Pandemic!

It was arguably not until March 11 that Americans started to take the coronavirus illness seriously. It first appeared in Wuhan, China in late December of 2019 (hence the 19 in the COVID-19 name), but most Americans (and their politicians; the public health and intelligence people were raising alarms but not getting any traction with elected officials) likely thought of it as something “over there.”

When Rudy Gobert of the NBA’s Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus on that date, everything changed. The NBA immediately suspended all its games. It was followed in short order by Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer. That got Americans’ attention.

Unfortunately, it did not get the President of the United States’ attention, except as a hindrance to his re-election campaign. President Trump tried to suppress mass testing of the population for the virus because he didn’t want “the numbers” of sick people to reflect badly on him. That, coupled with a misstep by the CDC which caused its first batch of tests to fail, put the US behind and it has yet to catch up. Even at this late date, due to the shortage of tests, with over 42,000 known cases of COVID-19 and over 600 dead, the US has probably not scratched the surface of the number of Americans who’ve been infected.

In addition, the delay in taking the pandemic seriously meant that hospital and clinic stockpiles of masks, gowns and other gear (PPE — Personal Protective Equipment) are woefully inadequate. President Trump has been dilatory in demanding that factories begin switching their output from widgets to PPE gear and ventilators. He has “invoked” the Defense Production Act which gives him wide latitude to do so, but his Republican ideology requires that he not “tell business” what it should do.

He is now making noises about lifting Presidential guidelines which suggest that Americans “hunker down” and stay home because he’s fearful that a poor economy will hurt his re-election chances. He doesn’t seem to understand that if he proved to be a competent leader through a national disaster that would reflect very well on him.

Here’s a timeline updated through today.

Baseball is a funny game

There are a lot of ways to make an out on the basepaths in a baseball game, but getting hit by a batted ball is one of the rarest. I saw it happen once.

The question: How can a game end on a base hit by player on the team that is trailing without the ball being touched by the defensive team?

Here’s how:

With Brave runners on first and third and two out in the ninth inning, Atlanta’s Ted Simmons hit a line drive off Dodger starter Orel Hershiser that was seemingly headed into right field to easily score Trench Davis with the tying run.

Instead, the ball hit Glenn Hubbard, the runner at first base, squarely on the shoulder and then trickled into shallow right field. Hubbard slumped to the ground, as if shot, and Dodgers players momentarily mulled around the field unaware that the final out had been recorded.

But first base umpire Gerry Davis singled Hubbard out, giving the Dodgers their third straight one-run win.

For those scoring at home, give Simmons a single and also make the game-ending put out by first baseman Franklin Stubbs, who never actually touched the ball.

There’s a cliché that says “Every time you go to a baseball game, you see something you’ve never seen before.” This was certainly true of me that night.

Super Bowl calamity

As a 49er fan since the Montana days of the 1980s, tonight’s game was very disappointing. They outplayed the Chiefs for 3 1/2 quarters and then their defense completely let them down.

San Francisco coughed up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Its offense couldn’t stay on the field to prolong drives, the defense couldn’t come up with timely stops, and a final-minute drive came up short as the Kansas City Chiefs emerged with a 31-20 victory at Hard Rock Stadium.

Thanks to last year’s 13 – 3 win by the Patriots over the Rams and this 11-point win by the Chiefs over the 49ers the average point differential between teams in the Super Bowl for its entire history has now dropped below two touchdowns to 13.91 points for the first time in 54 years.

Last of the Star Wars films (for a while)

Last Tuesday (the 21st) I took advantage of a theater gift card I got for Christmas and went out to see the latest “Star Wars” film. I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it was the best of the nine episodes in the Jedi/Skywalker story, but it was far from the worst. I might have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t bumped the popcorn bag and knocked about two inches out of it and onto the theater floor. That was the most buttery part, too.

I knew going in there were going to be some edited bits with Carrie Fisher as General Organa, but I had no idea that Mark Hamill as Luke, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Harrison Ford as Solo were going to reappear, even briefly. That was fun.

I have no idea what Disney is going to do next with the franchise, but I’m sure their accountants are looking at box office receipts as I write this and plotting and planning.

More Christmas tales

(Originally posted 12/25/18)

I have posted two of these nearly every year for the past ten:

“Yes Virginia”, the story of Francis P. Church’s New York Sun newspaper editorial responding to Virginia O’Hanlon’s question about Santa Claus’s existence.

Jo Walton’s wonderfully imaginative story of Joseph, faced with a newly-pregnant girlfriend and a sudden requirement to travel to Bethlehem.

The third story, new this year, is John Scalzi’s interview with Marta Pittman, Santa Claus’s lawyer.

Christmas Eve poems

Alan Mandell reads Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas.” Mandell is a Canadian-born theater actor.

The poem was published in 1823, but Moore didn’t acknowledge his authorship until he published a book of poems in 1844. There’s apparently an ongoing dispute among some literati and academics as to whether he was the actual author. He was quite a character. He got extremely rich subdividing his inherited real estate on Manhattan Island, and in 1827 he donated the land on which the Episcopal General Theological Seminary now sits.

Here’s a musical version performed by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. Waring was an interesting character. He was a bandleader, radio and TV personality, and a promoter. He backed the inventor of the Waring blendor to the tune of $25,000, apparently getting the naming rights to the gadget. “…the Waring-owned Miracle Mixer was introduced to the public at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago retailing for $29.75. In 1938, Fred Waring renamed his Miracle Mixer Corporation as the Waring Corporation, and the mixer’s name was changed to the Waring Blendor (the “o” in blendor giving it a slight distinction from “blender”).”

The ancient choir

King’s College (Cambridge) has a glorious choir, comprised of 16 boys aged 7-13 and 10 adults. It was founded in — get ready — 1441 by King Henry VI of England. It’s famous for its “Nine Lessons and Carols,” performed and broadcast throughout the world on Christmas Eve via the BBC. The Lessons have been broadcast annually since 1928 with one exception (1930) via radio and televised since 1954.

Here the choir sings a lively “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” The song is no spring chicken either; it was first mentioned in a book of dances published in 1589. It was first published with the current lyrics in 1924.

Christmas readings

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has a daily radio show called “As It Happens.” During the Christmas season its hosts have read various seasonal stories during part of the 90-minute program for years and years. All of them are wonderful performances. Here are links to a few:

“The Gift of the Magi,” O. Henry’s classic short story read by the show’s long-time host Alan Maitland.

“The Shepherd,” Frederick Forsyth’s ghost story about an RAF pilot whose plane has suffered a catastrophic electrical failure while flying from a base in Germany across the Channel to England in 1957. Also read by Maitland, it always appears during the last show before Christmas.

“Who Has Seen the Wind,” an excerpt from W.O. Mitchell’s novel of Depression-era Saskatchewan.

“Bone Button Borscht,” a retelling of the folk tale “Stone Soup” in a Jewish context by Toronto author Aubrey Davis. It’s read by another long-time host, Barbara Budd.

“To Everything There is a Season,” Alistair MacLeod’s Cape Breton Christmas tale.