A big city and its stretch of influence

A major metropolis has a gravitational pull that reaches far beyond its city limits and suburbs. Actually, this can affect various fields quite differently.

Manhattan, for instance, holds sway over classical music and opera across the entire continent. Most soloists have an apartment there, as do many conductors who also reside in the cities whose orchestras they lead. It’s all about connections.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, has the movie industry, thanks to Hollywood, and Nashville is the nation’s country-music capital.

And Washington, as the center of national government, is always in the headlines.

You get the picture.

Across the country, smaller clusters appear. State capitals, of course, are one focus as they span all the communities in the state – and this often includes much larger cities. Again, consider Albany, miniscule in comparison to the Big Apple, or Harrisburg in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Chicago’s long reach over the meat industry is another, or the Twin Cities’ impact on the grain industry. Think of Toledo, Ohio, with glass, Detroit with the automotive world, or Pittsburgh with steel.

In fact, the economic pull and push of a city is a fascinating topic of investigation. The money that powers the place has to come from somewhere – as do the materials that supply it. In turn, the city has to sell its goods and services somewhere. It’s a matter of balancing what comes in with what goes out, in more ways than one.

So business and finance are defining elements. Again, Wall Street’s role in corporate investment gives New York national prominence, but other cities have similar impact.

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About those numbers we’re all watching

Part of the fixation in watching the Covid-19 spread in the U.S. is in the suspense of discovering how accurately the experts’ projections hold up, especially in contrast to the deceptive and wishful thinking emanating from the White House and its cronies.

With the disease now in all 50 states and up more than 600 percent in the last week alone – or from 30 cases at the beginning of the month to 68,440 as of Thursday – the question becomes just how high and how fast those exponential numbers soar. You know, do our social isolation actions tamp down the rise or do continuing exposures fuel more spikes in the spread? To think, at the current rate we would have 2½ million cases in two weeks or 90 million by a month from now. Here in New Hampshire, the eventual infection rate is pegged at 50 percent.

You’re already familiar with the hospital overload potential. With 95,000 intensive care beds in the United States, most of them in regular use for heart attack and accident victims and the like, and a population of 330 million, there’s not a lot of margin to deal with.

For perspective, think what a serious cold does to you. I mean, sometimes it really zaps your thinking. Think of your workplace if even a quarter of your colleagues were out sick. Now extend that to every service you rely on. Uh-huh. Oh, yes, and what about those lingering bugs we seem to get, the ones that never quite go away like forever. By the way, a fever of 103 to 105 degrees is nothing I want to ever endure again. How about you?

And then, if our efforts really do deflate the dreadful scenarios we’re seeing, will a large portion of the public cynically dismiss the warnings as liberal hype? The disregard for the warnings has been disturbing enough, especially the part about infecting others even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms.

The bigger health matter is not about the number of cases but rather the 20 percent of those that become life-threatening serious. Not just the deaths, either, but the potential for long-term harm. Permanent heart damage, for instance. We’re just now learning.

People under age 65 have been assuming it’s no big deal, but a figure out of France should be a wake-up call. Half of those in intensive care there were recently reported to be under 30. As for here? Welcome back from spring break. One more figure to keep an eye on.

~*~

You know many of the other questions and uncertain answers we’re following as we watch the numbers.

  • Will the number of cases actually fall off in warmer weather?
  • Will the coronavirus mutate and come back hard in autumn?
  • Will it become like the common cold, something that returns year after year?
  • How much immunity will we have?
  • How soon will a vaccine be available and what will the side-effects be? Will the anti-vaccers refuse it or welcome it?
  • And then there are all the stories coming out of the “shelter-in-place” experience.

~*~

In my circle, we’re still sputtering over the audacity of some of those who claim to be “pro-life” but now claim that the deaths of up to two million presumably older Americans is a small price to pay to “save” the economy. Remember, theirs is already a pro-military (not exactly a “pro-life” mission) camp that was all-too-ready to spout misleading anti-Obama advertising warning that “death squads” would rule important health-care decisions (totally ignoring the reality that insurance companies were already doing that) when it came to medical coverage. Now we see the true colors of these callous offiials. It’s been all about profits, not people, all along. Babies didn’t cost them anything. Honestly, they should be tagged anti-abortion. Pro-life is far more inclusive, embracing health care, housing, and education support.

