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CSotD: The Thrill Is Gone

Aislan quotes Pascal and I think puts his finger on not just the moment but why the moment is happening.

I’ve often worried aloud about kids who have telephones and music plugged into their ears at all times: Will they learn to think with no experience of solitude?

My grandfather said that, before sound recording, they could walk out of a vaudeville knowing the songs, and that the invention of phonographs allowed their memories to ease up on that ability because it was no longer critical.

And, being a country boy and too far from any radio stations for a transistor radio to be of any use, I walked some distances in silence, with an occasional car passing if I stuck to the roads and with no interruptions beyond birds and chipmunks if I cut through the woods.

In this shutdown, I’m becoming more aware of how many people live in the crowded bustle of cities and who are, therefore, largely confined to their homes.

Living in a “city” of 13,500 people, I can take my dog to the park or around the block without a lot of interpersonal contact but that’s hardly the case for people in true metro areas.

Or shouldn’t be.

We asked our young reporters how they were getting through the lockdown, and one of them observed:

I am already bored and not having school has lost its novelty.
I also don’t like how empty the world outside feels; I live in the city so I am used to seeing buses and light rail and people, but now those things and sounds are absent.

So I’m willing to cut people some slack for having their lives turned so absolutely upside down while I have only been slightly inconvenienced and not the least disoriented.

But it doesn’t mean Pascal was wrong, only that we should be more tolerant of people for whom solitude is a stranger.

 

It also doesn’t mean that you are entitled to play the fool, like the self-anointed rebels in this Gary Markstein cartoon. Your discomfort does not change the science.

And, BTW, this is a good example of the old bromide that, while “dog bites man” is not news, “man bites dog” is a story. I’ve said before that, if 5,000 average-looking people turn out for a protest, it’s the jackass dressed as Uncle Sam whose photo gets in the paper.

It’s not political: Coverage of a football game includes shots of colorfully painted, costumed fans who stand out in a stadium of 70,000 normal folks.

So when you see these mobs of people defying the lockdown and demanding their rights, look for crowd size, and then ask Alexa for the population of that city.

A story in Fox News reported that

A large crowd of at least 100 protesters gathered Monday outside the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus … 

Alexa tells me that the population of Columbus is 879,000.

A crowd of “at least 100” in a city that size is not “large.”

 

But Mike Lester observes that the coronavirus lockdown is like being confined to a Nazi POW camp.

My friend Bob Booth was captured in the Battle of the Bulge because he stayed on the job calling in artillery strikes on his own forward position as the Germans advanced.

We can’t ask him, since he died last May, but I’m quite sure his life in the months that followed was very much like not being able to go to the grocery store without wearing a mask.

 

And, after all, as Clay Bennett notes, we have the word of Dr. Oz, that great purveyor of quack cures and green coffeebeans, that it’s okay if three percent of the population dies.

(Alexa pegs that at 9,810,000 deaths.)

To be fair, he questioned whether having children sit in classrooms sneezing on each other would seriously raise the death rate, and the experts at Fox News brought in Dr. Phil to further explain that, in fact, many people also die by drowning in swimming pools.

Which is probably why we have laws requiring fences around private swimming pools and trained lifeguards at public pools and beaches, but the point is that people die, which perhaps you didn’t know.

It has also been observed that people die in traffic accidents, which may explain why we license drivers, have speed limits, inspect cars and engineer highways to minimize risk.

They also die from gunshot wounds, but that’s the price of freedom, like dying from a preventable infection. Can’t do anything about either, or the terrorists have won. Or the Nazis. Whoever.

 

Tom Toles points out that we do have leadership guiding us through this crisis.

Though, as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, you go to war with an invisible enemy with the president you have, not the president you might want or wish to have at a later time.

 

And now for something completely different

A Pair of Juxtapositions

(The Barn)

 

(Reality Check)

Mssrs. W & H assure the readers their synchronicity will be second to none.

Isn’t it good, knowing they would?

 

This coincidence seems a little fishy:

(The Other Coast)

(The Flying McCoys)

An odd bit of synchronicity on the funny pages today. The Flying McCoys is purely a gag, but the Other Coast touches on some reality, with loons rather than eagles, but close enough.

While loons tend to be solitary creatures, they’ve begun to gather around fishermen in Maine (and elsewhere, I would assume) because of catch-and-release fishing.

The birds have apparently learned that, if you hang around long enough, the human will totally exhaust a large trout and then put him back in the lake as an easy catch for you.

Or you can grab it earlier.

I haven’t heard of eagles doing this, but down at the park on the Connecticut River where we walk our dogs, the eagles tend to sit in some trees below the power dam and I’m pretty sure they’re waiting to spot fish that are a little stunned from passing through the gates.

Those fish will learn (as soon as we reopen their schools).

 

Community Comments

#1 Mary Ella
April/19/2020
@ 7:03 am

1) I’ve already decided that if I catch COVID and die because my hospital runs out of PPE, I am going to haunt every last one of these denialist nimrods. Maybe I’ll start with Mike Lester first.

2) Back during WW2, my grandma worked for the government agency that enforced price controls and rationing; she and her boss would go undercover at gas stations and such and bust owners that were breaking rationing laws. I guess according to Lester and his ilk she was no better than the Red Guard and all true patriots should’ve been selling gas to anyone, whether the army needed it or not.

#2 Kip Williams
April/19/2020
@ 9:02 am

Many moons ago, a lecturer on raptors said that the range of many of these birds was slowly expanding northward and asked if any of us could say why. “The interstate highway system!” I said, after he called on me. And indeed, if you want to see birds of prey, the highway’s a pretty happening place.

#3 Mike Peterson
April/19/2020
@ 9:10 am

A friend from home posted some magnificent photos of eagles grouped in trees — a substantial number. I asked him if he’d taken a trip to Homer, Alaska, and he replied, no, he’d just gone out into the woods to where the highway department dumps the roadkill.

#4 Jason Chatfield
April/19/2020
@ 7:39 pm

Blaise has been but misquothed!

The quote is “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” and it is infinitely true.

One must be able to bathe oneself in boredom :)

https://medium.com/jason-figures-sh-t-out/bathe-yourself-in-boredom-f099cf76d098

#5 Mike Peterson
April/20/2020
@ 2:34 am

I certainly wouldn’t argue with the link posted, since it squares with what I wrote above, but leave us not quarrel over the original quote, since what Pascal said he didn’t say in English.

Here’s what he did say and a reasonable analysis of it:
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9450559

#6 Hank Gillette
April/20/2020
@ 5:02 pm

Yes, Mike, but in your grandfather’s day, there was only one song, so he heard it like 10 times while at the vaudeville theater.

Or, maybe the songs were just catchier. I can imagine someone coming out of a showing of “Mary Poppins” and humming one of several songs. I can’t imagine anyone doing that after seeing “Mary Poppins Returns”.

#7 Mike Peterson
April/21/2020
@ 4:11 am

All I know, Hank, is what he told me. I don’t think they repeated the songs 10 times in those shows.

The songs might have been catchy, but it was just traveling entertainment, not high opera. Catchy was part of the deal, sure.

What I know personally is that I don’t have the ability to remember phone numbers that I had before autodialing and my guess is that our smartphones will make it harder for us to actually know how to get from one place to another without a little voice telling us where to turn.

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