Resistance to Public Health Measures

According to news published this morning, the U.S. is reporting its 20th day in a row of more than 100,000 new cases of Covid-19. The country is now averaging over 1,300 Covid-19 deaths per day. As of yesterday, more than 12.2 million people have been infected and 256,783 people have died of the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the newest spike coming this winter is expected to be the worst we have faced.

And yet, in the middle of the pandemic, some Americans are resisting public health measures designed to reduce health risks, citing their right to freedom of action under the Constitution. They maintain that a law requiring the wearing of a mask, for example, is unconstitutional because it limits their freedom.

According to that way of thinking, any law restricting unhealthy behavior would be unconstitutional. Worse, refusal to wear a mask is endangering the health not only of the person unmasked but of others. It is profoundly foolish and selfish.

All this is important to me because as an older man with a history of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), if I came down with Covid-19, it would likely prove fatal.

Most Americans, fortunately, are too generous and too respectful of others to take such a stand. If we work together and with the likelihood that a vaccine will soon arrive, we can survive the pandemic. So much is possible if we put the good of others first.

So let’s wear masks, keep six feet from one another, and avoid gatherings. If we work together, we can achieve almost anything.

Rerun: The Story of Shay (3)

The last installment of Shay’s story. His father is telling what happened:

“Everyone yelled, ‘Run to second, run to second!’

“Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

“By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.

“He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher’s intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman’s head.

“Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home. All were screaming, ‘Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay!’

“Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, ‘Run to third! Shay, run to third!’

“As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, ‘Shay, run home! Run home!’

“Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world.

“Shay didn’t make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!”

The end of Shay’s story. My thanks to Larry Burbank.

Rerun: The Story of Shay (2)

Continuing from yesterday the story Larry Burbank sent me:

“In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay’s team scored again.

“Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? 

“Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.  

“However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay’s life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. 

“The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.

“The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. 

“The game would now be over.

“The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman’s head, out of reach of all teammates. 

“Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, ‘Shay, run to first! Run to first!’

“Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.” 

More tomorrow.

Rerun: The Story of Shay

The software that I use for this blog reports to me daily on users’ searches to go back and reread blog posts of as long ago as three years. One of the most frequent searches is for the story of Shay. Because it is so popular, I decided to post it again for all to read. Here it is:

 Larry Burbank, another Vietnam veteran, sent me the text below. I pass it on to you.

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question: 

“When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?”

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. “I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled, comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.”

Then he told the following story:

“Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, ‘Do you think they’ll let me play?’ I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps. 

“I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, ‘We’re losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.’

“Shay struggled over to the team’s bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

“In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

“In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.”

More tomorrow.

Writing

My dry spell in writing continues. Ever since the death of my partner, Su, at the end of March, I’ve been stymied. I’ve tried multiple times to continue with the novel I was writing based on our relationship, but words won’t come.

Instead, I find myself sitting at the keyboard and remembering—how much she enjoyed the steak dinners with elaborate desserts that I fixed for her once a week, how I cleaned house before she came over, how she telephoned me every day at eight in the morning and again at eight at night. We always sat out on my deck, weather permitting, and drank in the beauty of nature before us. She claimed the hall bathroom as her own, and kept her cosmetics and lotions there. I always saw to it that the towels and face cloths there were fresh and clean.

Now the steaks I bought for her sit unused in my freezer. The ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream have been in my refrigerator so long I don’t know if they’re still edible. The house gets dirty and stays that way—no one to see it but me. I find myself waiting for the eight o’clock phone calls, then remember . . . It’s too cold to sit out on the deck, and the linen in the hall bathroom remains unused.

I have all the raw material to write our story, but I can’t do it. Someday soon, I’ll try writing a story about something else. But so far, no other story comes into my mind.

Someday. Not now.

Musical Logic in Writing Words (3)

I apologize for going into detail about the logic of music, but I believe that an intellectual understanding of that logic is necessary for the reader to grasp the underlying reasoning in Wondratschek’s writing.

And that description of musical logic is just the beginning. Writing words and sentences according to these rules rather than according to the rules of language results in highly poetic but hard-to-comprehend texts. It produces in passages like the following:

            The visible conceals the invisible.

            Like even numbers conceal the odd, like a fan conceals a face?

            A movie star, female, a big icon, in an interview: “I’m only a beautiful woman when no one’s looking.”       

Hence Self-Portrait with Russian Piano was a major challenge to read. The central character of the story was a musician, an exiled Soviet pianist living in Vienna. He thinks and speaks according to the logic of music.

Obviously, I found reading the book difficult. And I am a trained musician, with a BA in music. I regularly play the piano and, now many years ago, composed reams of music. I concluded that if a trained musician had trouble reading the book, non-musicians would find it all but incomprehensible.

The result was that I couldn’t recommend the book for the general reader—reading it would be too difficult. That didn’t mean that I judged the book as in any sense inferior. It’s just not intended for those who can’t think—and read—in musical terms.

