Press Watch mission statement: Political journalism needs a reset
by Dan Froomkin.
Let’s start with the overarching problem: Misinformation, disinformation and gaslighting have become rampant in our political discourse, turning citizens against each other, choking the legislative process, eroding confidence in elections, and, in the age of Covid, literally getting people killed. A striking number of voters are laboring under a series of delusions that make them incapable of rational decision-making. The country is still reeling from a violent attempted coup in the name of a Big Lie – a lie that has essentially become doctrine for one of our two major political parties.
Despite all this, our elite political media recognizes no need for a course change.
Journalists should treat a lie like a virus, for which they are the vaccine, not the spreader. The goal is to quickly fill the news space with the truth so that conspiracy theories have less place to grow.
There should be some, or else what’s the point of fact-based journalism? That means denying serial liars the opportunity to use the media – particularly live media — to spread their lies. That means whenever it’s crucial to quote a liar, warning readers and viewers of their track record. That means interrupting liars when they are repeating a lie. That means demanding retractions, publicly, prominently, and repeatedly. That means openly distinguishing between people who — totally independent of their political views — can be counted on to be acting in good faith and those who can be counted on to be acting in bad faith. Established liars should not be quoted as credible sources. (And they should certainly never be granted anonymity.)
Our very democracy is in danger. You can’t really cover politics and ignore that. It underlies everything.
Idaho legislator urges people to get vaccinated after his mother dies from COVID-19
BY SALLY KRUTZIG
“I think there are people in our political realm who are essentially killing people with misinformation […] at what point was somebody convinced of a lie? Was it the fifth time it was repeated? Was it the 50th time? Was it the 500th time?”
I wrote a long essay about a pervasive feeling I have about the future. I do not think we are ready for the complex, existential challenges ahead. -Charlie Warzel
We are not ready.
On the climate crisis and other hyperobjects.
These days, I find increasingly myself caught between the worry that I’m being overly alarmist and the fear that I am stating the obvious.
I felt this most strongly in October 2020. Covid cases were surging; the presidential election was near; the far-right areas of the internet I kept an eye on were vibrating with a dark potential energy. All summer, I watched anxiously as people posted videos online of furious Americans taking to the streets. I listened in on walkie-talkie apps as so-called militia groups attempted to recruit and deploy members. News reports said sales of guns and ammo were surging.
I was seized by a deep, persistent dread that these anecdotal instances of civil conflict were a prelude to something bigger. I interviewed scholars who’ve studied revolutions and shared my fears.
Sept. 30th, 2020:
“Reading this exchange…it’s honestly very surprising to me the extent to which we haven’t seen more Kenosha like events already…”
I struggled — and ultimately failed — to put any of this into words at the time. I didn’t know how to convey these anecdotal stories into something that went beyond projecting my anxieties onto the world via the pages of the New York Times. I felt I lacked the language to proportionally describe my concern. I was legitimately worried about large-scale, sustained violent civil conflict across the United States but, if I’m being honest, I was afraid I’d come off as the extremely online, overly alarmist guy.
And yet, if you did occupy the same spaces as I did in October 2020, the specter of civil conflict would have felt just so incredibly obvious as to almost not be worth mentioning. The world was shut down, everyone was trapped inside and online, and more and more people were beginning to detach from reality. Everyone was miserable and scared and angry. Just look around!
This moment offers a window into the way that traditional conceptions and practices of journalism can break down in extraordinary times. I consider not writing this piece back in October a failure. I wrote plenty of columns around and tangential to this subject, yes. But my job is to look at the world through the lens of information and technology and to describe how those elements shape our culture and our politics. I saw something and I didn’t say all of what I thought, in part, because I couldn’t figure out how to talk about it proportionally. I was also pretty fucking scared: of being wrong, but also of being right.
Was I wrong or right? …Yes? There has not been a series of extended, mass casualty conflicts so far — no Civil War 2. But I also urge you watch this video reconstructing January 6th in full and tell me that my sleepless nights in October were a gross overreaction.
Even now, I struggle to find the adequate word to describe the moment. It makes sense: our 21st century existence is characterized by the repeated confrontation with sprawling, complex, even existential problems without straightforward or easily achievable solutions.
Theorist Timothy Morton calls the larger issues undergirding these problems “hyperobjects,” a concept so all-encompassing that it resists specific description. You could make a case that the current state of political polarization and our reality crisis falls into this category. Same for democratic backsliding and the concurrent rise of authoritarian regimes. We understand the contours of the problem, can even articulate and tweet frantically about them, yet we constantly underestimate the likelihood of their consequences. It feels unthinkable that, say, the American political system as we’ve known it will actually crumble.
Climate change is a perfect example of a hyperobject. The change in degrees of warming feels so small and yet the scale of the destruction is so massive that it’s difficult to comprehend in full. Cause and effect is simple and clear at the macro level: the planet is warming, and weather gets more unpredictable. But on the micro level of weather patterns and events and social/political upheaval, individual cause and effect can feel a bit slippery. If you are a news reporter (as opposed to a meteorologist or scientist) the peer reviewed climate science might feel impenetrable. It’s easiest to adopt a cover-your-ass position of: It’s probably climate change but I don’t know if this particular weather event is climate change.
Hyperobjects scramble all our brains, especially journalists. Journalists don’t want to be wrong. They want to react proportionally to current events and to realistically frame future ones. Too often, these desires mean that they do not explicitly say what their reporting suggest. They just insinuate it. But insinuation is not always legible.
I understand these fears and I feel them myself, professionally and personally. I think anyone who says they don’t feel them is probably lying. In fact, these fears, in the right proportion, make for what we traditionally consider a “good journalist.”
After all, many of the best journalists understand how to balance and factor uncertainty into their work. I don’t want journalists to jump to lazy conclusions. I think a deeper embrace of nuance and uncertainty is necessary not just in reporting, but in all elements of mass media.
That embrace sounds good in theory but it’s much harder in practice. How do you talk about an impending, probable-but-not-certain emergency the *right way*? Can you even do that? Can you get people ready for an uncertain, perhaps unspeakably grim future? Is anyone ready?
These questions have re-entered my brain again as I’ve scrolled the news the last few weeks. In late May and early June, there were a rash of reports about Republican efforts to restrict voting rights and halt Democrats’ expansion efforts. There was lots of warranted handwringing about the ways that Republican state legislatures are poised to consolidate power at the local level that could threaten the legitimacy of future presidential elections. Congress was unable to agree to even investigate January 6th, prompting the New Yorker to run the headline, “American Democracy Isn’t Dead Yet, but It’s Getting There.”
The overwhelming message of these pieces was that the America was running out of time on its claim of having even a remotely functioning political system. Even more worrying was the tone, which seemed to suggest it might not feel bad right now, but it’s far worse than you think. “My current level of concern is exploring countries to move to after 2024,” one political scientist told Vox in late May. Cool, cool. My personal doom indicator was a Reuters/Ipsos poll from May, as in two months ago, which found that 53% of Republicans believe Trump is the “true president.”
There are so many dire elements in the forecast for our political future. It seems like a truly formidable challenge for a country to overcome.
Which is why one piece of reporting from this past month felt like a true gut punch. In the Times, Ben Smith wrote a media column about Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who remains a prolific source for political reporters in Washington, D.C. “Mr. Carlson’s comfortable place inside Washington media, many of the reporters who cover him say, has taken the edge off some of the coverage. It has also served as a kind of insurance policy, they say, protecting him from the marginalization that ended the Fox career of his predecessor, Glenn Beck,” Smith wrote. “‘If you open yourself up as a resource to mainstream media reporters, you don’t even have to ask them to go soft on you,’” a journalist told Smith in the piece.
I’ve reported on the far-right. I understand that the reporting process frequently brings you into contact with loathsome individuals and that, at times, these people can be quite helpful, because cynical political grifters love to turn on each other and gossip and vent just like everyone else. I’ve broken some stories, stories I’m proud of, off tips from true cretins — so take my pearl clutching with whatever grains of salt you wish.
Still, Smith’s column haunted me. You can argue Carlson is who he has always been, or that his Trump era project of (barely) laundering white nationalist talking points into mainstream political discourse is disingenuous, pandering to viewers for whom he has utter contempt. I don’t care. What I do care about is a political press that has a seemingly neutral or symbiotic relationship with a guy who beams this rhetoric into three million homes a night:
[Tucker Carlson soundbite; will not post. -dayle]
It’s worth noting that some of those same articles I read back in the fall, warning of democratic backsliding, single out Carlson as one of the animators of a dark grievance culture that threatens our social/political fabric. “The strongest factors are racial animosity, fear of becoming a white minority and the growth of white identity,” Virginia Gray, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina told the Times’ Tom Edsall, singling out a Carlson monologue from April.
It’s hard for me to square the Carlson source coziness with the host’s increasingly dangerous replacement theory and anti-vaxx rhetoric. The disconnect between the threat Carlson poses and the political media’s shrugging proximity to him fills me with a deep dread for my industry — and a very real concern that it will not be able to rise to the challenge of our moment (a shaky democratic foundation, increasingly fewer points of shared reality, a climate emergency, to name a few).
I’m not trying to dog reporters working in a shitty, gutted media ecosystem that mostly runs off algorithmic attention and online advertising that most people hate. There is no shortage of vital, journalism going on. But, structurally, there are still glaring problems with some traditional outdated journalistic norms and practices: management that still struggles to understand complex internet dynamics, a commitment to journalistic impartiality that does not work in an era where one political party has largely abandoned democracy and, in some cases, reality.
Over the last half decade, I watched political journalists and editors tie themselves in knots arguing over whether to call Trump a racist or whether the Republican party was really becoming anti-democratic or whether Trump’s election denial was a “coup.” In each instance there’s a side arguing that the other needs to calm down, that things are not as bad as they appear. I used to think these people had a lack of imagination.
Now, I see it as a strong normalcy bias. Writer Jonathan Katz calls this an ‘unthinkability’ that “pervades conversations about so many things in our moment.” Basically: we humans are good at repressing terrifying realities that feel unthinkable and steering them back into more acceptable bounds of conversation.
