While on my morning walk, usually about 5.30 or so, I am privy to seeing many peoples televisions broadcasting the news through their living room windows. Lately, I have seen a parade of images of people wearing masks for the corona virus and this morning it reminded me of the images of the plague masks used during the Bubonic plague. These masks have a bird mask with a bird-like beak to protect them from being infected by deadly diseases such as the which they believed was airborne. Not unlike our current situation, it was believed that these masks could protect the wearer from harm. Later, they became transformed into a part of the Venetian carnival masks, the celebration before Lenten frugality. This thought brings me hope that in this time of challenge, we might draw strength from challenges before us. That the masks we now wear for protection might become a sign of strength, like the pink triangle, the yellow star of David or the cross.
There are those of us who might remember the Nixon administration, waking up every morning to see what the Washington Post had brought to our doorstep, be it the latest utterance of Deep Throat, news of the plumbers, CREEP, or the details of Saturday Night Massacre . Those of us grew up in a time that distrusted the government and saw the press as a lionizing force for justice and good. Now more that 50 years later, it seems that the pendulum may have swung.
In this age of multiple media outlets, we have to wonder who really has our best interests at heart. The heirloom media seems to be struggling for its former glory posing as our knight in shining armor saving us from heartless politicians, dastardly corporations and evil doers of all persuasions- the intrepid reporter saving the day be it Erin Brockovich or the reporters on Boston Globe uncovering pedophilia in the priesthood. Now it seems that media is more content to piss on our leg and tell us that its raining. We could hardly be concerned when the corona virus was rampant in China as we were being force fed the spectacle of an impeachment in Washington with relentless urgency. Then when it appeared Bernie Sanders could actually be the front runner in the Democratic primary, we were lead to buffets of the evils of socialism and how everything we held dear would be consumed by this plan. Following hot on the heels of the redemption by Status Quo Joe, we were told how the corona virus would destroy our world and we had to sequester ourselves as our only hope of salvation. If it bleeds it leads, and an apocalypses must be a ratings bonanza. Now our media is falling over itself to walk the line between Armageddon and a happy ending trying to keep us glued to our screens for ratings. Even the New York Times has joined the cautious chorus of people suggesting that we may have over reacted to this threat. It seems odd that, as I write, in the state of Florida there are currently 6 fatalities from the corona virus and yet a discontented student could walk into a school and kill the same number of people only to be met with transient hand wringing and wailing. Thank heavens we have this slow moving exploitable situation for our media to keep us in a waking terror of other people. How else to keep us home glued to our screens watching what once was our lives.
It has been with measured alarm we watched the stock market fall in reaction to the corona virus and hearing the talking heads wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth at the effect the virus had in business, China and its long term effect on the supply chain. It seems that as the effects go ripping through the value of the stock market, that some economists are slow in learning the lessons that that this pandemic provides. At this writing it seems that the main victims of the virus, at least in China, are the elderly and the infirm. While this does have social implications, one can not ignore the economic consequences. Consider the loss of the elderly population in the United States, and the possible savings with the decrease of the aging economy- the amount in savings on social spending for this population could help decrease the federal debt as well as freeing up necessary housing for younger people with a greater work, and therefore tax paying life ahead of them. Also think of the jobs created with burying all the dead. In fact if we really wanted to ensure our economic stability, we should do away with leaving the dependency of economic success in the hands of mere mortals. Indeed, we should create consumer machines to take the job of consuming out of the hands of inconsistent people so that corporations could not only create products, they could create and program the robots that use them. A perfect closed loop in the ever upward spiral, unsullied by a messy and unpredictable consumer.
