Opinion | All the Empty Seats at the Thanksgiving Table – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Courtesy Margaret Renkl

“NASHVILLE — In the box of old photos I found after my mother’s death, there’s a picture of me taken on Thanksgiving Day 1983, in the fall of my senior year of college. I’m lying on the sofa reading James Agee’s letters to Father Flye. I don’t know why the photo exists — we were not a family who documented ordinary moments. Our pictures centered on people gathered around birthday cakes and Christmas trees. Film wasn’t wasted on someone who has no idea a picture is being taken. Certainly not on someone who isn’t even smiling.

I remember that day, not because it was documented in a photograph but because I ran into my Shakespeare professor outside the liberal arts building on Monday morning, and he asked me how I’d spent the break. “All I did was eat and sleep and read James Agee,” I told him. “That sounds like the perfect Thanksgiving,” he said.

 
 

The author at home in 1983.

Maybe I remember that conversation because it startled me. It had not felt like the perfect Thanksgiving. My great-grandmother, the quiet, steady, patient anchor of the entire extended family, was missing. She’d broken her hip the year before, at 96, and then pneumonia — “the old folks’ friend,” my great-grandfather, a country doctor, called it — had taken hold. Mother Ollie was still herself right until up until the day she fell, and I suppose that’s what my great-grandfather must have meant by “friend”: that there are fates worse than death for the very aged. But a year later, the empty place at the table still felt like a rebuke. As with every death before or since, I could not get over the shock. How can love not be enough to save someone so deeply loved?” . . .

Opinion | Making the Most of the Coming Biden Boom – By Paul Krugman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

“The next few months are going to be incredibly grim. The pandemic is exploding, but Donald Trump is tweeting while America burns. His officials, unwilling to admit that he lost the election, are refusing even to share coronavirus data with the Biden team.

As a result, many preventable deaths will occur before a vaccine’s widespread distribution. And the economy will take a hit, too; travel is declining, an early indicator of a slowdown in job growth and possibly even a return to job losses as virus fears cause consumers to hunker down again.

But a vaccine is coming. Nobody is sure which of the promising candidates will prevail, or when they’ll be widely available. But it’s a good guess that we’ll get this pandemic under control at some point next year.

And it’s also a good bet that when we do the economy will come roaring back.

OK, this is not the consensus view. Most economic forecasters appear to be quite pessimistic; they expect a long, sluggish recovery that will take years to bring us back to anything resembling full employment. They worry a lot about long-term “scarring” from unemployment and closed businesses. And they could be right.

But my sense is that many analysts have overlearned the lessons from the 2008 financial crisis, which was indeed followed by years of depressed employment, defying the predictions of economists who expected the kind of “V-shaped” recovery the economy experienced after earlier deep slumps. For what it’s worth, I was among those who dissented back then, arguing that this was a different kind of recession, and that recovery would take a long time.

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And here’s the thing: The same logic that predicted sluggish recovery from the last big slump points to a much faster recovery this time around — again, once the pandemic is under control.

What held recovery back after 2008? Most obviously, the bursting of the housing bubble left households with high levels of debt and greatly weakened balance sheets that took years to recover.

This time, however, households entered the pandemic slump with much lower debt. Net worth took a brief hit but quickly recovered. And there’s probably a lot of pent-up demand: Americans who remained employed did a huge amount of saving in quarantine, accumulating a lot of liquid assets.

All of this suggests to me that spending will surge once the pandemic subsides and people feel safe to go out and about, just as spending surged in 1982 when the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates. And this in turn suggests that Joe Biden will eventually preside over a soaring, “morning in America”-type recovery.

Which brings me to the politics. How should Biden play the good economic news if and when it comes?

First of all, he should celebrate it. I don’t expect Biden to engage in Trump-like boasting; he’s not that kind of guy, and his economics team will be composed of people who care about their professional reputations, not the quacks and hacks who populate the current administration. But he can highlight the good news, and point out how it refutes claims that progressive policies somehow prevent prosperity.

Also, Biden and his surrogates shouldn’t hesitate to call out Republicans, both in Washington and in state governments, when they try to sabotage the economy — which, of course, they will. I won’t even be surprised if we see G.O.P. efforts to impede the wide distribution of a vaccine.

What, do you think there are some lines a party refusing to cooperate with the incoming administration — and, in fact, still trying to steal the election — won’t cross?