Climate coverage offers the clearest picture of this ‘unthinkability’ dynamic. In a clip from June 7th, CBS meteorologist Jeff Berardelli describes a heat wave stifling the east coast and the exceptional levels of draught in the West. His tone is urgent and the maps he’s gesturing to on the screen are alarming. He doesn’t mince words. “This is a climate emergency,” he tells one of the morning show anchors. It’s the kind of grim statement that you might imagine would evoke a bit of stunned silence.
Instead, the anchor smiles broadly and shakes his head in faux disbelief. “It’s very hot! I feel parched just talking about it!” he says in perfect, playful news cadence. Berardelli and the others on set offer up a classic morning show chuckle. Isn’t that something else! Banter! Onto the next segment.
[CBS warning of extreme heat soundbite.]
This is a particularly egregious example of a conventional form of media (in this case, the lighthearted morning show segment) that is woefully inadequate for the subject matter (the existential heating of the planet that will render large swaths of it hostile to human life in the near future).
In her excellent newsletter Heated, Emily Atkin has written about the systemic failureof the media to inform readers/viewers as to why it is so goddamn hot this summer. She cites the work of Colorado journalist Chase Woodruff, who surveyed recent reporting on the state’s recent heat wave and found that out of “149 local news stories written about the unprecedented hot temperatures…only 6 of those stories mentioned climate change.” The others, Atkin notes, “covered it as if it were an act of God.”
This behavior isn’t new. Back in 2018, Atkin wrote a story on the media’s failure to connect the dots on climate change. NPR’s science editor told her that “You don’t just want to be throwing around, ‘This is due to climate change, that is due to climate change.’” The editor required reporters to speak to a climate scientist before being allowed to attribute extreme temperatures to climate change. It’s an instance, Atkin argues, of “over-abundance of journalistic caution” — primarily attributable to fear. Fear of backlash from denialists, politicians, or other journalists — maybe even fear of being right.
In my mind, there’s an incredibly important distinction between embracing complexity and uncertainty in the world and what those Colorado publications, following the lead of so many others, did by not mentioning climate change — because, well, weather is complex and we don’t want to get yelled at so who’s to say?!! The problem isn’t legitimate nuance. It’s when decision makers in the media space use the existence of uncertainty as an excuse not to say what needs to be said.
Sometimes, though, mistakes aren’t nefarious. A missed or botched narrative is caused by a little bit of everything. A lot of the retroactive criticism around coronavirus coverage pre-March 2020 was that big media outlets downplayed pandemic fears because they relied heavily on credible expert sources who themselves were inclined not to be alarmists. Some in the media were doing their job just as intended and unwittingly providing false comfort. Others were providing false comfort because they didn’t want to be outliers. And another group mostly ignored the threat because platform or other media incentives directed their focus away from an unknown respiratory illness in China.
These scenarios are the product of living with and reporting on hyperobjects. The big picture — we’re losing our grip on what’s real; our political system is fraying and unsustainable; the planet is burning — is pretty clear and obvious. But many of the particulars (Is that specific hurricane climate change? Is this bill/piece of misinformation/person a threat to the democracy?) become skirmishes in the culture war.
I don’t particularly know what to do about any of this. One problem when facing down a hyperobject-sized crisis is that it overwhelms. In a recent piece, Sarah Miller articulated what it feels like to stare down existential dread on the subject of climate change. She argues that, after a certain point, traditional methods, like writing, feel futile:
“Let’s give the article…the absolute biggest benefit of the doubt and imagine that people read it and said, “Wow this is exactly how I feel, thanks for putting it into words.” What then? What would happen then? Would people be “more aware” about climate change? It’s 109 degrees in Portland right now. It’s been over 130 degrees in Baghdad several times. What kind of awareness quotient are we looking for? What more about climate change does anyone need to know? What else is there to say?
Miller’s questions ask us to consider and reconsider what our roles are right now. Yes, we have our jobs and the way we’ve been trained or conditioned or rewarded to do them and that’s all very fine and good. But what about now? Does that training hold up in remarkable, existential-feeling moments like the one we are in? Are these jobs, the way we’ve been taught to do them, important now? How do we prepare people for the uncertain, grim contours of the future? Can we do that?
I think these are the questions journalists have to be asking ourselves at every moment right now. But not just journalists. Hyperobject-sized problems impact everyone. That’s why they’re hyperobjects. And I don’t think any of us are ready. The pandemic showed us how difficult it is, at a societal level, to grasp complex ideas like, say exponential growth. And there are examples everywhere of our human inability to think longterm or pay big costs upfront to avoid catastrophe later (See: this haunting interview about the Miami condo collapse).
But not being ready isn’t quite the same as being doomed to a foregone conclusion. There’s the way we’ve done things and the way we need to do things now. How do we make up the difference between those two notions? We must be probabalistic in our predictions and understanding when they fall short. We need all need to learn to work and think on different levels, holding steadfastly to what is not up for debate, and not dividing ourselves needlessly over what is.
As good as that might sound, I feel foolish writing it. I’m not all that certain any human being can hold such conflicting notions in their head all the time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.
Living with hyperobjects is hard. I don’t think we’re ready for any of what is to come. I feel alarmist saying this. But it also feels incredibly obvious.
“In 1982, the economist Mancur Olson set out to explain a paradox. West Germany and Japan endured widespread devastation during World War II, yet in the years after the war both countries experienced miraculous economic growth. Britain, on the other hand, emerged victorious from the war, with its institutions more intact, and yet it immediately entered a period of slow economic growth that left it lagging other European democracies. What happened?
In his book “The Rise and Decline of Nations,” Olson concluded that Germany and Japan enjoyed explosive growth precisely because their old arrangements had been disrupted. The devastation itself, and the forces of American occupation and reconstruction, dislodged the interest groups that had held back innovation. The old patterns that stifled experimentation were swept away. The disruption opened space for something new.
Something similar may be happening today. Covid-19 has disrupted daily American life in a way few emergencies have before. But it has also shaken things up and cleared the way for an economic boom and social revival.
Millions of Americans endured grievous loss and anxiety during this pandemic, but many also used this time as a preparation period, so they could burst out of the gate when things opened up. After decades of slowing entrepreneurial dynamism, 4.4 million new businesses were started in 2020, by far a modern record. A report from Udemy, an online course provider, says that 38 percent of workers took some additional training during 2020, up from only 14 percent in 2019.
After decades in which consumption took preference over savings, Americans socked away trillions of dollars in 2020, reducing their debt burdens to lows not seen since 1980 and putting themselves in a position to spend lavishly as things open up.
The biggest shifts, though, may be mental. People have been reminded that life is short. For over a year, many experienced daily routines that were slower paced, more rooted, more domestic. Millions of Americans seem ready to change their lives to be more in touch with their values.
The economy has already taken off. Global economic growth is expected to be north of 6 percent this year, and strong growth is expected to last at least through 2022. In late April, Tom Gimbel, who runs the recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network, told The Times: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.” Investors are pouring money into new ventures. During the first quarter of this year U.S. start-ups raised $69 billion, 41 percent more than the previous record, set in 2018.
Already, this era of new creation seems to be rebalancing society in at least three ways:
First, power has begun shifting from employers to workers. In March, U.S. manufacturing, for example, expanded at the fastest pace in nearly four decades. Companies are desperate for new workers. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the number of unemployed people per opening plummeted to 1.2 from 5.
Workers are in the driver’s seat, for now, and they know it. The “quit rate” — the number of workers who quit their jobs because they are confident they can get a better one — is at the highest in two decades. Employers are raising wages and benefits to try to lure workers back.
Second, there seems to be a rebalancing between cities and suburbs. Covid-19 accelerated trends that had been underway for a few years, with people moving out of big cities like New York and San Francisco to suburbs, and to rural places like Idaho and the Hudson Valley in New York. Many are moving to get work or because of economic distress, but others say they moved so they could have more space, lead slower-paced lives, be closer to family or interact more with their neighbors.
Finally, there seems to be a rebalancing between work and domestic life. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom expects that even when the pandemic is over, the number of working days spent at home will increase to 20 percent from 5 percent in the prepandemic era.
While this has increased pressures on many women, millions of Americans who could work remotely found that they liked being home, dining every night with their kids, not hassling with the commute. We are apparently becoming a less work-obsessed and a more domestic society.
In 1910 the educator Henry Van Dyke wrote, “The Spirit of America is best known in Europe by one of its qualities — energy.” That energy seemed to be fading away in recent years, as Americans came to move less and start new businesses less frequently. But the challenge of Covid-19 has summoned forth great dynamism, movement and innovation. Labor productivity rates have surged upward recently.
Americans are searching for ways to make more money while living more connected lives. Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban studies at Chapman University, points out that as the U.S. population disperses, economic and cultural gaps between coastal cities and inland communities will most likely shrink. And, he says, as more and more immigrants settle in rural areas and small towns, their presence might reduce nativism and increase economic competitiveness.
People are shifting their personal lives to address common problems — loneliness and loss of community. Nobody knows where this national journey of discovery will take us, but the voyage has begun.”
The American Renaissance Has Begun
As our nation marks 600,000 lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington National Cathedral will toll its mourning bell 600 times — once for every 1,000 dead — on Thursday (June 10) starting at 5 pm ET. We toll this 12-ton bell for every funeral held at the Cathedral. Funerals mourn the loss, but they also celebrate the lives of our loved ones, and point us to the hope of resurrection. This gesture cannot replace the lives lost, but we hope it will help each American mourn the toll of this pandemic.
“Are you surprised by your own behavior and desires right now? Fighting with your partner or spouse? Pushing back against a board that wants to go back to the old organizational strategy? Crying on airplanes? Drinking again? Giving up drinking finally? Liking music you’ve never liked? Not liking the kinds of books you’ve always loved? Feeling weird in your body? Ruminating on social interactions more than ever before?
It’s not you. It’s us. It’s this moment.
We’re becoming something that we’ve never been before. Some of us are tentatively excited about this. Sort of tiptoeing into a new dance. Some of us, especially those for whom the old reality was working pretty well, are in lizard brain: GO BACK GO BACK FORGET THIS BREAKING-OPEN-AND-QUESTIONING-EVERYTHING SHIT LET’S GO BACKKKKKKKK!