While here at the Universe, we try to keep a Janus face looking forward and backward, we are often shocked by the lack of perspective that we see in current “innovations”. Case in point, when we saw the article in quoted in Wired, about how colleges are now taking bets on the future earnings of their students to leverage their college costs against their potential earnings. In short, investors—including wealthy alumni, a hedge fund, and the Purdue Research Foundation—would front her $50,000 to cover two years of college. In exchange, she’d owe them 14.8 percent of whatever income she earned in the eight years after she graduated. “Bravo for the return to indentured servitude” our illustrious Mr Christian, cried when he heard the news, nothing the 18th century form of slavery wherein someone would work for a number of years at little or no salary for an determined period of time. While under this new system, one would only forfeit a percentage of their wages, in this case, a pittance of 14.8 %,- a bargain at twice the price! Imagine, putting your college education on your credit card- yes you get an education but at what price? How do we decide what ones potential would be? Why not have an open bidding system with the students with the most perceived potential can receive the money we think they might deserve. A sort of educational future market. We can only hope this is the death rattle of a outmoded educational system that takes all and gives little. How else can we keep the university system propped up to teach skills that are no longer needed in the coming economy? Will we need to tie students to the masts to avoid this sirens song of financial ruin or will they have awakened enough to know that what the new frontier needs is those who dance to a music being sung anew.
While driving to work the other morning and listening to Strauss Marches, I was reminded of a conversation with Richard Pearlman, a well know opera director, we were discussed an operetta I was singing at the time. I remember him saying, this is a subtle aria, you need to dig deep and mine for each small emotional change and make the most of each of these moments. With a world of information at our fingertips, perhaps like singing that operetta aria, we need to be like miners. We have a whole world of information at our fingertips and yet we are happy to feast on the low hanging fruit. We are willing to believe what ever we read and not be bothered with digging a bit deeper into the story, the claim or even the photograph. We gnash our teeth in outrage when we think that some foreign power might be influencing our elections and yet we are reticent to take on the responsibility to investigate these claims. We claim to want gold but are unwilling to dig beneath the surface seeming happy with our treasure trove of fools gold. As we have said before, media is plural but truth is singular. Let us also remember that wisdom is also plural and if we search for truth, we may gather wisdom along the way.
Five am usually finds me on my walk, though this morning, I moved from my usual morning play list and found myself listening to Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal From a Rose” and I was stunned and stopped by the sheer beauty of the piece- indeed, it reduced me to tears. As a former performer, it made me think about the true purpose of creation. Maybe, that is the true purpose of our being, to create something so achingly beautiful, so painfully exquisite that it would almost stop time. Take a moment and entertain the thought that this may be the true purpose of our life. It may be the only noble goal we can have. Keats wrote that Beauty is truth, truth beauty. Today, take a moment and focus on doing one thing as beautifully as possible, be that making a sandwich, parking the car, making the bed or interacting with another person. If we can make at least one task in our day beautiful, we can increase the beauty in the world and find an element of truth for ourselves. In an age of multiple narratives perhaps our personal truth is all we can hope for.
I have a fondness for Whitman’s, “When Lilacs Last Round the Dooryard Bloomed” and primarily the first section with the line, “I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring”. The idea of mourning was one hard to get away from in Whitman’s time, in the closing days of the Civil War, where an estimated 620,000 men lost their lives. I think of the idea of mourning and have come back to it recently and what it means in this our electronic age. Of course, everyone has had that moment of rage when a document or spreadsheet we have been working on disappears into the vapor and not to say that it is not a loss (believe me- I’ve been there) but what happens when so much of where we spend our time can be simply wiped away? We can swipe away a potential mate if we don’t find them attractive or dispose of the digital remains of a relationship with the touch of a button. No more going through letters or books from ones we have loved, the therapeutic tossing of clothes out the window, or destroying the once cherished item left behind from the one who once was so dear. Do we lose something therapeutic when we lose a tactile part of loss? Has our loss of physical mourning created a loss in our ability to mourn and perhaps feel as deeply as we have in the past? Perhaps the blue light of the computer has ceased our song and left us with a different and perhaps poorer lustrous face in the night.
The First Canto and a section of the Sixteenth Canto of “When Lilacs Last Round the Dooryard Bloomed”
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
and from the 16th canto…
I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.