Two Articles on COVID and Kids — And a Personal Reflection

Vinay Prasad: “The Cult of Masked Schoolchildren

Stacey Lance: “I’m a Public Schoolteacher. The Kids Aren’t Alright

A personal reflection: Our daughter came to us from India at age three in February, 1992. We immediately put her into preschool to hang out with other toddlers and learn English. Imagine if she had arrived instead in February, 2020. What would have been the long-term impact of COVID policy — shutdowns, masking, distancing, etc. — on her social development and language acquisition? And for what?

My response to Dr. Gottsegen’s letter to the Gazette

Here’s my response to Dr. David Gottsegen’s letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, posted on January 4, 2022.

  1. I deplore death threats as much as anyone. But bringing them up here is a non-sequitur, intended, I suspect, to divert attention from my point: While I support vaccination, I think the unvaccinated have been stigmatized unfairly and I believe, divisively.
  2. I’ve heard of lots of nasty scientific squabbles in my day. But the attacks on the Great Barrington Declaration and its authors constitute one of the most shameful and most consequential examples of intra-scientific viciousness ever. And the shame goes all the way up to the top of our federal health bureaucracy. I strongly recommend that all read the Declaration for themselves, or at very least check out some of the many media appearances by co-author Jay Bhattacharya (here’s a recent episode of the Megyn Kelly Show where he’s the first guest). Readers should also check out co-author Martin Kulldorff’s letter to the Gazette following an earlier attack in the paper.
  3. It’s my understanding that rates of hospitalizations and death have replaced case numbers as the leading metric in assessing the impact of COVID in any given region or across any given demographic. As of January 3, the seven-day average of COVID deaths in Florida is 16. In New York, with a similar population, it is 38. In Sweden, with half the population, it is six, which would place it 44th on a list of US states. What do you make of this? And considering the spike in the number of cases in each region and basically everywhere else, aren’t these numbers, measured against cases, encouragingly low, perhaps leading health of officials to loosen up on mandates and restrictions?
  4. According to Dr. Marty Makary, as of November 9, the number of children aged 5-11 in the US who had died from COVID without comorbidities is in the single digits. Each time a child dies or becomes seriously ill, it is a tragedy. So are all illnesses and deaths of children from any cause, some more common than those resulting from COVID, but for which we do not require all citizens to take stringent measures. And the measures that have been taken, from school closures to on-line learning to universal masking, have not been without serious costs to our children’s education or overall well-being. How best to balance these concerns? By listening to all stakeholders, including – especially including – parents. Besides, how well do the cloth masks our kids wear work to stop the spread? I await the data that demonstrates their efficacy, if you can produce it.

CODA: I have nothing but admiration for the health care workers, from physicians on down, who have helped me through some serious medical scares, including recently. That does not and should not spare our public health bureaucrats from harsh and well-deserved criticism. I help pay their lavish salaries, so I get to say that what I think of them. Let’s revisit this whole thing in a couple of months. I suspect that what passes for conventional wisdom in dealing with the pandemic – which very well may be seen as endemic by then – will have shifted significantly. Thanks for reading!

My “other” letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazette

The Daily Hampshire Gazette just posted (December 29) a letter I submitted to the paper on December 13, rather than a more timely letter I submitted on December 26. The text of the latter letter is below.

I have some questions for the Northampton Board of Health regarding their column in the Gazette.

  1. Do you agree with CNN’s Dr. Leana Wen, a consistent advocate for stringent anti-Covid measures, that the cloth masks most of us wear to stop the spread are “little more than facial decorations” when it comes to the omicron variant? If not, would you please provide the data?
  2. Before recommending vaccine and booster mandates for businesses and organizations, did you consider the economic impact of such mandates, both in terms of loss of employment for the unvaccinated and the diminished provision of goods and services for the businesses? How about hospitals and other health care providers, who are experiencing staffing shortages in some areas due to forced firings?
  3. Can’t the vaccinated and boosted (such as myself) also be infected by and transmit the virus? Don’t vaccines and natural immunity afford high levels of protection from serious illness and death from Covid, regardless of its source? If “yes” to these questions, why should the vaccinated be required to shun (and badger, and stigmatize) the unvaccinated?
  4. Considering that some of the areas of the U.S. that have taken the most stringent measures against the spread, such as New York City, are also experiencing huge spikes of infection, how confident are you that such measures taken in Northampton will have the intended effect? Is it really within the powers of town government and health officials to stop what seems to be the inevitable spread of omicron, which is 70 times more infectious than delta, and is thwarting all efforts to stop it? And given that omicron seems to produce far less severe health consequences than earlier variants, are the extreme efforts to fight it worth the negative consequences to our freedom, productivity, and well-being, such as the cancellation of all indoor events at First Night?