But there is no “back.”
2020 changed us in fundamental ways. No matter who you are or were. This is always true—time marches forward and tweaks and transforms us along the way—but never has it been more true, in my lifetime at least, than this moment. We were someone, some neighborhood, some nation before covid hit and schools closed and bodies piled up and Breonna Taylor was murdered and we all gathered on zoom all the time and the capitol was invaded and monuments were pulled down and vaccines were invented and hoarded…
and we are now, today, someone else, some other neighborhood with different understanding of public space and belonging, some other nation that is straining to rise to its own moment rather than retreating to the shadows of a less consciousness, less thin time.
For me, I’m realizing, it feels on par with the profound transformation I experienced while becoming a mother—a before and an after, a me that was and a me that will never be again.
I used to watch my daughters sleep. Sometimes I still do. And the gratitude I feel for the miracle of their breath coming in and out, of their lungs working, of their hearts pumping blood—it’s unlike anything else. It’s desperate and deep and makes me cry just thinking about it. Just last night Stella crawled into our bed (Bad dream, mama. Bad dream.) and I lay awake at 2 in the morning and, though I knew I’d promised to be up 4 hours later for a hike, I just couldn’t stop noticing the rise and fall of her chest.
I think we are all watching ourselves breathe in the night right now. We are aware of how unpromised all of this actually is, but also exhausted from being so awake and so fucking grateful that—though so much is going wrong—we are still alive at all. Some of us are embracing the vigil, leaning towards the questions we first asked during this traumatic year: who do I actually want to be? how do I actually want to live and lead? what actually matters—not just to me, but to humanity?
And some of us wish the baby would go back to sleeping in the crib in the other room and we could compartmentalize that yes, it’s a pure and lucky miracle that our bodies work at all, that our democracy is sort of functioning again, and that we can’t think about that every moment. That we must go on with earning money and filling up our calendars and scheduling trips and feeling important and busy and mostly good. We want to return to the strategic plans we laid out in 2019 before social distancing was a household phrase or we knew just how fragile our institutions really were. This summer, we want to eat BBQ and be happy-go-lucky and vaccinate ourselves against the very vulnerability that brought us to our knees last summer.
Or maybe you want both of these things—both to return and to go forward, to regress and to progress, to deepen your relationship with the you that you first met during our pandemic year and to abandon her for a less intense, less humbled version of yourself. I get that, too. Somedays I want both, too.
But the rub of it is: there is no going back. As Octavia Butler wrote in Parable of the Sower: “All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God Is Change.”
The ground will keep shifting, even if you build a monument to your own safety atop it. The chest will keep rising and falling, until it doesn’t, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. The only thing to do is keep welcoming the beautiful unknown, however terrifying. Burn the old plans. Keep loving and questioning. As Parker Palmer wrote: “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
“It’s easy, if you are vaccinated, and in good health and spirits, to feel like the whole world is enjoying a moment of reopening, reconnection, restoration. They aren’t. Even folks within our own country—those suffering from long covid, those who haven’t had access to vaccines, or don’t trust them for various reasons, are still far more precarious.
Despite the fact that many of my vaccinated friends and I are tentatively stepping into one another’s homes and reveling in the simple joy of sitting at one another’s kitchen tables, despite the fact that I took my first hike without a mask on in over a year, despite the fact that my kids’ school says it will be fully open and in person in the fall–the pandemic is not over.
In the wider world, it is very much raging on.
I was reminded of this as I was standing around a playground on Sunday and got a WhatsApp message from a friend, someone with relatives in India. She wrote, in part:
My elderly aunt is battling covid. She was taking care of a dying husband and a disabled son. Now my uncle is dead and the government came and took his body away. My other cousin went to the crematorium alone. No last rites, expect my uncle who lives on the block, broke the rules and snuck outside to just watch the body being taken away. There is no point to this story beyond my grief and my rage and the unshakable pain that this is how it unfolds.
My grief and my rage and the unshakable pain that this is how it unfolds.
We have to remember that our joy is profoundly relative and propped up by a thousand unearned privileges. Relationships are a universal foundation—a richness that survives in every corner of the globe no matter the structural constraints. My friend’s uncle snuck outside, despite the danger. This is what we humans do.
But our ability to revel in and honor our friends and family are often influenced by economics and nationality and gender and race and so much else. In other words, we are profoundly connected by our need for relationships and profoundly severed by our differential capacity to nurture those relationships in this moment. To be healthy. To be healed. To be safe.
We are in a moment of transitions—all the way from the most intimate to the most global. Let us treasure our joy, our small, safe re-openings and reconnections, all the while holding the truth that so many are still in acute danger and pain.”
If you’re absolutely positively NOT gong to vaccinate, then mask up.
|The new mask rules from the C.D.C. amount to an honor system of sorts, where only unvaccinated people are expected to keep wearing masks in most places. But many Americans are wondering whether they can trust others to do the right thing.|
|In social psychology, there’s a well-established principle that a common enemy is supposed to bring people together. But shortly after the pandemic arrived, the U.S. saw a partisan divide over masks, screaming crowds outside state capitols and death threats against health officials.|
|It quickly became apparent that, even in a crisis, Americans were finding it difficult to come together. So it’s no wonder that the federal government’s new mask guidance has been greeted with reluctance — especially when fewer than half of Americans over 12 are fully vaccinated.|
|Celeste, a newsletter reader from Dayton, Ohio, wrote in with her own experience.|
|“The first day of The Great Unmasking at work went exactly as you’d expect: people who have previously bragged about not being vaccinated walking around without masks on,” she wrote. “Assuming people would act unselfishly to protect others goes against everything we’ve seen so far this pandemic.”|
|The C.D.C. is also asking Americans to trust one another at a time when faith in institutions and their neighbors is particularly fragile. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center report on Trust and Distrust in America, trust in the federal government was near record lows, and seven in 10 people said they thought that Americans’ trust in one another had declined over the past 20 years.|
“Betrayal is the wound that cuts the deepest.”
Boise State Public Radio
Most people in the Mountain West are still unvaccinated. Idaho has the second-lowest rate in the region with only 34% of its residents getting one or more doses.
COVID-19 vaccine supplies are now abundant – nationally about 60% of adults have had at least one shot.
“At least here in Casper, (Wyo.), you can go to the clinic and pick one of the three vaccines. It’s like a menu: I want Moderna, I want Pfizer, I want Johnson & Johnson. We have that much vaccine now,” said Mark Dowell, an infectious diseases physician and Natrona County health officer.
Even so, most people in the Mountain West are still unvaccinated. And Wyoming has the region’s lowest vaccination rate with about a third of residents with at least one shot. Idaho is a close second at about 34% of its residents with one or more doses.
To achieve herd immunity, epidemiologists have suggested we need about 70% of people to be immune, though that number is hard to pin down without more research.
Dowell said we also don’t know how many people actually were infected with COVID-19, how many of those built up antibodies, and how long those antibodies might last.
“We think that for every one infection, there may have been one or two more that had symptoms that went undetected,” he said.
Even if we could figure out how many were infected, he said we still have one big unanswered question: “Of the people that had the infection but didn’t know it, did they get good protection from their immune system to add to our herd immunity?”
We also don’t know how long the vaccines will stave off the virus, though many expect them to offer protection for at least a year.
Dowell says it could take several months to figure out how much of the virus we’ve stopped, saying, “The proof of the pudding will be next fall and winter when everybody’s inside again.”
At the same time, areas with low rates of immunity and high rates of spread could allow the virus to mutate into a more dangerous strain.
“That’s another reason to get vaccinated, to head off the mutations,” he said. “The worry is that you’ll find a variant eventually that will not really be covered by the vaccines.”
Dowell said he is continually talking to patients who believe in false conspiracy theories about the vaccine, ranging from it causing infertility to vaccines actually being tracking microchips from Bill Gates. At the same time, he still hopes he can convince more people to get it.
“When you’ve seen people die horrible deaths from COVID, it changes your perspective on things,” he said. “I had a close, healthy friend that died of COVID way before we had the vaccines. And it was a rough death. I sat at his bedside as he died, as we took him off the ventilator … it’s rough.”
Guest essay on why novelty means severity, and why so many questions about variants, children, Long Covid, endemicity and more revolve around that very notion by Dylan Morris, PhD.
. Nothing in this pandemic makes sense except in the light of novelty.
‘…wealthy countries have two choices for how the global pandemic ends: via natural infection or via vaccination. We should choose vaccination.’
‘Remembering that novelty means severity helps us see that the vaccines provide cause for hope, even if SARS-CoV-2 manages to stay with us for years. SARS-CoV-2 might stick around; the COVID-19 pandemic will struggle to do so.
But it also makes clear that those of us in wealthy countries have two choices for how the global pandemic ends: via natural infection or via vaccination. We should choose vaccination. And we must commit to that choice now. We don’t have much time.’
I continue to think where we’d be as a country right now with this pandemic if it had not been allowed, and encouraged, to become political. Hundreds of thousands did not need to die. -dayle
“One day some historian will look back and say how remarkable it was that these strange folk who called themselves ‘Americans’ governed themselves at all, given how they went about it.” -Michael Lewis [p.78.]
💯%: “…this was a major blunder that threatens to set back much of the progress made. President Biden needs to fix it, urgently […] for the public good.” -Dr Leana Wen
While many people happily shed their masks and celebrated the apparent end of the pandemic, others are concerned that with only 37 percent of the country fully vaccinated, this relaxation is premature and could lead to a resurgence of infections
The CDC’s mask guidance is a mess. Biden needs to clean it up.
This was an astounding strategic and tactical mistake. It will have lasting repercussions unless the White House steps in to clean up the CDC’s mess. As a start, the administration should clarify that while vaccinated people are generally not at risk, the unvaccinated are still at high risk. Therefore, if there is no reliable way to verify vaccination status, indoor mask mandates must still remain in place.
“We do not have enough vaccinated; we are seeing frequent emergence of new variants[…]Relaxing NPIs (masks/distancing) before adequate vaccine coverage could result in tremendous loss of potentially averted cases, hospitalizations & mortality.” -Dr. David Pate, Idaho Covid Task Force
Please. Just a little while longer.
