The Plague-Ground – Summer cleaning

My laptop is groaning with articles, videos, and the wave of “stuph” that lands every day from friends who say: “Must see this!”

And I nearly always do. But like you, I’ve had to become a curator of their taste. I’ve learned to always trust Englebert’s judgements, sometimes trust Guylaine and not even open the e-mails from my dear and long-standing friend, Idris.

I’m not complaining. I push “Send” more than I do “Receive.”

So now’s the time to send you the best of what I’ve received. It’s too late for spring cleaning. The pandemic in March was just a tiny shadow of what it is today.

Here then are some people and ideas who caught my fancy and I hope will catch yours.

  1. The best take-down of racism – from a comedian. I love and dread Sacha Baron Cohen, the British actor and comedian who starred in the cringeworthy Borat about a Kazakhstani who tours America and bumblingly exposes its rampant racism.But don’t confuse the role with the man. Cohen is a Cambridge-educated writer, director, producer and actor. So it’s no surprise he was asked to speak to an Anti-Defamation League conference last year. It’s worth your next 24 minutes to see Cohen take apart social media as the inciter of rising evil: As he said: “If Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his “solution” to the “Jewish problem.”
  1. A health official apologizes – again. What country hasn’t had officials break the rules they set for the rest of us around isolation and quarantine? So the National Theatre of Scotland decided to do a short ZOOM call of a fictional official who starts in denial, becomes contrite, and then……. well….…enjoy this wrenching satire on the new language of apology.
  1. A course in expert enthusiasm. If you love The New Yorker, you’ll go nuts for Adam Gopnik’s weekly online classes about the lives and work of its most storied writers – from Lillian Ross and A.J. Liebling, to J.D. Salinger and Janet Flanner. Gopnik is a New Yorker staff writer and a wildly articulate commentator on our quirks and times. He started Reading The New Yorker, a series organized by the 92nd Street Y a couple of months ago and they’re back by popular demand. But there are only three left, starting July 16. See you in class.

Enough with the viewing. Now here’s some reading:

  1. Passport, please. Stephen Marche has written a brilliant essay (12 min.) on what really makes Canadians different and able to do well in a pandemic. It’s not our niceness or even our respect for others; it’s our love of institutions. Which makes us boring, even plodding. But we do survive.
  1. “The pandemic is a portal.” Of the 3 trillion articles written about what the pandemic means, a few stand out for me.

Here’s Wade Davis’ opening of a piece to be published soon:

“Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.”

One of the most poetic and memorable views comes from the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy.

Writing last week in The Financial Times, she concluded:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Here’s the entire essay, very worth reading, weeping, smiling and… ready to fight for.

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7 replies
  1. Avatar
    Louise says:

    I woke up with a whopping head ache this morning. Staying home and staying quiet. Listening and reading your suggestions instead of minding my granddaughter.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Thanks, Tim, and by the way, Jean and I are looking for a great new TV series/movie to watch. Any recommendations?

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    JENNIFER ANNE GYLES says:

    Thanks, Bob, for your Top 5. I found Sasha Baron Cohen’s presentation to the ADL to be excellent. The National Theatre of Scotland’s piece showing a fictional health official trying out his public apology in front of a computer, was mesmerizing — from the small changes in wording at the beginning, through his own evolution in revealing the truth and then back to the version he was willing to publish. With occasional adjustments to the screen and variation in expressions, I actually felt as if I was watching someone in real-time. I know you’re the wordsmith, not me, but I’m not sure I would have used the word ‘satire’ to describe it.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      You’re right, Jennifer. It’s not satire. It’s…..reality television?!
      Thanks for checking in on this. Those Brits sure do have good writers and actors, eh?
      Cheers.
      Bob

      Reply

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