Thank you.

2021: The Year We Push Back Against Wokeness!

Here is a slightly expanded version of a letter I submitted today to the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

Not that anyone asked for my predictions for 2021, but here goes: 2021 will finally be the year of massive pushback against the illiberal, thought-controlling, speech-suppressing, culture-dividing, country-destroying forces of wokeness. It will be the year in which conservatives, libertarians, old-fashioned liberals and all of those with a shred of dignity say “enough.” We will no longer be judged by the color of our skin, as Critical Race Theory demands, and will instead demand to be judged by the content of our character. We will not obey those who instruct us what to think, how to think it, and what will happen to us if we don’t think it. Those who want to live a woke lifestyle will remain free to do so. Those who insist that we live it too will be politely invited to get lost. We will not sit by in cringing silence as our co-workers, neighbors or even perfect strangers are “cancelled’ for standing up to the woke mob, or for some imagined microscopic offense against woke orthodoxy. If the woke try to cancel one of us, they will receive backlash from all of us. We will no longer be gaslit by our woker-than-we supposed betters in the media (“What laptop?”), academia (“The scientific method is white supremacy!”), entertainment (“How you say, in English, cucumber?”) and government (“Anti-lockdown protests bad! Black Lives Matter protests good!”), whose credibility stands at a new low after 2020. We will refuse to bend the knee, salute the banner, repeat the slogans, submit to Maoist struggle sessions of self-flagellation or otherwise debase ourselves in order to signal our false and unearned moral superiority to those who refuse get with the woke program (and enrich the grifters who instill this false guilt in us). We will deal with our differences civilly and with an open mind, but will no longer give in to those who seek to divide our country in order to gain power for themselves and their cohort. Wishful thinking? Maybe a little. But it can happen if we get over our fears and speak out loudly and publicly in favor of liberalism, free speech and free thought. Let’s do this, people!

Quick Links

Linguist and author John McWhorter is perhaps the leading African-American critic of the Black Lives Matter/Critical Race Theory view of race and racism. Check out:

Brown University professor Glenn Loury, who frequently discusses race with McWhorter on his “Glenn Show” on, recently wrote a rebuttal to Brown University’s letter on racism in the United States. This has relevance to the recent discussion of the BLM banner on Town Hall.

The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald has been reporting on race and policing for several years. Here’s a recent interview on C-Span’s “Washington Journal.”

Now to music! Long-time classical music critic David Hurwitz recently started a YouTube channel on which he discusses classical repertoire, recordings, and whatever tickles his fancy. He seems to have heard every recording ever made – and is absolutely hilarilous. Check it out!

My statement to the Shutesbury Select Board regarding the Black Lives Matter banner on Town Hall

(With updates added on September 30)

I request that the Black Lives Matter banner now hanging from Shutesbury Town Hall be taken down. I do so for three reasons.

First, Black Lives Matter is not just a three-word sentence affirming the obvious message that Black lives indeed matter. Black Lives Matter is also a movement and an organization. The BLM movement espouses the contentious and, I believe false and destructive narrative that African-Americans are under existential threat from police violence. The data do not show this; quite the contrary. Please read the voluminous reporting on this from Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute or consult the research of Harvard economist Roland Fryer to see alternative fact-based views on this issue. BLM’s anti-police message is not supported by most Black Americans. According to a recent Gallup Panel survey, over 80% of Black Americans are either satisfied with the level of policing in their communities or want more. There are legitimate concerns about policing and the Black community that need to be addressed. But there is no evidence that a “never-ending list of innocent people of color continue to be murdered” by the police, as Michelle Obama claimed during the DNC. None.