This is the only herd we’re going to have if you don’t vaccinate.
COVID is here to stay. With so many hesitant, and anti-vaxxers, it is now believed we will never reach herd immunity in this country.
What will the psychology and existential remains be as we settle into a new existence? -dayle
Dr. David Pate, Idaho COVID task force:
“I am very pleased with many of the efforts being made to address vaccine hesitancy, but we lost our chance a year ago to rid ourselves of this virus and unfortunately, I suspect we are unlikely to reach herd immunity given more and more evidence that prior infection is not going to be as protective as we had hoped, the unwillingness of people to follow guidance that would allow us to control disease transmission and therefore the evolution of variants, and the currently inadequate numbers of people willing to be vaccinated. Most likely, we just have to prepare for SARS-CoV-2 to be endemic.”
[Christakis is a physician and sociologist who explores the ancient origins and modern implications of human nature. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science in the department of sociology, medicine, ecology and evolutionary biology, statistics and date science and biomedical engineering.’]
‘…and frequent funeral piles of the dead were continually burning.’ -Homer, The Iliad
‘Humanity has but three great enemies: fever, famine, and war; of these by far the greatest, by far the most terrible, fever.’ Sir William Osler 
New York Times
“The story changes daily and so do the prognostications about where this pandemic is going, how it will end (insofar as it ever does end), what toll it will take and whether it will serve as a critical inflection point, or not, for how we humans live on this planet. Will it deliver a deeply absorbed lesson, not just on disease preparedness but also on climate change and vanishing biological diversity, the three greatest problems we are facing and causing? Or will it drain away and be forgotten, as the 1918 influenza pandemic largely drained away, its lessons ignored and its grim particulars seemingly blocked from public memory for decades? Along with the prognostications we’re also getting postgnostications (it’s not my neologism), efforts to understand the past by predicting what happened: Where did this virus come from? A wild animal? Which animal? How did it manage to be so nefariously well adapted for human infection? How did it get into us at the start? Has it evolved since?
Given that Christakis is a physician and sociologist, the co-author of an earlier book about social networks and how they shape lives, the co-author also of an influential paper on “social contagion theory” and the co-director of the Institute for Network Science at Yale, one naturally expects that “network science” might afford him special insight into Covid-19.
[Released April 13, 2021]
I wanted to share this song that I wrote about eventually coming out of lockdown, with some much needed optimism – thank you to Dave Grohl for jumping on drums, bass and guitar, it was a lot of fun working with you on this – hope you all enjoy Eazy Sleazy!
Still rockin’ at 77, so, yeah…long live rock n’ roll.♩-dayle
The champion of mRNA
Katalin Kariko in February at her home in Jenkintown, Pa.Hannah Yoon
The New Yorker
Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus.
Collaborating with devoted colleagues, Dr. Kariko laid the groundwork for the mRNA vaccines turning the tide of the pandemic.
by Gina Kolata
|Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology is the bedrock of the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. It’s the genetic script that carries instructions to the protein-making machinery of cells.|
|For its newly prominent role protecting the world from the coronavirus pandemic, we can thank Katalin Kariko, a Hungarian-born scientist, and her close collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman.|
|Dr. Kariko, 66, has focused on mRNA for her entire career. She was convinced it could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines.|
|For decades, she clung to the fringes of academia in the United States, struggling to find a permanent position and never making more than $60,000 a year. Her unorthodox ideas seemed wild and fanciful to her peers, and she struggled to get grants.|
|After her research stalled — she could make mRNA work in a petri dish, but not in living mice — Dr. Kariko found a clue in an experiment’s control group. A single molecule called pseudouridine helped evade the immune response and deliver the protein-instruction payload.|
|Last November, when the first stunning results from the mRNA coronavirus vaccines came in, Dr. Kariko turned to her husband. “Oh, it works,” she said. “I thought so.”|
|To celebrate, our colleague Gina Kolata reports, Dr. Kariko ate an entire box of Goobers chocolate-covered peanuts. By herself.|
Credit…via Kati Kariko
She grew up in Hungary, daughter of a butcher. She decided she wanted to be a scientist, although she had never met one. She moved to the United States in her 20s, but for decades never found a permanent position, instead clinging to the fringes of academia.
Now Katalin Kariko, 66, known to colleagues as Kati, has emerged as one of the heroes of Covid-19 vaccine development. Her work, with her close collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania, laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
For her entire career, Dr. Kariko has focused on messenger RNA, or mRNA — the genetic script that carries DNA instructions to each cell’s protein-making machinery. She was convinced mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines.
But for many years her career at the University of Pennsylvania was fragile. She migrated from lab to lab, relying on one senior scientist after another to take her in. She never made more than $60,000 a year.
By all accounts intense and single-minded, Dr. Kariko lives for “the bench” — the spot in the lab where she works. She cares little for fame. “The bench is there, the science is good,” she shrugged in a recent interview. “Who cares?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and infectious Diseases, knows Dr. Kariko’s work. “She was, in a positive sense, kind of obsessed with the concept of messenger RNA,” he said.
Dr. Kariko’s struggles to stay afloat in academia have a familiar ring to scientists. She needed grants to pursue ideas that seemed wild and fanciful. She did not get them, even as more mundane research was rewarded.
“When your idea is against the conventional wisdom that makes sense to the star chamber, it is very hard to break out,” said Dr. David Langer, a neurosurgeon who has worked with Dr. Kariko.
Dr. Kariko’s ideas about mRNA were definitely unorthodox. Increasingly, they also seem to have been prescient.
“It’s going to be transforming,” Dr. Fauci said of mRNA research. “It is already transforming for Covid-19, but also for other vaccines. H.I.V. — people in the field are already excited. Influenza, malaria.”
‘I Felt Like a God’
For Dr. Kariko, most every day was a day in the lab. “You are not going to work — you are going to have fun,” her husband, Bela Francia, manager of an apartment complex, used to tell her as she dashed back to the office on evenings and weekends. He once calculated that her endless workdays meant she was earning about a dollar an hour.
For many scientists, a new discovery is followed by a plan to make money, to form a company and get a patent. But not for Dr. Kariko. “That’s the furthest thing from Kate’s mind,” Dr. Langer said.
She grew up in the small Hungarian town of Kisujszallas. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Szeged and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at its Biological Research Center.
In 1985, when the university’s research program ran out of money, Dr. Kariko, her husband, and 2-year-old daughter, Susan, moved to Philadelphia for a job as a postdoctoral student at Temple University. Because the Hungarian government only allowed them to take $100 out of the country, she and her husband sewed £900 (roughly $1,246 today) into Susan’s teddy bear. (Susan grew up to be a two-time Olympic gold medal winner in rowing.)
When Dr. Kariko started, it was early days in the mRNA field. Even the most basic tasks were difficult, if not impossible. How do you make RNA molecules in a lab? How do you get mRNA into cells of the body?
In 1989, she landed a job with Dr. Elliot Barnathan, then a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a low-level position, research assistant professor, and never meant to lead to a permanent tenured position. She was supposed to be supported by grant money, but none came in.
She and Dr. Barnathan planned to insert mRNA into cells, inducing them to make new proteins. In one of the first experiments, they hoped to use the strategy to instruct cells to make a protein called the urokinase receptor. If the experiment worked, they would detect the new protein with a radioactive molecule that would be drawn to the receptor.
“Most people laughed at us,” Dr. Barnathan said.
One fateful day, the two scientists hovered over a dot-matrix printer in a narrow room at the end of a long hall. A gamma counter, needed to track the radioactive molecule, was attached to a printer. It began to spew data.
Their detector had found new proteins produced by cells that were never supposed to make them — suggesting that mRNA could be used to direct any cell to make any protein, at will.
“I felt like a god,” Dr. Kariko recalled.
She and Dr. Barnathan were on fire with ideas. Maybe they could use mRNA to improve blood vessels for heart bypass surgery. Perhaps they could even use the procedure to extend the life span of human cells.
Dr. Barnathan, though, soon left the university, accepting a position at a biotech firm, and Dr. Kariko was left without a lab or financial support. She could stay at Penn only if she found another lab to take her on. “They expected I would quit,” she said.
Universities only support low-level Ph.D.s for a limited amount of time, Dr. Langer said: “If they don’t get a grant, they will let them go.” Dr. Kariko “was not a great grant writer,” and at that point “mRNA was more of an idea,” he said.
But Dr. Langer knew Dr. Kariko from his days as a medical resident, when he had worked in Dr. Barnathan’s lab. Dr. Langer urged the head of the neurosurgery department to give Dr. Kariko’s research a chance. “He saved me,” she said.
Dr. Langer thinks it was Dr. Kariko who saved him — from the kind of thinking that dooms so many scientists.
Working with her, he realized that one key to real scientific understanding is to design experiments that always tell you something, even if it is something you don’t want to hear. The crucial data often come from the control, he learned — the part of the experiment that involves a dummy substance for comparison.
“There’s a tendency when scientists are looking at data to try to validate their own idea,” Dr. Langer said. “The best scientists try to prove themselves wrong. Kate’s genius was a willingness to accept failure and keep trying, and her ability to answer questions people were not smart enough to ask.”
Dr. Langer hoped to use mRNA to treat patients who developed blood clots following brain surgery, often resulting in strokes. His idea was to get cells in blood vessels to make nitric oxide, a substance that dilates blood vessels, but has a half-life of milliseconds. Doctors can’t just inject patients with it.
He and Dr. Kariko tried their mRNA on isolated blood vessels used to study strokes. It failed. They trudged through snow in Buffalo, N.Y., to try it in a laboratory with rabbits prone to strokes. Failure again.
And then Dr. Langer left the university, and the department chairman said he was leaving as well. Dr. Kariko again was without a lab and without funds for research.
A meeting at a photocopying machine changed that. Dr. Weissman happened by, and she struck up a conversation. “I said, ‘I am an RNA scientist — I can make anything with mRNA,’” Dr. Kariko recalled.
Dr. Weissman told her he wanted to make a vaccine against H.I.V. “I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I can do it,’” Dr. Kariko said.
