In Covid news, there is a report that herd immunity might be achieved at only 50% — antibodies or vaccinations. It comes from a study of a hard hit area of Brooklyn and another in Mumbai. With the pitiful state of testing in this country, it’s hard to know how many more people have to get sick and perhaps die for us to achieve a 50% rate before a vaccine is widely available. Statewide, the highest infection rate we know of is Louisiana’s 3%.
But we humans are adaptable. Andrea and I have been home since mid-March but are gradually getting out more. A couple of nights we got supper at a fast-food drive-thru and carried it to a park to eat — activities we ordinarily wouldn’t do unless we were on a road trip and there was little else available. We aren’t willing to eat inside a restaurant yet, though.
We did go inside the local Fred Meyer for groceries. Usually we order online and wait in the parking lot for them to bring it to us. Everyone I saw in the store had a mask, although there were a few noses hanging out. And a few people were wearing bandanas or neck gaiters, both of which a Duke University study says are of little use. (Actually, the gaiters turn out to be worse than no mask.) But everyone was at least trying to follow the rules, and that’s a step in the right direction for this fractious land.
There were terrible storms in Iowa and surrounding states — derechos with winds over 100 mph. Huge swaths of cropland were damaged along with grain silos and other buildings. Usually we think of climate change as affecting coastal communities or sea ice and polar bears, but if the increasingly severe storms destroy food crops, too, just moving inland won’t help. Another thing to worry about. (Oh, and it was 130º in Death Valley yesterday — the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth.)
In other news, one of the men who went downtown for a flag-waving rally fired two shots into the Black Lives Matter crowd as he was driving away. No one was hit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of the common good. We’ve gotten away from that. The old New England towns always had a commons — a pasture for shared use. My mother would tell about when she was a little girl and the fire bell would ring. She’d run down the street to watch the men leading the horses from the commons,, hitch them to the fire wagon, and then gallop off, with the horses and men equally excited. Most commons are parks now — think of Boston Common — or have been sold off for private development.
Another common good was the development of the network of farm-to-market roads in the midwest. Farmers needed to get their crops to town. If it was too difficult or too expensive, the farms would be abandoned and food could be scarce. So everyone chipped in a little through taxes and the counties and states built a network of roads. That way everyone came out ahead.
Public transportation is another form. The more people who ride public transportation, the less traffic on the roads. It is cheaper in the long run to operate buses and light rail than to build more roads. Portland and other towns create bike lanes to encourage bicycle use. Each bike means one less car which means less traffic and less time creeping along on the freeway. We don’t expect the bike lanes to make money even though they are cheaper than building more roads. It’s working for the common good.
And there are lots of other examples. Public schools for instance. There’s no direct profit from operating a public school, but the costs of an uneducated populace would be enormous. We all pay taxes to keep the schools going, although lately the school voucher people want us to chip in to support private schools, too.
State and national parks aren’t meant to show a profit. They charge fees to cover some of the costs of maintaining the parks, but they need to be subsidized, too. We’ve agreed (mostly) as a society that the parks are a public good, although there are those who see them only as repositories for the extractive industries.
Oh! And the library. How wonderful that in this time I can get a light and engaging story from the library and escape to another time and another place. Thank you for chipping in to keep it going.
I’ve been thinking about this because we’ve lost the idea of the post office as a public good. I’m of an age where I still mail Christmas cards and a few birthday cards — even an occasional letter. Mailing a Christmas card to my friend who lives on a ranch in Wyoming costs me 55 cents. Sending it FedEx would cost almost $20. Saturday I got some prescription medicine delivered by the mail. Some people get their pension and Social Security checks in the mail. Or help from Medicare or the VA. I still get several magazines in the mail and am happy to sit with printed pages instead of having to stare at an electronic screen. Oregon is 100% vote by mail and has been for years. We get packets in the mail detailing who is running and what the ballot issues are. Later, our ballots arrive. We fill them out and either drop them in the mail or take them to a drop box. (This year, we will be sure to take them to the dropbox in front of City Hall.)
Was the post office ever intended to be profitable? I don’t think so. It’s a public good, providing the same service whether we live in the city or out on the prairie. Like how we shared the commons, when we might have had a horse, or even a cow.