweeted, “I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!” We, for one magazine, will be glad when Kim Jong-un and his multigenerational dictatorship are gone for good.

On May 8, 1945, a 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth stood in uniform on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with her parents, her sister, and Winston Churchill, smiling and waving at the jubilant crowd below. Germany had surrendered unconditionally; the war in Europe was over. It was, King George VI said in a radio broadcast that evening, a “great deliverance,” which called for “an act of thanksgiving.” Seventy-five years later to the hour, Queen Elizabeth addressed the nation in a televised speech from her desk in Windsor Castle. She recalled her father’s words, her own vivid joy that day, and her enduring gratitude for the wartime generation, whose sacrifices meant that their descendants could “live as free people in a world of free nations.” Long may it be so.

Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times did a hatchet job on the American Founding in the 1619 Project. The American Revolution? Mostly about slavery, never mind that the Revolution started in Massachusetts, or that slavery was banned in half the new nation decades before the British Parliament did anything about it. Lincoln? Mostly just a racist. Civil-rights laws? Passed without the help of white people, never mind that nearly everyone in Congress who voted for them was white. Preeminent historians objected to the fact-challenged history. A historian who was consulted said her warnings were ignored. After seven months of Hannah-Jones’s crudely trashing her critics (“LOL. Right, because white historians have produced truly objective history”), she admitted she had erred, and a correction and lengthy editor’s note were appended to the worst line in her essay. The Pulitzer Prize Committee thought that this unedifying spectacle deserved an award for commentary. A commentary it is, but not in a way that reflects well on the writer, the newspaper, or the award.

The editors of the Associated Press Stylebook announced on Twitter that “we now say not to use the archaic and sexist term ‘mistress.’” The recommended alternatives are “companion,” “friend,” and “lover.” In 2016, the AP Stylebook had been revised to merely advise against using the term and stipulate that it applied strictly to a woman who was in a long-term sexual relationship with a married man from whom she received financial support. Regrettably, these types of arrangements are not so archaic that they have ceased to exist. “Bezos Probe Concludes Mistress’ Brother Was Enquirer Source,” the AP reported as late as 2019. But “mistress” must now be banished because it offends on two fronts: It isn’t “gender neutral,” and it supposedly places the blame for an illicit relationship on the woman rather than the man. Wives who see their husbands’ mistresses described in news stories as “friends” or “companions” might justly wonder whether these euphemisms are an improvement.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for “equal pay” even though its lowest-paid member made more money than the highest-paid player on the men’s team. Both teams collectively bargained for different compensation packages: The men took more risk and got the upside if they played well, while the women accepted a lower upside in exchange for more job security and benefits. Because the women played well and the men did not, it turned out that each would have made more money under the other’s contract. Now, thanks to their guaranteed contracts, the women are still getting paid with no games being played, and the men are not. A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the women could not have a do-over after seeing how the games went. It is refreshing to see the law recognize that women are adults who can and do make different choices from those of men, and respect those choices.

In the continuing story of Life Imitates Exodus, Pacific Northwest residents were given yet another reason to stay indoors with the arrival of Asian giant hornets, a.k.a. “murder hornets,” nasty flying creatures two inches long with a sting that has been described as “like having a nail driven into your flesh.” Sometimes, just to be ornery, they will invade a bee colony, decapitate all the adults, and then eat the larvae. According to a news story, health officials discussing the murder hornets have “advised people to seek medical help if they were stung more than ten times and to treat more than 30 stings as a medical emergency.” Best, we’d further advise, not to count too carefully.

The original “Gerber baby” was Ann Turner Cook, now 93. A charcoal sketch of her cherubic face became the company’s official trademark. Since 2010, Gerber has held a photo contest to select a new baby brand ambassador each year. In 2018, the first Gerber baby with Down syndrome was chosen. This year, the contest winner was an adopted baby, another first. Magnolia Earl, age 1, charmed the judges “with her joyful expression, playful smile and warm, engaging gaze.” Her mother, Courtney, confirmed in a statement that Magnolia brings “joy to everyone she meets” and recalled speaking on the phone a year earlier with Magnolia’s birth mother, who was in labor. “The real heroes in this story are Magnolia’s birth parents,” she told the Today Show. “They chose her life and they sent her on this incredible journey.” It’s a story, and a photo, worth sharing — kudos to Gerber for recognizing it as much.

Marilee Shapiro Asher, 107, met COVID-19 at the wrong age. She showed symptoms in March. In April, she went to the hospital, where she tested positive for the coronavirus, which is notorious for concentrating its virulence on the elderly. Her doctors, saying she had twelve hours to live, called her daughter. Five days later, Asher was back home, recovering at her senior living community in Washington, D.C. Against world-famous pathogens, Asher is now 2–0. She was six when she met the Spanish flu. Her successful bout with the virus when she was a girl turns out to have prefigured her successful bout with today’s virus. The solo exhibit that Asher, an artist, had scheduled for a gallery in Washington in May has fallen victim to the pandemic, but she has not. In her memoir, she thanks God for giving her “30 more years than are usually allotted according to your Bible.” L’Chaim.

Richard Wayne Penniman, better known to the world as Little Richard, did more than anyone else to give rock ’n’ roll its riotous, unrestrained sound and anything-goes stage presence. Born in Macon, Ga., in 1932, and starting his performing career as a black 14-year-old in the Jim Crow South, Little Richard always threw himself against limits of any kind. He redefined loud. His sound, and that of his many imitators, was defined by the howling abandon with which he sang, and by the cacophony of piano, horns, guitars, and drums that accompanied him. Acts such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were openly in his debt. He understood before anyone else that rock music is a world where nothing is too ridiculous to pull off, so long as you throw everything you have into it — not even “Wop bop a loo bop, a wop bam boom.” His performances were equal parts sweaty revivalism and pompadoured, technicolor camp. He did nothing halfway: He was intensely Christian, intensely and ambiguously sexual, intensely proud, and for a time in his life intensely self-destructive with substance abuse. He evangelized rock music, the Christian gospel, and his own reputation with equal fervor. We can still hear him. R.I.P.

