I was headed down in the elevator in our building on Saturday. A younger fellow, a good bit younger than me, anyway, was also in the elevator; we were at opposite corners for our social distancing. He looked at me and said, “I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime.”
I replied, “I’ve seen a lot. And I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime, either.”
Strange times, indeed.
Last week, I wrote about “Open That Bottle Night,” which was an institution some years ago with two Wall Street Journal wine writers. And I received this lovely note from reader Tom Campanile:
Great advice in your column this week! Thanks for providing much needed perspective in a crazy time.
We took your advice tonight and uncorked a bottle of a Chianti Classico “Gran Selezione” we’ve been saving – for no other reason than having everyone under one roof, safe and sound.
I hope you and your family are managing well through these trying times.
What bottle or drink are you folks opening or mixing? You already know I’m a big fan of Manhattans. Send me a note and I’ll share, firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a photo if you like. ** Jack Gress of Brewster died Sunday. He was a hell of a guy, tireless. Plain spoken, friendly, a patriot through and through. I’ve known him for 10 years. It is a loss that his death comes in the midst of this coronavirus mess, with its social distancing requirements. I am sure most of an afternoon could have been occupied with toasts and reminiscing. Anyway, he will be missed. I hope the 9/11 ceremony he started at his retirement community continues.
I still, yes, still, am running across people I know who do not think the social distancing rules apply to them, or think this is overblown, or think it’s a construct by “the media.” The social distancing isn’t to protect you, you idiots, it’s to protect others — your neighbors, your grandparents, your parents, and those with compromised immune systems. We are currently closest to the path of Italy in our trajectory. That path is damned grim, and the warnings from Italy are spooky. Slate has had some very good coverage. One of its writers, Mary Harris, interviewed journalist Greta Privitera, of Milan, for a piece last Thursday. Here’s part of their exchange:
Mary Harris: I’m sitting in New York and I feel like you are my future.
Greta Privitera: I’m you in 10 days, maybe two weeks. A week ago, I knew people who knew people who were sick. Now, I know people who died. You can see ambulances all the time in Bergamo, a city near Milan—it’s been hit hard by the coronavirus. They had to stop the ambulance sirens because those people were freaking out.
I’d like to briefly address this talk of “the media.” I think what has happened, in part, is that people are conflating what they read and see on Facebook with traditional media. First, Facebook does not employ the journalists, the reporters, the editors, the photographers that any daily newspaper does — heck, even the staff of most weekly newspapers. It is not liable in the way that we are — yes, our small weekly newspapers — for deliberate falsehoods. It does not especially want to search out and scrub its platform of falsehoods for two reasons. First, it’s time intensive. And secondly, the truth is usually more dull, and so less likely to encourage clicks and engagement. Facebook operates, and likes operating, as if it’s a common carrier, like the phone company. This fiction is no longer a mechanism to encourage innovation and growth. It is a way to escape the responsibility of being a publisher. And it has the unfortunate effect of encouraging irresponsible people to spread falsehoods faster, including that the coronavirus was some kind of hoax, cooked up to damage our president.
Genuine, reliable information about this pandemic will come only from trusted, known journalistic sources, and parties like your local Health Department, your doctor, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Said information will not come from Facebook.
One of the things that has gnawed at me for a while, even before the debacle we now face, is the downstream costs of our just-in-time economy. And the second thing is the deep, structural damage done to our own economy — but more than that, our capabilities in a time of crisis — by focusing so much on price that so much manufacturing has shifted to China.
The thing about just-intime delivery and just-intime manufacturing is they work fine — until they don’t. Then everything crashes down. It’s clear, now, that we cannot simply order up everything on Amazon and have it appear. Sure, it’s a fantastic idea. Order something, have it in two days. Or one day. Or even the same day, if one lives in the right area. In retrospect, it has been a dangerous conceit.
The other thing is this: We couldn’t make some of this stuff now if we wanted to. The personal protective equipment, the gowns, the N-95 masks. Yes, we’ll get set up to do it at scale, eventually. We drove so much of our textile capability offshore, with this relentless focus on price, that now we are having to recreate that capability. It was unwise. Yet we did this deliberately, and over many years, decades, even.
Maybe some of this production really is important to the nation, and our health, and more of that capability should be preserved here. It is strategic, if you will.
Until next week.
Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the PCNR. Reach him at email@example.com, or at 845- 265-2468.