A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 275

The Democrats’ best hope for 2024?

September 22

Here is the true meaning of Trump: The citizenry is done with politicians.

Between our dysfunctional schools and a distraction-oriented entertainment industry, the average person understands very little. They do not know the source of the few safety-net benefits that they may receive: social security, Medicare/Medicaid, the earned-income tax credit, and so forth. All of these seem to have come from a merciful god and not via the political process. 

The Democrats’ much-trumpeted accomplishments—a 1.2 trillion infrastructure package, a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief deal, climate-change measures, a revived economy that has shrunken unemployment, and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan—are all taken for granted.

Many Americans feel that Washington has done nothing for them. And they are waiting to be entertained.

Neither the pundits nor the pols understand this—not even Fox News, a source and a beneficiary of the phenomenon. So when Ron DeSantis or Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris or Nikki Haley, panders to a perceived public prejudice, it has little effect. The public has tuned out. They are ready for something else.

This is a global phenomenon. Did you think Celebrity Apprentice host Trump was a singular phenomenon? Check out Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine and former star of the hit TV series Servant of the People. In Italy, there’s Giuseppe Piero “Beppe” Grillo, a comedian and the founder of the right-wing Five Star Movement. 

Al Franken, former Saturday Night Live comedian and former U.S. Senator, became a victim of politician envy when he was purged from the Senate over an alleged sexual-harassment episode. His true crime: He was more popular, more commanding of the public spotlight than New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Now, Franken is reduced to hosting a podcast—and awaiting a political comeback.

A sign in the window of a Lower East Side bar in Manhattan.

Perhaps Franken should run for President. (Neither Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah nor Last Week Tonight star John Oliver qualifies, since neither is a “natural-born” American, as the Constitution requires.) At least Franken would have a chance against the GOP team—which I hereby predict to be DeSantis paired with Fox News shock jock Tucker Carlson (that is provided Carlson doesn’t shove DeSantis aside and take the top spot himself).

Franken has kept his hand in the political game. On his podcast, he has discussed a range of political issues and interviewed a variety of political figures, from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin. And he remains a very entertaining fellow: In his book Giant of the Senate, Franken called Ted Cruz the Dwight Schrute of the Senate. “He’s the guy in your office who snitches to corporate about your March Madness pool and microwaves fish in the office kitchen…He’s a toxic co-worker.”

But he wouldn’t be running against Cruz, who nationally is about as popular as a cockroach. Anyway, Franken can hold his own in a debate against any of the likely GOP insects.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 274

Greenery at Astor Place in lower Manhattan.

September 14

What is it about the British royal family that seems to provoke festivals of public grief? When Lady Diana Spencer died back in 1997, the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments could be heard all across the globe. One critical wag took note of the vast public turnout and termed it “recreational grieving”—but it was all the same a mass phenomenon. Now, Queen Elizabeth has passed, and one cannot pick up a newspaper or switch on the television without being absolutely drenched in the lamentations of commentators and public figures.

Meanwhile, as the day-after-day, drawn out parade of the royal corpse proceeds, others have passed from the scene, including Clinton persecutor Ken Starr and pathbreaking French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard.

So if Godard is dead, who will write our epigrams?

Godard was a filmmaker, of course. He was also a critic of everyday life—the quotidian, in the mode of heavyweight French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, author of the multi-volume Critique de la vie quotidienne. Godard, though, was much pithier.

“Adultery is the last adventure remaining to the middle class,” he once declared.

Godard’s love-hate relationships were innumerable: the prosperous middle class, city life, America, television, film itself.

“Europe has memories,” he once announced. “America has t-shirts.”

Then there was: “My aesthetic is that of the sniper on the roof.”

Not that many snipers have come equipped with hand-held film cameras, ever-present sunglasses, and an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history. Having already made multiple masterpieces, in the late 1960s Godard abandoned commercial movies and joined a collective of filmmakers dubbed the Dziga Vertov Group, named for the largely forgotten, pioneering Soviet documentarian who made the dazzling The Man With the Movie Camera (filmed, incidentally, in Ukraine). Vertov was an advocate of filming “life caught unawares.” He wished to follow a path “towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world, [to] decipher a world that you do not know.”

