Just Give Us Some Data

All we wanted was one particular piece of data: the number of Covid-19 deaths per capita in the U.S., compared to…let’s just say a couple of other places picked at random. Despite the habitual consumption of mass quantities of news and vaguely news-like material, we could not recall ever having seen the available data sliced that particular way.

That struck us as odd. What better benchmark could there be for judging one country’s performance against another?

By quantifying deaths rather than total cases, you may assess not just the effectiveness of a nation’s efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, but also the ability of its health care system to keep those who are infected alive. And, by quantifying deaths per capita, you may fairly compare countries of any size.

Perhaps we’re just slipping. Under these conditions…? We’ve been curious about this for months now, though, and honestly do not recall having seen it addressed. We are not suggesting a conspiracy. We haven’t slipped that much yet.

There does seem to be, though, less by design than from habit and convention, a general reluctance among some news operation—those which one might classify as unavoidable, or ubiquitous—to ask a certain sort of question. Some questions yield answers which, if honest and correct, lead the reader to an uncomfortable choice: existential despair, or revolution?

Other news organizations, of course, deal with this sort of question routinely. For our troubles, we are widely ignored.

When our more profit-oriented colleagues universally adopted a new morbid milestone this week—more Americans have now died from Covid-19 than were killed in the First World War—that finally tripped our trigger.

Getting the answer, it turned out, was easier than we had expected. The answer, however, was worse.

OurWorldInData.org has compiled all the relevant data, from reliable sources, and built an interface easy enough even for us to use. We dialed in our request, and it returned this chart (below)—in color. We considered, for consistency, converting the chart to black and white; color does seem to help, though.

What it shows is that, at the pandemic’s worst (so far), one Chinese citizen out of every million was dying every ten days.

Meanwhile, out of every million U.S. citizens, nearly ten are dying every day.

Roughly speaking, it appears from our inquiry that China and Cuba are both outperforming the U.S. by a factor of 100 to one.


There are so many windows in this thing we’re going to call it the New Panopticon. Marvins must have been on sale during its design phase. Jeremy Bentham’s original panopticon was a prison, designed so that each guard could observe the cells of 32 prisoners without being seen himself. Since the prisoners could not know when they were being watched, they were motivated to act as though they were being watched at all times. “Thus,” according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, “the inmates are effectively compelled to regulate their own behaviour.” This version, which employs the gray, faux-cinder block motif pioneered at the Temple of Gloom, across the street from Keefe House on Islington Street, seems more suited for surveillance of general public as they negotiate the intersection of Deer and Maplewood Avenue.

The Second Tulsa Massacre

Thanks to the de facto censorship imposed on our public schools by the forces of conservatism, few white Americans were aware until very recently of the bloody 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Most of those who were, learned about it last year by watching the terrific HBO series “Watchmen.” Believed to be “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” a white mob reduced the wealthiest black community in the U.S. to smoking rubble, killing hundreds in the process.

Recently, President Trump has increased the general awareness of that terrible crime by scheduling a campaign rally in Tulsa to take place on Juneteenth—which celebrates the end of slavery after the alleged defeat of the South in the Civil War.

We can probably rule out public education as Trump’s motive, though. More likely he was taking his cue from Ronald Reagan, who kicked off his 1980 Presidential campaign with a rally in Neshoba County, Mississippi, just a few miles from the site where three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were murdered 16 years earlier.

The event’s grotesque timing was more than even the Trump campaign could handle—so it was re-scheduled by one whole day.

Trump treats black voters and the coronavirus with about the same level of respect. There is an important difference, though.

Republicans are experts at preventing black people from voting. Indeed, some of them were doing it even before Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, back when they were still Democrats.

The coronavirus is not so easily deterred. Trump and his enablers find that fact inconvenient, so they’re ignoring it. In doing so they’re assuring that it will keep going until it burns itself out.

So, Americans—in Tulsa, and around the country—will get the worst of both worlds. We’re getting the economic effects of a shutdown, without its benefits.



Structural Racism? You’re Looking At It

There appears to be a debate going on about whether this country is inherently racist. Why not? Americans will debate just about anything. Is the sky blue? Well….

This continental land mass was once populated by a people which had sole use of it for more than ten thousand years. Their descendants are now outnumbered fifty to one by more-recent interlopers. The ratio of the net worth of these two groups is also asymmetrical.

During the nation’s economic development, two dominant methods developed for the use of capital. The north invested in machines, the south put its money in men—and women, and children, in the form of chattel slavery.

One current school of thought seems to hold that since the latter form of economic development came to an abrupt halt in mid-1865, it is no longer relevant and the less said about it, the better. Another would argue that, as a nation, we have not done as well as we should have to understand the central role slavery played in our national economic development.

We count ourselves in the latter camp. We haven’t much choice. For the first 30 years of its existence, this newspaper was dependent upon the enslaved labor of an African man called Primus.

Tobias Ham Miller (1801–1870) was born some eight years after Primus died. As an apprentice, though, he sometimes worked in the printing-office of John Melcher, who knew Primus well.

Today, Juneteenth, in honor of Primus, we re-publish the following column, by “Uncle Toby,” which originally ran on October 11, 1861, in the Portsmouth Chronicle under the heading…

“Old Printers and Printers of Old.”