Despite her bravado, her research on mRNA had stalled. She could make mRNA molecules that instructed cells in petri dishes to make the protein of her choice. But the mRNA did not work in living mice.
“Nobody knew why,” Dr. Weissman said. “All we knew was that the mice got sick. Their fur got ruffled, they hunched up, they stopped eating, they stopped running.”
It turned out that the immune system recognizes invading microbes by detecting their mRNA and responding with inflammation. The scientists’ mRNA injections looked to the immune system like an invasion of pathogens.
But with that answer came another puzzle. Every cell in every person’s body makes mRNA, and the immune system turns a blind eye. “Why is the mRNA I made different?” Dr. Kariko wondered.
A control in an experiment finally provided a clue. Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman noticed their mRNA caused an immune overreaction. But the control molecules, another form of RNA in the human body — so-called transfer RNA, or tRNA — did not.
A molecule called pseudouridine in tRNA allowed it to evade the immune response. As it turned out, naturally occurring human mRNA also contains the molecule.
Added to the mRNA made by Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman, the molecule did the same — and also made the mRNA much more powerful, directing the synthesis of 10 times as much protein in each cell.
The idea that adding pseudouridine to mRNA protected it from the body’s immune system was a basic scientific discovery with a wide range of thrilling applications. It meant that mRNA could be used to alter the functions of cells without prompting an immune system attack.
“We both started writing grants,” Dr. Weissman said. “We didn’t get most of them. People were not interested in mRNA. The people who reviewed the grants said mRNA will not be a good therapeutic, so don’t bother.’”
Leading scientific journals rejected their work. When the research finally was published, in Immunity, it got little attention.
Dr. Weissman and Dr. Kariko then showed they could induce an animal — a monkey — to make a protein they had selected. In this case, they injected monkeys with mRNA for erythropoietin, a protein that stimulates the body to make red blood cells. The animals’ red blood cell counts soared.
The scientists thought the same method could be used to prompt the body to make any protein drug, like insulin or other hormones or some of the new diabetes drugs. Crucially, mRNA also could be used to make vaccines unlike any seen before.
Instead of injecting a piece of a virus into the body, doctors could inject mRNA that would instruct cells to briefly make that part of the virus.
“We talked to pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists. No one cared,” Dr. Weissman said. “We were screaming a lot, but no one would listen.”
Eventually, though, two biotech companies took notice of the work: Moderna, in the United States, and BioNTech, in Germany. Pfizer partnered with BioNTech, and the two now help fund Dr. Weissman’s lab.
‘Oh, It Works’
Soon clinical trials of an mRNA flu vaccine were underway, and there were efforts to build new vaccines against cytomegalovirus and the Zika virus, among others. Then came the coronavirus.
Researchers had known for 20 years that the crucial feature of any coronavirus is the spike protein sitting on its surface, which allows the virus to inject itself into human cells. It was a fat target for an mRNA vaccine.
Chinese scientists posted the genetic sequence of the virus ravaging Wuhan in January 2020, and researchers everywhere went to work. BioNTech designed its mRNA vaccine in hours; Moderna designed its in two days.
The idea for both vaccines was to introduce mRNA into the body that would briefly instruct human cells to produce the coronavirus’s spike protein. The immune system would see the protein, recognize it as alien, and learn to attack the coronavirus if it ever appeared in the body.
The vaccines, though, needed a lipid bubble to encase the mRNA and carry it to the cells that it would enter. The vehicle came quickly, based on 25 years of work by multiple scientists, including Pieter Cullis of the University of British Columbia.
Scientists also needed to isolate the virus’s spike protein from the bounty of genetic data provided by Chinese researchers. Dr. Barney Graham, of the National Institutes of Health, and Jason McClellan, of the University of Texas at Austin, solved that problem in short order.
Testing the quickly designed vaccines required a monumental effort by companies and the National Institutes of Health. But Dr. Kariko had no doubts.
On Nov. 8, the first results of the Pfizer-BioNTech study came in, showing that the mRNA vaccine offered powerful immunity to the new virus. Dr. Kariko turned to her husband. “Oh, it works,” she said. “I thought so.”
To celebrate, she ate an entire box of Goobers chocolate-covered peanuts. By herself.
Dr. Weissman celebrated with his family, ordering takeout dinner from an Italian restaurant, “with wine,” he said. Deep down, he was awed.
“My dream was always that we develop something in the lab that helps people,” Dr. Weissman said. “I’ve satisfied my life’s dream.”
Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman were vaccinated on Dec. 18 at the University of Pennsylvania. Their inoculations turned into a press event, and as the cameras flashed, she began to feel uncharacteristically overwhelmed.
A senior administrator told the doctors and nurses rolling up their sleeves for shots that the scientists whose research made the vaccine possible were present, and they all clapped. Dr. Kariko wept.
Things could have gone so differently, for the scientists and for the world, Dr. Langer said. “There are probably many people like her who failed,” he said.
he·ro | \ ˈhir-(ˌ)ō
Yeah. Dr. Kariko is a (s)hero. Remember her name. -dayle
“Everyone’s tired and traumatized. Normal life is coming back slow and strange, like plant life after a nuclear blast, and we won’t know the scale of the damage until something like safety feels possible. It’s okay to feel numb right now.”
I am suffering bereavement and feel cut off from normal life. Can you give me perspective?
Grief hurts so badly because it is about something permanent, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, but you won’t float forever
I am suffering. Though it has been several months now, most days it still feels like more than I can bear.
I feel cut off from the rest of normal life, as though I am floating, and I don’t know how to come back to normality without the person who I have lost. Please can you give some perspective?
Eleanor says: For finite creatures – who will without doubt experience loss and then in turn be lost – we do a very good job of isolating ourselves in that experience. We do a very good job of leaving each other alone in the one thing that actually unites us.
I know the strangely unplugged feeling you describe very well. The muffling of every sound; the sense of walking through an anaesthetised dream; the disobedience of the fact that garbage trucks are still beeping and dogs are still being walked in parks, as though you could possibly be expected to perceive – let alone return to – a world that has not stopped. It’s especially acute at your current moment, after a few months, when people stop asking how you’re doing and you might feel some pressure to “move on”.
But you already know there’s no place unmarred by grief for you to move on to. I think that’s why the pain is so bad when it hits; we know it’s about something permanent. There’s no future where our loved one is alive. So we get hit by one wave of pain for the fact that they’re gone, and another for the fact that they will never not be.
Why do friends discard me when I am no longer of use?
It’s enough to make you drown.
When I am drowning I get some comfort from knowing that almost every other person has been underwater too. Some are underwater with us right now, double-taking in the street when they think they see their person, suddenly needing to turn off music they’ve never before thought of as moving.
The pain never quite goes away. Since so much of ordinary life is built on the promise of painlessness, you may never quite feel fully part of it again.
But you won’t float forever. The acuteness of this pain can be its own kind of reality – a way of relating to the dogs in the park and the sounds of the street and the people still around you as gifts that are here for a moment and then wink away. It’s all here only for a moment. How astonishing that we would get to be here with it too.
Everybody from CS Lewis to the Queen has said that grief is the price we pay for love. It is a cosmic tragedy that we cannot have that love forever, but there is another, more fragile, more vivid kind of joy inside people who know that it will all one day be gone. The tragedy will never really leave you. But that joy will move in beside it. Some days the loss will be as fresh as if it happened yesterday, but some days you will catch yourself laughing.
Your terrible pain is not the opposite of life, or a sign that you are done living. It is what happens when you see life for what it is: it’s a gift, and then it ends.
I wish you luck through your days. I – and millions of us – are with you, being tossed back and forth on the tragedy and the luck that we get to have days at all.
The following piece was written by Courtney Martin. She is a brilliant writer. I bought her yellow & blue book for my now young adult kids a number of years ago. Reading her words through our isolation continues to be a balm for my spirit.
“I was trying to describe the fog of emotions I’ve been feeling about society/school/life re-opening lately to a friend and realized that it was very similar to that study abroad malaise all those years ago. I’ve been through a thing. We’ll all been through a thing.” ~Courntey
How will be changed? Will we honor the change? Our personal paradigm shift? How, through this change, can we, will we, do better, be better, to ourselves, each other, our community, our country, our planet?
A plea for reverence for what we have all endured
“Right before we returned from our study abroad program in South Africa all of the American college students started getting tattoos. We had lived with families in Langa township, grown accustomed to mealie sap for breakfast, learned the click of the Xhosa language, and watched emails to our boyfriends and girlfriends back home build letter by letter in the excruciatingly slow computer lab on the University of Cape Town campus.
We were, in short, not the same people as those who had boarded the airplane in New York City six months earlier. We were different people, maybe not new exactly, but internally rearranged.
On the outside, however, we looked the same. Thus the tattoos. It was a way of telegraphing to the world—but especially our family and friends, who we most needed to know—that we were altered. We had been through a thing. We had come out the other side.
I was trying to describe the fog of emotions I’ve been feeling about society/school/life re-opening lately to a friend and realized that it was very similar to that study abroad malaise all those years ago. I’ve been through a thing. We’ll all been through a thing.
Not the same thing, interestingly. Mine was euphoric mindfulness mixed with unfamiliar rage, little girls’ bodies all over me, all the time, starving for solitude, learning to cook and download audio books, falling in love with a hard hike, grief over losses unexpected and expected, alike. Yours might have been skin hunger and take-out, learning to drive and play the ukulele, losing a job, falling out of love with something core. We were not, as it turned out, all in this together.
But we were all in something. And I don’t know about you, but I want us to mark that moment in some way—maybe not with the unimaginative dolphin and butterfly tats of yesteryear, but something, anything, that might make this liminal space feel seen and acknowledged. That might help us say—with out bodies, with our spirits, with our people—wow, we endured. Through isolation and fear and grief, we endured. We honored birth and death in completely new ways. We stayed put. We stayed together. We stayed. We stayed. Not all of us did, but most of us did. We stayed.
As things open up, part of me wants to shout: “Have some God damn respect! Can you see what’s happened here?”
It’s not about physical safety. It’s about something else—reverence. I’m craving a sort of societal deep breath, a collective song of mourning and resurrection, a deep bow to the fact that we held it the f down.
