Conversations with Cornel West, Mike Davis, Matt Stoller, and Dr. Camara Jones about inequality, coronavirus, and the end of the presidential campaign that focused especially on addressing medical inequality. Listen today at 2 pm EST or anytime at our site.
This week the coronavirus pandemic caused thousands of deaths just in New York, and thousands more across the U.S. and around the planet. It’s also become painfully clear this week that COVID-19 is unevenly distributed, disproportionately affecting and causing death among Latino and black Americans. Here are some of the statistics, listed by Ibram X. Kendi at The Atlantic:
In Michigan, black Americans comprise 14.1 percent of the state population, but an ungodly 40 percent of coronavirus deaths. In Washtenaw County, home to Ann Arbor, 48 percent of residents hospitalized with the coronavirus are black, though black people make up only 11 percent of the county. In Illinois, the infection rate among black Americans is twice their percentage of the state population. In North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, black people comprise 32.9 percent of the residents, but 43.9 of the confirmed coronavirus cases, as of March 30. In Milwaukee, black Americans make up 26 percent of the county, but nearly half of the infections and a maddening 81 percent of deaths as of Friday.
We spoke about connections between health disparity and racial inequality with Dr. Camara Jones, a physician who’s a fellow this spring at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She explains how systemic racism leads to deadly consequences at the level of health; it’s because, she says,
of our segregated life chances. Because we have been living in communities that have been disinvested, actively neglected, poor food options, especially poor healthy food options, limited green space, lots of pollution, all this stuff, we carry the burden of all of those unfavorable environments in our bodies.
Mike Davis is the renowned social theorist and author of City of Quartz, and he spoke on this week’s show about the extreme nature of health inequality across the globe:
There are really two distinct humanities. One humanity is reasonably healthy and well-fed. And in that humanity, epidemic disease or the current pandemic take their toll mainly on people with chronic illnesses and on the elderly. Now, of course, these chronic illnesses often are associated with poverty and racism in those societies. But, you know, on the whole, this humanity is healthy. Then there’s another humanity: more than half the human race, which lacks access to clean water, sanitation. A billion people of that humanity live in slums. And that humanity has preexisting conditions on a far larger scale than in the first.
While we’re witnessing the health disparities determined according to social categories of class and race, we’re also saying goodbye to the presidential campaign most vocally committed to expanding healthcare access and to addressing healthcare injustice. The 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign for president has ended, and one question now is: what happens to that movement?
Matt Stoller is skeptical about whether Bernie, ultimately, stood for much of anything. He sees the left as it now stands as “pathetic.” Lately, Stoller has instead expressed admiration for elements of right-wing populism. Of Sanders, Stoller says:
He’s not a real revolutionary. He’s not. It’s not a hostile takeover, he personally is a kitten when it comes to the Democratic Party. It’s a fake independence from the Democratic Party.
This, it might go without saying, is not the view of Dr. Cornel West, who chose to speak to Chris in particular about the end of the Sanders campaign, for which he’s advocated intensely. As you’ll hear, Dr. West tells Chris:
Bernie Sanders is my dear brother; he is an unprecedented historical candidate for president; he’s been a major force for good and justice in America. There’s simply nobody like him, in terms of America past and present. . . He’s not a god, he’s not a deity, he had his own challenges and limitations—but most importantly he represented high levels of integrity, honesty, and decency in a moment of deep decadence and decay in the American ruling class.
Cornel West also spoke to Chris about two continuing, tensely linked political projects: rejecting the neoliberalism of the Democratic primary’s victors while also maintaining opposition to a neofascist Republican president:
I find myself committed to two particular projects that are in deep tension. One is to be a strong part of an antifascist coalition against Trump, to try to push him out given the levels of unbelievable greed and corruption and lies and crimes that have taken place. On the other hand, the second project is: rendering accountable the neoliberal wing of the ruling class. See Trump is the neofascist wing of the ruling class, but the neoliberal wing of the ruling class that Biden represents has to be accountable, both in terms of its past as well as its present and future.
And don’t forget to hear Dr. West’s tribute to Chris at the end of this week’s show.