Finally, while Biden should make the most of good economic news, he should try to build on success, not rest on his laurels. Short-term booms are no guarantee of longer-term prosperity. Despite the rapid recovery of 1982-1984, the typical American worker earned less, adjusted for inflation, at the end of Reagan’s presidency in 1989 than in 1979.

And while I’m optimistic about the immediate outlook for a post-vaccine economy, we’ll still need to invest on a large scale to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, improve the condition of America’s families (especially children) and, above all, head off catastrophic climate change.

So even if I’m right about the prospects for a Biden boom, the political benefits of that boom shouldn’t be cause for complacency; they should be harnessed in the service of fixing America for the long run.

And the fact that Biden may be able to do that is reason for hope.

Those of us worried about the future were relieved to see Trump defeated (even though it’s possible he’ll have to be removed forcibly from the White House), but bitterly disappointed by the failure of the expected blue wave to materialize down-ballot.

If I’m right, however, the peculiar nature of the coronavirus slump may give Democrats another big political opportunity. There’s a pretty good chance that they’ll be able to run in the 2022 midterms as the party that brought the nation and the economy back from the depths of Covid despond. And they should seize that opportunity, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of the nation and the world.”   _30_

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A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 20, 2020, Section A, Page 26 of the New York edition with the headline: Making the Most of the Coming Biden Boom. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Opinion | Nine Nonobvious Ways to Have Deeper Conversations – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Elinor Carucci/Edwynn Houk Gallery

“After all we’ve been through this year, wouldn’t it be nice, even during a distanced holiday season, to be able to talk about this whole experience with others, in a deep, satisfying way? To help, I’ve put together a list of nonobvious lessons for how to have better conversations, which I’ve learned from people wiser than myself:

Approach with awe. C.S. Lewis once wrote that if you’d never met a human and suddenly encountered one, you’d be inclined to worship this creature. Every human being is a miracle, and your superior in some way. The people who have great conversations walk into the room expecting to be delighted by you and make you feel the beam of their affection and respect. Lady Randolph Churchill once said that when sitting next to the statesman William Gladstone she thought him the cleverest person in England, but when she sat next to Benjamin Disraeli she thought she was the cleverest person in England.

Ask elevating questions. All of us have developed a way of being that is our technique for getting through each day. But some questions, startling as they seem at first, compel us to see ourselves from a higher vantage: What crossroads are you at? What commitments have you made that you no longer believe in? Who do you feel most grateful to have in your life? What problem did you use to have but now have licked? In what ways are you sliding backward? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Ask open-ended questions. Many of us have a horrible tendency to ask questions that imply judgment: Where did you go to school? Or we ask yes/no questions: Did you have a good day? Which basically shut off interesting answers. Better questions start with “What was it like. …” or “Tell me about a time. …” or “How did you manage to cope while your wedding was postponed for a year?”

Make them authors, not witnesses. The important part of people’s lives is not what happened to them, but how they experienced what happened to them. So many of the best conversations are not just a recitation of events. They involve going over and over an event, seeing it from wider perspectives coating it with new layers of emotion, transforming it, so that, say, an event that was very hard to live through is now very satisfying to remember.

Treat attention as all or nothing. Of course, we all have divided attention. In “You’re Not Listening,” Kate Murphy writes that introverts have more divided attention than others while in conversation because there’s so much busyness going on in their own heads. But in conversation it’s best to act as if attention had an on/off switch with no dimmer. Total focus. I have a friend who listens to conversations the way congregants listen to sermons in charismatic churches — with amens, and approbations. The effect is magnetic.

Don’t fear the pause. Most of us stop listening to a comment about halfway through so we can be ready with a response. In Japan, Murphy writes, businesspeople are more likely to hear the whole comment and then pause, sometimes eight seconds, before responding, which is twice as long a silence as American businesspeople conventionally tolerate.

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Keep the gem statement front and center. In the midst of many difficult conversations, there is what the mediator Adar Cohen calls the gem statement. This is the comment that keeps the relationship together: “Even when we can’t agree on Dad’s medical care, I’ve never doubted your good intentions. I know you want the best for him.” If you can both seize that gem statement it may point to a solution.

