Sunday, 21 June 2020

Preaching to the fishes (again in vain)

It's not the first time I've referenced the quasi-folk poem from the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn) 'St Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish', set to slithery music by Mahler (the original legend illustrated above by Tiepolo). But never has the parable of preaching to deaf ears - namely the fish at Rimini who in this treatment enjoy the words but go back to doing what they did before - seemed more appropriate as, after a brief change of lifestyle during lockdown, most fish in human shapes resume their senseless round of environment-destroying, consumerist idiocy. With a government of criminal incompetence and wilful, profit-bent malignity such as we have now, how could it be otherwise? The only hope is, as before, grassroots action; there are a lot of us who will NOT follow bad advice and will keep up responsible distancing and all that goes with it as before.

The above is by the pier for the houseboats near Hammersmith Bridge; the park behind it on this north side of the Thames had young picnickers in groups of 20 or so the weekend after people started losing the plot on VE Day - because the media told them that lockdown was at an end.

Here's one of the best performance I know, this time with a great mezzo rather than a bass baritone. The English translation is below (crucial for the point of this post if you don't understand the German).

St. Anthony arrives for his sermon
and finds the church empty.
He goes to the river
to preach to the fishes;
They flap with their tails,
and glisten in the sunshine.

The carp with their roe
have all congregated,
their mouths all gaping,
listening attentively.
Never did a sermon
so please the fishes.

Sharp-snouted pike
that are always fighting
have swum up in a hurry
to hear this pious one;

Also, those fantastic creatures
that are always fasting -
the stockfish, I mean -
they also appeared for the sermon;
Never did a sermon
so please the stockfish so.
Good eels and sturgeon,
that fine folk dine upon -
even they took the trouble
to hear the sermon:

Crabs too, and turtles,
usually such slowcoaches,
rise quickly from the bottom,
to hear this voice.
Never did a sermon
so please the crabs.

Big fish, little fish,
noble and common,
all lift their heads
like intelligent beings:
At God's command
they listen to the sermon.

The sermon completed,
each one turns away;
the pikes remain thieves,
the eels, great lovers.
The sermon has pleased them,
but they remain the same as before.

The crabs still go backwards,
the stockfish stay fat,
the carps still gorge themselves,
the sermon is forgotten!
The sermon has pleased them,
but they remain the same as before.


Susan Scheid said...

So terribly apt to our times. We've had to give up walking on the rail trail--the only place near us that's passable on really hot days, which we're having a surfeit of right now. It's not that it's not possible to socially distance there--it's actually easy. The problem is there are always a few who absolutely do not (and/or don't want to) get it, so instead of a relaxing early walk while there's still shade, one must always be hyperaware. It's a small thing in the midst of greater horrors, but it's telling. Because there is so much deprivation during these times, one would like people to at least make the effort to do what they can.

David said...

I echo everything you say to the rafters. As for lack of social distancing in a certain Tulsa rally, which should have been easy given the small turnout but was rejected by those Covidiots in the lower tiers, well...I'd better stop right there.

Willym said...

Sadly true. We have been lucky here on the Island - only 28 cases, none in the last 30 days, no hospitalizations and no deaths. Our borders were closed early, Dr Morrison our public health doctor suggested some very stringent rules and the premier put them in place quickly. Only residents and essential workers could return to the Island and the former required 14 days quarantine - which most observed. Fines were issued for breaking the regulations. Seniors' Homes were locked-down and Social distancing and masks required. However the business lobbies - "no, no we're not a lobby group, we simply 'advise' the premier." set to work and after the last case was declared well the pressure started. We are now in the final phases of opening up and from the way most people are behaving it's as if nothing has happened. No social distancing and no masks, groups gathering etc. Truly St Anthony's fishes.

David said...

What a shame. Canada was bracketed, when it was mentioned at all, with the sensible countries. Has Justin been behaving himself? The cahoots with oil had not been going down well. 'The Island', I should tell general readers, is Prince Edward Island, of which we have an enchanted impression thanks to the Netflix series 'Anne with an E', which takes 'Anne of Green Gables' - attracting thousands of Japanese girls, inter alia, to PEI, home of author Lucy Maud Montgomery and, putatively, her heroine - as its basis. It's so 'woke' but I kinda love that, not least the fantasy party held by a Lesbian aunt at which a gay boy feels at home for the first time. Love it or hate it, much like Ryan Murphy's 'Hollywood'; the sentimental me prefers to love it (mostly).

David Damant said...

Two points occur to me. One is that most people in the West have had for say 50 years a comfortable life, financially, and health wise ( except for cancer and now dementia.... the TB testing of my youth has disappeared). This "normal" life is what people (anyway the younger half)are used to and there is at least a sub conscious belief that all is well and intrusions can be easily overcome. A friend with exceptional " political" ( small p ) antennae has been forecasting the breakdown from the beginning, mainly on these grounds. Secondly, there is a very respectable view that lockdown etc was NOT the best route, and that there are great dangers - definitely including health dangers ( see after 2008) - in letting industry run down as much as lockdown has done. I argued at the beginning that the government would have to go for lockdown since it was so very intuitive and other countries were adopting that route, and as soon as deaths increased in a society relatively free of controls there would be an outcry ( and indeed there are still strong criticisms that the government did not lockdown earlier.)
Anyway it seems right to go for a recovery in economic activity mow, but again one fears that a rising death rate would lead to an outcry, based on a preference for restricting deaths now, as a against theories about the future.

David said...