Godard’s works certainly fulfilled that function too. 

The ceaseless, eye-glazing pomp surrounding the Queen’s funeral, and the accompanying vacuous commentary, would have been all too familiar to Godard, who once denounced the older tradition of French cinema as unimaginative and oversimplified. It is somehow fitting that these two—representatives of opposite worlds—should die within days of each other.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 273

An 1893 version of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

September 3

Here’s how my thoughts have often been going lately:

I think of something that needs doing. I feel that I must go do that thing immediately, but I don’t want to. If it’s food preparation, that means I will have to wash the dishes afterwards—and I really, really don’t want to have to do that. Or maybe it’s something related to the house or the yard. Oh, but that’s so much trouble, maybe even physically taxing. I better just lie down and take a nap.

Yesterday I forced myself to move various clutter—a small spade, a large bag of potting soil, some plant food, and such like—into a living room cabinet or down to the basement. I vacuumed and dusted a bit here and there. All the while I felt headachy and slightly dizzy. Then, afterwards, I lay down for a bit.

Is this depression? There’s also anxiety—if I don’t do such and such a thing, there will be HIGHLY negative consequences.

I DO take lots of naps. Having just written a blog post about my father’s nap-taking, I wonder: perhaps HE was depressed. Or was he just following the habits of the older, more rural society in which he grew up? He was, after all, born in 1908…

The Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen, whose novel A World of Love I have just completed, was born in 1899. I turn to the past to get away from the present, so unpleasant largely thanks to Trump and his deluded, fascist followers. I have come to loathe, despise, and fear a lot of the American citizenry. But the past contained the seeds of all that is wrong today. We simply may not have seen those seeds.

One of Trump’s gifts to us: a tendency to exaggerate or inflate things. For him, his “accomplishments” were always “huge” and fantastic. His followers were “very special.” And those who criticized or opposed him were ugly, horrible, evil, etc.

So now everything around us seems so intense, so severe, so huge. Trump, clearly mentally ill, has left many of the rest of us emotionally rattled.

I made a very simple dinner yesterday—pasta e ceci, consisting of ditalini, tomatoes, chickpeas, and chard. It was very simple and took at most an hour to make. But beforehand I worried about how difficult, time-consuming, and stressful this bit of cooking was going to be. 

Will these frequent, pandemic-related episodes of anxiety pass? Who can say?

Dinner: a cheese omelette, baked potato, and green salad.

Entertainment: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan–a quartet of ghost stories.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 272

My sister and I goofing around in my father’s boat, circa 1955. Its winter quarters were our side yard.

Wednesday, August 31

There was a line in a television documentary we just viewed that went something like: That particular eventful afternoon in your childhood—how many more times in your life will you remember it? Perhaps five?

Actually, there are several childhood afternoons, and mornings for that matter, that I think of frequently, even though they weren’t always eventful: That Christmas morning when I woke before my parents and, as they dozed on, I went to check out the loot awaiting me below the Christmas tree. Or that day when the oppressive summer heat finally broke and I went out to ride my tricycle in the crisp, sunny morning. I had on a red-and-black checked plaid overshirt—and, at my mother’s insistence, a cap with Rocky-and-Bullwinkle-style earflaps, which I considered mortifyingly unstylish. (I was already eager for the J.F.K.-inspired, hatless decade of the 1960s.)

My father always took afternoon naps. His job at C.E. Thompson Lumber Co. was apparently not so demanding that he couldn’t come home for lunch—often a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich on white bread—and a half-hour snooze. I marveled at how he could fall asleep—apparently even then I was a restless sleeper—and how he could wake up after only a half-hour. So I remember one particular day as I went into his bedroom just as he was stirring: the slightly funky smell of his sweaty sheets. The orange, late afternoon light as it came in through the Venetian blinds. His boxer shorts and white T-shirt. And how he always put his shoes on first, then slipped into his baggy-legged gabardine trousers. Were those really still in style in the 1950s…or had he somehow retained such pants from the Big Band-era 1940s?

And speaking of gabardine…does it no longer exist? He had lots of things—non-button-down, luxurious feeling shirts, pants with copious pleats—made of the material. Now, most everything is just cotton (or perhaps a cotton-polyester blend), which must be just too plentiful and cheap for manufacturers to resist. The consuming public knows no better.

