The New, Improved Five O’Clock Follies

Noted epidemiologist, Vietnam War draft dodger, and President, Donald J. Trump now conducts televised daily briefings on the Federal Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic—and whatever other random thought-substitutes may then be fluttering around, bat-like, in his belfry.

We hope that scientists in the future—if there is one, and there are any—will study this phenomenon and confirm or deny the following theory, which is ours: when he gets in front of the cameras and talks, the nation’s collective IQ plummets.

Collective intelligence is not exactly a commodity which we have in surplus. He should be grateful to the President’s handlers, though, for inducing him to accept these briefings as a substitute for campaign rallies.

If they had continued, those hate-fests might eventually have counterbalanced through attrition the voter suppression efforts which keep Republicans in power. More likely, though, they’d have just raised the death toll, right across the board. There’s that bipartisanship for which everyone’s been clamoring.

As the victim of a cruel disability (a worm hole in that part of his brain which, in normal people, detects irony) he holds these events at 5:00 o’clock. During the war that he skipped out on, that was the time when the Pentagon’s Public [Dis]Information Officers tried in vain to convince war correspondents that everything was going according to plan. Their method was way ahead of its time: they employed drone warfare. Not in the sense we use it today, though. They stood at a podium and read in monotone an endless list of meaningless statistics which, according to then-current algorithms, proved conclusively that the light at the end of the tunnel was not on the front of an oncoming locomotive.

During Tuesday’s episode, the President—who dithered for months as this pandemic gained momentum—tried to lay some of the blame off to the World Health Organization. The italicized text below comes directly from the White House transcript:

Trump – “But we want to look into it—World Health Organization—because they really are—they called it wrong. They called it wrong. They really—they missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and they should have known. And they probably did know, so we’ll be looking into that very carefully.

And we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we’re going to see. It’s a great thing if it works, but when they call every shot wrong, that’s no good.”

Three thousand words later, a journalist asks a question:

Journalist – “Thanks. A quick follow-up on that. So is the time to freeze funding to the WHO during a pandemic of this magnitude?”

The President – “No, maybe not. I mean, I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.”

Journalist – “You did say that you’re going to —”

The President – “We give a tremendous —”

Journalist – “You said you’d put a hold on it.”

The President – “No, I didn’t. I said we’re going to look at it. We’re going to investigate it. We’re going to look at it. But we will look at ending funding.”

[Emphasis (bold) added.– The Ed.]

Strictly speaking, this is not news, but, for the record: when the President speaks, a series of sounds tumble from his mouth. Trying to assign any fixed meaning to them is a chump’s game. If he were where he belongs, that is, standing in a public park in Queens, orating at pigeons, with a loved one, if one can imagine such a thing, watching to make sure he comes to no harm—this would not be a problem. Tragically that is not the case. This man is supposedly the leader of what used to be called the free world.

WHO funding matters, of course. So does Covid testing. In March, Trump was promising millions of tests “soon.” They never materialized. NPR reported Wednesday that “Some local officials are disappointed the federal government will end funding for coronavirus testing sites this Friday. In a few places those sites will close as a result. This as criticism continues that not enough testing is available.”

If you don’t test, of course, if you won’t get as many positive results as you would if you did test. That will create a false impression: the problem will not look so bad, and, by extension, it will look like the President is doing a better job. Those temporary, illusive benefits, all of which accrue to the President, will come at a cost, though—i.e., more people will die.

Article 25 of the Constitution, provides, under Section Four, that whenever the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet transmit their written declaration to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. As yet they have not done that, though, and it’s hard to imagine at this point what it will take to convince them. Perhaps they’re waiting for CNN to broadcast footage of his head rotating 360° on-camera, followed by a torrent of green vomit.

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy, a highly respected magazine not given to alarmist speculation, published an article yesterday headlined, “The Normal Economy is Never Coming Back.” Alan Tooze wrote, “America’s economy is now widely expected to shrink by a quarter. That is as much as during the Great Depression. But whereas the contraction after 1929 stretched over a four-year period, the coronavirus implosion will happen over the next three months. There has never been a crash landing like this before. There is something new under the sun. And it is horrifying.”


Advancing decrepitude notwithstanding, our Wandering Photographer still shambles around town from time to time, mumbling about exercise; he wants a ready excuse if he’s braced by the quarantine police. Usually camouflaged by the crowds, he’s not used to such lack of cover. On Saturday afternoon, April 4th, the closest thing to bustle was this cluster of half a dozen vapers loosely congregated at the corner of Hanover and High streets.

A Teachable Moment?

Let’s look at the bright side: yes, a highly contagious new disease has been unleashed on the world, to which no one was immune, and for which we have no vaccine; and, yes, the effects on our economy have already been such that we’re only just beginning to figure out how bad it might become. But at least people are paying some attention to a few things that have hitherto escaped their notice.

The value of the work performed by nurses and grocery store checkout clerks, for example. Exposed all day long to a dangerous pathogen, they’re used to working for relative peanuts. If they’re risking their lives to keep us healthy and fed, don’t they deserve a living wage?

The unemployment rate has absolutely exploded. How many of the recently unemployed just lost their health insurance, too?

Thousands of insurance workers do nothing but deny health care benefits to sick people. How, exactly, are they helping matters?

Medicare for All is the obvious answer to these problems. The answer is always, “How will you pay for that?”

Congress just tossed $2.2 T-T-Trillion to Jared Kushner and Steven Mnuchin, as far as anyone can tell, to dole out as they see fit. There was to have been an Inspector General, but he’s been fired. The money could end up anywhere, so keep your eyes open.

