When will it ever end?
“If you don’t read the news you are uninformed. If you read the news, you are misinformed”
The 2 Minute Incite has been hibernating. Honestly, I’ve been distracted by such absorbing amusements as driveway workouts, podcast binges and illegal nocturnal strolls. Meanwhile this most inscrutable of stories continues to envelop us. How you de-code it will depend - at least to some extent - on who you’ve appointed to edit it for you. Remember, most of what you’re reading is little more than a first draft of what will only one day become full-bodied history. Here are a few glimpses from the newsroom, chosen less for their “factfulness” than for the ways in which they are, for better or for worse, shaping my experience of the pandemic
Charlie Mackesy - British sculptor and painter
I first encountered Charlie’s work in 2015 when he tweeted a pen and ink sketch of an angel mourning the victims of the Paris terror attacks. Fast forward to March 22, three days before the lockdown started and the eve of my wife’s birthday. As I gingerly made my way through the crowds in OR Tambo airport, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten to buy a birthday present. Ducking into the nearest bookshop, I picked up a copy of Charlie’s book, “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse”. It was a bleak moment: the airport would soon be closing and when it did, the cashier who had so cheerfully served me would probably lose his job. The book, which deals with the themes of companionship and compassion, has sold over a million copies since November last year, a high percentage of those sales coming since the pandemic began. Mackesy has tirelessly used his art during lockdown to champion the cause of mental health and to rally support for the NHS. Many of his prints grace the walls of hospital waiting rooms. If you like them, you can order one here
Brian Chesky: Airbnb
Airbnb and Uber, two of the most feted success stories of recent years - are in a fight for their lives. For those of you facing the unenviable task of letting people go and can’t quite find the words to pitch it, look no further than this compassionately worded letter from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. It concludes with:
“I am truly sorry. Please know this is not your fault. The world will never stop seeking the qualities and talents that you brought to Airbnb…that helped make Airbnb. I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing them with us.”
Andrew Cuomo: Governor of New York
Franklin D. Roosevelt - generally ranked as America’s third greatest president, often referred to himself as “Educator in Chief”. His fireside chats - especially ones like this one, simplified the complexities surrounding his “New Deal”. Andrew Cuomo is proof that someone kept the Roosevelt mould: The Governor’s public updates balance urgency with calm, assertiveness with reassurance, (and his use of PPT slides is best in class too). Through frequent use of metaphor, Cuomo has helped people understand the arcane world of epidemiology and the mountains of data it engenders. My wife has especially enjoyed Cuomo’s lively interviews with his younger brother Chris (a CNN anchor who himself was infected by the virus). The two have injected much-needed humanity into the crisis whilst providing a worm’s eye view of the illness itself.
President Donald J. Trump
As Gore Vidal has written, wars (and this pandemic is a war) call for “sensitive and discriminating judgement” as well as a “skilled intelligence to scent out the truth and the courage to follow the faint light wherever it may lead”. Vidal was writing of Lincoln - to whom Trump has been comparing himself lately. President Trump’s windy and inflammatory press briefings prove little more than a knack to cram the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought. The great mystery, however, is not how Trump can be so bad, but how such badness can attract so many eyeballs and eardrums.
Gina Kolata - New York Times Columnist and two times Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Amidst all the clamour and clutter, Kolata’s article “How Pandemics End” completely rearranged my molecules. Kolata distinguishes between a medical end to the pandemic and a social end. The end, she observes, comes not because the disease has been defeated but because people grow tired of the panic and restrictions which attend it.
With apologies to the Elvis gospel classic, the pandemic is “so high you can’t get over it, so low, you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it, you gotta go through the door”.
Maybe that’s where our happy ending lies. Stay well.