Paul Hudon: ‘Diary in the Time of Coronavirus’ (2)
April 27, 2020 by PaulM Posted in History, Lowell, Coronavirus 2020, Culture, Current Events Leave a Comment
This is the second week of “virus” diary entries by Paul Hudon of Lowell, scholar and teacher and keen observer of the locale and wider world. He is the author of The Valley & Its People: An Illustrated History of the Lower Merrimack and All in Good Time, a book of poems written over twelve months, one a day.
Diary in the Time of Coronavirus (2)
by Paul Hudon
*April 19th Patriots’ Day
There is a scene in HBO’s biopic of John Adams captioned “April 19, 1775 The Aftermath of Lexington and Concord.” In it Adams is there at the tail-end of the events of the day, and is witness to some of the carnage. After this we see him return to his farm in Braintree, slumped in the saddle, looking worn-down by the experience. Abigail comes out of the house to be with him. His voice is heavy with resignation when he says to her, “There can be no mistaking Britain’s intentions now.” The scene wraps at 2:35.
That ‘now’ at the end of the sentence sounds like closure. British troops have been in Boston for nearly a full year, since May of ’74; the port is closed, killing the city’s economy. Behind that is a full decade of repeated confrontations between the colonies and Parliament over the same issues of taxation and representation. ‘Now’ all that is in the past, Adams is saying. Whatever comes next will be something else, a departure. Today is the 245th anniversary of that day, Patriots’ Day. The novel coronavirus, the pandemic, the lockdown are spreading a sense of departure among us. It’s unmistakable. Not possible to say just yet how radical that departure will be, how great the disruption, to use the current buzz word. The patriots took another year plus to decide on independence. For sure, it took more than resignation to get there. We live in interesting times.
*April 20th “And then there were none “
Another scene. This one from the 1945 film version of Agatha Christie’s, “And then there were none.“ It’s a brief bit of dialogue between Dr Armstrong (Walter Huston) and Judge Quincannon (Barry Fitzgerald), on first acquaintance. It starts at the eight minute mark and runs for about thirty seconds
“Half my patients are sick because they’re trying to escape reality.”
“And what’s your answer?”
“I build them islands of imagined security.”
“Don’t you believe in medicine, doctor?”
“Do you believe in justice, judge?”
There’s more to the scene but that’s the sense of it, the interplay between isolation and security. What could be more relevant to our situation?
The movie takes place on an island, except for the opening where all ten guests arrive by boat. Each of them has a cover story — their “imagined security” — and each has a criminal secret that leads inevitably to a failure of imagination. This island is a trap. It offers no security. These ‘ten little Indians’ have been lured to their no-exit location, first to admit their guilt then to atone for it. At least for them there is a cause, a crime, that accounts for their fate. The comfort of fiction, and no doubt the reason even the wildest fictions find an audience in the time of covid-19.
You’ve Had Your Time. The title of the second volume of Anthony Burgess’ memoirs runs through my head nearly every day.
The covid-19 pandemic is acting as an accelerant, speeding-up issues and situations already trending before the virus began its work. And that’s sure to be on-going. Late in March, I’m shooting around YouTube, per usual, and come across an interview broadcast just five days before in France. Paul Jorion and Gaël Giraud, two writers unknown to me, are sharing their opinions with le grand public “on the economic consequences of the epidemic.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPf9bDHZmmM).
Giraud is a novelist eager to explain the ‘paradox’ of fiction, that it tells Truth about our collective predicament by dramatizing incidents and events in the life of individuals. Not an original thought and only incidental to the point.
Jorion on the other hand is bang on-topic. Wikipedia tells us that he is an anthropologist and sociologist by training. “He has also written seven books on capitalist economics.” Now he has a message for us Americans, about our economic future. There won’t be much of it. Jorion reminds us that at the end of the Second World War, the United States held 75% of the world’s economy. In 1945, all other national economies were wrecked or exhausted, in no shape to compete with the America all revved-up with the war effort. Jorion then says, “I wouldn’t be surprised — Je n’serais pas étonné — if at the end of this epidemic China is holding 75% of the world’s economy.“ Nor is he in doubt how this was brought to be. “Sabotage,” he doesn’t balk at using the world. Donald Trump’s‘‘ sabotage’’ of the federal government is responsible our spectacular unpreparedness. Belgian-born Paul Jorion is 73 years old.