~*~

What’s surprising you the most in the Covid-19 developments? For that matter, what worries you the most?

Nearly everyone in town knew Bella

If we were making a movie version of my novel, What’s Left, who would you cast as her grandmother Bella?

This would be a big juicy part, starting with her romance with Nicky in the war years. And don’t overlook her working mom action with five kids in tow. By then, nearly everyone in town knew her.

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Is this it?

The Covid-19 devastation, already spread around the globe, is poised to inflict even greater damage when it ravages Third World countries, or so we’re reading. The impact is much more than grim death tolls. We’re hearing predictions of the greatest economic depression in a century.

In the United States, the virus is what finally exposed Donald Trump’s house of cards to full view. Not just his own illusions but his party’s, too. You know, the failure to plan. Failure to take responsibility. Endless stream of lies and fabrications. His scorn for fact, truth, scientific reality. Ridiculing and blaming others. Inability to steer a course. And so on. Feel free to add to the list.

For the past three years, I’ve restrained from commenting much on the outrage after outrage being inflicted on our democratic society. With his hooligans and their fellow cultists being so impervious to facts, I sensed anything that might break through their shells had to come from the right. The polarization of the country predates Trump, anyhoo, just look at the Congress dead set on obstructing President Obama from doing the will of the people, regardless of the ultimate impact.

From my viewpoint, what’s seemed obvious is that only something catastrophic might break through their state of denial and bombast. I kept wondering what that would be. What would it take to allow civil conversation again, one based on fact and not bullying and bombast?

In my years in the news business, I saw how difficult predicting public reaction could be. Big issues are commonly greeted with a yawn, while some seemingly trivial account unexpectedly gets everyone stirred up.

So here we are, with a medical crisis Trump arrogantly derided as a “hoax” and then claimed to have “under control” now exploding exponentially before our eyes. As it begins to hit closer to home, even his supporters can no longer poobah the epidemic as “liberal hype” to “discredit” their fuhrer. Not unless they can explain Italy and Spain’s suffering as part of a conspiracy.

Not unless they can explain why GOP senators were informing their super-rich backers of intelligence findings about the brewing virus storm and quickly selling off millions in stock while telling their voter constituents to stay calm. (Isn’t that insider-trading?)

Not unless they can explain why the markets and employers and local and state officials of both parties have independently taken the drastic actions they have, contrary to White House proclamations.

He still doesn’t have a clue, does he? This is the man who offers big aid to China after turning down any help for the most seriously impacted states in America. (Sorry, you’re on your own, guys.) What!

One of the reasons he’s clueless is that none of his incoming staffers who attended a big meeting with outgoing Obama officials eight days before the inauguration took the ebola lessons seriously. At least one future cabinet secretary dozed off during the briefings and their worst-case scenarios. Another reason is that Trump promptly eliminated the emergency preparedness coordinating office Obama had created for cases like this. What Trump touted as streamlining proves to be reckless disregard for reality and an exercise of personal spite. There was no planning, period.

Fellow Republican Susan Collins, a senator from Maine, even prevented epidemic response planning from being budgeted back in 2008. There’s a pattern.

Here we are, after being stuck with Trump’s obsession to spend billions building a useless border wall but do nothing on pandemic prep. Like that wall will stop anything.

I long ago saw that incompetent managers and executives feel threatened by competent people working below them – the very ones who could make their bosses look effective, if given the chance. Do I need to say more?

Smart management is taught to be proactive, not reactive, but that’s not what we’re seeing here.

The illness itself is only the face of the storm as we get glimpses of even bigger economic, political, and social ills that have been long festering.

Oh, yes, high turnover is another sign of mismanagement. Two-thirds of Trump’s team at that epidemic meeting three years ago are no longer part of the administration. Who’s in charge, paying attention to details?

Wall Street may have been soaring, and a “correction” had been long anticipated though not expected to kick in till after the November election, but for many of the country’s working class, full-time jobs – especially those with benefits – have been scarce. Minimum wage rarely covers basic living costs, and health insurance premiums often eat up a third of that income while imposing high deductibles few would ever be able to pay without going homeless or, if hospitalized long, losing their jobs. Many of those minimum wage jobs, by the way, require “reliable transportation” from employees, as if the pay actually covers as much as a clunker to get to worksites far from public transportation. Steps to improve their situation has not been presented from the current administration, even while cutting taxes for the rich and corporations continues.