Musical Logic in Writing Words (2)

Tonal music is written in keys, that is, establishing the starting point for the tones that make up the major and minor scales. Any tone can be that starting point and therefore a key. That means that there are twelve major and twelve minor keys from which to choose. It’s also arguable that there are seven more keys possible if one assumes that enharmonic equivalents are actually different tones. On keyboard instruments such as the piano, the tone F-sharp is the same as G-flat. But on other instruments, it’s possible to make F-sharp higher than G-flat. That allows for another seven keys.

Then there’s rhythm, the amount of time devoted to each note. In western music, rhythmic patterns are defined by beats and a brief time period called a “measure” which in most music is two, three, four, or, occasionally, five beats long. The beats themselves can be subdivided into two or three sub-beats. In complex music, composers sometimes write melodies or harmonies with two different rhythmic patterns sounding at the same time.

Tonal music reaches its artistic apex in counterpoint or polyphony, the sounding of multiple melodies at the same time. Melodies in counterpoint must be individually satisfying and go together in ways that adhere to the rules of harmony to be pleasing to the human ear. That makes composing them mammothly difficult.

Counterpoint’s most celebrated form is the fugue which sets a single melody against itself. The best known fugues are those in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well Tempered Klavier), a collection of 48 preludes and fugues. In the view of many, myself included, Bach’s fugues are the highpoint of tonal music.

More tomorrow.

Musical Logic in Writing Words

I have just finished reading and reviewing Wolf Wondratschek’s Self-Portrait with Russian Piano (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020). You can read my review at  http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/self-portrait-with-russian-piano-a-novel. This book is the only one I have ever read that uses the logic of music to construct sentences, paragraphs, even whole chapters.

The logic of music is based on moving from a place of rest to tension or imbalance resolved by a return to peace, all expressed in sound. Music is constructed in phrases, drawn from human breathing. A phrase is as long as a person could sing on a single breath. A section within a piece of music is made up of a series of phrases that either take the listener to a place different from where the music started or sometimes returns him to the spot where he began.

Western music—tonal music—uses the major and minor scales made up of seven tones each. Melodies result from arranging a series of tones drawn from the scales so that they take the listener from a place of rest into tension and then return him to a place of rest.

Harmony results from sounding more than one tone at the same time creating chords. A triad, a chord made up of three tones three and a five steps away from one another, can be constructed on any tone in the scale as the bottom note. The resulting seven triads have harmonic functions that determine how they are used. The tonic chord, that uses the first note of the scale in the lowest position, is the starting and ending spot for a musical piece. The dominant, based on the fifth note of the scale, is the point of departure and return, always propelling the listener back toward the tonic. The other five chords push or pull the listeners in various direction. The seven chord, constructed from the seventh note of the scale, also called the leading tone, seeks resolution to the tonic and is sometimes used in place of the dominant chord.

More tomorrow.

The Nug

I have just finished resurrecting and resubmitting s short story of mine published many years ago called “The Nug.” It’s based on my experience working with soldiers on the battlefield during the Vietnam war. In the story, a news reporter on assignment with the troops in Vietnam helps three soldiers build their new enlisted men’s club, where the men can relax and drink. By the end of the story, the Tet Offensive has been launched. The club has been destroyed by enemy artillery fire, two of the three soldiers have been killed, and the third has lost a leg. The reporter grieves alone.

The title of the story comes from GI slang I learned in Vietnam. A “nug” was a new guy. As one of the characters in the story explains to the reporter, a nug is a new girb—that is, a new GI rat bastard—“a new troop. A tenderfoot. A new guy. Wet behind the ears. Can’t find the latrine or his ass in the dark.”

The character of the reporter is, of course, based on myself. The soldiers are drawn from men I knew on the battlefield. So many of them didn’t survive. Their loss is an enduring wound to my soul.

I wrote “The Nug” to memorialize the young soldiers killed during the Vietnam war and to vent my own grief over them. Rereading the story all these years later reminded me that my sorrow is still with me and always will be.

Trump: A Danger to the Country

Donald Trump is endangering the U.S. in a number of ways during his final days in office. Two stand out.

The country is moving quickly into a new wave of Covid-19 cases. We suffered 153,496 Covid-19 cases Thursday, the country’s highest daily caseload and the first time the number of coronavirus infections have exceeded 150,000 in a single day. That makes the tenth consecutive day cases have topped 100,000. As I write, the U.S. has recorded almost 11 million Covid-19 cases and nearly 250,000 virus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the midst of the carnage, President Trump does nothing to cope with the pandemic. He has ranged from declaring that Covid-19 would soon disappear to mocking the use of masks, one of the most effective means of curtailing the spread of the virus. Had he pushed preventive practices, such as the use of masks, social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding gatherings, he could have saved as many as a hundred thousand lives. Every day that he does nothing, more people die.

And Trump has become a security threat. He possesses detailed information on U.S. intelligence sources and methods and classified data on U.S. defensive weaponry. He has already disclosed highly classified information to foreign leaders, including Vladimir Putin. In his funk over election defeat, Trump might well decide to reveal the nation’s secrets, perhaps making them public or maybe sharing them with dictators he admires.

And these are only two of the many ways that Trump can inflict severe damage in vengeance for his election defeat.

Beware, Americans. Trouble lies ahead.