A reader recommends the stirring hymn, “Partly because I’m from Africa, but mostly because it is just a beautiful song.” The version above is sung by a massive crowd led by Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Paul Simon. Here’s some background for “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika”:
[It’s] a hymn originally composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa clergyman at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg [South Africa]. The song became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five countries in Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence. Zimbabwe and Namibia have since adopted new national anthems. The song is currently the national anthem of Tanzania and, since 1994, a portion of the national anthem of South Africa.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
“Galveston” is another in a line of lush, cinematic songs by songwriter Jimmy Webb. The original, iconic version by Glen Campbell was released during the Vietnam War, but the last few years make lines like “I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” as topical as you can get. Here’s the original version [above], as well as a cover by David Nail and Lee Ann Womack (the female harmony adds depth to the longing and fear of a young man at war).
Yesterday we had Georgia on our mind, and in today’s track, from Otis Redding, he “left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay.” Here’s a reader in San Francisco, Doug:
For me, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” captures so much of the San Francisco experience (or at least the SF experience I’ve idealized): carefree, sitting overlooking the water, relaxing and listening to some amazing music. But as you can see from this playlist I made when I was moving back to California a few years ago, songs about California are kind of a dime a dozen (and I barely scratched the surface) …
If you have any reflections on a song about a specific place in California (real places—no Hotel Californias), drop us a note. Update from a reader in Oregon, Brian:
As a former San Franciscan, I’d like to point out that “Dock of the Bay” is not a San Francisco song but a Sausalito song—another city on the “Frisco” Bay. Although neither city name is mentioned, just the Bay. (And the City and County of San Francisco is named after the Bay, not the other way around.)
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
To get our new series going—songs about a particular place—here’s a classic pick and a wonderful memory from Jackie in Leonard, Maryland:
Georgia is my home state, and nobody, but nobody, could sing “Georgia on My Mind” as Ray Charles could. Charles was born in Macon, and I heard him sing the song live in Columbus, Georgia, in June 1962, right after I graduated from Baker High School. My date and I were the only white people there; Georgia was a segregated state then. But everyone there was cool with it, especially when they saw that we knew the words to all the songs and could dance well. The whole joint was rocking. It was a memorable night; I still have the program.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Both songs are unabashed, upbeat, and unironic love songs to these iconic American cities. In a time when we are constantly bombarded by messaging that signals that somehow this country is something less than it once was, it is nice to be reminded that we are, in fact, the sum of all of our parts—and that the parts are actually (as Fallows points out) pretty great.
P.S. I only recently noticed the timing of the daily song release ;)
Great picks, though “I Love L.A.” was already featured in TotD (in our series of songs about complicated patriotism) and “City of Immigrants” doesn’t seem to be about a particular city. So I asked the discussion group of Atlantic readers known as TAD for further picks. But first, one of them begs to differ with Adam:
As a proud Angelino, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” is a sort of theme song and also the soundtrack of all of our many sporting achievements, but I’d hardly call it an “unabashed, upbeat, and unironic love song.” It’s very much a satirical take on the city. It includes lines like, “Look at that bum over there, man, he’s down on his knees.” Newman has said in interviews that he does in fact love L.A., but that song has deeper layers than it what it first appears to be.
Let’s go with “Twin Falls” for the first song in the new series, recommended by a reader in TAD:
I didn’t grow up in Twin Falls, Idaho, but I know it, and I grew up in a town just like it. Built To Spill’s nostalgic song about nostalgia gets it good.
Listen and reminisce for yourself:
If you have a favorite song about a specific place, please send it along with a short description of why you love it so much—and perhaps the place as well: email@example.com. Update from Adam:
I re-listened to “City of Immigrants” and it is true that Steve Earle never actually mentions a specific place, but it is about NYC; it was on Earle’s album Washington Square Serenade, which is (mostly) an extended love letter to the Big Apple.
Regarding “I Love L.A.,” I always took the line about the bum to be a warts-and-all kind of reference. As a teenager stuck in the heartland, that song represented the Los Angeles that I knew from the movies and pop culture. Maybe to the locals it was a theme song, but for this Iowa boy, it was aspirational.
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
China warned Italy. Italy warned us. We didn’t listen. Now the onus is on the rest of America to listen to New York.
In the emergency-department waiting room, 150 people worry about a fever. Some just want a test, others badly need medical treatment. Those not at the brink of death have to wait six, eight, 10 hours before they can see a doctor. Those admitted to the hospital might wait a full day for a bed.
