My fellow Americans

“It’s simple: If your house is on fire, you don’t go on Youtube, you call the damn fire department. If you have a heart attack, you don’t check your Facebook group, you call an ambulance.”

— Arnold Schwarzenegger, on people put their faith in social media over epidemiologists and other experts regarding Covid and vaccinations (ironically, he shared it in a Facebook post).

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The hill we climb

I will keep this fairly short today, because I’d like to yield the floor to the 22-year-old poet, Amanda Gorman, who spoke for six minutes at President Biden and Vice President Harris’s inauguration.

Born in Los Angeles in 1998, raised by a single mother, a Black woman who is the descendent of slaves, Gorman had a speech impediment when she was growing up, and she turned to writing as a way to express herself.

Over time, she decided she wanted to recite, not just write. So, she tackled her speech: doing a modern day Demosthenes, a strategy that eventually involved practicing the song “Aaron Burr” from the soundtrack to Hamilton, over and over.

(She had trouble with “Rs” in particular, and there are a lot of “Rs” in “Aaron Burr.”)

I’m going to embed a video of her performance below; here’s the transcript. Her poem, entitled “The Hill We Climb,” is challenging in some places, and it pays tribute to the turbulent times — the protests, the division, the violence.

She said it took the Capitol Hill insurrection two weeks ago to inspire her to finish it. But, I also just found it to be enjoyable and entertaining.

I was also struck by some of the interviews I read with Gorman. For example, Olivier Knox of The Washington Post asked her what was her first political memory, given that many of her poems have strong political content. She replied:

“No one’s ever asked me that before! My first political memory? I would say it wouldn’t be anything like being at a protest or anything like that. It would be: When I was really young my mother would read me my Miranda Rights and make sure I knew them. My mom was not playing around.”

We’re from very different places in America, very different experiences. As someone who will flatter himself and say that I can sometimes be a very effective writer, my hat is off to her — both for her talent for how she rose to the occasion yesterday.

I sure couldn’t have done it at age 22. I’ll plead the Fifth on whether I could aspire to come close now.

Yet, it’s only on the third draft of this short essay that I realized what I felt most: pride in her as my fellow American. And that circular conclusion makes me like it all even more.

7 other things worth your time

  • President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn in Wednesday. Biden’s address got pretty good reviews; Chris Wallace of Fox News called it “the best I have ever heard” going back to JFK. Afterward, he issued 17 executive orders to begin undoing President Trump’s legacy, including: halting construction for the border wall, ending the Muslim travel ban, and embracing diversity programs Trump had rejected (Mediaite, CNN)

  • Actually, Harris was pretty busy, too—swearing in three new senators including her replacement, which gives Democrats the slimmest possible majority. (ABC News)

  • The U.S. broke the grim milestone of 400,000 deaths due to Covid this week. The Wall Street Journal estimates the death toll worldwide is about 2.8 million. (Yesterday was also the one-year anniversary of the first U.S. case.) Oh, I should probably also mention Biden’s mask mandate, at least on federal property and during interstate travel. (CDC, WSJ $, The Independent)

  • Could these two things be related? A woman who insulted the king of Thailand was sentenced to 43 years in prison. Meanwhile Thai officials say they’re disappointed that only 364 foreigners each month have taken their country up on an offer to wait out the pandemic in paradise. (CBS News, Japan Times)

  • First-born children are smarter, according to a study from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Economics. I was the eldest child in my family, by the way—but science is science. (StudyFinds)

  • A couple of years ago, Elon Musk started selling flamethrowers—20,000 of them, actually. But, he sort of claims they were a toy, and labeled them “NOT A FLAMETHROWER.” Here’s what happened to a bunch of people who bought them, and found that “yeah, but it says ‘NOT A FLAMETHROWER’ is not quite an open-and-shut defense to weapons charges. (TechCrunch)

  • The NFL announced its officiating crew for the 2021 Super Bowl, and for the first time, a woman is among the officials: Sarah Thomas, who became the NFL’s first full-time woman referee in 2015, will be part of a seven-member crew at the game, on Feb. 7 in Tampa. (CBS Sports)

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