It’s not that I can’t see the light down there at the end of the tunnel (call it herd immunity, call it 2022, call it whatever you want). Today my kid went to school for the first time in over a year in a real classroom with a teacher with a body and came home bouncing. She said it was “better than the beach.” I want her to run into that future full force, to enjoy every second of the visceral life she deserves.
But even as she crossed over the threshold into the school, part of me wanted to freeze the whole scene, to say something that would help her understand how completely awed I am by how she’s adapted. And that she’ll always have this—this year when she planted the doomed loquat and fell in love with multiplication and was mostly shockingly kind to her sister and the cat. The smokey skies and the talk of germs and the learning to ride a bike—it’s all inside of her now. It can’t be seen from the outside, but it’s hers forever.
I guess this is me saying that to her (hi Maya of the future, call me). I guess this is me saying that to myself. I endured. I was mostly shockingly kind. I learned a lot. And it’s inside of me now.
I guess this is me saying that to you, too. You did it. It’s inconceivable what you braved, what you remade, what you longed for, what you held on for. And it’s not exactly over, but it’s changing, and in this liminal moment, as we ascend into the sky, away from the thing that altered us, I want you to know that I see how you’re internally rearranged. You’re not the same. You’re even more beautiful.
\ (•◡•) /
“The spiritual journey is the relinquishment…or unlearning…of fear, and the acceptance of love back into our hearts.” -Marianne Williamson
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and to be fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of life which God has given.” -Ecclesiastes 5:18
We can not, we must not, return to what we were before.
Let us embrace and dissolve into a global shift as we begin to settle into what it is we are needed to become.
P T S E
‘For the inequities this pandemic has exposed, kindle in our ♡’s a new commitment to justice. For the ways in which our ♡’s have been broken & put back together differently, be softer & more attuned to the needs of the vulnerable, mindful of those most in need.’ [Salt Project]
I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
S U R R E N D E R
“TO DEDICATE YOURSELF…AND SURRENDER…THE ALL-PERVADING CONSCIOUSNESS, OR DIVINE ESSENCE, IS THE IDEAL OF ISHVARA PRANIDHANA. SURRENDER DOES NOT MEAN GIVING UP OR FEELING DEFEATED. IT MEANS GIVING YOURSELF OVER TO A HIGH PURPOSE, SEEING THE ‘BIGGER PICTURE,’ GETTING OUT OF THE WAY IN ORER FOR THE SOUL TO EVOLVE. IT REQUIRES THAT YOU SURRENDER TO THE MYSTERY AND TRUST THAT THE UNIVERSE WILL PRESENT WHAT YOU NEED, WHEN YOU NEED IT. IT MEANS THAT YOU MUST DEDICATE THEIR MERITS OF YOUR ATIONS TO SOMETHING BIGGGER THAN YOURSELF. EVERYTHING YOU DO MUST IN SOME SMALL WAY TO BENEFIT ALL LIFE.” -Seane Corn
“We may stumble, but always there is that Eternal Voice, forever whispering in our ear.”
-Science of Mind, p. 33
Eschatological secret [ultimate destiny of humanity]; wise heart…secret hope. -Thomas Merton
Revelations of Divine Love.
Lady Julian of Norwich.
‘Julian says that we have in us here such a “medley” of good and evil that sometimes we hardly know of others or of ourselves wherein we stand…’
25,000,000 U.S. Cases
414,000 + deaths.
From Krista Tippet, Saturday, January 23, 2021
This week’s Pause is written by Krista:
I’ve been thinking this week about vocation — from the Latin vocare, callings. Somewhere along the way in this culture a person’s vocation became synonymous with their job title, but I think of vocation as the full range of our callings as human beings. Yes, as professional people but also as family members and neighbors, parents and friends, and members of a body politic. Vocation is not so much about goals and accomplishments. It’s about how we orient our lives and our attention and our passions. At different stages in life, different callings emerge and take primacy — what we focus on and pay homage to with our presence, and what we fight for from the ground of what we love.
To pick up the question of what is calling me and you is one way to begin to walk, each with our own offering, towards a new kind of wholeness in our life together. For there are callings in a time as in a life.
Some of us — many of us — are called right now primarily to get safe and fed and warm, to keep those we love safe and fed and warm. Some of us are called to place our bodies between other bodies and danger. Some of us are called to be bridge people, staking out the vast ground at the heart of our life together where there is meaningful difference but no desire for animosity.
And some of us are called to be calmers of fear. This calling is so tender, and so urgent, if what we truly want is to coax our own best selves, and the best selves of others, into the light. Fear is the primitive, powerful place our brains go when they perceive threat. It collapses imagination, closing down a sense of the possible. It looks for an “other” to blame, and it finds one. The anger that has consumed our life together on every side is fueled by pain and fear.
This is an uncomfortable truth to take in, a fact not about life as we wish it to be but about life as it is. One of the most painful things for me to watch in the frenzy of our life together in recent years was the loss of any capacity to remember that essential contradictions run wild in each of us and are real, too, in whoever our “others” have become. There is a terrible but also a beautiful, and potentially redemptive, complexity at play whenever human beings are involved.
I wonder if now, more of us who are safe enough might feel ourselves called — to invoke Bryan Stevenson — to walk towards the reality that those who confuse and vex us are more than the worst thing we believe they are or have done. We might be called — to invoke an image Frances Kissling once gave me that has shaped my sense of calling ever since — to populate and build up “that crack in the middle where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see each other as evil.” We spend so much time and energy in this culture, so much fierce creativity, wishing to change other people’s minds. But in life as it is lived, we know that’s not how it works. Hearts soften, and then minds open. Pragmatic possibilities appear that our bodies and brains literally could not fathom before.
The show we’re offering up this week is another kind of nod to our complexity — and to how hard a time we continue to inhabit. Even as I write this with passion I feel my body clenching, exhausted by the idea of greater callings. On some level, I’m just trying to get through the days. Katherine May, who I learned about when I asked people on Twitter what was helping them get through their days, reminds me that heeding my clenching and exhaustion is also part of the way forward. She meditatively explores “wintering” as a season of the natural world but also as a place our bodies and psyches need to go, a season that recurs again and again across a life. We cheat and dismiss this in life as we’ve been living it, but it has presented itself insistently in a pandemic year we might reimagine as one long communal wintering.
We can’t move forward without grieving all we’ve lost in the past year. Closer to the ground, this means we have to let in the fact of sadness — a precursor to pain and fear — with some reverence. If happiness is a skill, Katherine May says, so is unhappiness. Winter embodies the strange complexity of reality. It is the bitterest season, we blithely say. And all the while it manages not to be the death of the life cycle, as Katherine May reminds, but its crucible.
Katherine May helps me, and I hope she offers some restorative grace to you.
Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, Center for Action & Contemplation:
…the American dream of freedom and equality could be made real through courageous action in a spirit of love, in pursuit of human dignity for all. This dignity includes all who suffer from homelessness, joblessness, purposelessness, carelessness, hopelessness.
Because our needs are so great today, and your care so constant, we know that you are rebuilding the network of compassion around new visionaries who you have assembled for this hour. Surprise us with the discovery of how much power we have to make a difference in our day:
—A difference in the way citizens meet, greet, respect, and protect the rights of each other.
—A difference in the breadth of our vision of what is possible in humanization, reconciliation, and equalization of results in our great city.
—A difference in the way government, business, and labor can work together, for justice and social enrichment.’
‘Suicide is such a powerful end; it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in that direction.’ -David Lipsky
Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide, and how we believe each other into being:
‘We believe each other into being.’
That’s the message the philosopher, poet, and historian, Jennifer Michael Hecht, puts at the center of her unusual writing about suicide. She’s traced how Western civilization has, at times, demonized those who died by suicide, and, at times, celebrated it as a moral freedom. She has struggled with suicidal places in her life and lost friends to it. She proposes a new cultural understanding based on our essential need for each other.
What is happening.
COVID vaccine rollout, a colossal mess.
Ed Yong, The Atlantic:
“I think there has been a certain amount of naïveté on the part of the government about what it actually takes to turn vaccines into vaccinations,” he says. “Unless we actually put more funding into this particular area, it’s going to be a bit tragic, because we’re going to have vaccines, but we’re going to fall at the last hurdle.” [NPR]
[by Rachel Roberts]
“Idaho will not receive as many doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine next week as it originally expected, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Idaho’s allotment for next week was reduced from 17,550 to 9,750 doses.
Idaho isn’t the only state reporting a reduced second shipment, according to reports from The Washington Post and other news outlets. Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington were among the other states receiving fewer vaccines.”
From Politifact/Poynter Institute:
“Vice President Mike Pence tweeted: “On January 13, 2020 @moderna_tx partnered with President @realDonaldTrump & @NIH to develop a vaccine for the American people! Today, Moderna announced their vaccine is 95% EFFECTIVE! Operation Warp Speed is a success because of the strong leadership of this President!”
In their own recent announcements, Moderna gave Operation Warp Speed a nod, while Pfizer didn’t mention it. That can be explained by the different partnerships the Trump administration struck with the two companies.
The federal government’s deal with Pfizer would pay for the purchase of the company’s vaccine if it gets FDA emergency use authorization or approval. So Pfizer hasn’t gotten any Warp Speed funding yet. With Moderna and other companies, by contrast, the government is helping to fund the vaccines’ development and various efforts to scale up manufacturing.
Those differences may influence who can claim the credit for the breakthroughs at this stage.”
[By Ellie Kaufman, Sara Murray and Priscilla Alvarez]
“Multiple states have been told by the federal government to expect fewer doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine than initially promised, leaving health officials across the country confused and frustrated about the crucial rollout plans just days after the first doses were shipped.
Officials in numerous states including Iowa, Illinois, Washington, Michigan and Oregon have said that they have been recently told they would receive fewer doses than originally planned for by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed.
The cause of delay remains unclear to many, and comes as infection rates are spiking across the country. On Thursday, Pfizer put out a statement that the company was “not having any production issues” and that “no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed.”
“We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses,” Pfizer said.
[by Issac Arnsdorf]
ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.
ProPublica’s board chairman, Paul Sagan, is a member of Moderna’s board and a company stockholder.