Find the disagreement under the disagreement. In the Talmudic tradition when two people disagree about something, it’s because there is some deeper philosophical or moral disagreement undergirding it. Conversation then becomes a shared process of trying to dig down to the underlying disagreement and then the underlying disagreement below that. There is no end. Conflict creates cooperative effort. As neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett writes, “Being curious about your friend’s experience is more important than being right.”

The midwife model. Sometimes people talk to solve a person’s problem. The Rev. Margaret Guenther wrote that a good conversationalist in these cases is like a midwife, helping the other person give birth to her own child. That means spending a lot of time patiently listening to the other person teach herself through her narration, bringing forth her unthought thoughts, sitting with an issue as it slowly changes under the pressure of joint attention. “To influence actions,” neuroscientist Tali Sharot writes, “you need to give people a sense of control.”

Deeper conversations help people become explicable to each other and themselves. You can’t really know yourself until you know how you express yourself and find yourself in another’s eyes. Deeper conversation builds trust, the oxygen of society, exactly what we’re missing right now.

“Humans need to be heard before they will listen,” Amanda Ripley writes.

It’s been a rough year for all that, but this Thanksgiving, the possibility of deep talk is still out there, even over Zoom.” -30-

Opinion | The Problem With Coronavirus School Closures – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

“Some things are true even though President Trump says them.

Trump has been demanding for months that schools reopen, and on that he seems to have been largely right. Schools, especially elementary schools, do not appear to have been major sources of coronavirus transmission, and remote learning is proving to be a catastrophe for many low-income children.

Yet America is shutting schools — New York City announced Wednesday that it was closing schools in the nation’s largest school district — even as it allows businesses like restaurants and bars to operate. What are our priorities?

“I have taught at the same low-income school for the last 25 years, and, truly, I can attest that remote schooling is failing our children,” said LaShondra Taylor, an English teacher in Broward County, Fla.

Some students don’t have a computer or don’t have Wi-Fi, Taylor said. Kids regularly miss classes because they have to babysit, or run errands, or earn money for their struggling families.

Covid Indoors: Scrubbing Surfaces Does Little to Mitigate Threat – The New York Times

“HONG KONG — At Hong Kong’s deserted airport, cleaning crews constantly spray baggage trolleys, elevator buttons and check-in counters with antimicrobial solutions. In New York City, workers continually disinfect surfaces on buses and subways. In London, many pubs spent lots of money on intensive surface cleaning to reopen after lockdown — before closing again in November.

All over the world, workers are soaping, wiping and fumigating surfaces with an urgent sense of purpose: to fight the coronavirus. But scientists increasingly say that there is little to no evidence that contaminated surfaces can spread the virus. In crowded indoor spaces like airports, they say, the virus that is exhaled by infected people and that lingers in the air is a much greater threat.

Hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds — or sanitizer in the absence of soap — is still encouraged to stop the virus’s spread. But scrubbing surfaces does little to mitigate the virus threat indoors, experts say, and health officials are being urged to focus instead on improving ventilation and filtration of indoor air.

“In my opinion, a lot of time, energy and money is being wasted on surface disinfection and, more importantly, diverting attention and resources away from preventing airborne transmission,” said Dr. Kevin P. Fennelly, a respiratory infection specialist with the United States National Institutes of Health.

Plexiglass Barriers Won’t Stop the Virus at the Debate, Experts Warn – By Apoorva Mandavilli – The New York Times

“A box fan, an air filter — and duct tape to attach them.

With four such cobbled together devices, at perhaps a total of $150, the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday night could be made much safer, according to experts in airborne viruses.

Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris were seated more than 12 feet apart on the podium, with plexiglass barriers between them. Mr. Pence and his aides had objected to the barriers, but relented on Tuesday night.

The barriers might make more sense if Mr. Pence and Ms. Harris were seated more closely together on the podium, scientists said. But the risk in this setting is airborne transmission of the coronavirus, and the barriers will do nothing to protect Ms. Harris and the moderator, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, if Mr. Pence were infected.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines confirming that the virus can be carried aloft by aerosols — tiny droplets — farther than six feet indoors. In one recent study, scientists isolated infectious virus some 16 feet from an infected patient in a hospital.

FAQ: How to get coronavirus exposure notifications on your phone – The Washington Post

November 18, 2020 at 7:00 a.m. EST
PLEASE NOTE

“The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

This demonstration shows a close-contact alert from the Bluetooth coronavirus exposure notification app made by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

Here’s a phone alert you wouldn’t want to miss: “You have likely been exposed.”