It doesn't seem right to me at all, and Sweden, in pursuing the herd immunity line, is even more of a pariah in Europe now than we are. Astonishingly high rates of infection, though not - tellingly - of death. As for respectable arguments, the only one I adhere to is Biden's - that not a single life is worth sacrificing for a point on the Dow Jones. Adjustments will need to be made now but the government we have is incapable of introducing them.

Susan E Scheid said...

Very pleased to report that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, all of which have fought the virus back with (so far) good results, are now going to require quarantining for those coming from certain states: "The restrictions . . . will be based on specific health metrics related to the coronavirus . . .. At the moment, travelers from nine states would be required to quarantine, mostly from the south, including Florida, Texas and Arizona." Whether this works, of course, is all about compliance and enforcement, and internally to these states, keeping the Rt below 1 is about non-stop vigilance, too. With you David N., 100% in your final comment, and would add that those I respect who have creditable expertise in these areas have pointed out repeatedly that economic recovery cannot be decoupled from keeping the virus under control.

David Damant said...

The point is that Biden is wrong if he made that remark without qualification ( and I have not seen any). Economic downturns bring more deaths, generally, but also with some additional suicides. Enough points off the Dow Jones kill people. However as I have indicated, it is difficult for any government to take such a route, since lockdown is not only intuitive (whether right or wrong in the longer term) and immediate deaths are visible whereas plans for the future ( however justified) are not persuasive. My fundamental point is that so one knows which path is the best, and common sense may not be much use.

David said...

That's good to see, Sue. Europe is all at sixes and sevens: Spain and Italy, it seems, are prepared to let citizens from a country (the UK) which hasn't got anywhere near to controlling infection rates come as tourists and reinfect...other countries are more strict. I don't blame Estonia for requiring that we get our levels down if we are not to quarantine for two weeks on arrival in that country - but it does mean no festival jaunt in July. So be it

Bottom line, David: no avoidable deaths in the service of the future are tenable. The majority of the British and American populations prefers that line, and Sue makes the point that experts realise 'economic recovery cannot be decoupled from keeping the virus under control'. Anyway, the markets need replacing (throws that one out there). Yet the rich are not willing to contemplate change.

Susan said...

Just an FYI, Biden observed within the last day or so that reopening the economy can't be uncoupled from getting the virus under control. (With apologies, I tried to find the clip I heard, but wasn't able to locate it online.) I read Biden's statement of one life lost is too many as underscoring he takes this seriously in a way the current occupant of the WH does not; Biden is well aware, as we all are, that not every life can be saved. Of more interest, I think, is this: Andrew Cuomo (Governor of NY) has made the point in a number of his briefings that the US is turning out to be a sort of horrifying natural experiment, with some states, such as NY, NJ, and CT, doing phased re-openings based on science and respect for expertise and doing very well (knock wood). (Cuomo, among other things, has arranged to have 4 internationally respected epidemiologists review the data for each NY region before proceeding to each reopening phase.) In increasingly stark contrast, other states have reopened without regard to the science, with the hope of getting the economy going again. This has been a disaster. Arizona is one example: "When the state stay-at-home order expired in mid-May, Maricopa County (Arizona) had fewer than 7,000 known cases. As of Wednesday, the county has 34,992. "We've seen about 36% of all of our cases just in the last week." Texas is another disaster: "Statewide, the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, with 5,551 new cases reported Wednesday, up from 5,489 on Tuesday — record highs for both days. Texas also broke its record for hospitalizations for the 13th day in a row Wednesday, with state health officials reporting 4,389 patients in Texas hospitals." The problem is so acute in Texas that they've had to "pause" their reopening and the governor there had to reverse his anti-mask stance.

Susan said...

Found the Biden quote I mentioned earlier: "Amazingly, he still hasn't grasped the most basic fact of this crisis: to fix the economy we have to get control over the virus. He's like a child who can't believe this has happened to him. All his whining & self-pity. This pandemic didn't happen to him, it happened to all of us. His job isn't to whine about it, his job is to do something about it."

David said...

Texas was on the BBC World Service news last night, but it's good to get the bigger picture of this 'laboratory of states'. Here, of course, the division is between irresponsible UK government and the impressive Firs Ministers of Scotland and Wales (and NI is doing better too). The Borump stopped his briefings, in which he appeared only rarely, two days ago; Nicola Sturgeon continues daily, appearing each and every time. If you wanted a reliable guide to safety, you'd watch her.

David Damant said...

Susan, thanks for the full Briden quote, and certainly Trump is dreadful and disorganised in everything. Nevertheless, there is a significant school of scientific thought that forecasts that an economic downturn will in itself bring additional deaths, independent of the virus ( as they point out happened in previous economic downturns). Thus "control over the virus" now is not the only consideration, and may lead to more deaths ..... However, most people see control over the virus now as intuitively correct, which makes political decisions difficult. Anyway, how wonderful to have Briden in the WH

David said...

The mistake there is to see intuitive intelligence and political decisions as separate. And don't cheer too soon - in the USA, any horror is possible, even if Biden looks like a shoo-in.

Susan said...

David and David: I've appreciated this opportunity to clarify some of my own thoughts from what I've gleaned, which writing and responding to others helps to do. Just to clarify, from what I glean, the best judgments recognize that both the economy and the virus are calamitous and both must be attended to in tandem; I'm not really seeing anyone who I respect thinking that control over the virus, on its own, is intuitively correct, but I don't doubt there are those who hold that view.

David N: Of course I share your cautionary note. I fear anything is possible, and it's going to take really hard and sustained effort to make sure that the Democrats win, not just the White House, but both branches of government.

Thank you both for your good thoughts and moral support. And now I am off to listen to Class 8, and cannot wait!