BLM’s emboldening demonization of the police (see the #DefundThePolice campaign on their website), influencing city government-mandated reduction in policing in several localities, has helped lead to an increase in crime in many American cities, including homicide, almost all of it involving Black victims. They have also led to an increase in attacks on law enforcement officials, including a five-fold increase in Chicago in 2020 over previous years. To put a face on this, please look up a recent video from a female African-American principal of a mostly-minority inner-city Minneapolis high school, decrying the violence and lawlessness rampant in her city, and offering firm support for the disempowered and demoralized city police. The video was made the day after the shooting death of a Minneapolis high school senior, the third city student killed during street violence over a period of five weeks. Their lives mattered, too. No comment from Black Lives Matter, by the way.

Two of the three founders of BLM are avowed trained Marxists who advocate the dismantling of all American systems, using violence if necessary. Until it was quietly removed a couple of weeks ago, the BLM website featured a “What We Believe” page that advocated, among other things, the “disruption of the Western-prescribed nuclear family.” If you go back a few years, their beliefs also included opposition to Israel as an apartheid state committing genocide against the Palestinians.

Black Lives Matter activists and supporters have used intimidation, harassment, looting, threats, property destruction and physical violence to make their point. While it would be wrong to attribute all of this to the entire movement, the BLM leadership has rarely, if ever, condemned it. On the contrary, I can provide several official BLM statements of support for illegal action, threatening more if they don’t get their way. This constant mayhem has eroded national support for Black Lives Matter protests, now down to 39% from 54% in June.

Second, Black Lives Matter consists of a national organization and several regional affiliates. Each has a web site on which they promote organized events and actions, offer biographies of their leadership, and solicit donations of funds. The national organization is affiliated with a Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation which raises funds to support organizing work. The BLM national organization is also affiliated with a 501c3 non-profit called TIDES, which supports BLM’s distribution of grant funds.

The Black Lives Matter banner affixed to Shutesbury Town Hall, in my admittedly non-expert opinion, could be construed as an in-kind contribution to and a solicitation of funds for Black Lives Matter and its affiliates. It also could be seen as tacit support for the Biden/Harris campaign, which has promulgated the views of Black Lives Matter. Perhaps the select board, if it has not already done so, should consult with the town’s legal counsel as to the legality and advisability of the banner. If necessary, I will investigate legal action.

(UPDATE: I spoke on September 29 with an attorney with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance. He told me that the banner is not in violation of Massachusetts campaign law.)

Third, it should not be the function of the select board to vote to display a political message on public property such as Shutesbury Town Hall. The function of our governments, whether federal, state or local, is to protect the citizens’ right to think as they please. It is not to tell the citizens what to think. Even if the message is supported by a majority of townspeople, it is an inappropriate statement not supported by the entire community. You might as well hang a banner stating “Planned Parenthood” or “Make America Great Again.”

Reviewing the minutes of the June 9, 2020 select board meeting when a citizen proposed the banner to the board during public comment, I note that the board went against its usual policy of not circling back to issues raised during public comment, but instead proceeded to a vote on the banner during the same meeting. The customary procedure, as I understand it, would be to include the banner issue as an agenda item in a future meeting, thereby giving citizens to ability to look ahead to the agenda and decide whether to participate in discussion. I don’t know whether this is in violation of town bylaws or merely unethical. Either way, it is outrageous.

(UPDATE: On September 29, I discovered the following two passages from the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law Guide (.pdf here), p. 10, under the heading “What information must meeting notices contain?”

Meeting notices must be posted in a legible, easily understandable format, contain the date, time, and place of the meeting; and list all topics that the chair reasonably anticipates, 48 hours in advance, will be discussed at the meeting. The list of topics must be sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.

If a discussion topic is proposed after a meeting notice is posted, and it was not reasonably anticipated by the chair more than 48 hours before the meeting, the public body should update its posting to provide the public with as much notice as possible of what subjects will be discussed during the meeting. Although a public body may consider a topic that was not listed in the meeting notice if it was not anticipated, the Attorney General strongly encourages public bodies to postpone discussion and action on topics that are controversial or may be of particular interest to the public if the topic was not listed in the meeting notice

Thus, the vote on June 9 was not in violation of Open Meeting Law. It did, however, go against the guidance of the Attorney General.)

I am disappointed that the select board did not perform due diligence in researching the full nature of Black Lives Matter – the message, the movement and the organization — before voting to hang the banner. I fault the select board for justifying the banner with their personal opinions without respecting the diversity of views among Shutesbury residents. And I resent the select board using town property and town funds to support a movement and organization that I and, I suspect, many other Shutesbury residents oppose. The banner is highly divisive, despite its inspiring slogan, and it should be taken down. Thank you.