My disparate memories are often bound up with clothes: the rolled-cuff blue jeans that I’d wear in cooler weather. Several green-corduroy winter coats—always dark green. The high-top sneakers (we called all such shoes, regardless of their style, “tennis shoes”) that I got new versions of every spring. I remember sitting in Miss Jones’ sixth-grade class, proud of my then-spanking-clean, thick-soled shoes, and looking out the window at the big oak tree that graced the playground. I couldn’t wait for recess and the inevitable softball game. Then, I’d be able to wear my navy blue felt baseball cap. That’s another fabric missing today: felt. 

I have dozens of such memories. Lately, the summer heat has made me think of our Sunday, after-church dinners, when we’d often have fried filets of fish. (My father was an avid fisherman; I seldom had the patience to sit for sweltering hours in the boat, waiting for Mr. Smallmouth Bass to grab the artificial lure.) My poor mother didn’t even like fish—but because he’d caught it, she’d have to fry it up in her small, airless kitchen. More than the fish, I miss the stinky, farm-raised tomatoes (5¢ a pound at the local farmers market) and the tiny field peas (“lady peas” she called them) that she served on the side. The peas didn’t have much flavor but they were a Southern staple, just as much as the more famous black-eyed peas. Was there dessert? I don’t remember any. Maybe that came later in the day.

My sister died in the polio epidemic of 1956, age 12. She’d had one of the Salk vaccine jabs, but got the disease anyway in the late fall of the year.

Was that timing unusual? Polio epidemics seemed to arrive in the summer months–so much so that some people called polio “the summer illness.” The Salk vaccine was chosen for use throughout the U.S. in 1955. By 1957, following mass immunizations promoted by the March of Dimes, the annual number of U.S. polio cases fell from a peak of nearly 58,000 cases to 5,600 cases. But, as I recall, it was Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine, which came around in the early 1960s, that really conquered the illness. After a wave of oral-vaccine immunization, by 1961 only 161 cases were reported in this country.

Tonight’s dinner: coconut chicken curry and cucumber raita.

Entertainment: The Mubi music video Ryuichi Sakamoto: Async at the Park Avenue Armory.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 271

Tuesday, August 9

Today is my birthday. I am 74. No great celebrations here, but I did get fresh beets at the store.

Beets are really tasty but can be a pain to prepare, particularly on the stovetop. But I will cook ‘em up in our Instant Pot, where preparation only takes about 30 minutes and doesn’t heat the kitchen even more on a day when temps may hit 90 degrees.

Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant cookbook has a recipe for cold sliced beets with a dressing of olive oil, yogurt, lime juice, and dill. It’s great in hot weather. 

I also got some fresh basil and will use it in pesto later in the week. If the weatherman is to be trusted—and why would you?—it should turn cooler tomorrow or Thursday.

Emily is laboring away, reading case after court case on the issue of Congressional redistricting and partisan gerrymandering. If courts have no say over the matter and everything is left up to state legislatures—as the “independent state legislature” theory and constitutional “textualists” hold—then we are certainly screwed. In many states, Republican-dominated legislatures will simply make it impossible for Democrats to ever win elections. What happened to all those smug people like George Will who once blabbed on and on about the genius of our constitutional “framers”? Democracy in the U.S. was always pretty limited, and now it seems to be withering away—even as it continues to exist in places like Japan and Europe, where the U.S.A. helped to create it in the post-World War II period.

And speaking of Japan, we have watched a series of films by the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Most of the flicks that we have seen—including Tokyo Story, Late Spring, Late Autumn, Equinox Flower, and An Autumn Afternoon—focus on the evolution of the Japanese family in the years after World War II. And specifically, they concern the slow move away from arranged marriages and toward allowing young people to make their own choices. 

Filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu.

In more than one such film, there are young adults still living with their aging parents and often resisting the very idea of marriage. In Late Spring, a twenty-something daughter played by Setsuko Hara feels she should stay with her widowed father, played by Ozu regular Chishu Ryu. HE is the one pushing her to live her own life. In Tokyo Story, an aging couple travel from a remote area to visit their grownup kids in Tokyo—but the young people are too busy with jobs and work to spend much time with the parents. So, before long the old folks turn around and go home—and by the movie’s end, the mother has died and father is left all alone. But he seems to be happy enough with his lot; Ozu seems to be saying don’t worry, all will be ok.