Extra: Chris speaks with the President
Chris talked with Donald Trump last weekend. Listen here to their 4 minute conversation.
Watch: Bach Zooms In
Everyone’s congregating differently during this time of Easter and Passover. Zoom, Skype, Facetime and other kinds of meetings have proven to be especially useful for all manner of gatherings. Here’s a clip of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion made by such remote means:
Read: Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels
Try writing a paragraph, or even a sentence, without some usually essential vowel (Georges Perec wrote an entire novel without “e”). Observe the imaginative possibilities that this vowel-constraint unlocks, possibilities you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. This week, over on Patreon, you can hear Daniel Levin Becker in conversation with Adam Colman about such writerly tactics for finding possibilities amid constraints—including the constraints of widespread lockdowns.
DLB is a member of the Oulipo, a mysterious French literary collective committed to the use of algorithms, equations, and other devices for making literature (they avoid the hazy concept of inspiration). His Many Subtle Channels is enlightening, funny, and playful, and it brings you through the world of Oulipians like Perec, Raymond Queneau, and more. And his collection of Oulipo readings, All That is Evident is Suspect, is just as magnificent. You don’t need capital-G Genius to escape from constraints, Oulipian literature tells us. The constraints themselves might be used to access new vistas.
One example is the N+7 rule, by which you just take some existing poem and rewrite it in accordance with the following injunction: you must replace each noun with the noun seven words away in the dictionary. There’s an overview of the N+7 method for inspiration-free invention here:
By applying the N+7 rule to Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Snow Man,” you get a new poem called “The Soap Mandible”:
One must have a miniature of wisdom
To regard the fruit and the boulders
Of the pinions crusted with soap;
And have been colic a long time
To behold the junkyards shagged with Idaho,
The spun-yarn rough in the distant gloom
Of January surgery; and not to think
Of any mishap in the south of the winter,
In the south of a few lectures,
Which is the south of the language
Full of the same winter
That is blowing in the same bare plague
For the lithographer, who listens in the soap,
And, now himself, beholds
Now that is not thermal and the now that is.
Try finding literary escape routes of your own this week, and subscribe to our Patreon to hear more later this week about the Oulipo’s profound, bonkers, wonderful inventions.
Listen: Natalie Shapero on Kay Ryan
The Paris Review has its own series of writers speaking to literature’s potential in this time of fear and confinement. They call it “Poets on Couches”; they’re posting videos of poets reading and discussing poetry. Natalie Shapero’s reading and consideration of Kay Ryan’s “Crash” gets at the nimble sonic capabilities of a poem that confronts chaos with wit and insight.
Listen: Manu Dibango
Along with Ellis Marsalis, Bill Withers and John Prine, we lost another great musician to Covid-19 in the last couple of weeks. The Cameroonian Afro jazz giant Manu Dibango played with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, King Sunny Ade’, Fela Kuti, N’Dour, Peter Gabriel and loads of others. His breakout hit in the US was Soul Makossa. Here’s another: What a Wonderful World, covering Louis Armstrong’s classic.
Subscribe to Radio Open Source on Patreon
Subscribe to Open Source on Patreon to hear weekly interviews about writing and storytelling during the pandemic; simply go to patreon.com/radioopensource. Not only will you find Adam Colman’s conversation about the Oulipo with Daniel Levin Becker later this week, but you’ll find his conversation with Emily Gould; both interviews are part of Adam’s ongoing series of conversations with writers during the pandemic. For now, we’re calling this sequence of Patreon conversations “Close Reading at a Social Distance.”
This Week’s Ephemeral Library
Jamelle Bouie: the G.O.P. has turned voting in person into a death threat. Fran Lebowitz on the art of inactivity. Kay Ryan on a favorite Philip Larkin poem. Kate Aronoff: an airline bailout should have more strings attached than a harp. Barack Obama wins the 2020 Democratic Primary. Adam Tooze on the pandemic’s consequences for the world economy. The New Yorker has a great selection of writers on the pandemic. Olga Tokarczuk on A New World Through My Window.
Happy Easter, quarantinos. Stay safe and keep your podcasts and radio tuned to Open Source.
Your fellow isolatoes in the bunker.