From the NEPR Archives: How I spent my Christmas afternoon

With a new star-studded movie version of Cats about to open, and with the news that the great Stephen Sondheim musical Follies is about to be filmed, let me share my impressions of an earlier screen adaptation of a huge music theater hit, originally posted at the NEPR Classical Blog on December 27, 2012.

So, The Wife, The Big Sis and I spent two-and-a-half hours of our Christmas afternoon at the local cineplex attending the new Tom Hooper film of the hit musical Les Misérables, which we might have been the only people in the packed house not to have previously seen.  We paid our seven bucks each and took our chances.  I went with an open mind and an appetite for entertainment.  And I got sucked in, too…for about 20 minutes.  Then I found myself gradually detatching from the on-screen proceedings, and noticing stuff.  Why did they do it that way?  What could they possibly have had in mind there?  I promise; I don’t go looking for things to pick at.  They just sometimes have a way of finding me.  So, without in the least desiring to diminish your own eagerness to endure, er, enjoy the movie, here’s what hit me:

1.  If the darned thing were 15 minutes longer, I would have finished counting the follicles in Hugh Jackman’s beard. Really, especially from the third row, the constant close-ups were oppressive. Even in Anne Hathaway’s gripping “I Dreamed a Dream” scena ed aria, I had to turn away from all the tears, blood and mucous. There is some benefit to the distance a stage provides.

2.  Ever noticed how when people on stage break into song, it seems perfectly normal, but when people on screen, captured in natural settings, break into song, it seems…odd?  No wonder so many of the classic movie musicals were about thespians putting on a show, thereby making the songs plausible.  This one jumped the proverbial shark about a fifth of the way in, and never won me back.

3.  There is a difference between an actor who sings (see:  Crowe, Russell) and a real singing actor (see: Jackman, Hugh).  A big difference.  It can be somewhat mitigated by tessitura, technology and outright trickery.  But it will out in the end.  While the sub-standard singing of much of the cast of Les Misérables didn’t sink to the disgraceful level of the awful Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter film of Sweeney Todd,  neither should anyone pretend that it was actually, you know, good.  Worst for me was Amanda Seyfried, whose paper-thin warble made the singer who did Snow White sound like Ethel Merman.  Come on, film folks.  There are some really, really good singing actors around today; I bet they’d work for less than you paid the fancy but vocally challenged stars.  (Speaking of Ms. Bonham Carter and Sweeney :  Did she just leave her Mrs. Lovett makeup on for her Les Miz  role?)

4.  For a “popular” stage musical to be sung throughout or for long stretches, as opposed to songs separated by spoken dialogue, is nothing new, going back at least as far as The Golden Apple  of 1954.  It’s a cheap way to lend more operatic “class” to shows on big historic themes, like our dear Les Miz.  But it’s a place very few composers and lyricists should go.  Unless you have the verbal dexterity and musical craft of a Stephen Sondheim, you’re going to embarrass yourself — which, IMHO, is the fate shared in this case by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and English lyricist…excuse me, librettist  Herbert Kretzmer.  It was bad enough that the inter-song ariosos increased the unreality of the whole enterprise (see No. 2 above),  It was worse that their modal meanderings sapped what little melodic freshness the actual songs might otherwise have conveyed.  But oy, were the lyrics disfigured by the corniest, most forced rhymes I’ve ever heard! I swear, I expected a Burma Shave ad to pop up at any moment.  Someone, anyone, please  tell me it worked better in the original French.

I know, I know…there are millions who love this musical, quite a few of whom were packed into the theater on Christmas and cheered like crazy at the end.  If you’re a Les Miz  lover, go ahead and tell me what I’m missing.

“A Chronicle of Verie Coole New Things I’ve Been Listening To, Or…

…If the Recordinge Industrie is in Such Bad Shape, Why Does It Still Put Out So Much Good Stuff?”


Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Choral Fantasy. Two of Beethoven’s one-of-a-kind works for soloists and orchestra receive fresh and lively (indeed, recorded live) performances by conductor Laurence Equilbey, the Insula Orchestra, Accentus Choir (which whom Equilbey has made several beautiful albums) and soloists Bertrand Chamayou, David Kadouch, Alexandra Conunova and Natalie Clein. A nice touch is the use of an 1892 Pleyel piano, “authentic” for neither Beethoven’s time nor ours, but just right nonetheless. The performers sound like they’re enjoying themselves with works that benefit from not being approached with great solemnity. Listen on Tidal or Spotify.