A bit of wishful thinking there. Ozu seems to favor the end of the old ways in which patriarchal and feudal customs still ruled the day. But is Japan today characterized by the same sort of loneliness and atomization that exists in America? I know that Japan has an aging population—but is there a similar crisis around the matter of living arrangements for the very old?

In An Autumn Afternoon, a group of successful, middle-aged men spend hours scheming about a suitable marriage match for one man’s daughter. Ultimately, they arrange a marriage for her. If this is a timeworn custom, no longer appropriate under late capitalism, at least it means that, however oppressive some may have found it, a sort of caring community still existed in the immediate postwar years. 

In The Communist Manifesto, Frederich Engels and Karl Marx wrote that capitalism had “torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” Ozu shows that this was yet a bit of an overstatement.

Dinner: black beans and rice, along with a kale and apple salad. 

Entertainment: Ozu’s 1959 remake Floating Weeds.

A Journal of the Plague Year–chapter 270

Sunny times.

Wednesday, July 20

The days are hot…and empty.

Here, there’s nothing like the heat in Britain or parts of France, where temps are soaring above 100F. But it is supposed to be 90 degrees on Long Island this afternoon and in the 80s for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, as befits such weather, there’s little to do other than get a haircut and go to a farm stand. Alarmingly, no tomatoes at the stand in Amagansett!

We’ve been watching a fascinating series of films by the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who died in 1996 but not before making some of the most heralded films ever. His 1994 Three Colors: Red (which features a late-career performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant) is at times puzzling but never less than engrossing. And viewers of Camera Buff (1979), one of Kieslowski’s earliest non-documentary offerings, will find themselves duplicating the main character’s predicament—they will be unable to turn away.

The shattering No End (1985) captures the depressed public mood of General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s martial-law era, during which the astounding, path-breaking Solidarność labor union seemed to have been tamed and become part of the establishment. At the film’s end, we watch as one of the primary characters gives in to despair and commits suicide.

I also hope to watch A Short Film About Killing (1988), which considers many forms of societal violence, and the much admired The Double Life of Veronique (1991), in which two characters (both played by the same actress, Irene Jacob) “share an emotional bond,” in the words of Criterion Channel.

What would we watch without Criterion? Most of the offerings on BritBox are either silly or dramatically flawed. Netflix, too, is largely junk; that said, we are occasionally tuning in to the suspenseful (but probably formulaic) Behind Her Eyes, in which several characters seem to have dark secrets but everyone lives in upper-middle-class splendor. We also subscribe to Mubi (very, very fringe independent features) and Topic (Euro TV, often very gory). But not to HBO—enough is, after all, enough.

Dinner: A small steak salad and pasta with basil pesto.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 269

Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Monday, July 4

In a 1990s political science study that I have now mislaid, researchers found that the U.S. population was inordinately religious—that the American people subscribed to religion at a level far exceeding that of other developed countries and similar to that of people in such places as Mexico and India.

Religion by and large opposes Enlightenment rationality, indulging instead in magical thinking. This is the case across sectarian divides: There’s the virgin birth, Jesus walking on water, God speaking to Moses via a burning bush, Gautama Buddha experiencing “the bliss of deliverance” via asceticism and meditation, and Mohammad’s receipt of the word of God from the archangel Gabriel.

Such a non-rational mindset likely afflicts a majority of U.S. citizens, even though polls show that organized religion is on the wane, particularly among young people. According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of the public identifies as “nothing in particular”—a figure that jumps to 36% of people between the ages of 24 and 30. (Sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have prompted a steady desertion: 13% of Americans today self-identify as “former Catholics.”)  Instead of church, people are likely finding religious inspiration and guidance via the Internet. As Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, told The Atlantic: It is easy for anxious people “to build their own spiritualities from ideas and practices they find online.” Salvation a la carte, if you will.

