The Coronavirus Vs. Civilization

The news about the coronavirus gets worse with each passing day. Infections and fatalities are spreading exponentially, more businesses and schools are being shut down, such large cities as San Francisco are in lockdown, the stock markets are tanking as the economic repercussions increase, and now even President Donald Trump has stopped downplaying the threat and is urging Americans not to gather in groups larger than ten.
If you’re bold enough to venture out in public, or are forced by circumstances to do so, you’ll probably notice the panic about it is palpable.
Already many Americans are hoarding supplies of food and toilet papers are other necessities, which is unfortunate but understandable, but some are also stocking up on guns and ammunition, which we find even more worrisome. The coronavirus is of course invulnerable to bullets, but many people are apparently preparing for the post-apocalyptic breakdown of civilization ’70s-era dystopian movie scenario they expect will follow.
At this point we’re taking this coronavirus very seriously, and keeping to our lifelong habit of avoiding human contact or encounters with any more people than necessary, and don’t disagree with all the advice about staying at home as much as possible. We expect that a horrific number of people will get sick, that a smaller but still horrific number of people will die, and that the economic consequences for those majority who survive will be severe.
Still, we hold out hope that commerce and some semblance of civilization will also somehow survive, and that we won’t need a whole lot of guns and ammunition to get by. We have a very fancy handgun and a couple of boxes of bullets, which are well hidden in a secret location and we hope to never use, but we’re not gun-slingin’ types and don’t think it would do us much good in one of those ’70s-era dystopian movie scenarios.
We know some of the people who are stocking up on guns and ammo, and in most cases they seem to relish those post-apocalyptic possibilities. They seem to find it more enticingly adventurous than their daily lives in a world of commerce and civilization, and imagine themselves the star of the movie rather than the extra who got mowed down in the first scene. Knowing that we’d probably be among the first victims of a collapse of commerce and civilization, and rather liking the many blessings of commerce and civilization, we’re hoping they’ll persist.
So far, we like our chances, even with Trump in the White House and former Vice President Joe Biden the only plausible alternative. Commerce and civilization have long proved resilient to plagues, and the American people are a pretty plucky bunch. For everyone stocking up on guns and ammo, there are far more doing their best to not spread any germs and volunteering to deliver essential goods to shut-ins and trying to keep calm and civilized. State and local governments are on the job, so are the cops and the military, businesses are setting aside certain hours for elderly shoppers and otherwise acting responsibly, and America is still a land of mostly good people.

— Bud Norman

What We Did With a Lost Hour

Yesterday was a slow news day, which was a good a thing because most people were wandering around more slowly than usual after losing an hour of sleep to to the switch from Daylight Savings Time to the most usual Standard Time. That early morning moment when the clock sprang forward an hour on Sunday turned out be one of the most reported-on events of the day, and The Washington Post even had an opinion piece about about how “Daylight saving time is just one way standardized times zones oppress you.”
Although we were a bit groggier than usual when reading the headline, we really didn’t find the time change or our time zone all that oppressive. Being the nocturnal sorts we had been up to watch the clock jump from 1:59 to 3:00 on our computer screen, but we were nonetheless in our usual spot in the pews at the always-too-early services at the nearby church where we worship, and when we congratulated the deacon on getting there early enough to set that lone clock at the back of the pews ahead he explained that it was programed to spring forward by itself, and after a scholarly sermon from the Gospel According to John we both agreed that this was indeed still an age of miracles. We quickly got back that hour of lost sleep and then some with an afternoon nap, and with half the usual caffeine we were relatively alert during the early evening rehearsals for our annual amateur theatrics, and at no point on a cold and rain day did we feel any more oppressed than usual by standardized time zones.
The author of The Washington Post’s opinion piece is described as a “doctoral candidate in sociology at Columbia University,” which is more than we can say, but he also “studies organizations and the sociology of science, knowledge and technology,” which we have occasionally and deeply dabbled in, and at this point we are no longer intimidated by academic credentials. His essay was nicely illustrated with a well-shot silhouette photograph of the clock tower in Clay Center, Kansas, a town we quite like, which warmed our Kansan hearts, and he starts with a perfectly reasonable rant about all the Daylight Savings rigmarole, which is arguably unreasonable in this day and age when most folks don’t work on a farm, but from there it devolves into utter nonsense about the oppression of time zones and and time measurement and time in general.
Time zones make sense to us, given the fact that the sun rises in the east and then rises somewhat later in the west, and that it would it be damned discombobulating on an everyday basis for all of us out west to have to get up at the same time as the folks back east, especially here on the western edge of the improbably vast Central Time zone where the days can last through the evening on a summer day. As imperfectly as those time zones may have been drawn, they’ve allowed people to start their day at the respectable hours and tend the fields and man the factory floors and come up with all sorts of caffeinated schemes in the office suites, and despite the banking time differences between the east and west coasts the coast-to-coast commerce has benefitted. That’s not a feature but rather a bug to our Washington Post opinion piece author, though, as he bitterly notes that “Standardized time is immensely useful. It is no exaggeration to say that the modern world depends on it.” We have our own complaints with the modern world, as regular readers of this publication well know, but we can’t see why a doctoral candidate in sociology at Columbia University is so dissatisfied with it that he would want to plunge any part of the world into the inevitable darkness that his apparent preference for a singular clock would inevitably cause.
The author seems to have a certain dislike of any measurement of time, especially those he deems artificial. Earth’s every trip around the Sun takes a year, every day represents another rotation of the Earth along that journey, and the months have something to do with the waxing and waning of the moon, so the author doesn’t object to that, but those seven days of the week and those 24 hours of the days and the sixty minutes within each hour and the sixty seconds of each hour strike him as suspiciously conducive to commerce. So far as we can tell the seven days of the week have something to do with the seven days God when created everything and then took a rest, even though they’re named for Roman gods and emperors and other pagan faiths, and the sixty minutes in an hour and the sixty seconds in a minute apparently derive from some ancient mathematical theorem that no one has ever disproved, and so far they’ve worked well enough for us to show up where we’re supposed to be at the right time, except for all the times when it usually our fault.
The author of the The Washington Post opinion piece seems to find the whole concept of time oppressive, and to that we can only say amen. A late and lamented friend of ours once wrote that “Frighteningly, at any given moment another hour has passed,” and we growing increasingly aware of his point with each passing day. Elect any old visionary you want, but the Earth will take another spin and edge another 365th on its passage around the Sun, you’ll also be another day older, and it really doesn’t matter if you break it down to longstanding mathematical theorems or some convoluted political philosophy.
On America’s command the sun will set another hour later tonight, and we’ll be glad of it, because we like the daylight, and we’ll enjoy watching it stretch into the summer solstice. We can remember some times right before Daylight Savings Time kicked in when we were waiting for a school bus in the dark, and even our nocturnal selves appreciate that some people like the early hours of day, so we don’t even argue much with that admittedly artificial Daylight Savings Time stuff. Tempus Fugit, as they used say a long time ago, so we’ll try to be more alert today.

— Bud Norman