The coronavirus surge is upon us, and your phone might be able to help. About 100 million Americans now have the ability to get pop-up notifications from local health authorities when they’ve personally spent time near someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus.

But exposure notifications only work if you and the people around you turn them on. Yes, you!

There’s early evidence this anonymous smartphone technology works — but so far isn’t helping very many Americans. In August, I wrote about the first of these state-sponsored alerts, Virginia’s Covidwise app. In the three months since, only 488 people have used the state’s app to send alerts about a positive diagnosis to others.”

Source: FAQ: How to get coronavirus exposure notifications on your phone – The Washington Post

Opinion | Living in Nova Scotia’s Covid-Free World – The New York Times

By 

Credit…Paul Atwood for The New York Times

HALIFAX, Canada — This morning, my children went to school — school, in an old brick building, where they lined up to go in the scuffed front doors. I went to work out at the gym, the real gym, where I huffed and puffed in a sweaty group class. And a few days ago, my partner and I hosted a dinner party, gathering eight friends around the dining room table for a boisterous night that went too late. Remember those?

Where I’m living, we gather without fear. Life is unfolding much as it did a year ago. This magical, virus-free world is just one long day’s drive away from the Empire State Building — in a parallel dimension called Nova Scotia.

This is one of the four Atlantic provinces that cling to the coast of Canada, north and east of Maine. In Canada, these are typically known as “have-not provinces,” economically depressed areas dependent on cash transfers from wealthier provinces to the West.

New Pfizer Results: Coronavirus Vaccine Is Safe and 95% Effective – By Katie Thomas – The New York Times

“The drug maker Pfizer said on Wednesday that its coronavirus vaccine was 95 percent effective and had no serious side effects — the first set of complete results from a late-stage vaccine trial as Covid-19 cases skyrocket around the globe.

The data showed that the vaccine prevented mild and severe forms of Covid-19, the company said. And it was 94 percent effective in older adults, who are more vulnerable to developing severe Covid-19 and who do not respond strongly to some types of vaccines.

Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its partner BioNTech, said the companies planned to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization “within days,” raising hopes that a working vaccine could soon become a reality.

The trial results — less than a year after researchers began working on the vaccine — shattered all speed records for vaccine development, a process that usually takes years.

“The study results mark an important step in this historic eight-month journey to bring forward a vaccine capable of helping to end this devastating pandemic,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said in a statement.

If the F.D.A. authorizes the two-dose vaccine, Pfizer has said that it could have up to 50 million doses available by the end of the year, and up to 1.3 billion by the end of next year.

However, only about half of its supply will go to the United States this year, or enough for about 12.5 million people — a sliver of the American population of 330 million. Americans will receive the vaccine for free, under a $1.95 billion deal the federal government reached with Pfizer for 100 million doses.”

Opinion | When I Step Outside, I Step Into a Country of Men Who Stare – By Fatima Bhojani – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Bhojani is a writer from Pakistan.

Credit…Abdul Majeed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — I am angry. All the time. I’ve been angry for years. Ever since I began to grasp the staggering extent of violence — emotional, mental and physical — against women in Pakistan. Women here, all 100 million of us, exist in collective fury.

“Every day, I am reminded of a reason I shouldn’t exist,” my 19-year-old friend recently told me in a cafe in Islamabad. When she gets into an Uber, she sits right behind the driver so that he can’t reach back and grab her. We agreed that we would jump out of a moving car if that ever happened. We debated whether pepper spray was better than a knife.

When I step outside, I step into a country of men who stare. I could be making the short walk from my car to the bookstore or walking through the aisles at the supermarket. I could be wrapped in a shawl or behind two layers of face mask. But I will be followed by searing eyes, X-raying me. Because here, it is culturally acceptable for men to gape at women unblinkingly, as if we are all in a staring contest that nobody told half the population about, a contest hinged on a subtle form of psychological violence.

“Wolves,” my friend, Maryam, called them, as she recounted the time a man grazed her shoulder as he sped by on a motorbike. “From now on, I am going to stare back, make them uncomfortable.” Maryam runs a company that takes tourists to the mountainous north. “People are shocked to see a woman leading tours on her own,” she told me.”

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