One place it won’t go is the Post Office, speaking of previously unsung heroes. One might think that since it rates a line of its own in the U.S. Constitution—Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, empowering Congress “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads”—the Postal Service might get a little respect from self-styled “Constitutional Conservatives.” One would be wrong, though, of course. Democrats put money for the Postal Service in the bailout package. Trump yanked it out.

In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. Anyone familiar with Congress’ ways will immediately realize its true intent was not to enhance, but to weaken and undermine the Postal Service.

As Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio recently explained, the law “require[d] the USPS to prefund 75 years worth of retiree health benefits in the span of ten years—a cost of approximately $110 billion. Although the money is intended to be set aside for future Post Office retirees, the funds are instead being diverted to help pay down the national debt.

“No other private enterprise or federal agency is required to prefund retiree health benefits on a comparable timetable. The mandate is responsible for all of USPS’s financial losses since 2013.”

As for accountability, the bill passed in the Senate by unanimous consent, and in the House by a voice vote—in other words, anonymously. Republicans held the whole dang Government at the time. DeFazio got a bill through the House which would end the retirement mandate. God only knows how it would get past McConnell.

A Message from the D.M.

Speaking of our good friends at the U.S. Postal Service, whom we hope to see again sooner rather than later, here’s a message from the District Manager, about how to make life a little easier and safer for your local mail carrier:

During these challenging times, postal employees are working hard to ensure residents stay connected with their world through the mail. Whether it’s medications, a package, a paycheck, benefits or pension check, a bill or letter from a family member, postal workers understand that every piece of mail is important. While service like this is nothing new to us, we need our communities’ help with social distancing.

For everyone’s safety, our employees are following the social distancing precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials. We are asking people to not approach our carriers to accept delivery. Let the carrier leave the mailbox before collecting the mail. With schools not in session, children should also be encouraged to not approach a postal vehicle or carrier.

If a delivery requires a signature, carriers will knock on the door rather than touching the bell. They will maintain a safe distance, and instead of asking for a signature on their mobile device, they’ll ask for the resident’s name. The carrier will leave the mail or package in a safe place for retrieval.

We are proud of the role all our employees play in processing, transporting, and delivering mail and packages for the American public. The CDC, World Health Organization, as well as the Surgeon General indicate there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.

With social distancing, we can keep the mail moving while keeping our employees, and the public, safe.

Regina Bugbee, District Manager, U.S. Postal Service – Northern New England District.


In agricultural terms, this town has been practicing something dangerously close to monoculture for decades now: we have more restaurant seating than people. Then there are the hotels—how many of those rooms were filled by traveling foodies? Lately, though…. Oh, well. At least we’ll always have the history. And Gilley’s is still open for takeout!

Fine, Frugal Folks Left Money for Medics

Sam Yarnold was born in New Hampshire around 1908. The son of poor immigrants, he began working at an early age, mostly in the blueberry fields and cranberry bogs of New Jersey. His nephew, Stephen H. Roberts, remembers that Sam and his wife Alice (nee Pinkham) were “quiet, sincere, and kept pretty much to themselves. Sam was very frugal and would only read a newspaper left over from a neighbor.” The Yarnolds retired to Rollinsford in 1958. Their 52 year marriage ended with Alice’s death in 1991; Sam survived her by three years.

As a tribute to their doctors, the Yarnolds left a legacy of $800,000 to fund scholarships in the range of $1,000 to $5,000 for New Hampshire residents already in the process of post-secondary education pursuing careers in nursing, medicine, or social work. This year’s applications are due by May 23, 2020; scholarships will be awarded this fall. Applications may be requested from the Alice M. Yarnold and Samuel Yarnold Scholarship Trust, 127 Parrott Ave., Portsmouth, N.H., 03801.


Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince

The office of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, at 222 Court St. in Portsmouth, will remain closed for regular business until Monday, May 4, 2020. The staff, however, are working remotely to adjust their programs to our new reality. Though visiting is currently out of the question, you can always sign up for JerriAnne Boggis’ newsletter. You never know what you might learn.

For example, we had never heard of Nancy Gardner Prince. JerriAnne’s brief mention made us want to know more: “Despite a bleak beginning selling picked berries to survive, this author and traveler would go on to serve in the court of Czar Alexander I, start a business in St. Petersburg, Russia, establish a school in Jamaica, and publish her autobiography, A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince. The full text is available online from the New York Public Library.

Who could resist this?

“I was born in Newburyport, September the 15th, 1799. My mother was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts—the daughter of Tobias Wornton, or Backus, so called. He was stolen from Africa, when a lad, and was a slave of Captain Winthrop Sargent; but, although a slave, he fought for liberty. He was in the Revolutionary army, and at the battle of Bunker Hill. He often used to tell us, when little children, the evils of Slavery, and how he was stolen from his native land. My grandmother was an Indian of this country; she became a captive to the English, or their descendants. She served as a domestic in the Parsons family. My father, Thomas Gardner, was born in Nantucket; his parents were of African descent. He died in Newburyport, when I was three months old. My mother was thus a second time left a widow, with her two children, and she returned to Gloucester to her father. My mother married her third husband, by whom she had six children. My step-father was stolen from Africa, and while the vessel was at anchor in one of our Eastern ports, he succeeded in making his escape from his captors, by swimming ashore. I have often heard him tell the tale. Having some knowledge of the English language, he found no trouble to pass. There were two of them, and they found, from observation, that they were in a free State. I have heard my father describe the beautiful moon-light night when they two launched their bodies into the deep, for liberty.…”

OK, then—that’s going on top of the “Read Next” pile.

Leave a Comment