Meanwhile, we have a Supreme Court majority composed of Roman Catholic fundamentalists including Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett. At the turn of the 20th century, the Protestant majority worried that, due to Irish and Italian immigration, Catholics might take over. (How things have changed: The Republican Party back then smeared the Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”) Now, it seems, the Catholics have taken power—with unfortunate consequences for women’s health, majoritarian politics, and it seems, even gun-carry restrictions.

Coming soon to a venue near you: the Spanish Inquisition.

Can such a state of affairs continue in a would-be democracy? Certainly. The broad public may even feel that the religious minority who are calling the shots are more moral than they themselves are. Moreover, as the psychologist William James asserted in his classic The Varieties of Religious Experience, humans are more persuaded irrationally and emotionally than they are by reason. Hey, if you want to live in a rational society, move to Denmark! The U.S.A.—home to Cotton Mather, Stonewall Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Mary Baker Eddy, and Jerry Lee Lewis—was never about the cold light of reason.

Dinner: cornbread tamale pie and a kale and apple salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of the shysterish Better Call Saul and its Brit counterpoint, Silk.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 268

A movie still from George Lucas’ THX 1138.

Sunday, June 19

The NYU medical facility that I visited on Thursday is a strange, futuristic place. It has taken me a few days to come to grips with just how alien the edifice truly is.

First of all, the NYU Langone Ambulatory Care Center is located at the intersection of 41st Street and the hyper-literally named Tunnel Exit Street. (The latter could serve as the title for its own, DeLillo-esque novel.) A very sterile, anonymous building suitable for an IRS office or Postal Services headquarters, you enter via self-operated revolving doors: An artificial intelligence seems to sense your presence. 

Proceeding through a capacious lobby, you go to the elevator bank that’s specified for your floor.  In an ordinary building, you’d just press the UP button. But here, that’s only the first step: Don’t avert your gaze, the button has questions. Enter your floor number please—then it will tell you which of four lifts you should enter, A1, A2, A3, or A4. 

(It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the elevator bank was expecting someone like me to go to floor 15 at around this time of day. A computer likely links the elevators to a schedule of appointments.)

I am the only passenger on A4, and it takes me directly to floor 15—no escape to another floor is possible since there are no numbered buttons inside the elevator. Once on 15, I find myself in another large, mostly empty lobby. Here and elsewhere, NYU has these handprint ID machines. It looks like you just place your palm on the mechanical palm-print insignia, and you are recognized and given entry. But I have never been able to make these devices work.

Fortunately, there’s one other human present. Behind a very long counter sits a lone receptionist—a Black woman with preposterously extended artificial eyelashes that curl up and touch her forehead. She asks if I have an appointment and what is my birthdate. Once cleared, I am directed to go to the waiting area, another substantial area filled with tidy rows of auditorium-appropriate furniture. There I will be the only human in sight. 

Not to belabor the point, but doesn’t all this seem rather Kafkaesque—or perhaps like a venue appropriate to an early George Lucas flick? I am also reminded of W.G. Sebald’s description of the simultaneously pharaonic and ultra-modern Bibliothèque nationale de France, a place that seems violently antithetical to the very notion of anything so quaint as a book or a word constructed of mere letters.

I survived my own encounter with the NYU machine, met with a doctor, and left in under an hour. No security-uniformed android interrupted my progress.

Dinner: wine-braised chicken with artichoke hearts, couscous, and a green salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of Netflix’ You Don’t Know Me.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 267

Bring on those pistol-packin’ pedagogues!

Friday, June 17

Think back about your high-school teachers. Can you imagine any one of them wielding a Glock 9mm handgun?

It has been decades ago, I admit. But most of my high-school teachers were overweight and ungainly, nearsighted and middle-aged. One English teacher spoke of herself in the third person, in the mode of Ricky Henderson—so perhaps she wasn’t especially empathetic towards other people. 

There were a half-dozen football coaches—but that skill alone wasn’t enough to justify a job, so for some reason they were all given the extra task of teaching history. One such coach couldn’t be bothered to prepare lectures, so he simply read the textbook out loud to us in class. Meanwhile, the students daydreamed or misbehaved, throwing chewing gum or paper airplanes at one another. 

Imagine if this 300-pound-plus embodiment of distraction were confronted by a AR-15 toting miscreant. A catlike, Jason Bourne-esque first response? No, ‘fraid not.