Anna Meredith: Fibs. The final “Album du jour” on this blog before our long hiatus was “Varmints,” the 2015 debut techno-pop album by British classical composer Anna Meredith. I was blown away, almost literally so in the case of its opening track, “Nautilus.” Now, just in time for the rebirth of the blog, Meredith has put out “Fibs” a wild ride of beats, bleeps, soaring tunes and non-stop invention. I dare you to resist! Listen on Tidal or Spotify.


The Beatles: Abbey Road (Super Deluxe Edition). Most fancy new remasterings of favored old albums have struck me as little more than excuses to buy them again, to which I plead guilty on several counts. This one’s more than that. Supervised by Giles (son of Sir George) Martin, the present redo of the lads’ final masterpiece brings the musicians into intimate contact with the listener, for once justifying use of the cliché “like hearing it again for the first time.” The release also includes a zillion extras and outtakes that may interest you more than they do me, but since I’m listening via high-quality streaming (Tidal and Qobuz, more about which in a future post), I don’t have to feel guilty about how much I shelled out for the whole package. Give it a listen on Tidal or Spotify.

The Unpublished Letter

Here’s a letter I submitted a few weeks ago to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, but which has not been published. I’ve added some hyperlinks, but the text is otherwise unaltered.

Last month, Slate.compublished a transcript of a secret audio recording of a “town-hall” that New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet held with the paper’s staff regarding the Times’s coverage of the Trump presidency. One of the key takeaways was that the Times’ coverage of “Russiagate” was driven as much or more by established narrative as by emerging evidence – or lack of evidence – and that now that the Mueller report has basically put that story to rest, it was time for a new anti-Trump narrative. That turned out to be “Trump is racist,” a narrative that would drive the paper’s coverage going forward, and which led to the “1619 Project,” a series of articles based on the premise that the legacy of slavery still underpins virtually all American institutions. Never mind the facts, the historical context, or other opinions – it was the narrative that counted.

As at the Times, so at the Gazette in its “Covering Climate Now” series. What’s the narrative? Let me quote the opening of one of the articles in the series: “It’s a problem threatening our very existence on Earth.” Not “is it” an existential problem, but “it is” an existential problem. Case closed, narrative established. But while there is consensus (which I agree with) that the earth is warming and that much of the warming is attributable to human action, there is no such consensus that warming threatens human existence. Read the likes of Dr. Judith Curry and Bjorn Lomborg, check out “Watts Up With That?” blog, and read the reports of the IPCC, and you might come away with a far less dire prognosis of the earth’s future health. Of course, even bringing this up gets one ostracized by climate alarmists and activist scientists, and will doubtless lead to furious letters in response, but that doesn’t mean that these heterodox opinions are invalid. The Gazette, like the Times, disserves its readership (which doesn’t look to the Gazette’s staff to be its thought leaders), and damages its journalistic reputation by its narrative-first coverage, and by suppressing the evidence that does not fit the narrative.

What Think You: Should the Music Stop When the Phones Come Out?

The Wife® just forwarded me a Classic FM article about the latest collision of traditional classical concert etiquette with changing times and new technologies. Here’s the gist:

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was in the middle of performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto last night when the glare of a smartphone stopped her mid-movement.

Mutter was performing the slow, middle movement of the concerto, when she suddenly stopped and confronted a member of the audience in the front row – because they had their phone out and were filming her performance.

So what do you think — did Mutter do the right thing or the wrong thing by stopping the show? Please add your opinion in the comment section. You may choose to do so before reading my snap judgment, which follows.

OK, here goes: I think she was wrong. This is not an endorsement of the audience member’s behavior. I’m not asking Mutter to alter her opposition to being recorded. But this was not sufficiently disruptive behavior to disturb the entire audience’s enjoyment (which they paid for, of course) for one person’s action. What’s next — stopping the show for one too many unwrapped candies or foot shuffles? Of course, the concert staff should exhort the audience not to use their phones during the concert. But this is a case when the reaction to the misbehavior was more disruptive than the misbehavior itself.

What think you?