As the son of Hungarian immigrants in a fishing village on Lake Erie, Don Shula grew up at that fruitful intersection where middle-class values meet blue-collar circumstances. “Everything was planned, orderly, clean,” he said of his childhood. “Religion was involved — the way my mom and dad brought me up.” A last-minute football scholarship to John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland led to a college career that impressed the Browns enough to draft him, a halfback, in 1951. After hanging up his spikes in 1957, he turned to college coaching. By 1963, he was back in the NFL, as head coach of the mighty Baltimore Colts. He left in 1970 for the Miami Dolphins and coached them for the next quarter century, leading them to an undefeated season in 1972, to a repeat Super Bowl championship in 1973, and to a composite .659 regular-season winning percentage through 1995, when he retired. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted him two years later. No NFL coach has won more total games, 347, or regular-season games, 328. A model of discipline and determination off the field as well, he could be “competitive eating breakfast,” said an associate. Dead at 90. R.I.P.

 

CORONAVIRUS
The Other Side of the Curve

The coronavirus crisis is easing. New York is clearly on the other side of the curve, with deaths down to levels of the beginning of the outbreak, and confirmed cases have been declining nationwide despite increased testing.

The disease is coming into better focus. It has been overwhelmingly, although not exclusively, a phenomenon of New York City and its surrounding suburbs, which, in turn, spread it to the rest of the country. Keeping the virus from gaining a foothold in New York, a densely packed major international hub, with a subway system with millions of riders a day, was going to be a nearly impossible task.

President Trump would have had to act much earlier to cut off travel from Europe, which seeded New York, and Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio would have had to sound alarm bells and start shutting down the city weeks before they did. Instead, de Blasio gave false reassurances about the safety of the subway. It was only months into the crisis that Cuomo decided to start shutting down the subway system overnight to clean the cars. Meanwhile, New York had a policy — finally reversed — of requiring nursing homes to take COVID-positive patients from hospitals, which must have accelerated the devastating outbreaks among those most vulnerable to the disease.

Indeed, our inability to protect nursing homes even as we shuttered public life in much of the country has to be counted as a signal failure of our initial response. Nursing homes have accounted for more than 50 percent of deaths in some states. Avoiding this would have required much more testing and much more of a public focus (we overreacted when it came to hospitals, banning elective surgeries even in places not likely to experience major outbreaks, and underreacted when it came to nursing homes).

Given that we have achieved the initial goals of the lockdowns — namely keeping the hospitals from getting overrun and stopping the virus from running out of control — we are entering a phase when it is entirely appropriate to begin to reopen. It is absurd for progressive politicians and the media to treat anyone pushing in this direction as a member of a death cult, heedless of the lives of his fellow Americans. The lockdowns were never supposed to last until we had a vaccine and the virus had been entirely snuffed out — a goal that isn’t humanly possible, at least not if we don’t want a wasteland economy.

Hospitals have much more running room to deal with outbreaks than they did at the start of the crisis, and not every place in the country is New York City — in fact, no place is. None of the dire warnings about what would befall Florida because Governor Ron DeSantis was supposedly late in handing down a statewide stay-at-home order have proven out, in part because counties had already shuttered on their own, in part because Florida cities aren’t densely packed or heavily dependent on subways for their transit.

We aren’t going to have the resources or wherewithal to implement some of the more ambitious goals for testing and tracing that experts and think tanks have proposed in their reopening plans. We aren’t going to have 22 million tests available a day, nor does it seem likely that Americans will submit to the elaborate app-based tracking we’ve seen in places such as South Korea, nor are we going to quickly hire and effectively deploy small armies of contact-tracers. But testing, after hitting a plateau, has been increasing, with a steady stream of technological breakthroughs augmenting the supply. That, combined with the reduced trajectory of the disease, puts us in a better place. States should aim to have as robust a program of testing, tracing, and isolating as possible, toward the goal of identifying and limiting outbreaks before they run out of control.

The wearing of masks is another important measure to limit spread. The culture of mask-wearing in Asian countries certainly contributed to their success in containing the virus, and wearing masks is not nearly as disruptive or costly as a lockdown. President Trump should get over his allergy to being seen in one, which would be an implicit rebuke to some of the anti-mask bravado on the right.

There’s no doubt that beginning to resume normal activities will increase the likelihood of spread, but continued restrictions have their own crushing downside. The starkest indicator is the unemployment rate of 14.7 percent, which is almost certainly headed above 20 percent, a level not seen since the Great Depression. The formal lockdowns didn’t necessarily cause this damage, or at least all of it, since people were already deciding on their own to hunker down and change their habits. Yet the economic and human cost of people sheltering in place has been immense.

There will be yet another relief bill. Whatever its flaws, the Paycheck Protection Program will need another round of funding. States whose revenues have cratered through no fault of their own will have to be bailed out, although the measure should be carefully crafted to avoid subsidizing pre-coronavirus profligacy. Business should get liability protection for outbreaks that they aren’t responsible for.

None of this, though, is a substitute for a fully functional economy. We have, at great cost, bent the proverbial curve of the virus. States shouldn’t be reckless, not least because people aren’t going to return to anything like their old habits until they feel safe. But we are in the next phase of this crisis, and intelligently navigating it should be the goal.

Something to Consider

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A reader responds to Theodore Kupfer and Ramesh Ponnuru’s article, “Coronavirus Lockdowns: Going the Distance.”

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