[A note on the text: In addition to a certain predictable degree of condescension, Miller discounts the possibility that Primus was literate. Some current scholars believe he is wrong on that point. — The Ed.]

John Melcher, Samuel Whidden, Daniel Fowle, and Old Prime—Don’t go to thinking, gentle reader, that Uncle Toby knew all these; for some of them died before he was born; but he knew a part of them, and they knew the rest.

Through one of them, Whidden, Uncle Toby claims a regular (though not exactly apostolic) succession from Fowle and Old Prime, who were the first printers of New Hampshire—of which undisputed succession he is as proud as any man ought to be of so high a distinction.

The order of succession is this: Fowle, who established the New Hampshire Gazette, had the old negro Prime, or Primus, for a pressman; John Melcher was an apprentice to Fowle; Samuel Whidden (who died here only a year or two since) was an apprentice to Melcher; and Uncle Toby was an apprentice to Whidden.

With this man, as kind a man as need be, Uncle Toby wrought at printing some time since, in an office belonging to John Melcher, who was the first State Printer New Hampshire ever had, and who lived until a very recent period. When Uncle Toby was a boy with a stint, Mr. Melcher would sometimes send him on an errand—but he would always take his ‘stick,’ and ‘set’ for him while absent, and when he returned would commonly tell him a story when he laid down the stick or emptied the “stickfull.” He was always certain to set a little more than the boy would have done; always to mark the copy where he left off;—and always to deal in this little matter so justly and fairly, that Uncle Toby was well pleased to listen to his stories. Some of these stories were of Old Prime, who was a negro pressman, belonging to Daniel Fowle, founder of the New Hampshire Gazette.

Mr. Melcher was a correct compositor, a careful proof-reader, and a good pressman; and if any man ever hated blotches and bunglers, he did. When he lost all patience with bad work, he would say, “Why, I have seen a negur, who could not tell a letter in a book, who did better presswork than any of you!” Sometimes I have tried to imagine what old Primus Fowle thought of his business, and how much pleasure he must have taken in printing books he could not read, and working hard without pay. He could not strike for wages, but but he could grumble—and tradition says that he did sometimes; and probably he did it rather often, for his temper was rather peppery, and he could snap out a reply as tart as any reproof that was given him.

Some time before the Revolution, Mrs. Fowle died; and in those days, at funerals, the negroes in a family walked with the whites, as mourners, each white member of the family having a black yokefellow at the left hand. Primus and his master on this occasion were chief mourners; but when they took their places in the procession, Primus inadvertently got on the right hand, which, in this case, was evidently the wrong side. His master saw the error, and winked, and nodded, and pointed with his finger for Primus to exchange places; but to no purpose; he touched him; but the negro remained immovable. At last he whispered, “Go to the other side,” expecting to be promptly obeyed in so slight and reasonable request; but, to his surprise and that of the bystanders, Primus screamed out, “Go tudder side ye’se’f, ye mean jade.” The master complied, and the procession moved off.

In due time Mr. Fowle himself died, and, as he left no children, his newspaper and printing-office passed into the hands of his apprentice, Mr. Melcher, whose term of service being nearly run out by its own limitation, was now closed by the death of his master. With the press went the pressman, and old Primus probably did the same work in the same way, under the new master, as he did under the old, and perhaps noted no change. Bowing down to the press, as he toiled year after year, he had a permanent stoop, and stood at his work something in the shape of a capital F. In this posture he labored and grumbled for years, and seemed to grow no older—but he did—and by and by he became so stiff and dull and feeble as to be incapable of any labor whatever. He was, however, comfortably cared for by his master, as to food and shelter, and suffered to spend his time as he pleased.

Without companions, and with no ability to read, he seemed to have no higher pleasure than to seat himself on the door-steps of shops or houses in the old paved street of Portsmouth, and sit for hours together, generally in the sunshine. The boys often amused themselves by offering him a copper for standing up straight—a feat utterly impossible; but he would attempt it, and with much effort and strange grimaces, straighten himself out as nearly as possible. To the honor of the boys be it said, he commonly got his copper; and then he sat down again to sun himself, to look at the passengers’ feet as they went by, and possibly to muse on the passage back to Guinea, whither all the negroes here used to think all black friends went after death. That was the most beautiful superstition of which their minds were capable—and surely nothing of the kind could be more harmless. Primus returned, however, to the dust, not of Guinea, but of New Hampshire, the scene of his toils, and has long occupied that narrow house where the weary are at rest! Primus was buried, with all the negroes of his day, in the old negro burying ground, front of the old jail in other words, his dust now reposes, either under the south end of Chesnut [sic] street, or perhaps under the north side of Court street.

Let no true lover of our noble craft blame Uncle Toby for selecting such a subject for a sketch. One of the earliest printers in New Hampshire was a black slave; and the early history of the State always seems imperfect to him if Prime is not seen working at the press, printing he knows not and cares not what!

The Black Lives Matter protest Sunday, June 7th, was undoubtedly the largest gathering of people in Market Square since the pandemic began. Our Wandering Photographer skirted the back edge of the crowd, grabbed a few shots, then split. Apparently he needn’t have been so cautious—Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert interviewed by Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” Wednesday, said such outdoor protests have not been shown to result in the spread of the coronavirus. It’s too small to read, but the electronic sign near the front of the church reads, “The mask is all we ask.”

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