Well, some of that finally has been acknowledged in the proposed coronavirus aid package, at least for this specific illness. Maybe it’s a start. Those low-pay, part-time jobs are a huge part of the workforce, and if they break down, even for two weeks, watch out.

That’s the real economy.

I could say more, much more, but let’s leave it at that for now. From all indications, this drama’s just starting.

There’s no disputing that bodies are piling up, even in the USA.

Ten places I’ve lived

  1. Dayton. Inside the city limits but with a working dairy farm a half-block across the street.
  2. Bloomington. On the Indiana University campus, and later at the edge of town.
  3. Binghamton. In the ‘hood, then on a hippie farm near the New York-Pennsylvania line.
  4. The yoga ashram. Out on a yoga farm in the Pocono mountains.
  5. Fostoria. In a loft downtown, over St. Vincent’s charity store, in what was once Ohio’s Great Black Swamp.
  6. Yakima, Washington. Including three years in an orchard.
  7. Warren, Ohio. We bought a lovely arts-and-crafts bungalow in an industrial city in economic collapse.
  8. Baltimore. Downtown in the trendy Bolton Hill neighborhood and then out in suburban Owings Mills.
  9. Manchester, New Hampshire. By the Merrimack River, then atop the tallest hill.
  10. Dover, New Hampshire. A mile from downtown. The longest I’ve lived in the same house, by the way.

And one other place that never really counted.

~*~

Tell us something good or bad about someplace you’ve lived. Like maybe your favorite?

Spending nights at the opera on my laptop

When I graduated from college 50 years ago, I expected to wind up living and laboring in a major metropolis like New York, Chicago, or Seattle where nights at the opera or symphony would have been part of the package. As you can see, my life took a much different direction. In fact, working weekends and nights along with the bottom-tier professional wages of my profession curtailed much of my attendance where I was, even for the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD showings in local movie theaters.

Surprisingly, now in the midst of our Covid-19 cloistering, I’m relishing in daily free online streaming of past performances from the Met’s series, and what a revelation they are.

Each show gives me a fuller awareness of the stellar productions than I could ever get from listening to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts – incidentally, available where I live only by streaming. Well, that’s another rant, though I’ll send out a shout to both Harvard’s student-run FM station and New York’s WQXR for their participation.

The university I attended was acclaimed for its opera department, with a show every Saturday night and, as I recall, seven productions during the regular school year. Each of these was in English, which I found made the experience feel more like going to a Broadway musical rather than an esoteric ceremony. It was pointedly called opera theater, with an emphasis on blending music and showtime, abetted by stage directors like Ross Allen who insisted on historically correct motions for the periods being presented. A woman wouldn’t have shown her ankle while dancing, for instance, or sat in a particular posture, that sort of thing. As for facial expressions or delving into the psyche of a role? That wasn’t widely valued in earlier incarnations of the art form. But today?

Back to the Live in HD.

Imagine a Hollywood movie being filmed straight-through in a few hours like this, rather than gleaning only a minute or two of usable film a day, as is standard in the cinema biz. There’s no room for retakes in a live performance, and yet what I’m viewing is cinematically gripping. The acting is extraordinary, and the stars are visually and vocally convincing – something that wasn’t often the case when I got hooked back in the ’60s. I’m enthralled simply considering the camera work (and planning) behind each of these. (I have a feeling we’re deeply indebted to NFL and MLB technology and practice on this front – think of those crisp facial closeups shot from the other side of the field.) As for the lighting? Wow.

Opera is often discussed as the pinicle of the arts and their muses – vocal, choral, and instrumental music conjoined with drama, dance, poetry, scenery and costumes in the theater itself. It’s a collective enterprise, the way movies are. Well, I often consider it as the movies of the 19th century and, let’s not forget, the distinctively operatic singing style evolved to project into a hall long before electronic amplification existed. The vocal style is not as frilly as you might think but is actually quite flexible and expressive, even if it’s often an acquired taste.

As I was saying about these productions?

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