“Trump’s vaccine Czar refuses to give up stock in drug company involved in his government role.
The administration calls Moncef Slaoui, who leads its vaccine race, a “contractor” to sidestep rules against personally profiting from government positions. Slaoui owns $10 million in stock of a company working with his team to develop a vaccine.
“Congress should strengthen the federal ethics laws to root out this kind of corruption,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said at a congressional hearing. “And the first person to be fired should be Dr. Slaoui. The American people deserve to know that COVID-19 decisions are based on science and not on personal greed.”
[by Sony Salzman]
Though their journeys to a COVID-19 vaccine have been eerily similar, the companies themselves could not be more different Pfizer is a multinational pharmaceutical giant, while Moderna is a small biotechnology company that has never brought a drug to the market.
[by Marisa Taylor, Robin Respaut]
“The federal government is supporting Moderna’s vaccine project with nearly half a billion dollars and has chosen it as one of the first to enter large-scale human trials.
But the company – which has never produced an approved vaccine or run a large trial – has squabbled with government scientists over the process, delayed delivering trial protocols and resisted experts’ advice on how to run the study, according to three sources familiar with the vaccine project. The sources said those tensions, which have not been previously reported, have contributed to a delay of more than two weeks in launching the trial of the Moderna’s vaccine candidate, now expected in late July.
In one disagreement, Moderna executives resisted experts’ insistence on close monitoring of trial participants who might contract COVID-19 for changes in oxygen levels that could signal dangerous complications. While other drugmakers complied, Moderna questioned the recommendation as a “hassle” that slowed development, one of the sources told Reuters. Jordan said the company preferred to defer all decisions about monitoring to patients’ physicians but that the company ultimately agreed to some monitoring.
The Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine program is run by HHS in partnership with other agencies. It is led by Moncef Slaoui, a former GlaxoSmithKline executive who more recently served on Moderna’s board of directors. He stepped down in May to run the government’s COVID-19 vaccine project.”
Moderna outsourced the handling of data collection to the contract research firm PPD Inc. At one meeting set up with the leading companies and government officials, Moderna did not allow PPD to share details of the trial plans, as other companies had done, the sources said. PPD did not respond to request for comment.
The U.S. is a mess, friends. COVID and hacks. And he has power for 33 more days.
17.3 million cases.
In the last week alone, 1 out of every 220 Americans was diagnosed with the coronavirus — an astronomically large portion of the population to be sick at the same time, Axios’ Dani Alberti and Sam Baker write.
- About 1 in 20 have been diagnosed since the pandemic began.
Why it matters: The new infections will translate into large numbers of hospitalizations, and eventually deaths, in the coming weeks.
- It also means the rest of us have a decent chance of interacting with someone who is infected, anywhere we go.
5:50 pm Mountain Time
[by Emily Graffeo]
- Moderna slumped as much as 6.2% on Friday as investors sold off on encouraging news regarding the company’s coronavirus vaccine.
- A panel of Food and Drug Administration experts recommended the vaccine be approved for emergency use on Thursday, a key step that will set the shot up for distribution in the United States as soon as next week.
- Investors are likely taking profits from the stocks 600% year-to-date rally. Shares of Moderna traded around $137 Friday morning.
by MacKenzie Sigalos
In February, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar invoked the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. The 2005 law empowers the HHS secretary to provide legal protection to companies making or distributing critical medical supplies, such as vaccines and treatments, unless there’s “willful misconduct” by the company. The protection lasts until 2024.
[by Giacomo Tognini]
Three men have become billionaires in 2020 thanks to Moderna’s stunning rise, with the stock up more than 600% since the beginning of January. Stephane Bancel, 47, joined the company as its CEO in 2011 — one year after its founding — and owns a 7% stake along with a sizable chunk of stock options, giving him an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion. Springer and Langer were both founding investors in the firm and have never sold a share, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Springer owns a 3.5% stake in Moderna, part of a $2.2 billion fortune (down from $2.6 billion on December 8); Langer owns 3%, part of his estimated $1.7 billion net worth (down from $2 billion 10 days ago).
Analysts expect Moderna to post $800 million in sales in 2020 thanks in part to government funding for its Covid-19 vaccine program, up from $60.2 million last year. That could balloon to as much as $10 billion revenue in 2021 as the vaccine is rolled out across the globe. Moderna shares are expected to remain volatile in the near future as investors have already priced in the anticipated FDA approval and will now look to the company’s profitability beyond its Covid-19 vaccine. “The approval is an important positive, but it was widely expected already,” says Michael Yee, an analyst at investment bank Jefferies.
[by Tom Dreisbach/10.4.2020]
From a relative unknown, to a key player in the vaccine race
Modern launched in 2010 with a headquarters based in Cambridge, Mass., focused on using a technology called messenger RNA (or mRNA) to develop vaccines and therapeutics. The mRNA technology has been widely considered innovative, but remains largely unproven.
The company has never brought a product to market.
In early January, Moderna was trading for under $20 per share, and was valued at around six billion dollars.
Then Moderna announced that it had started collaborating on a coronavirus vaccine with scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
By April, the government had committed half a billion dollars to the Moderna vaccine project as part of Operation Warp Speed.
Since then, the company’s stock price has exploded. Press releases suggesting positive news from the scientific trials, or announcing additional commitments of taxpayer funding sent the share price to a peak of around $95, before dropping to between $60-$70 in recent months. The company is now valued at around $25 billion.
On April 12, 1955, the day the Salk vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent,” legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow interviewed its creator and asked who owned the patent. “Well, the people, I would say,” said Salk in light of the millions of charitable donations raised by the March of Dimes that funded the vaccine’s research and field testing. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
“Death is so shocking. The heart can’t understand why you just can’t hug that person anymore.” -Jewel
In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content to have known me. You will always be my friend. -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For many, COVID’s brick wall is getting closer. For some, tragically, it’s right in front of us. ~dayle
‘I believe the spirit is in the wind and wave, and manifests Its presence throughout all Nature. But most completely, through our own minds and in our hearts, It proclaims our livingness and Its lovingness.
-Dr. Ernest Holmes
Murmuration refers to the phenomenon that results when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky.
“If 2020 taught me anything…if I look into some of the gifts that have come from this wild year…it is a deepening of the idea that we are bound and woven together as one.
I wore a mask, not just to protect myself but others as well. We experienced the smoke and ash from fires hundreds of miles away. We learned more deeply about the impacts of systemic racism and inequity. I got to, and continue to, learn more about how I’ve unknowingly and unconsciously perpetuated these systems. All of this points to deep truth: We are interconnected.
This constant reminder of our oneness compels me to engage in the world and do what I can to make the our planet a little bit better, to approach it with a little more kindness and compassion, to realize that my own spiritual path and freedom are totally merged with the spiritual path of all.
It is challenge get out of ourselves. It is confounding to face that my suffering and my own liberation from suffering are bound up in the liberation of all. it is much easier to think only of myself, my own consciousness and being.
Yet, when we face this truth of interconnection, we recover something we may not have known was lost. Something comes to life within us…we get our wholeness back. We get our oneness back. We have the chance to widen our identity from separation to unity, from competition to cooperation.
There is so much that awakens us to the truth of our unity these days. Even in moments that feel divisive, there is opportunity to see the deeper call for community, dignity and safety.
We are bound together in a perfect whole.”
-Rev. Masando Hiraoka, Mile Hi church in Lakewood, Colorado
Science of Mind
[My 2020 ‘word-of-the-year’: murmuration.]
“A new light is coming into the world. We are on the borderline of a new experience. The veil between Spirit and matter is very thin.” Dr. Holmes
“The truth is that what we want or dream of doesn’t always last. It tends to serve its purpose in our development and then fades away, losing its relevance. And we can do enormous damage to ourselves by insisting on carrying that which has died.” -Mark Nepo
There is no way to eliminate risk, but anything one does to reduce it is better than nothing
by, Zeynep Tufekci, sociologist and writer
Millions of Americans are traveling for Thanksgiving. In doing so, they’re increasing the chances of catching or spreading Covid-19—not just themselves but to others. A wedding reception in Maine ended up causing 177 cases and seven deaths—but none of the deaths were among people who attended the wedding, but rather, among their contacts.
It’s never too late to decide not to travel or choose not to meet with large groups of people not in one’s household during the holidays. There is excellent news regarding vaccines and therapeutics, and we may be very close to turning the corner on this pandemic. One can always have Thanksgiving in spring and be grateful for having survived a pandemic! As I recently wrote in The Atlantic, it’s time to hunker down!
I’d especially urge people to consider that hospitals are running out of not just space, but of qualified people. This report is a sobering read from a hospital that was otherwise very-well prepared. We can expand space within facilities and even set up field hospitals. But there is no way to mass manufacture doctors and nurses. With a nationwide surge underway, workers from one region cannot travel to bail out another, as they were able to in spring. Keeping infections down means that hospitals can do a better job taking care of the already overwhelming numbers of people who need care.
Traditionally, communal eating is the center of Thanksgiving festivities. However, it is also one of the highest risk activities, as one cannot be masked while eating, and people tend to speak loudly around a table. Eating together doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of the day, though. It’s possible to eat separately and make the highlight of the day a different group activity. A gathering outside around a fire pit would be great, for example. It’s fun and, being outdoors, it’s safer, too. Playing a board game where people keep their masks on is another alternative. Keeping masks on is especially important for multi-generational gatherings, or for groups that include higher-risk people. The minimal set-up could be that the elderly could eat separately from the rest of the group. If they must join the dining table, they can do so while wearing the highest-grade mask they have. Risk reduction is important for everyone, but it’s most important for those at most risk. It’s much better to have a much more festive gathering in spring or summer, even if it makes this Thanksgiving a little more awkward.
Getting tested before or after a group meeting is tricky. On the one hand, of course testing is a good precaution to take, and a positive test result means you absolutely should isolate! However, one can test negative even while having Covid-19, because the disease hasn’t progressed enough—and then be infected and infectious just a day or two later. I wouldn’t consider a negative test a licence to do anything differently. In other words, even if you test negative, take all the precautions that you can: stay home and don’t travel for Thanksgiving, or, if you decide to do so, quarantine and take all the harm-reduction steps you can anyway.