On the same day I watch the interview, I find a piece in The Guardian by Julian Borger, ‘’US AWOL from world stage as China tries on global leadership for size’’ (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/29/us-awol-from-world-stage-as-china-tries-on-global-leadership-for-size). A week later, early in April, there’s the report that Chinese engineers back in February argued for the creation of a new www to rival the one dominated by American firms. This was in Geneva at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (https://www.letemps.ch/monde/chine-exacerbe-bataille-controle-dinternet). When we come out the other end of this pandemic, we Americans are going to have to learn the world all over again.
Every time le trompeur lets go a major brain-fart I think, Well, he’s finally done it, this time even the laziest and stupidest among the lazy and the stupid will see what a gawdawful excuse for a human being he is. And every time, I’m disappointed. Then I think of Earl Landgrebe.
Landgrebe, a Republican, was a Member of the House from Indiana — 2nd district. In 1972, he was reelected by a comfortable 9 point spread (54.7% v 45.3%), defeating Floyd Fithian, a professor of history at Purdue. In 1974, the outcome was reversed. Fithian took the seat which he won by a whopping 22 percentage points (61.06 v 38.9). In between is the story of Watergate, House impeachment hearings, and Landgrebe’s foolish/heroic loyalty to Richard Nixon.
Cartoon by Herblock, Washington Post, 1973
Cut to the chase. August 5, 1974, a transcript of the “smoking gun” tape has been released proving Nixon’s collusion in the Watergate coverup. Landgrebe refuses to hear the tape or read the transcript. “I’m going to stick with my president,” he says, “even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” No one was shot. But Landgrebe did shoot himself in the foot. When the House voted to accept the Judiciary Committee’s articles of impeachment, the count was 412 to 3, Landgrebe being among the three voting no. And that is how he lost the election three months later, and how he got 39% of the votes cast in Indiana’s second district.
That’s the relevant number, 39%, the point of the Landgrebe experience. That’s the percentage approval rating Trump hovers around consistently. So today, when he says on live TV that maybe injecting household disinfectants into your lungs as a cure for the novel coronavirus, he’ll have at least one third of Americans take it in without hiccup. 39% out of reach. They’re going to stick with their president, even if it means death.
Today, management put up handwritten signs requiring that anyone entering the building be wearing a mask; and of course that applies to us tenants as well. I’ve been following that rule on my own for almost two months. Oddly, today’s the first time I notice men doing work at the grotto [Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at former Franco-American School being rehabbed for residences] to be wearing masks. They’re not working on the grotto itself which looks to be done. A barrier and a sign have been put across the stairs leading to the foot of the cross. There was a couple here yesterday doing the stations. Those masked workmen came in with their own supply of boards, wood, twelve feet long or more. These they unloaded and did I don’t know what with because they did it behind the roof line of the building between them and me. There’s still a Porta Potty looking silly and forlorn at the School St. end.
Also today, from Huffpost,
Where To Buy Face Masks For Coronavirus, And What To Look For: How to purchase a face mask that can help you prevent the spread of COVID-19 by Kristen Aiken (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/where-to-buy-face-masks-for-coronavirus_l_5ea2f833c5b669fd8923b316). Definitely the Day of the Mask.
Joe Biden said today he doesn’t really care to be president. He didn’t say it in those words and he didn’t say it today — I only read about it today. But he said it, and he said it twice. “Recently, Biden told MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, that even if the Congress sent him a Medicare for All bill, he would veto it. And a week later, he confirmed that position” (https://www.opednews.com/articles/Biden-Dismisses-Democratic-by-William-Bianchi-Democratic-Party_Democratic-Party-Strategy_Democratic-Progressive-Caucus_Joe-Biden-200424-481.html).