I am an emergency-medicine doctor who practices in both Manhattan and Queens; at the moment, I’m in Queens. Normally, I love coming to work here, even though in the best of times, my co-residents and I take care of one of New York City’s most vulnerable, underinsured patient populations. Many have underlying illnesses and a language barrier, and lack primary care.
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at the University of California at Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored.
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
“The thought of simply breathing in and out without coughing and reuniting with my children ... is goal enough. To—literally—live and let live will be enough.”
I can pinpoint the exact moment I started feeling off. My partner, Will, and I were on a bike ride on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 18, to escape our apartment and get some exercise. This was back when leaving a New York City apartment to get some exercise was still okay, or at least that’s what we’d read, or at least that’s what we thought? If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that what is considered dogma today might change tomorrow.
Ten minutes into our bike ride, I was overcome by an intense fatigue. “I think I have to go back,” I said.
Back home, I felt chilled. Took my temperature: 99.1. I’m normally 97.1, but still, not a huge deal. We’d been so careful about wiping down doorknobs, washing our hands, and keeping everyone except for our family out of our apartment. I’d been ambiently worried enough that my 13-year-old son could be a silent carrier of the virus that I’d yanked him out of his public middle school and off the crowded subways four days before Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled the plug– (far too belatedly, in my opinion). I was getting over a urinary-tract infection, so my fever, I thought, must be from that.
It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.
When, in January 2016, I wrote that despite being a lifelong Republican who worked in the previous three GOP administrations, I would never vote for Donald Trump, even though his administration would align much more with my policy views than a Hillary Clinton presidency would, a lot of my Republican friends were befuddled. How could I not vote for a person who checked far more of my policy boxes than his opponent?
What I explained then, and what I have said many times since, is that Trump is fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office. For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.
The government is showing how not to handle a pandemic.
By now, the global timeline of the coronavirus’s development has been well established: The first case reportedly appeared in mid-November; in December, the Chinese government was still attributing hospitalizations to a peculiar form of pneumonia; through January and February, the outbreak began spreading around the world; and its epicenter is today firmly in Europe and the United States.
Throughout, another set of events were occurring here in India. Late last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government introduced and passed a controversial new law, ostensibly in support of minorities in neighboring countries, that in fact openly discriminated against Muslims and undermined India’s secular foundations. Then, early this year, protests over that new law snowballed into a pogrom in which dozens of people—mostly Muslims—have been killed.
The president can’t simply cancel the fall balloting, but his state-level allies could still deliver him a second term.
Even under a normal president, the coronavirus pandemic would present real challenges to the 2020 American election. Everything about in-person voting could be dangerous. Waiting in line, touching a voting machine, and working in polling stations all run afoul of social-distancing mandates. Already, Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana have postponed their presidential primaries, while Wyoming, New York, and Ohio have altered their voting procedures. Of course, other democracies face similar problems; the United Kingdom has postponed local elections for one year.
But under President Donald Trump, the possibilities for how the coronavirus could wreak havoc on the election are all the more concerning. This is not a president who cares about the sanctity of the electoral process. After all, he has never seemed particularly concerned about Russia’s efforts to manipulate the 2016 outcome (presumably because they were on his behalf), and he was impeached for demanding Ukrainian help in his reelection efforts.
Unless the country does dramatically more to provide them with the equipment they need to do their job safely, it risks disaster.
The morning before my shift, I try to stay busy with emails, writing, cleaning the house, anything really. If I sit and think about it too long, undisturbed, I get nervous. I’m afraid to go to work, and yet I’m told I must. The flitting anxiety swells as I pull on my scrubs and head to the car. The streets are empty. I drive alone into the epicenter. It peaks when I first step through the door into the jumble of patients in chairs, stretchers, and beds crowded around our cramped workstation, staff jammed together discussing care, writing notes, calling reports. Then I start, surrounded by my colleagues, and am too busy to think about it. The fear is as much for my family and friends as for me. Probably more. I’m a physician who works in an emergency department in Washington, D.C., and the coronavirus is spreading.
The coronavirus is making me experience what Germans poetically call heimweh, the hurt of being far from your native land.
In times of upheaval or natural catastrophe, the State Department often advises Americans to avoid some of the world’s poorest nations. When ISIS took over large parts of Syria and Mali descended into civil war, the federal government implored Americans not to go to those countries. One of the pieces of advice it offers to those who insist on visiting them anyway is rather blunt: “Draft a will.”
These warnings speak to a set of assumptions so obvious, they seem almost silly to spell out. America is a rich and stable country. So long as U.S. citizens stay home—or restrict their travel to other developed nations—they are likely to remain safe. Travel warnings tend to flow from north to south, rich to poor, democracy to dictatorship.