The same precautions apply for the return trip: travel in the least risky way possible, keeping in mind that contact with other people poses the highest risks. When you return, quarantine. The gold-standard period for quarantine is two weeks, but don’t think in binary terms. Don’t think that if you can’t do two weeks, you may as well not quarantine. Two weeks is better than a week, a week is better than nothing. When you return, it’s best to act like you might be infected.
What if you get lucky by exposing yourself to a high-risk situation and emerging untouched by Covid-19? Don’t assume that your luck will hold for the Christmas season. Every encounter is an independent risk. There is no such thing as “a winning streak” with this disease. Getting lucky once is no guarantee of being lucky a second time.The changing winter conditions and the explosion in infections means that any meeting right now is much higher risk than before, when the weather was warmer and case numbers were lower. We now have three vaccine candidates with excellent results and vaccinations will start as early as December. We have effective therapeutics—they are in short supply but manufacturing is ramping up. We will have better weather once we get through this winter season. We are so close to the finish line. The more precautions we take, the better our chances.
Dr. Tufekci was getting it right back in January before many epidemiologists.
How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right
‘Dr. Tufekci, a computer programmer who became a sociologist, sounded an early alarm on the need for protective masks. It wasn’t the first time she was right about something big.’
by Ben Smith
Credit…Felix Hörhager/Picture Alliance]
Learn how cultivating trust and community allowed Health Initiative to be effective partners in the region.
Dr. Sriram Shamasunder and his organization, HEAL Initiative, stood in solidarity with Navajo healthcare workers as they fought a COVID outbreak through the spring and summer.
This past summer, when the Navajo Nation was the site of one of the country’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, Dr. Sriram Shamasunder was at Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility in Arizona, caring for a Navajo elder in the respiratory care unit. When he was young, the patient had worked in the uranium mines on Navajo land, and he had spent decades drinking water contaminated with the radioactive element. He had poor baseline lung function, and now he had COVID-19. His family could not be there to comfort him. He was isolated and scared.
On harried rounds in the overwhelmed medical center, it was very difficult to be fully present. “I was moving fast. I was wearing goggles, a face shield, an N95 mask,” Shamasunder recalls. He couldn’t speak to the miner in his own language, and he wasn’t intimately familiar with the contours of the man’s life on the reservation. There was a gulf between them that Shamasunder, as his doctor, struggled to cross.
But Shamasunder had not come into the room alone. He was accompanied by Navajo nurses from the local community. “They would just lean over in his ear and speak to him in his own language,” Shamasunder says, “‘I won’t let you go.’ ‘I am from your community, and I’m here to stand with you.’ To bridge that gap is just so powerful.”
Signs encourage safety in the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: UCSF
I think there was a question all of us sat with. What does it mean to lead a purposeful, committed life? What does that look like?
What made HEAL so effective? It may have had something to do with the way HEAL responds to the problem Shamasunder has spent his entire career thinking about: How can the best care be delivered across the human boundaries of language, culture, gender, and religion that arise in our global community? After the technical training of medical school, can young health professionals be trained in the ineffable part of the practice, in leadership, advocacy, and justice?
How can they learn to show up in their full presence?
In May, a disheartening thread of stories about COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation was circulating. Per-capita infection rates soared. Congress had approved $8 billion in coronavirus relief for tribes around the country, but the money did not arrive as committed. It was a cruel echo of the disinvestment that had left the Navajo Nation — an area larger than West Virginia — with just 13 grocery stores and only some 20 ICU beds.
In the wake of this progress, UCSF is compiling a report on the efforts of HEAL and the volunteers in Navajo Nation. Shamasunder’s own reflections, unsurprisingly, have so far taken the form of notes and sketches of new poems that address the work of the health professionals in their full presence, affirming their spirit of partnership and solidarity. He wants to make sure the opportunity to explore those elements of the summer’s efforts is not overlooked — by the medical community, or by HEAL.
And the world must change.
This fall has seen COVID-19 case counts rise around the globe, and the Navajo Nation has not been exempt. In late October, with a surge in New Mexico taking hospitals in Albuquerque beyond their bed capacity, the reservation’s command-control structure re-engaged in planning for case management and potential patient transfers to hospitals all over Arizona and New Mexico. Just this week, after announcing that 34 Navajo communities have “uncontrolled spread” of the disease, the nation’s leadership instituted a three-week lockdown restricting nonessential activities. Shamasunder is trying to coordinate another team of nurses to travel down to Arizona and New Mexico to help. If he is needed, there is no question that he would return to the desert.
You gave everything. For what? Look at us. Humanity. We’re a mess. We can’t even don a mask because, you know, our rights not to wear one are greater than your right to live.
But yeah. Thank you for your service. We truly don’t know what it means, as a
C O L L E C T I V E
to take care of our own.
We dishonor you with our actions during this global pandemic.
Some continue to try. ♡
“I am just grief stricken by how many Americans are OK with racist dog whistling and white supremacy and cutesy nods to white nationalism. Even if 45 is gone, that all stays. This is who we are.”
A friend, the White mother of a Black child, posted this on Facebook on election night. That last line floored me: This is who we are.”
It is exactly who we are. Since before the birth of this nation.
The pandemic’s toll on veterans
by, Ashley Gold
“A number of recent studies highlight the problems facing veterans as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
- According to one recent survey of 30,000 veterans wounded after 9/11, 52% said their mental health has gotten worse and 49% said their physical health has become worse since they started social distancing during the pandemic.
- Sixty-one percent said they felt more disconnected from friends, family and community, according to the survey by the Wounded Warrior Project.
- Veterans are delaying doctors’ appointments too, with 70% reporting having in-person appointments canceled or postponed. And 40% noted employment difficulties.
- The Associated Press reported in September that military suicides have gone up as much as 20% this year compared to the same period in 2019.A study by the
- Bob Woodruff Foundation this spring said emergent trauma, loneliness due to social isolation, and unplanned job losses creates a “perfect storm” threatening the mental health of veterans.
By the numbers: Beyond the stress caused by the pandemic, coronavirus cases are up among veterans, too. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there have been 83,383 cases among VA hospitals with 4,223 known deaths.”
Exhausted. On edge.
Now, as the world heaves a collective sigh of relief (or grief), whatever you’re feeling, wherever this finds you…
Let’s take a moment to remember that the great task of our lifetimes is not to change the world.
Our task is ONLY to transform ourselves …
The world is naturally transformed by our Light.
‘Since the “map show” of last week—all those blues and reds signifying, well, everything and nothing—we’ve been hearing calls for unity. I get it. I really do. I crave more steady common ground rather than the shifting tectonic plates we’ve all been surfing unsteadily these last four years. I want a news network called Truth that everyone, regardless of political party, actually trusts. Let’s spend some time disagreeing about our values and how to get things done, not the facts, for a change. Let’s log off of social media where our most base emotional wiring is being profoundly manipulated. At this point, I’d rather our commander-in-chief communicated via interpretive dance than twitter.
But as much as I honor our collective desire for kindness, this is not the time for congeniality. This is the time for a fiercer form of moral leadership. Our foundational values need to show up in public—calm, sure, if that feels authentic, but more importantly, uncompromising on questions of basic humanity. We have developed some powerful new muscles the year for tolerating uncertainty, for unvarnished truthtelling, for outraged solidarity; now is not the time to get back to compartmentalization and quiet desperation, violent death and violent denial.
It’s not unity we need. It’s a basic agreement that racism, sexism, ableism, etc. will not be tolerated. There are not two sides on this. There are a million shades of gray on how we live and lead, but there are not and should never be two sides on dehumanization.
And, yes, that means that my work is not to dehumanize those who didn’t vote as I did. My work is to get ever more curious about them, about our current ecosystem of information and the way it has distorted all of our perceptions of truth and trust. My work is to disagree with them out loud, on the page, wherever I need to, whenever I need to—boldly and respectfully.
I am especially invested in doing this with White women right now, having seen that half of those with a similar racial and economic status as my own supported Trump; I am baffled and profoundly sad about this. My job now is to transform that bafflement, that disappointment, into fuel. I am tired of looking at the demographic data the day after an election and being ashamed of the way “my people” voted. But I won’t reject those people. I will pick my chin up and get after organizing with them—figuring out what my gifts are and how I can bring them to bear on this conundrum (the conundrum being that even the dehumanized vote for the dehumanizer).
I see that as work of those who have had the privilege of not watching their humanity be debated. I am not going to ask my Black or immigrant or disabled friends to spend their precious energy empathizing with someone who doesn’t believe they are as worthy as I am. If that’s someone’s spiritual practice, so be it, but to publicly call for all Americans to unify is to ask those who have been systematically and interpersonally dehumanized by racists and xenophobes to invest in them. That’s not just insensitive, it’s emotionally violent—particularly within the context of 400 years of this shit. That’s not their sacred duty. It’s ours.’
To those calling for unity, here is my ask: Stop requesting self-annihilation from anyone. Yes, we need to combat the reductive thinking that is only further entrenched by the “map show.” No, we don’t need to capitulate, compromise, or God forbid, normalize the hatred that has always been part of this country, but was surfaced so painfully this year.
And while we’re at it, stop painting fierce moral leadership as wokeism (looking at you, David Brooks). It’s patronizing and inaccurate. Sure, there is a faction of the progressive movement that is more performance than substance. That’s true of any movement at any time. But there are a huge number of people who put a tremendous amount of effort into taking a stand for basic humanity this year; we even risked our own health, the health of our families, to show up at protests and work the polls. We donated money at a time when money was already tight. We talked to our children, however clumsily, about the brokenness of the world. We didn’t do it for woke brownie points. We did it because something intrinsic to our very souls resists the dehumanization of others.
We must not parody that, or call for its politeness. We must nurture and grow and honor that. We must push progressive White America to look at the places where hypocrisy and neglect live in our own lives, not just point the finger at Trump voters. We’re coming to the close of a year of painful unearthing; don’t dishonor that with pavement of politeness.
If you are a White person on this journey to figure out how to organize with other White people, check out my bud Garrett Bucks’ new Barnraisers Project, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and/or Integrated Schools.