The GOP governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine thinks such pedagogues would do just fine with weapons, so long as they had 24 hours of training. He has just signed a state law that empowers school districts to arm teachers as a preventive against Uvalde-like massacres. Vanity Fair writer Bess Levin—is she privy to some inside information?—writes in her Levin Report that Ohio “school districts could have armed art, history, and math teachers starting this fall.” Is this to be taken literally? Is there something about these disciplines that singles their teachers out as the best likely marksmen? Math-teacher-like precision? The longue durée perspective of history scholars? Or maybe the enhanced sensibility of would-be art appreciators? Go figure.

I just Googled “Glock handguns” and immediately was referred to several websites that will ship an automatic handgun to you overnight. The cheapest model was a mere $499. The same website also trades in a variety of Bushmaster long guns—the XM-15 Quick Response Carbine will set you back a mere $599. Hmmm—maybe a scope to go with that?

Emily and I are back in Manhattan, and so far in my rambles, I have not seen any heat-packing tourists. Maybe they’re all in line, buying up the last tickets to the soon-to-close Broadway crowd-pleaser “Come From Away.” I myself have had my eyes examined and met with a neurologist, and next week I’m due for a dental checkup. The handgun training will have to wait.

Dinner: the ever-agreeable pasta bolognese.

Entertainment: The Netflix courtroom drama You Don’t Know Me.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 266

Dodge City lawman Bat Masterson around 1911. Courtesy: The Library of Congress.

Monday, May 30

The violence of the Old West has been widely described—and magnified in countless Hollywood productions. But a look at the record of Wild West violence shows that it was nothing like as bloody and horrific as the current spate of AR-15 murders across the U.S.

A little background: In the immediate post-Civil War years, a number of “cattle towns” sprouted up across Kansas, encouraging great drives of the immense Texas longhorn herds to these railheads. Dodge City, Abilene, Wichita, Ellsworth, and Caldwell all came into being and flourished between 1867 and 1885. In 1867, a mere 35,000 head of Texas beef were driven to Abilene, with perhaps 20,000 being shipped from there via rail to points east. Wichita and Dodge City, each with links to the Santa Fe railroad, rose as important shipping points in the 1870s. In 1882, 200,000 head of cattle were sold in Dodge City alone; by 1910, 27 million cattle had made the trek from Texas to the Kansas towns.

But famously, when cattle drives ended, they unleashed upon the towns dozens of rowdy coyboys—suddenly flush with end-of-drive pay and eager to cut loose. Catering to their wants were legions of prostitutes, gambling halls, and 24-hour saloons. Brawls of every sort resulted: During Abilene’s third cattle season, 1869, one cowboy rode his horse into a saloon, pulled a gun on the bartenders, and upon exiting, engaged in a shootout with numerous other “desperate characters.” The towns were thus compelled to effect a variety of peace-keeping mechanisms—one of the most common being hiring a crew of former gunfighters as a police force.

All the same, in the words of historian Robert R. Dykstra’s 1970 work The Cattle Towns, there were relatively few fatalities. “Many legendary desperadoes and gunfighters sojourned in the cattle towns at one time or another, but few participated in slayings,” he writes. These notable badmen included Doc Holliday, Clay Allison, and the teen-aged gunman John Wesley Hardin. Nor did badge-wearing gunslingers contribute much to fatality stats: “Wild Bill” Hickok killed only two men during his one term as Abilene city marshal; Dodge City’s Wyatt Earp, only one; and “Bat” Masterson, also of Dodge, killed none at all.

According to Dykstra, between 1870 and 1885, total homicides in the five cattle towns amounted to only 45.

Many of the wanton cowpokes were likely no older, and probably no less unhappy, than the Uvalde, Texas killer, Salvador Ramos. But a six-shooter bears no comparison to the AR-15 that in only a few minutes fired off over 100 rounds in Uvalde—or to the other AR-15s used in every recent U.S. mass killing from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut to the Buffalo, N.Y.  supermarket.

It’s no wonder the Uvalde police were afraid to face the shooter.

Dinner: the chickpea stew pasta e ceci, corn muffins, and a green salad.

Entertainment: concluding episodes of the Scandi thriller “The Bridge”