Friday, April 3, 2020

Infinity Plus One

I spent an awful lot of time in first grade standing in line. The teacher would line us up to go out to recess, and then, tragically, insist on the lot of us being silent before she would dismiss us to the bedlam of the school yard. But a moment of order imposed on young humans is far too much to ask. Our young are endlessly fascinated by every syllable that comes out of their own mouths, and it was simply impossible to expect them to realize that 30 seconds of silence meant 30 minutes of play time. Instead, we stood in line for 20 of those thirty minutes nearly every day until some of them got the message.

I didn't realize then how the rest of life was really just an extension of first grade. The bad kids got all the attention. Everybody got punished for the behavior of a few. The dumb kids won every argument by saying "I know you are but what am I?" over and over in an effort to irritate the ones who could think. Now they call that "owning the Libs." Back then it was just being a jerk. Eventually their opponent would just get tired and give up. So much winning.

This week we started to find out that not being able to discipline ourselves in the short term could actually get people killed. Most of us have been under some kind of shelter-in-place order for at least the last two weeks. Some of these orders, which are largely voluntary, full of exceptions, and kind of vague, have been periodically supplemented with more stringent orders which turn out also to be largely voluntary and vague ("hey kids, I'm really serious this time!").  Some of us are taking these directives seriously. Sometimes I actually feel like I'm quarantining so hard it might even make up for three other people. Can you hear the sound of me quarantining?

Didn't think so. But you did notice the kids who crowded the beaches for spring break. Already dozens of them turn out to be infected with Covid-19 and are spreading it all over the U.S. I can see you are thoroughly shocked. The virus is also spreading wildly through nursing homes. I cancelled a gig I would have had in one a month ago so don't look at me. Then there are the politicians who insist that our freedom and our economy must be protected from having to give up massive profits for a few weeks so large numbers of people don't die. Is there a real price for quarantining? Sure is. Does our economy matter? You better believe it. But not so much when everyone is dead. It's a balancing act. Last come the preachers who insist it is religious persecution not to let them hold services to spread contagion to everybody in their church. Just like Nero told the early Christians to gather on line for a few weeks until they'd flattened the curve. Lots of martyrs came out of that period in ancient Roman history.

There's been a pretty serious failure of leadership at the top as well, which is truly unfortunate because regular people are not going to suddenly, of their own volition, behave themselves any better in times of crisis. Now lots of them are sorry, which is always good to be when it is too late and the history books are looking for a slight variation on the same old story of people not seeing any good reason to put enough life boats on the Titanic until it actually sinks. We are coming up on a time when you no longer have to believe what the scientists and medical experts were telling us for months and can just look out your window and see it for yourself.

Over a thousand people died yesterday from Covid-19 in the United States. That's not really as bad as it sounds, although it is twice as high as the number who have ever died from the flu on a single day. The real problem is that it's just the beginning.

pianonoise Radio: Music in a time of plague

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