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A conversation with Joe Biden

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“This will be the first priority, the second priority and the third priority – dealing with Covid and reducing the spread and bringing down the death rate,” President-elect Joe Biden told me in a phone call yesterday.

I had asked how he would try to persuade Americans to make a last ditch effort to change their behavior in early 2021 and reduce the spread of the virus. It could save tens of thousands of lives.

His response was full of details that make it clear that he listens to public health experts. He will ask Americans to wear masks and demand them where he can, he said. He will ask governors to take similar action and wear masks themselves as role models.

The current rate of infection is “staggering,” Biden said. “It’s going to be incredibly high – the damage and the death toll.”

But I think his answer was also missing something important – something that will go a long way in determining how successful he is in reducing Covid deaths. It lacked an emotional component.

In Biden’s view, Americans already understand the need to reduce the infection rate in the coming months, as the vaccine is rolled out. “There is a new sense of urgency on the part of the general public,” he told me and the handful of other reporters on the roll call. “The American public is painfully aware of the extent, the damage and the incredibly high cost of not taking the kind of action we have talked about.

It sounds a little optimistic. The number of new daily cases has more than quintupled since Labor Day, in large part because Americans are tired of staying home and all the other disruptions to normal life – and understandably so. It’s pretty miserable.

Yet it’s also clear that our impatience kills people. Nearly 20,000 Americans died from confirmed cases of Covid last week, and next week’s toll will likely be worse.

The start of Biden’s presidency will give him the opportunity to deliver not only a scientific message, but an emotional one as well. He can make it clear that he understands people’s frustration – but that they need to redouble their efforts for a few more months, for the sake of themselves, their families and their communities.

He has taken a few steps in that direction, such as his plan to ask Americans to wear masks during his first 100 days in office. He added an intriguing idea during yesterday’s call: He said his administration would do more to publicize research into the social situations in which the virus is spread – which could in turn make people more aware of it. comfortable socializing so as not to spread the virus. virus. An effective public health message is not just about telling people do not to do, as Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School pointed out.

One of Biden’s greatest strengths is his ability to look on the positive side. This allowed him to overcome personal tragedy and help him win the presidency. But optimism alone doesn’t quite capture the situation with the virus. On the current path, many Americans will die needlessly in the first few months of Biden’s presidency.

What Biden said on other topics:

  • He expressed confidence in his ability to forge bipartisan compromises and said the same people who doubted his ability to do so had previously questioned his ability to win the presidency. “I respectfully suggest beating everyone,” he said. “So I think I know what I’m doing.”

  • He cited a minimum wage of $ 15 and climate policies as two areas in which he was optimistic. “I’m going to be able to do things about the environment that you won’t believe”, he said, explaining that Americans are now feeling the effects of climate change and demanding change. “I couldn’t have done it six years ago,” he added.

  • Biden said he was naming people with significant government experience in part because of the damage the Trump administration has done to the federal government: “One of the reasons you need old hands is because old hands know where old bodies can be buried.

  • He criticized the idea, favored by some Democrats, of using executive action to forgive $ 50,000 in student debt per borrower: “I think that’s pretty questionable,” he said. “I’m unlikely to do this.” But he suggested he was willing to forgive $ 10,000.

Uprising: With all his overseas missions canceled this year, a Swedish photographer has refocused his lens on his home. The results are a winter wonderland.

From the review: Religious services are not the same on Zoom. “We stay because dating is not what the church gives us; it’s our way of giving something to God, ”writes Esau McCaulley of Wheaton College.

Lives lived: British model Stella Tennant’s detachment and relative maturity – who has inspired designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace – have served her well in a company renowned for its lightness. She died at age 50.

Rebecca Luker’s three decades on Broadway have earned her three Tony Award nominations. But she didn’t identify as a show type. “I love rock music and jazz,” she says. “I love the 70s stuff that I grew up with.” She died at 59.

By the late 1950s, Billy Strayhorn – songwriter and collaborator to Duke Ellington – was growing tired of revamping classic swing tunes for Ellington’s band. Strayhorn has therefore launched a much more daring challenge: Reimagine the suite “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky for big band jazz.

Together, Strayhorn and Ellington spent months working on the project, both in person and over the phone. When Strayhorn was alone, he hummed, whistled and even danced while writing music, says David Hajdu in “Lush Life,” his Strayhorn biography.

The result was a masterpiece. Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed Flutes” became “Toot Toot Tootie Toot” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” became “Sugar Rum Cherry”.

One of my favorite December traditions is listening to a live performance of the play. Unfortunately, that is not possible this year. But there is an alternative: a new live recording of Ellington and Strayhorn’s “The Nutcracker” by the Eric Felten Orchestra, available on Spotify, Apple Music or CD. Try.

“I hope that next year there will be a big restoration of the activities we all do together,” Felten told me. Until then, we can still enjoy good music.

This spicy white bean stew is very flexible – add whatever you have in the fridge.

The Joan Didion and George Saunders essay collections are on The Times’ list of 13 books to watch in January.

George Clooney talks about his new Netflix movie and why he doesn’t think theaters are going away anytime soon.

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